PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Janice Gibbs is a grandmother and was born and raised in Washington County. Although she has no drilling lease on her land, she believes that shale gas drilling is great for the local economy.
“I just think it’s a good thing for our community,” Gibbs said.
When she started posting her pro-gas views on local websites under the name “Proud American,” she was soon shocked at how nasty things got.
First, State Rep. Jesse White allegedly posted Gibbs’ real identity. Then, someone posting under the name “Prouder American” called her an “industry troll.”
Another posting under the name “Harold,” called her an “undereducated yonder,” “dumber than a box of rocks,” “an embarrassment to her community.”
Gibbs has long suspected all the comments were actually posted by White himself.
“I can’t prove it Mr. Sheehan, but hopefully somebody can and stop it because it’s getting worse,” Gibbs said.
And things did get worse. Gibbs was soon under attack by someone posting under a name “Janice Gibson.”
One of the comments said, “Janice Ludwin Gibbs is a local mole for the gas industry propaganda group Energy In-depth.”
“A mole, an Internet troll, I’m getting paid by Energy In-depth. I wish my paycheck would hurry up because I could sure use it,” Gibbs said in reaction to the comment.
Energy In-depth is a gas industry funded organization. When anti-drilling posts appeared on their website from “Janice Gibson” and another from someone falsely representing themselves as “Janice Gibbs” herself, the organization traced them.
The internet protocol — or IP — address of those people came up as the same computer as Rep. White’s state e-mail address.
KDKA-TV investigator Andy Sheehan showed that information to the real Janice Gibbs.
“This blows my mind. I know this was happening, but now to see proof. It’s wrong,” Gibbs said. “Terrible. He’s supposed to represent all of us.”
Sheehan then asked White about it:
Sheehan: It appears that you are posing as the people on the Internet. You’re making up identities. And in this case, you have these posts from a woman named Janice Gibson and the actual woman’s name Janice Gibbs and they have the same IP address as you. Can you explain that?.
Rep. White: I have no comment. Others repeated political and personal attacks put on me by the propaganda wing of the natural gas industry like Energy In-depth and companies that are advertisers on your network.
But while White stonewalled, Gibbs freely spoke.
“I kind of feel violated,” Gibbs said. “Yep, I feel violated that an elected official would go this far.”
Sheehan: This woman is a grandmother and a constituent. Why would you use her name and post things in her name. She feels violated and if it’s not legally wrong. It’s at least ethically wrong.
White: Again, I have no comment on this personal and political attack.
White told Sheehan he has no connection to an anti-drilling website called GasRootsPA.com, which chastises drilling supporters as “whores” and regularly praises White.
However, when Sheehan searched the domain name he found that it also was registered in White’s name.
Sheehan: You told me on the phone that you had no connection with GasRootsPA and here it is registered to you. Would you look at this Jesse?.
White: Again, I have no comment.
Sheehan: You’re not being responsive as a State Representative. I’m asking you to respond to this.
Within an hour after the interview, GasRootsPA was re-registered under another name — Tony Stewart — another fictitious person.
But, the intrigue goes even deeper.
In the past two years, Internet sites have been littered with postings from people named Victoria Adams, Frank Reynolds, Cindy McPherson and others attacking pro-drilling advocates.
Sheehan couldn’t find any evidence that these people actually exist, but their language is strikingly similar to White’s own Facebook postings where he is fond of calling opponents “trolls.”
Cindy McPherson calls pro-gas supporters: “nameless trolls.” Victoria Adams calls another a “gas industry troll” and Frank Reynolds calls yet another an “energy industry troll.”
Farmer Don Roessler gets royalties from Marcellus Shale drilling. He suspects White — using the handle “Prouder American” — has told people to boycott his crops and has called him names too.
“He’s gone on insulting me, insulting my intelligence,” Roessler said.
Sheehan repeatedly asked White if he’s the person behind all of this.
Sheehan: Who is Victoria Adams?
White: I have no idea.
Sheehan: Do you post under her name?
White: Again, I have no comment.
Sheehan: Do you post under Frank Reynolds name?
White: I have no comment.
Sheehan: Do you call people whore and liar under assumed names on the Internet.
White: Again, I have no comment on any of the personal and political attacks.
And all of this just leaves Gibbs sad and wondering:
“Doesn’t he have enough to do representing us? We have enough issues in our township. People need sewerage, people need water and he’s doing this type of thing,” Gibbs said.