Ming Cabrera(l), Jessica Karjala(r)

Ming Cabrera for US Congress/Facebook Montana Legislature (Public Domain)

Inside the Facebook message fiasco rocking Montana’s Democratic congressional primary

Ming Cabrera says he was defamed in Facebook messages.


Tricia Crimmins


Ming Cabrera, running to be the Democratic nominee in Montana’s second district congressional race, announced on Monday that he was being defamed in private Facebook messages. The woman behind the messages, former Montana state Rep. Jessica Karjala (D), says she was simply trying to tell voters that Cabrera “has a history of misogynistic behavior.”

Karjala isn’t alone in her criticisms of Cabrera, who denies allegations of misogynistic behavior and says he has submitted a complaint about Karjala to Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices.

Montana’s Democratic primary election is on June 4.

In a tweet posted Monday evening, Cabrera said the executive director of Footloose Montana, a non-profit that protects wildlife in the state, intervened with the congressional primary election by “mass messaging through Facebook Messenger with defamatory messages that include threats and intimidation to vote against one of the Democratic candidates.”

Karjala is Footloose Montana’s executive director.

“I am saddened and very disappointed to hear that the Executive Director of Footloose Montana, a prominent 501c3 non-profit here in Montana, has decided to intervene in the Democratic primary election for Montana’s 2nd Congressional District,” Cabrera tweeted. “I urge Footloose Montana, the Democratic Party of Montana, and the Secretary of the State of Montana to investigate this behavior thoroughly and ensure this primary election is done respectfully and kindly.”

Cabrera is a former pharmaceutical representative who served as chair of the Yellowstone County Democrats in Billings, Montana and on a local water board.

Both he and Karjala shared screenshots of the messages in question with the Daily Dot.

On Monday evening, Karjala sent a Facebook message to David Graves, a former Montana State Senate Democratic candidate, encouraging him to not vote for Cabrera because he had called her and another woman “f***ing b***es.”

“I encourage you to vote for Held or Hamm,” Karjala wrote. Kevin Hamm and Steve Held are two of Cabrera’s opponents in the Democratic congressional primary.

According to screenshots, when Graves told Karjala that he planned to vote for Cabrera, she said that if she had known that, she “would not have supported” his 2018 state senate race.

“Thank you for going on the record,” Karjala messaged Graves. “I will keep this conversation handy for when it’s needed.”

In Body Image

Graves told the Daily Dot he “felt threatened” by Karjala’s messages.

“She’s going out there on social media… telling people who to vote for. That’s what I felt like,” Graves said. “Politics is getting so out of control that people have to be so dang negative and aggressive and stuff, it’s unreal.”

Another screenshot provided by Karjala shows that that same night, Karjala posted in a private Facebook group called “Billings Rises,” which focuses on political issues and gender.

“If you haven’t filled out your primary ballot yet, specifically for HD 2 Eastern Congressional primary, please [private message] me,” Karjala posted. “I have something important to share that could influence your vote.”

In Body Image

In an interview with the Daily Dot, Cabrera denied that he ever called Karjala or another woman “f***ing b***es,” and said all the allegations Karjala made are untrue.

“She doesn’t like me,” Cabrera said of Karjala.

Cabrera’s campaign manager, Kenneth Lavendar, went a step further and said Karjala is using her influence as a former state legislator and the executive director of a non-profit to attack Cabrera.

“Even if she is doing this as a private citizen, people who normally wouldn’t return her phone calls are because they’re assuming it’s coming with from Footloose or in her reputation and name,” Lavendar said.

For her part, Karjala told the Daily Dot that her Facebook messages were sent from her personal account in her capacity as an individual citizen, and were not on behalf of Footloose Montana. She added that she contacted Graves to give him information about Cabrera.

“Private messages sent during off hours are just that—private, individual conversations,” Karjala told the Daily Dot. “I contacted someone whom I had supported in the past when they ran for the legislature around 7 p.m. via my personal Facebook account on Facebook Messenger. I thought [Graves] would want to make an informed vote.”

As for her experience with Cabrera, Karjala reiterated her claims that he called her and another woman “f***ing b***es.” She also said he screamed at her and the other woman and vandalized a gubernatorial candidate’s campaign banner. Cabrera has said that everything Karjala said about him is untrue.

“Mr. Cabrera has a history of misogynistic behavior that cannot be overlooked,” Karjala told the Daily Dot. “Speaking as an eight-year former elected official I know what we need to see from candidates. We need thoughtful approaches when dealing with people.”

Further, Karjala said Cabrera’s “record of misogyny makes him unfit for any office.”

Cabrera has denied any misogynistic behavior.

Others have spoken publicly about Cabrera’s behavior, too. Richard Fifield, who is purportedly a Montana voter, tweeted that Cabrera called people b***es, destroyed property, and was misogynistic.

“This is just deflection and distraction,” Fifield replied to Cabrera’s tweet about Karjala’s Facebook messages. “We are still waiting for you to apologize for misogyny, property destruction, and assault. Real victims. The primary is soon, @MTDems—any info makes for an informed voter.”

Jonathan McNiven, another former state legislator, wrote about Cabrera’s alleged behavior. In an April column titled, in part, “Ming Cabrera Needs to Resign,” McNiven claimed that Cabrera called the police to try to have a fellow water board member physically removed from sitting with other board members at meetings. Cabrera acknowledged that he called the police on a board member, but said it was with just cause and that he wasn’t alone in wanting the board member removed.

“People like Ming, they seem to feel justified in causing heartache and chaos for others even when they know it’s wrong,” McNiven wrote. “With all due respect, Mr. Cabrera needs to step down from the Heights Water Board.”

Cabrera’s public image contrasts starkly with the allegations against him (which he has denied). In a recent interview with local outlet KTVH, he said his campaign is about love and finding common ground.

“It’s the best way to get the message [out]—to talk to the people,” Cabrera told KTVH. “What they have to do is look at me and see that it’s my heart. That I believe we can bring love back into the community.”

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