"Can you stop you[r] bullshit at PCC," the e-mail demanded. "Nobody likes you and your type needs to go . . . The last thing we need is more lezzies like you down there . . . You suck."
The recipient's "bullshit"? Complaining about the Men's Grill. For decades, the sporty central Phoenix club has kept its casual dining rooms sex-segregated. Naturally, the men get an airy bar and grill with flat-screen TVs and a patio; the women get a little nook with a salad bar.
All this might have been uncontroversial in 1958. But in 2007, a pair of longtime members, Logan and Barbara Van Sittert, filed a formal complaint with the state attorney general — and a (hardly) civil war has been waged by the membership ever since. Logan Van Sittert found his locker vandalized. Graffiti calling Barbara a bitch appeared on the golf course. One of the club's best golfers, a lawyer named Rusty Brown, was reprimanded by the club after he criticized the segregated grills at a luncheon sponsored by the Arizona Women Lawyers Association.
And then came the e-mails.
No surprise, the writer did not sign his name. He was using a gmail account, apparently established solely for the purpose of the harassment. In the address line, he gave his name as "Kick the Bastards Out."
Kick the Bastards Out was a busy little bee this spring. He sent e-mails to several female critics of the Men's Grill. He also fired off e-mails warning critical club members like Rusty Brown that their personal information would be posted on Web sites around town — and then did so, posting two members' phone numbers on backpage.com, the classified advertising site controlled by New Times.
He titled the post "femi natzis . . . HERE IN PHOENIX."
Lock up your wife and daughter! The femi natzis are here!
In the rarefied world of the Phoenix Country Club, it was scandalous stuff. The club's members are physicians, political consultants, and top lawyers at the big firms. (Barry Goldwater himself used to be president.) They are not, generally, angry ditto-heads with a third-grade mastery of spelling.
The club's board of directors insisted that it was powerless to stop the harassment.
When one of the victims complained, then-board president William Maledon — Maledon as in Osborn Maledon, one of the city's top law firms — sent him an e-mail claiming that it was impossible to take action. The board, Maledon wrote, had done everything from consulting "IT experts" to talking to security at the Maricopa County Superior Court. (One of the alleged "lezzies," as it turns out, is a judge there.)
Nobody had any idea how to trace the e-mail.
"If the Board knew who sent them, I have no doubt that that person would be expelled from the club," Maledon wrote.
Well, those "IT experts" and "security" people must have been morons.
It might be news to anyone over 50, but of course you can trace e-mail addresses and the source of nasty comments. You just need to file a lawsuit, and the court will compel Google or Yahoo! or even backpage.com to turn over information about who signed up for the e-mail address or who made the offensive posts. Only Web whizzes know how to hide this sort of information from the combined eyes of the law and Internet service providers.
Kick the Bastards Out, it's safe to say, was no whiz.
So, two club members filed a lawsuit. Google turned over what it had about the origins of the e-mail account; so did backpage.com.
Only then did it become clear why the board had done such a cursory "investigation."
The guy who'd posted the nasty comments, the guy who'd sent the nasty e-mails, was a member of the board of directors, Mike Hayes.
Last year, when I broke the story about the Phoenix Country Club's grill problem, I was, I have to admit, fairly blasé about the Men's Grill issue ("Men Behaving Badly," July 19, 2007).
I write frequently about innocent people caught up in events beyond their control; people facing years in prison for a silly mistake; people who stand to lose their kids because of inept bureaucracy. When you're looking at matters of life and death and incarceration, anything that has to do with a country club seems pretty frivolous.
So a group of rich people decides to bar women from one of its dining facilities? Cry me a freakin' river.
But a funny thing happened when the attorney general began to look into the Van Sitterts' complaint. A certain element of the club went nuts.
The board of directors changed the club rules so that a woman can't inherit a membership if her husband kicks the bucket. She'd have to re-apply. (Apparently, the club's grand poobahs thought that Barbara Van Sittert would outlive her husband — if Logan were to kick it, they could be rid of the couple for good.)