As I was preparing to be sworn in as the youngest member of the Washington State Legislature and as the first Iranian American woman ever elected to the body, I never imagined I would spend my first night in Olympia with police officers responding to death threats leveled against me.
But for Iranian-Americans in public life, the weeks and months following the brutal killing of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic had become increasingly fraught. As Iranians inside Iran were demanding democratic change against a brutal dictatorship, outside the country the movement was being manipulated by a wave of right-wing and sexist attacks aimed at intimidating progressive Iranian-American women like me into silence.
The murder of Mahsa Amini sent ripple effects across the world and devastated the Iranian community. The killing made clear the oppression, the utter lack of human rights, and the horrific police brutality that Iranians are facing. Mahsa symbolized an intersectional identity that the Iranian government had oppressed for the past four decades. She was a young, Kurdish woman who dared to show too much hair. In her death, she revived a movement much older than her under the banner of the woman, life, freedom movement that showed the world the strength and resilience of Iranian women.
I’m proud to come from a long line of courageous Iranian women who took care of their communities, worked for justice, and spoke up for the things they believe in. I sought to follow in their footsteps when I ran for office after years of working in American politics and being frustrated by the lack of progress on priorities like protecting women's reproductive rights and supporting marginalized communities. My family could never fathom a reality in which our votes counted, our voices were heard, and where a young woman who speaks out against injustice could run for office. I was sure I was on a path to fulfill my ancestors' wildest dreams.
So it was shocking when—no less than two days after Mahsa Amini was murdered and I was grieving with my family—wild accusations that I was working for the regime began surfacing online. These baseless claims spread swiftly, promoted by what several researchers have assessed as inauthentic online activity at a scale that suggested potential state-actor involvement. And the attacks worked. Suddenly, any person or organization who had advocated against war with Iran or who opposed Trump's failed "maximum pressure" policy to starve Iranians into submission was a regime-supporter.
For decades, Iranians have been traumatized by the repeated betrayal of government after government, both locally and abroad. These betrayals have bred a suspicion that knows no limits and makes parts of the Iranian diaspora vulnerable to disinformation and conspiracies based on unfounded rumors. The combination of historical trauma and a grief in the midst of tragedy was the perfect storm to allow this disinformation campaign to thrive and tear apart our community.
For me, the accusations focused on the fact that the National Iranian American Council Action endorsed my campaign. This American organization has long been attacked by right-wing figures in the US and in the Middle East for its support of US-Iran diplomacy and for its opposition to sanctions.
Despite my condemnations of the Islamic Republic and my calls to action in solidarity with Iranians fighting for their rights, I quickly learned that no matter what I did, I would be hounded by trolls–first online, and then in person. Days before I was sworn into the Legislature, a post from a Saudi-funded Persian news outlet painted me as an advocate of the Iranian regime, sparking a flood of hateful messages issuing death threats and threats of sexual violence.
Sadly, through threats of political violence and demands that all Iranian-Americans think the same way or else be branded traitors, some in our community began mirroring the way Iran’s government treats its citizens.
Eventually, these attacks would consume the whole community. In Seattle, almost every Iranian-American nonprofit has been accused of being part of the regime, and many progressive Iranian-Americans have withdrawn from public life as people smeared community leaders, business owners, academics, and political candidates. These tactics are no different than the disinformation campaigns that right-wingers commonly use to attack progressives across the US on important issues such as LGBTQIA+ rights, women's rights, and more. What's happened in the Iranian-American community is not unique but sadly part of a wider trend of weaponizing disinformation against progressives.
As I reflect on the first anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death, I think foremost of all the strength Iranian people have shown in the face of tragedy. I then reflect on the wave of hate and hypocrisy abroad that did nothing to help Iranians on the ground and caused actual harm within our communities, underscoring just how much work is ahead of us even in the United States.
So, one year after Mahsa Amini, the same remains true. I’m focused on advocating for my community in the 46th district and building a stronger Iranian American community in Seattle. I’m proud to say that despite all the hate, I’ve accomplished a lot, including advocating for the ban on assault weapons, shielding people in need of reproductive care from legal action in other states, increasing successful reentry post incarceration, and even working to improve data collection for Washingtonians from the Middle East.
The first step in building a stronger Iranian-American community is standing up to the bullies by bringing this conversation into the light. I am committed to doing that work and to continuing the legacy of courageous Iranian women who put it all on the line in the interest of justice, liberty, and democracy for all.
State Rep. Darya Farivar represents the 46th Legislative District in the State House. She is the daughter of Iranian immigrants who fled their homeland because of the revolution and holds this heritage close to heart. Darya believes in lifting the voices of directly impacted individuals to bring systems change.