One of the great things about primary campaigns is that they offer almost limitless opportunities for previously private citizens to engage in very public acts of self-immolation. This is the story of Benjamin Thomas Wolf, a Democratic House candidate who burst on the political scene in a cloud of marijuana smoke, but now faces a firestorm of allegations including physical abuse, threats, and an almost comical level of resume inflation.
Wolf is challenging the incumbent Rep. Mike Quigley in Illinois’s safely Democratic 5th Congressional District. Quigley’s generically progressive views have been a good fit for the seat formerly held by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Indeed, Quigley ran unopposed in the 2016 general election. But in 2018, as in other safely Democratic states and districts, Quigley is facing challenges from the left.
Enter Ben Wolf, who grabbed both local and national media attention (including CNN and Fox News) with a campaign ad in which he apparently smoked weed in front of an American flag. The so-called “cannabis candidate,” in a stroke of inspiration, extended the story by running the ad on Pornhub, reportedly becoming the first candidate to advertise on a pornographic website.
Wolf echoed the theme of being an outlaw candidate by making an ad touting gun control that featured him at home with his AR-15 rifle, a weapon banned in Chicago. Were it not for his looming misfortune, someone might have noted that Wolf and other Chicagoans seem more interested in enacting weapons bans than obeying them. At least this stunt was more edgy than the pot smoking, as marijuana legalization is favored by a two-to-one margin in one recent Illinois poll, with an expectedly more lopsided results in Chicagoland and among Democrats.
As it turns out, the candidate’s edges may prove a little too rough for the district’s voters.
Several Twitter accounts — @unwrittenhistry, @benjaminwolfwtf, @RealBTW2018, and @concerned606 — began digging into Wolf’s background and striking paydirt. (Wolf claims the effort is masterminded by Emanuel; Robin Dusek, the operator of @unwrittenhistry, denies the accusation.)
As a result of these efforts, Politico reported that Katarina Coates, a former girlfriend who interned for his campaign, claims Wolf once struck her, grabbed her face, threw her to the ground, and put his foot on her chest. Coates also claims he was emotionally abusive, and “doxxed” her by revealing her name and home address on several social media platforms.
Another woman who dated Wolf described him as having a volatile personality. And Politico reported that Women’s March Chicago blocked Wolf from its Facebook group approximately a year ago, after numerous women complained to organizers about his behavior there.
Jason Hill, a philosophy professor at DePaul University, filed a security report after a tearful student described another incident involving Wolf. DePaul declined to comment to Politico, but an email exchange with Coates suggests Wolf is no longer allowed on campus.
In the post-Weinstein, #MeToo environment, these sorts of allegations are likely fatal to Wolf’s campaign. Indeed, his campaign ads have been dropped by Pornhub. Ouch.
But Wolf also finds himself plagued by the issue of resume inflation. For example, on Veterans Day, Wolf tweeted about serving multiple tours in Africa and Iraq. Wolf has never served in the military and was forced to explain that he meant that he “served” with the State Department as a special agent and as a career tenured member of the Foreign Service.
Note here another problem with a neophyte candidate: an accurate description not posted on Veterans Day might have played better in this district than implying he had served in the military.
It gets worse, however, as Wolf’s accounts of his foreign service also appear to be inflated. Although Wolf served in dozens of countries, a State Department agent who served with him disputed the candidate’s claims that he had been a “security and human rights attache.” The agent also said that it was “crazy” for Wolf to claim in a press release to have been a presidential envoy in West Africa. Officials with the State Department declined to comment on his more grandiose claims.
Wolf has also called himself a “former FBI agent.” In reality, it appears that he worked at the bureau as “a non-special agent professional support employee.”
Furthermore, while Wolf has billed himself as a “Professor of Human Rights” at Roosevelt University, the school recently deleted his faculty page. A Roosevelt spokeswoman told the Chicago Reader: “He’s never been a professor here. He tutored one student for a little while in 2016, that’s it.”
At least no one has debunked his claim to smoke the ganja … yet.
Wolf was always a longshot candidate. Quigley probably faces a more credible challenge — if it can be called that — from Sameena Mustafa, an activist and comedian whose campaign is simultaneously touting her “radical stance” as a Muslim woman of color while claiming they would prefer voters focus on her message.
Nevertheless, the March 20 primary ballot in Cook County will include an advisory referendum on the legalization of recreational marijuana. Wolf’s fate may rest on stoners who don’t bother to look further into his background — assuming they muster the energy to get off their couches and register their opinion on pot at the polls.