She Will Rise: An Interview with Katie Hill

The former Congressional Representative from CA-25 on double standards, her House colleagues, and the coordinated op that took her down.

BORN IN 1987, Katie Hill was one of the youngest members of the freshman class that flipped the House in the “Blue Wave” of 2018, defeating incumbent Republican Steve Knight to win California’s 25th Congressional District. She was a rising star of the Democratic Party, serving as the Vice Chair for the House Oversight and Reform Committee and on the powerful House Armed Services Committee. Then a coordinated cyber-attack by Republican political operatives and right-wing media outlets compelled her to resign.

In the blink of an eye—or the click of a mouse—her promising Congressional career was over.

She’s been busy since then. She started a PAC, called HER TIME, to “mobilize and support a generation of young women and allies to help them break through those final glass ceilings, one crack at a time—so we can once and for all claim our own power by voting, getting involved in politics, and running for office.” Her book, She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality, drops August 11; Christine Pelosi describes it thus: “She Will Rise is a brave and honest look at the structural inequities that hold women back and the pathways to break down those barriers and make deep, lasting societal change.” There is a Katie Hill podcast in the works, which is good news. And her Twitter account (@KatieHill4CA) is a must-follow; a silver lining of resigning from Congress is that you don’t have to hold back.

Below is our interview:

GO: You’ve had a pretty rough last six months. RedState went Black Cube on you, reporting intimate details of your personal life, and publishing your private text messages. The Daily Mail went even lower, acquiring and then publishing private photographs. You resigned from the House, and in the special election, your seat was won by the Republican. And if that wasn’t enough, you came down with covid-19. That’s a lifetime’s worth of anguish, compressed into half a year. And you’ve been candid about going to some dark places in the wake of all of this. Looking back on it now, what impression do you have about what happened to you? What’s the biggest takeaway?

KH: No one should ever have to go through being a victim of cyber exploitation. It was absolutely awful, and so much goes through your mind as you’re dealing with friends, colleagues and strangers seeing such intimate moments in your life. In my case, I didn’t even know most of those photos existed, so I was also seeing them for the first time with everyone else, which is another layer of difficulty. In the same six months, my mom also had emergency brain surgery (she has recovered completely, thank God) and my 20-year-old brother tragically passed away. When thinking about this time in my life, what I know for certain is that if I made it through this, I can make it through anything. And, I will not let the people who coordinated the attack against me dissuade me or other young women from using our voice and our power to change things. Now, I’m more motivated than ever to use my platform to shake up the system.

GO: At PREVAIL, I write a lot about “ops,” which often take the form of coordinated smear campaigns on politicians. For example: whatever may have happened between Al Franken and Leeann Tweeden, the weaponization of her story by rightwing ratfuckers is absolutely an op. The same thing happened earlier this year, with the weaponization of the ever-shifting, and hopefully forever debunked, Tara Reade accusation against Joe Biden. Do you feel that what happened to you was an op—a coordinated political attack to take you down?

KH: What happened to me was absolutely a coordinated political attack. The only person who could have had possession of these photos was my estranged husband, so while he still claims he was hacked, I am certain he is the one who provided them to the people who eventually published them. The first person who published the photos —a contributor at RedState—is a local Republican operative in the district I used to represent, and she worked for my Republican opponent at the time. There are many other local political operatives who have publicly spoken about having seen and receiving access to the photos that were released, as well as hundreds more photos and text messages, and they were threatening releasing them all over time if I didn’t resign.

GO: That smells like extortion to me. Mob tactics. Trump tactics. Speaking of Trump, I’ve actually had people in my Twitter mentions insist you’re a white supremacist because of your tattoo. I guess it’s somehow easier to believe that a liberal member of Congress from freakin’ California is an initiate of some racist secret society on account of some ink, rather than the truth about your tat, which is that someone from California thinks surf brands are cool. Can you please clear this up once and for all?

KH: Of course. When I was a teenager, I went to Mexico with friends and I got a tattoo—of a stupid logo of a brand I thought was cool at the time. I actually thought it came from a Celtic cross and had no idea about any other associations. I was young, reckless and at that point in my life, and I’ve talked about this in some other interviews, but this trip to Mexico was just a few months after I had been sexually assaulted. In working through it with my therapist, I’ve come to understand that it was a way of me branding myself, trying to take some weird ownership of defacing that part of my body. Anyway, the tattoo has long since been covered by something a lot more meaningful for this part of my—a lotus.

GO: Let’s talk about double standards. We have a president who has been credibly accused of rape and/or sexual assault by over two dozen women. His associates include any number of pedophiles. The media blithely ignores all of this, but went after you like piranha. It’s always like this for women. Remember the story about Amy Klobuchar being a jerk to her staffers? If she was a dude, not only would that not be an issue, but some business magazine would extol the “passionate leadership style.”

KH: In my final speech on the House floor, I talked about double standards. I admitted that I made mistakes—I understand power dynamics, and while it was a consensual adult relationship, I should never have engaged in a sexual relationship with someone on my campaign staff.

That being said, there are people currently walking the halls of Congress, and, as you mentioned, sitting in the White House, who have been accused of assaulting and raping women—in some cases, many women, and in the President’s case, underage women—who are not being held accountable. My hope is that if we change the people who are in power, these kinds of double standards will change too.

GO: The double standard also exists between Democrats and Republicans. RedState went after you for enjoying too many cocktails at a victory party, which seems like grasping at straws. Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham looks hammered every time he’s on TV, and no one says a word.

KH: I think it has become clear that the right doesn’t even pretend to hold themselves to any standards any more, let alone the ones we hold ourselves too. But yes, the double standard about having a few drinks is pretty hilarious considering how many Republicans were famous for showing up to committee and to votes absolutely plastered. Just watch C-SPAN some time for the people who go up and shout from the lectern after votes. It won’t take you long to figure out who the drunks are.

GO: In the special election, your seat went to a Republican. Do you think it will revert back to blue in November? I figure Biden will help the down-ballot candidates, especially in California.

KH: Almost always, special elections bring out more conservative voters, while Democrats often have the advantage in presidential elections. I do anticipate that there will be another Democratic surge in November, particularly given all of the ways in which our President has proved to be ill equipped to handle the job. If that holds true, I do think my old seat will revert back in November, and for the sake of my district, I truly hope that’s the case.

GO: Watching the House GOP on television, they seem like a bunch of yowling hyenas. Between Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Doug Collins, and Devin Nunes, it’s a real clown show. Are they like this behind the scenes, or is it an act for the cameras?

KH: Honestly, it’s a little bit of a combination. There is certainly a lot of showmanship…I’ve had some of them admit it to me. But of course, we do that in our own way, too. Unfortunately, most fit into some combination of believing the bullshit, saying it because they know they will get attention or rile people up, or because they are too afraid of or are trying to impress their Dear Leader.

GO: Nancy Pelosi has navigated these last two years about as well as anyone possibly could, in my opinion. Like, I want her face on our money fifty years from now. With regard to the hydrowhateveritis Trump is supposedly taking, she called him “morbidly obese,” which is just a master stroke. What’s she like in real life?

KH: She’s brilliant. Incredibly strategic, a master negotiator and truly serving in office for all of the right reasons. I am incredibly grateful to have gotten to know her so well and to have had the opportunity to learn from her. She’s really funny sometimes too. Wears those four-inch heels all the time, basically doesn’t sleep, and lives off of chocolate and apparently nothing else. The more closely you see her, the more you are just blown away.

GO: Most Western countries have had leaders who were women this past century. Shit, even Pakistan had Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister. But not us (HRC’s resounding popular vote win notwithstanding). I’m obviously “Ridin’ with Biden,” but I was Kamala all the way, and on a macro level, it’s disappointing that the election is, once again, one old white man against another old white man.

KH: Same. I endorsed and supported Kamala Harris from the time she announced her candidacy. There are so many reasons people—including women—don’t vote for women, especially for executive positions. It all comes down to deeply internalized sexism that is reinforced over and over. I truly believe that we need to rethink positions like “I will vote for a woman, but not this woman or not this time” or “I’m going to vote for the best candidate, regardless of their gender.” To get to true equality, we need to be voting for women because they are women. 

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Photo credit: Chad Griffith.