Several dozen people identifying themselves as members of the Timbers Army engaged in a mass bout of "cyber-bullying" against three fellow fans earlier this week.
Officials with the Portland Timbers, who are days away from the franchise's Major League Soccer home opener April 14 after starting the inaugural season on the road, said the team is investigating the abuse from self-described members of the Timbers' most passionate fan group.
"As with any Facebook page with tens of thousands of fans, occasionally abusive comments pop up," Timbers spokesman Chris Metz said in a prepared statement to WW. "The team is continuing to look into the matter."
On Monday morning, Timbers fan Claire Wolfson posted a photo of a sweatshirt she and her boyfriend designed for fun on the team's official Facebook page. The sweatshirt featured the phrase "Better Axe Somebody" and a pair of crossed axes similar to those in the Timbers' ad campaign and Timbers Army merchandise.
That set off commenters, most of whom identified themselves as members of the Timbers Army. They began to post angry comments on Wolfson's photo, accusing her of ripping off Army merchandise and calling her a "merch pirate."
As the ferocity of the comments escalated, season ticket holder Dan Hagan and his girlfriend stepped in to defend Wolfson, a woman they say they've never met. The couple also got bombarded with online insults.
"If you think this thread has been harsh," wrote one member, "just wait until folks in the TA start calling out people who wear this crap on the street."
More than 140 harsh comments later, Wolfson took down the photo. But self-described members of the Timbers Army continued through other channels. Hagan's girlfriend says she got a Facebook message that said, "I hope you die a terrible death and your maimed body is hung on a pole in front of Civic Stadium as an example to other immoral merch pirates." The message was also posted on the Timbers Army Facebook page.
Outraged and a little frightened by the personal message, Hagan called his ticket services provider, who apparently intervened and had all hateful content removed from Facebook. The thread of vicious commentary moved to soccercityusa.com, a fan website for Portland soccer.
People identifying themselves as members of the Timbers Army continued to post lewd and invasive comments about Wolfson and the couple.
"These people are discussing where I work and calling me a twat," Wolfson wrote in an email to WW. "I am super disturbed by all of this."