CHICAGO — Two men with the same name — but very different outlooks on life — keep crossing digital paths, and the encounters have not been so friendly.
There's Nate Marshall, a South Shore poet who writes about inequality and his experiences as a young, black man in Chicago. He's director of Louder Than A Bomb.
And there's Nate Marshall, a white man from Denver who dropped out of a political race in Colorado in 2014 because of his ties to white supremacy groups, according to the Denver Post. He's only ever spent an hour in Chicago and thought South Shore Nate was a "black lives matter terrorist."
South Shore Nate said he first heard about Denver Nate, who reportedly has posted anti-Muslim and anti-gay comments, last year. Although the local Republican party condemned his "hateful" words, Denver Nate says he is not a white supremacist and does not support that movement.
“I was like, 'Oh, what is this? This is interesting. This is fascinating,'" said South Shore Nate, an artist who's helped the city's kids find their voices through poetry. "There’s this other Nate Marshall in Colorado who is apparently … he’s kind of a white supremacist. I’m like, 'Oh, that’s weird. That is very different than me.'”
Amused, South Shore Nate's friends sent compliments to Denver Nate's Twitter handle under the guise of writing to their buddy. They wrote things like, "I really love your poems about black life, about Black Lives Matter," South Shore Nate said. The poet asked that no one be mean to the other Nate, he said.
"Just wanted to say your work, 'Wild Hundreds' is some powerful, life-changing, incredible black poetry," one person wrote to Denver Nate. "I'm inspired."
Denver Nate never responded in any way except to block his newfound "fans," and the two Nates never spoke.
It wasn't until last week that the two met again. Sort of.
Denver Nate was searching his name on Google when he came across South Shore Nate and read about his work as a poet. He'd been getting strange calls from numbers he didn't recognize, he said, and he didn't think the other Nate was real. It all seemed like someone was trying to harass him, he said.
Denver Nate took to South Shore Nate's Facebook page and wrote, "This is not me! This is a black lives matter terrorist who has stolen my name!" Denver Nate included screenshots of Google search results for "Nate Marshall" that show South Shore Nate.
Miles away, here in Chicago, South Shore Nate didn't respond — but he shared screenshots of Denver Nate's post, and the image garnered hundreds of reactions and comments.
"Even if I write something that's controversial, I'm a poet. It's fairly seldom that we get that kind of pushback and trolling," said South Shore Nate, who noted he'd never received a comment like Denver Nate's before.
Denver Nate deleted the posts when he realized South Shore Nate is an actual person, he said. He doesn't have any issues with South Shore Nate if he's real, Denver Nate said, and he didn't want any trouble.
“I just got upset because I thought some people were harassing me,” said Denver Nate, who said he's been harassed on social media before by activists. "It was just a misunderstanding."
South Shore Nate, for his part, said he was "fascinated" by his Denver counterpart and the things connecting and dividing them — names, politics — though he's not sure he wants to talk.
“When I think about this episode … it’s fascinating to me because, especially in this moment, a lot of our political divides are really pronounced,” South Shore Nate said. “It’s kind of a weird and unexpected thing to feel those divides and to know that they are so real, but then to see someone who literally has your same name kind of so far on the other side.
"It’s like a fascinating reminder of that division and kind of what it means.”
Denver Nate sees the differences, too, and thinks maybe they could find something to connect on — beside their name, anyway.
"We're obviously totally different," said Denver Nate. "He's an artist. No disrespect to him — I just don't understand how that would work. I'm obviously a Trump supporter ... . I don't know anything about [South Shore Nate]. Literally, honestly, I don't know anything about him."
"We probably could" find common ground, Denver Nate said. Maybe the two could talk, though it's not high on an agenda for him. "It's not like it would hurt."