The good news about the two high-powered Los Angeles lawyers fired for sending antisemitic messages is they insulted everyone else, too.
John Barber and Jeff Ranen, who in May led more than 120 fellow lawyers out the door of the large international firm Lewis Brisbois to start a rival firm, sent emails and texts attacking gays, women, Asians, Blacks and Jews.
“I forgot to write that we will not hire Jews,” Ranen wrote to Barber in a 2012 email. In other emails, they used the phrase “Jew him down,” and asked why insulting Jews is off limits. Ranen referred to Black protesters as “savages.” Both commonly used the N-word and anti-LGBTQ+ slurs. They called women “sugar tits” and suggested the best way to deal with a female attorney’s overtime request was to “kill her by anal penetration.”
These messages were later discovered and released by Lewis Brisbois as part of an investigation following an employee complaint. As anybody who has read that gobbledegook at the bottom of a lawyer’s email knows, all communications sent via company email are property of the company.
In other words, while the Jewish stuff is hurtful and shocking, Barber and Ranen, on top of being strangely dismissive of employment law, were equal opportunity bigots.
But the question remains: Why? Why would two men at the pinnacle of their profession risk it all to display such wanton and reckless hate?
Because, I believe, Barber and Ranen — who have since resigned — were closeted.
I don’t mean that in the traditional sense, where they are hiding an identity they didn’t want others to discover. I mean that Barber, 55, and Ranen, 45, seem to have deep-down resented sharing power with people who aren’t like them.
Part of an email thread between Jeffrey Ranen (top) and John Barber, two law firm partners. Image by
Some people are threatened when society’s opportunities open to people who were traditionally kept out or looked down upon. They see the pie as finite, and think they deserve seven slices. So Barber and Ranen formed a little two-person country club, where they could toss off humorless quips and continue to feel powerful and superior.
They may not have cared that company emails aren’t private, but they at least knew that what once was said openly in locker rooms they could now only say in their private digital version. In public, they told the Los Angeles Business Journal that their new firm, launched in May, would lead with “empathy, collaboration and compassion.” In private, according to the leaked emails, Barber joked Ranen was a “Jew cunt” for bringing bagels to the office.
They billed their venture as the biggest legal startup in U.S. history and showcased diversity, with colleagues including William Sung, past president of the Asian American Pacific Bar Association and Melissa Daugherty, a Jewish American expert on the Americans for Disabilities Act who headed up a seminar on diversity hiring in law.
But even as they hired the best lawyers of all creeds and colors, in private Barber and Ranen’s language seethed with misogyny, antisemitism and resentment. Their constant insults carried a subtext: You can join us, but you’ll never belong.
This attitude echoes throughout our culture. The backlash over Pride month, which for decades has celebrated the LGBTQ+ community and brought it into mainstream culture, has only intensified. Same with the vicious antagonism toward the trans community.
White men like Barber and Ranen may not love seeing queer folk celebrated in West Hollywood, but it’s easy enough for bigots to avoid such enclaves. Now that Target is stocking rainbow onesies, Jews are welcomed as members of every Southern California country club and Blacks are demanding that the statue of Stonewall Jackson in the heart of Virginia be taken down — well, the mainstreaming of minorities can make resentment grow.
It’s “the revolt of the ‘Normies,’” Steven Hayward wrote in the New York Post of the reawakened anti-LGBTQ+ movement, siding with the opponents of what he calls “attempts to mainstream gender fluidity.”
Hayward, a scholar at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Affairs, claims that he’s all for tolerance, but “the Democratic Party has gone all-in on self-expression.” In other words, feel free to express yourself, as long we can set the boundaries of your self.
This resentment and revolt is not limited to obnoxious emails among high-priced lawyers or Target protests. Similar feelings are fueling bans on school library books. The rising opposition to what seemed like an inevitable march toward greater acceptance and diversity of ethnicities and identities has targeted books that some parents say bring the wrong values into the mainstream. You know, like books about Anne Frank. And the Bible.
Barber and Ranen, who convinced an ethnically diverse herd of lawyers to join them at their new firm, would never take the side of the trans-bashers or the book-banners, at least not in public. But in private they too feel their “normie-hood” is under attack. They want to join the revolt, but the fact that their livelihood depends on the brains and talents of the very people they disparage makes that impossible.
So, they lashed out in what they arrogantly thought was a protected space, so blindly, and so angrily and so injudiciously, that they were inevitably caught.
Cue the apology.
“We are ashamed of the words we wrote,” the two attorneys said in a statement, “and we are deeply sorry.” The emails, they said, were “not reflections, in any way, of the contents of our hearts or of our true values,” but one could easily make the opposite case: The things we do and say in private, with the masks off, more accurately reflect what we really feel and believe. Which is it?
Meanwhile, the fate of the firm they founded is unclear. Its website, which was taken down as of Wednesday morning, included this pitch to potential clients: “What truly separates us from the pack is that, at Barber Ranen, identifying and embracing The Why has been a career-long obsession.”
If Barber and Ranen would like to rebuild their reputations and repair their relationships, obsessing over The Why would be a good place to start. Why did they really write those emails? And why are they so threatened by a world which welcomes more and more people who are not just like them?
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