Author Page | Media Matters for America

Cristina López G.

Author ››› Cristina López G.
  • Gateway Pundit’s White House correspondent accuses mass shooting survivors of “milking the deaths of their peers”

    After pushing false reports and conspiracy theories, Lucian Wintrich tweeted attacks against Florida shooting student survivors for their advocacy

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Setting the record for a new low, Gateway Pundit’s White House correspondent Lucian Wintrich grossly smeared survivors of the high school shooting in Parkland, FL, for being vocal about the need for gun regulation.

    In the days after the attack, Wintrich took to Twitter and posted attacks that mirrored those of far-right trolls on online message boards, claiming that the surviving students were “milking the deaths of their peers for careers,” that they “don’t care about those lives lost,” that they "are not fully learned and are far from it," and that they're "completely entitled" "little pricks." In his tweets, Wintrich also referenced a conspiracy theory he had pushed earlier to attack student David Hogg, asserting he had “been coached on anti-Trump lines.” Following the shooting, Hogg has consistently raised his voice to demand that policymakers take action about gun control legislation. Hogg’s remarks have made him a target of smears from far-right trolls and pro-Trump media, smears that the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. has appeared to encourage.

    Wintrich has demonstrated a penchant for manipulating facts after mass shootings in efforts to politically exploit tragedies. He did so in October 2017, after a shooter fatally shot 59 concert-goers in Las Vegas, NV, when he defended The Gateway Pundit for publishing a piece accusing the wrong shooter and claiming the shooter could’ve been radicalized by Islam. He did the same thing again shortly after the shooting at the Parkland high school by falsely reporting that the shooter Nikolas Cruz was Hispanic and a registered Democrat. The Gateway Pundit was forced to update Wintrich’s original report:


    Gateway Pundit falsely reported on Parkland, FL, shooter's identity.


    Whoops.

  • Chronicle of a white supremacist PR crisis and the making of a hoax

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Following the deadly high school shooting that claimed 17 lives in Parkland, FL, news sites and outlets scrambled to report details about the shooter’s identity and motive in a timely manner. Some of those details were manipulated by far-right trolls in efforts to plant misinformation and sow chaos, along the way creating a PR crisis for known white supremacists. It also created a lesson for media to not take attention-seeking extremists at their word.

    The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that Jordan Jereb, the leader of white supremacist militia Republic of Florida (ROF), claimed that suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz was affiliated with ROF. Other outlets quickly picked up the story, causing known white supremacists like The Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin and Traditionalist Worker Party’s Matthew Parrott to go into crisis management mode and distance themselves from ROF and the shooting.

    Jereb, who years ago flooded the Southern Poverty Law Center with “pleas for attention,” is somewhat of a joke among extremists, mocked for trying too hard, as he posts content related to the “Read Siege” meme, which refers to Siege, the collection of writings by neo-Nazi writer James Mason. As Mason’s writings have increasingly become tied to the most violent and deadly factions of white supremacism -- like the Atomwaffen division (which has been tied to several recent killings) -- “establishment” white supremacists are attempting to distance themselves from those who act on their convictions by calling them satanists and “Siegefags”. That was exactly what Anglin did after reports surfaced that Jereb had claimed the Parkland shooter was a white supremacist, claiming it was “a setup” and that the militia was infiltrated by “satanists pretending to be Nazis:”

    However, as local authorities found no evidence to back up Jereb’s claims that Cruz belonged to ROF, media outlets started updating their initial reporting on the story. Jereb took to Gab, the social media platform dubbed a “haven for white nationalists,” to recant his statements to ADL and media outlets, blaming it all on a “misunderstanding,” his need for a good night’s sleep, and "the lying jew media":

    Meanwhile, trolls bragged on 4chan message boards and other platforms about conceiving and planting the hoax in the chat platform Discord, with the purpose of mocking Jereb -- who eventually played along with the hoax -- and discrediting media outlets. The hoax narrative immediately allowed prominent white nationalists some relief:

    Trolls interpreted the events as their resounding victory over media, with Anglin claiming on The Daily Stormer that the hoax had been a way of “humiliating the media” and “blowing the credibility of the ADL:”

    I have actually seen people saying this is not good. And I’m just like. lolwut.

    Of course it is good. Humiliating the media is always good, and doing that while totally blowing the credibility of the ADL as a reliable source for information is quadruple good.

    Basically, there was a 6 hour news barrage across the entire planet based on a 4chan post because the ADL will just believe any internet rumor they hear and order the media to spam it.

    This demonstrates, fully, that Jewish ethnic activist groups such as the media and the ADL are so obsessed with blaming white identity movements for violence that they will act recklessly and in a totally deranged fashion.

    This makes the whole idea of constantly blaming white people for everything look retarded, and it will lead to any future event where they try to do this being questioned. Because before this, they were able to get away with like, “oh this one thing he posted on Facebook – he’s a Nazi” – that shit isn’t going to fly anymore.

    Beyond all of that: this shit is just fucking hilarious. This is your mainstream media, which claims that it is above reproach, not even attempting to confirm a story before they spam the entire planet with it. This was like a Sam Hyde shooter meme times six million.

    The episode illustrates the perils of media taking attention-seeking white nationalists at their word: trolls can manipulate the media to plant misinformation and sow chaos, hijack national news narratives by confusing journalists, and render audiences not steeped into troll culture unable to distinguish between fact and fiction.

  • YouTube placed ads on a live stream that featured a white supremacist, “alt-right” trolls, and Hitler apologism

    Andrew Anglin: “[Hitler] was a good person.”

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. & MADELINE PELTZ

    Despite powerful advertisers growing increasingly concerned about the “toxic content” on Facebook and Google that is getting monetized by their ads, Google’s video platform YouTube is still showing ads before a five-hour video (initially live streamed) that features racial slurs and apologism for Adolf Hitler.

    On February 10, Tim Gionet -- known on the internet as Baked Alaska -- hosted a “debate” on his YouTube channel featuring “alt-right” personalities and white nationalists. Gionet’s guests were The Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin, Red Elephants’ Vincent James, “alt-right” sympathizer Andy Warski, far-right troll Nick Fuentes, and Carl Benjamin -- who uses the name Sargon of Akkad online and doesn’t shy away from dropping the N-word during live broadcasts.

    Baked Alaska’s extremism has already gotten him permanently booted off Twitter. Now, he is using his YouTube platform to give a voice to “alt-right” figures like Paul Nehlen who recently appeared on his channel to defend his anti-Semitic views. And YouTube is helping Baked Alaska profit from this hateful rhetoric as is evident by the ads on his latest video.

    During live streaming, Baked Alaska also used “YouTube Super Chat” (a pay-to-be-noticed feature), which lets audiences pay for their messages to stand out in the live chat; the streamer can then choose to make those messages visible on screen. The feature allowed Baked Alaska to earn money from viewers paying to highlight their pro-Hitler statements and offensive references to Holocaust gas chambers. He also read some of those comments aloud during the show. As Right Wing Watch’s Jared Holt explained, these debates on YouTube are becoming a profitable tool for the “alt-right”:

    Alt-right YouTube personalities are happily using the debates to make money via the streams’ “Super Chats” and to expand their reach among young audiences.

    During the “debate,” Gionet teased an upcoming live stream session that would feature white nationalist and altright.com founder Richard Spencer and “new-right” proponent Mike Tokes. Though YouTube has attempted to cut off monetary incentives for content creators who engage in extremism on their videos, Baked Alaska’s channel is an example that the platform’s efforts still have a long way to go.

  • Pro-Trump trolls are coordinating a smear campaign against Obama portrait artist, Kehinde Wiley

    In a seemingly organized smear campaign, right-wing trolls are claiming Kehinde Wiley’s past work is racially insensitive to white people.​

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    As a response to the unveiling of former President Barack Obama’s official portrait, pro-Trump trolls launched a smear campaign against artist Kehinde Wiley, claiming a painting of his symbolizes an attack against white people and that the artist “seems racist.”

    On Twitter and online message boards like the “politically correct” threads on 4chan, 8chan, and The_Donald subreddit on Reddit, pro-Trump trolls are smearing Wiley by claiming his rendition of Judith beheading Holofernes, a modern twist on a classical theme including works by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens, and others, is “a ‘queen’ cutting off the head of a young white child.” Commenters on the message boards and Twitter have said Wiley “seems racist” and accused the artist of being “the definition of racism.”


    Judith Beheading Holoefernes / Caravaggio

     


    Judith with the head of Holofernes / Peter Paul Rubens

     


    Judith and Holofernes / Kehinde Wiley

    Wiley’s painting was part of a series of portraits of women he entitled An Economy of Grace. The artist is known for remixing "classical European art with black urban youth." As Upworthy’s Parker Molloy documented, the smearing seems “clearly pretty coordinated” and the manufactured outrage echoes other stunts pro-Trump trolls have pulled to garner mainstream media attention and shape narratives, like suing over all-women screenings of Wonder Woman, or disrupting a Shakespeare play over its depiction of the murder of Julius Caesar.

  • Right-wing trolls held a panel to complain about their declining traffic rates since Trump was elected

    A who's who of the dregs of the internet gathered for a pity party about how they're all failing

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Following declining traffic rates on their websites, an assortment of conspiracy theorists, hoax peddlers, anti-Muslim bigots, partisan activists, and pro-Trump media figures -- who depend on social media to broadcast their messages and profit from their audiences -- convened a panel in Washington, D.C., to claim tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook are “shadow-banning” and censoring them for being conservative and supporting President Donald Trump.

    The panel on Social Media Neutrality, put together on February 6 by The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft, featured Right Side Broadcasting Network's (RSBN) Margaret Howell, anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, software developer Marlene Jaeckel, and The People's Cube's Oleg Atbashian -- whose site’s content has triggered the Defense Department’s flags for hate and racism. Fox News regular Michelle Malkin and self-proclaimed “guerrilla journalist” (but actual partisan hack) James O'Keefe also made video appearances.

    The participants were united in their claim that, based on their declining traffic rates since after the election, Facebook, Twitter, and Google must be silencing or "shadow-banning" them. A "shadow-ban" refers to when users are blocked from sharing content to an online community, but can’t tell they have been banned. Hoft took issue with digital platforms warning users that his website contains “disputed articles,” even though his site has a lengthy record of publishing false information.

    After expressing her admiration for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ programming at Infowars, RSBN’s Howell accused Media Matters of “orchestrat[ing] a hit” against RSBN’s YouTube channel and being “in cahoots” with tech giants, claiming a Media Matters piece was the reason Facebook removed RSBN’s content for violating terms of service without clarifying which terms of service the platform had considered violated. She also claimed YouTube started censoring RSBN’s videos in the search results and marking videos as “not suitable for most advertisers.” RSBN, according to Howell, was born in reaction to then-candidate Trump’s (false) narrative that mainstream media never showed the crowds at his rallies and twisted his statements out of context. RSBN is also the same network that was once comfortable hiring former Infowars reporter Joe Biggs to host one of its shows, despite Biggs’ awful history of trivializing date rape or encouraging violence against transgender people.

    Both Michelle Malkin and Pamela Geller accused social media companies of censoring their platforms, which they’ve used to post anti-Muslim content. Malkin and Geller frequently appear on Fox News to malign entire Muslim communities or demean undocumented immigrants. Geller also accused media and tech companies of removing content critical of Islam because Sharia law, according to her, mandates that Islam not be criticized.

    Another panelist, Marlene Jaeckel, a software engineer and self-proclaimed “anti-feminist,” claimed to have been ostracized from Silicon Valley’s female tech groups because of her outspoken support for former Google software engineer James Damore. Damore was fired for writing a 10-page internal memo that Google’s CEO said “advanc[ed] harmful gender stereotypes.” She warned against the dangers of the biases Amazon’s Alexa and other home digital assistants could be giving to children, a theme that has occupied the minds of others on the far-right.

    As evident by some speakers’ remarks at the panel, at least some of these right-wing figures are breaking their loyalty to free market capitalism to call for government regulations to stop the companies from removing their content when it violates the companies’ terms of service. However, what they see as the unbridled exercise of their opinions is also what has made it necessary for Twitter, Facebook, and Google to update and revise their terms of service in order to combat fake news and protect its users against extremism, hate speech, and online harassment.

    Political allies of these far-right personalities are also helping them advance their conservative victimhood narrative. For example, in January, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) seemingly used O’Keefe’s undercover videos against Twitter (apparently ignoring his long history of deceptive editing and pathetic self-own episodes) to make serious accusations against the social media platform of banning conservatives (Cruz spent most of his time during a 2017 Senate hearing questioning social media companies about political bias).

    But these social media companies aren’t censoring conservative voices; they are taking action to combat fake news, Russian propaganda, hate speech, and online harassment and not always succeeding. Twitter has vowed to become “more aggressive” in monitoring racism and hate speech in its platform, but has admitted to making mistakes that often continue to enable extremists to smear immigrants and Muslims. YouTube -- which is owned by Google -- is struggling in its campaign to stop allowing content creators who spew hateful views from profiting from the platform, as it has allowed white supremacists to spread their messaging. And it was pressure from right-wing figures that reportedly pushed Facebook to “pull back from human oversight” of its Trending section and “delegate more power to shoddy algorithms,” which could have facilitated the flourishing of fake news and Russian propaganda. Similar right-wing pressure has also pushed Google to end a fact check display in its searches.

    While social media companies need to do a better job in crafting and enforcing policies that adequately respond to the challenges that harassment and misinformation present, ceding to the pressure of known harassers and proven misinformers should not be a path they follow.

  • WSJ debunks Murdoch-fueled conspiracy theory on FBI texts and Obama

    The conspiracy theory, which was debunked by WSJ and others, was heavily pushed by Fox News and other right-wing outlets

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The latest right-wing media ‘scandal,’ has completely fallen apart after The Wall Street Journal and others debunked several facets of the story. Fox News spent the day pushing Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) claim that a text message between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok referring to preparing talking points that then-FBI Director James Comey would use to brief then-President Barack Obama, implied an interference by Obama in the FBI’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server. Right-wing media, heavily led by Fox News, and other mainstream outlets ran with the claim, despite the fact that there was no active investigation into Clinton’s emails at the time the text message in question was sent.

  • Infowars fully embraces “The Storm,” a conspiracy theory called “the new Pizzagate”

    The outlet is now working directly with online message boards to promote the conspiracy theory that Trump is staging a counter-cabal against the “deep state” officials in government

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Infowars announced that its chief Washington correspondent and notorious crackpot Jerome Corsi has begun “playing a more central role” in pushing a fringe online message board conspiracy theory known as “The Storm,” entrenching itself deeper into the tinfoil hat territory the site usually inhabits.

    Corsi has jumped on board of “The Storm” train, a conspiracy theory that emerged from 4chan and 8chan, two online message boards that serve as hubs for the far-right and “alt-right” users and is reportedly “working directly” with the moderators of 8chan’s The Storm forum.

    As reported by New York magazine’s Paris Martineau, this new conspiracy theory claims that President Donald Trump’s cryptic October 2017 comment about the “calm before the storm” was a hint at a master plan Trump is setting in motion to kneecap members of the “deep state.” According to Martineau, the theory claims former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain among many others will be arrested, calls the Steele dossier a total fabrication, and argues that “the Las Vegas massacre was most definitely an inside job connected to the Saudi-Clinton cabal.”

    Over the course of 2017, right-wing media figures have been pushing the narrative that “deep state” operatives are attempting to remove Trump from power and that the ongoing probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election campaign is an evidence of this supposed coup.

    An anonymous poster “Q” seems to have set “The Storm” in motion. “Q,” who claims to be a “high-level government insider with Q clearance,” began posting “intel drops” (or crumbs) on 4chan meant to leave clues to inform the public of Trump’s plan.

    “The Storm” has now spread beyond message boards to gain traction on Twitter under the #qanon and #thestorm hashtags and through YouTube videos which currently have hundreds of thousands of views.

    Corsi, who was one of the loudest voices spreading the lie that former President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, has a penchant for pushing conspiracy theories, ranging from wild speculation about Obama’s sexual orientation to claiming that Adolf Hitler escaped Germany with the help of Allen Dulles, who would later become the CIA director. Corsi has now written “decode” analyses of the messages “Q” has posted on message boards, reaching unfounded conclusions and assigning meaning to wildly ambiguous claims, breathing new life into the conspiracy theory.

    Pro-Trump troll and self-appointed “citizen journalist” Liz Crokin has expanded on the conspiracy theory to speculate that “The Storm” includes a crackdown on elite pedophiles. Crokin has gone on to accuse model Chrissy Teigen and her husband, singer John Legend, of pedophilia.

    By highlighting Corsi’s “central role” in pushing an insane conspiracy theory, Infowars has once again proven that there are no limits to the outlet's shilling for Trump even if it means championing a conspiracy theory called “the new Pizzagate -- only worse.”

  • Following the Trump-Bannon feud, Infowars is setting itself up to capture Breitbart’s disillusioned readers

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Leading conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars website are positioning themselves to capture Breitbart.com’s readership if the website doesn’t fire its Trump-scorned chairman Steve Bannon.

    On January 3, President Donald Trump publicly dissociated himself from Bannon following reporting that Michael Wolff’s newly released book quotes Bannon as saying that the actions of the Trump presidential campaign were “treasonous.” The president slammed Bannon in a statement, accusing his former chief advisor of “leaking false information to the media” during Bannon’s time in the White House, and saying he had “lost his mind.”

    This new controversy could exacerbate financial questions that continue to swirl around the Breitbart operation. A 2017 ad boycott rooted in disgust over the site’s extremism caused the outlet to lose nearly 2,600 advertisers. And now, following the presidential disavowal, Bannon’s biggest patrons, billionaires Rebekah Mercer and her father Robert Mercer, are reportedly uncomfortable with supporting his ventures and are reportedly looking into ousting Bannon from the website. Rebekah Mercer publicly rebuked Bannon the day after Trump’s statement was released. Matt Drudge, a major narrative driver in the conservative media apparatus whose contempt for Bannon predated the presidential spat, supported ousting Bannon.

    Breitbart’s coverage of this schism failed to provide meaningful pushback or provide any defense of the disgraced chairman. The site’s readers, for the most part, sided with Trump, expressing their repeated support with comments that Infowars compiled and published such as, “I didn’t vote for Bannon,” and “Bannon blew any credibility he had by backing Moore.” Infowars quickly compiled and published the comments.

    Infowars and Jones are currently exploiting the commotion to position themselves to fill the void Breitbart’s weakening and Bannon’s fall from grace might create. Now, nearly a year and a half after Infowars reporter and host Roger Stone bragged that he advised candidate Trump to hire Bannon, Jones is focusing his rage on the beleaguered Breitbart chairman, claiming he “stabbed the president and America in the back” and accusing him of being “at the heart of the attempt to take [Trump] down.” During other comments in the January 4 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones lobbed insults at Bannon (saying “Mr. Dandruff” has “big giant red swollen eyeballs that look like an owl on PCP that you poured 14 bottles of scotch on top of” and is a “pile of feces”) and suggested he be investigated for espionage. On Twitter, he attacked Bannon’s initial lack of response to Trump’s rebuke and praised Trump’s anti-Bannon statement.

    The MAGA base has come to expect specific things from its news content, which Breitbart provided in relentless streams: a strong anti-establishment stance that included targeting the media and both major political parties, and a penchant for “triggering the libs,” a phrase used to ridicule progressive stances on cultural and social issues. Those are the elements that Trump weaponized to help him achieve victory.

    After Trump took the White House, and following a year of reported chaos within the administration, the audience’s ethos now also includes unapologetic Trump loyalty, a defense mechanism that serves as a validation of their electoral choice. If Breitbart’s readers ultimately side with Trump and flee the website, Alex Jones’ Infowars seems like a prime candidate to pick up the disgruntled MAGA crowd by providing those readers the fix they’re looking for.

    The fact is that Infowars has fewer constraints than Breitbart because it’s a financially independent outlet reportedly grossing close to $10 million a year -- not from advertisers, but from selling nootropic supplements and other merchandise. And this relative independence will only incentivize Jones to push forward on the path of  bigotry, homophobia, and lies by pushing even more conspiracy theories and Trump propaganda that captivate the MAGA audience.

  • 5 things that emboldened far-right trolls in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right trolls have long occupied the internet with their nihilistic sense of humor and taste for memes, engaged in sophomoric “shit-posting.” But for some, their impact has expanded beyond the fringe corners of the internet. They've shown they're able to influence national conversations, offering twisted narratives and conspiracy theories during major news events, injecting bigotry into the discourse, and challenging harassment policies of social media platforms, all while marketing themselves as legitimate torchbearers of the truth.

    This didn’t happen overnight; rather, a combination of factors made it possible. The far-right trolls learned how to manufacture outrage to mobilize their audiences into action. Their memes transcended “shit-posting” and began shaping political conversations. They found a friendly presidential administration that gave them access and provided them with a veneer of legitimacy. The coverage media outlets gave them failed to cover them in proper context and allowed them to sanitize their extremist brands. And social media platforms were slow in cracking down on their hateful rhetoric, allowing them to gain attention and amass thousands of followers.

    Even politicians have started noticing their reach, with some now imitating their style.

    Here are five factors that fueled the influence of far-right trolls in 2017:

    The politics of manufactured outrage that allow the far right to attract attention and drive narratives

    Trends of online discourse in 2017 showed that the far-right’s practice of using digital tools to affect change, exercise pressure, and punish perceived enemies is best understood as politics of manufactured outrage. Many trolls raised their profiles and gained relevance by criticizing what they saw as liberal over-sensitivity, seeking to provoke “snowflakes” for the sake of generating outrage and supporting Trump because his war against “political correctness” was an essential part of their ethos. Now they’re using social media platforms to command their followers to decry and condemn their critics over social justice issues they openly dismissed before.

    Mike Cernovich, a leading right-wing troll previously known for misogynistic musings and tasteless tweets, including denying the existence of date rape, effectively manufactured outrage to get MSNBC contributor Sam Seder fired from the network for a tasteless joke Seder tweeted in 2008. Though MSNBC rehired Seder, this was not an isolated incident.

    On another occasion, Cernovich targeted journalist Josh Barro and campaigned to get him fired from Business Insider by accusing the journalist of ableism after Barro made fun of Cernovich’s lisp, only stopping after Barro publicly apologized. But Cernovich’s own digital fingerprints make it impossible to believe that he suddenly developed a concern for ableism. In a similar fashion, “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec targeted New Republic’s Jeet Heer, accusing him of defending child pornography by taking a few of Heer’s tweets from  2014 and 2016 out of context.  Posobiec also interrupted a play under the pretense that he was offended by its contents, and sued a theater for its all-female screening of the movie Wonder Woman. And when he couldn’t find something to be outraged about, he simply created the opportunity by reportedly planting a “rape Melania” sign at an anti-Trump rally. Right-wing trolls followed the same playbook to smear protesters and ignite outrage during protests of an event featuring Cernovich by planting a sign that featured the logo of a practically defunct pro-pedophilia organization.

    The trolls are still freely deploying their playbook of haranguing their followers into more campaigns to force media outlets and social media platforms into doing their bidding -- whether to silence journalists and Trump critics by manipulating Twitter’s abuse report protocols and getting them suspended from the platform, or to “weaponize” their followers into harassment campaigns, or to pressure brands into advertising on shows they like.

    As BuzzFeed’s Kate Notopoulos wrote, these trolls “have weaponized taking things literally.” These stunts are often just manipulation disguised as false equivalence, since trolls like Cernovich justify their actions by arguing that media “dictate policy and personnel decisions via social shaming/‘news coverage.'" Mainstream right-wing media also dismiss criticism of these harassment campaigns, claiming that they're legitimate because “both sides” do it (regardless of whether that's true).

    The rise of the meme warfare from fringe message boards

    Right-wing and “alt-right” trolls successfully weaponized memes in support of Trump throughout the 2016 presidential election in what experts documenting troll culture refer to as “The Great Meme War.” Message board users created memes and deployed them on social media daily to attack political candidates. During this phase of meme-ing their favorite candidate into office, factions like the “alt-right” and other right-wing trolls were indistinguishable.

    2017 saw the meme warfare kick into high gear, with many meme campaigns transcending the message boards and becoming a source of harassment on college campuses, or turning into terrifying harassment campaigns against journalists. Such was the case with the “It’s okay to be white” meme, designed specifically to be “tame and inoffensive” yet elicit reactions that would portray any criticism or outcry as absurd. The meme quickly became a battle cry in the campus culture wars, culminating in professional troll Lucian Wintrich’s “It is OK to be white” speech at the University of Connecticut, which spurred disruptions, fights, and arrests.

    Similarly, there was a meme campaign against CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski following his story that an anti-CNN meme tweeted by Trump had been created by a Reddit user with a history of “racist and anti-Semitic imagery.” The campaign quickly transcended the digital world and resulted in death threats against CNN staffers and Kaczynski himself.

    Sloppy media coverage that allowed trolls to rebrand away from the toxicity of the “alt-right”

    Journalists have been complicit in aiding right-wing trolls who rose to prominence by riding coattails of the “alt-right” to rebrand away from its toxicity by either writing soft-focus profiles of trolls or by showing up woefully unprepared to interview them. After Richard Spencer -- the original “alt-righter” -- gained national media coverage due to his explicit white nationalistic views, many prominent trolls who were earlier happy to align with the “alt-right” commenced a rebranding campaign that was largely aided by media’s failure to hold them accountable.

    Cernovich, who has shown an inclination for “pivoting” whenever it becomes politically expedient for him, was at the forefront of hijacking the term “new right,” which was quickly adopted by other trolls like Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, Posobiec, Wintrich, and Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent “Western chauvinist” organization Proud Boys.

    But the figures of the so-called “new right” can’t sanitize their past adherence to the pro-Trump “alt-right” during the 2016 presidential election when they trafficked in anti-Muslim tropes, attacked transgender people, associated with Spencer, or openly pushed dangerous conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” -- which falsely claimed Democratic operatives close to Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign were running a child sex ring from a Washington, D.C., family pizzeria. More recently, the appearance of a known “alt-right” troll featuring a swastika flag and Adolf Hitler apologism on Wintrich’s Periscope illustrated that there’s little substantive difference between the “new right” and more extreme factions.

    A complicit presidential administration that gave these trolls further prominence

    In the Trump administration, right-wing trolls found powerful allies who admired and promoted their content and media appearances.

    The White House has been complicit in fueling the trolls’ war on journalists and mainstream media. The Trump administration granted them access to White House press briefings that allowed conspiracy theory websites like The Gateway Pundit to present themselves as legitimate news outlets and provided them with a prestigious platform from which to perform stunts and explicitly troll journalists. Reportedly, Trump’s sons, Eric and Donald Jr., directly provide Cernovich with insider information. It’s clear from Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter activity that he has a penchant for far-right trolls and their content as he has used the weight of his name to promote right-wing trolls who defend his father and smear mainstream media.

    The president, himself, retweeted a tweet by Posobiec to his more than 44 million followers, resulting in Posobiec celebrating the presidential validation.

    Twitter and YouTube dropped the ball on cracking down on harassment and extremism

    Right-wing trolls largely owe their rise to social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter, which have allowed them to grow their platforms and reach massive audiences. In the process, Twitter was extremely lax in applying its anti-harassment policies, and allowed right-wing trolls’ harassment campaigns to successfully drive targets, like feminist writer Lindy West, off the platform.

    Meanwhile, YouTube provided a platform to white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. Though YouTube launched a demonetization initiative so people wouldn’t be able to profit from uploading extreme content and vowed to take down explicitly extremist content, the platform still remains the “talk radio” for right-wing trolls, allowing the spread of misinformation to a massive audience, often without consequence.

    Similarly, Twitter also just moved to crack down on its most toxic content creators. But it remains to be seen whether these policies will be successful in curbing the influence of MAGA trolls who often operate with the same harassment tactics as extremists. While Twitter removed the verification badges of many far-right personalities and expelled the most offensive users (some more than once), the fact that right-wing trolls remain in the platform only evidences Twitter’s problem with interpreting its own rules and applying them coherently.

    While the right-wing trolls’ current influence is undeniable, it’s not all doom and gloom. Their online influence hasn't translated into other political victories following Trump’s election (the candidates these trolls put their weight behind, Republicans Ed Gillespie in Virginia, and Roy Moore in Alabama, both lost). It could also be an indicator that their influence, at least in electoral politics, might have reached its peak. But whether their influence in inserting divisive cultural and political narratives into the mainstream will wane at all is yet to be seen.

  • Is Breitbart trying to have it both ways with this “alt-right” candidate?

    It is unclear whether Team Bannon actually disavowed congressional candidate Paul Nehlen for his anti-Semitism and ties to the “alt-right,” or if it considers his extremism “hysterical rubbish”

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    As conservative commentators scrutinize congressional candidate Paul Nehlen’s explicit anti-Semitic messages and ties to the “alt-right,” Breitbart.com, which had put its full support behind Nehlen, is appearing to disavow Nehlen’s extremism while also continuing to give him a platform.

    In an attempt to advance its nationalistic war against all things establishment, Breitbart went all-in for Nehlen -- a little-known candidate who had no chance of winning -- in a 2016 primary election, launching its quixotic crusade to unseat Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). Predictably, and despite Breitbart’s full-throated support (up until the election, the outlet published close to 30 pieces of content shilling for him), Nehlen lost to Ryan by a 85 to 15 percent margin. Not discouraged by his loss, Nehlen continued to raise his profile with a prolific social media presence and, most importantly, Breitbart’s support. Breitbart’s Executive Chairman Steve Bannon hosted him on his radio show a week after his embarrassing loss, treating him “like a hero” and literally professing his love for him.

    In June, close to a year after his humiliating defeat, Nehlen announced a new bid to unseat Ryan in 2018. Breitbart continued to churn out Nehlen-related content, as well as provide him with an “exclusive” platform to author his own attacks on the speaker of the House. However, Nehlen’s penchant for bigotry on social media recently drew the condemnation of a conservative commentator when he targeted attorney Ari Cohn with an anti-Semitic message. As a result, other pundits in the MAGAsphere similarly condemned Nehlen’s anti-Semitism, with Rebel TV host John Cardillo claiming he’d “spoken to Team Bannon” and “they were shocked and disgusted”:

    Despite the reported shock of his loyal supporter, Nehlen’s anti-Semitism was anything but sudden. His ties to white nationalism and the “alt-right” had been explicitly displayed in his digital fingerprints, as reported by HuffPost and Salon. His attacks on Cohn were not his first display of anti-Semitism, nor were they out of the ordinary given his habit of aggressively responding to his critics using compelling arguments such as “eat a bullet” or “self deport.” Nehlen had also promoted a 4chan meme with ties to the “alt-right,” as well as embraced “Groyper,” a known “alt-right” mascot. He has never shied away from being “all in on the AltRight (sic) vote.” After stumping for Roy Moore, Breitbart’s chosen (and defeated) candidate in the Alabama senatorial special election, Nehlen appeared on the “white power podcast Fash the Nation” and used an anti-Semitic expression, talking about “people who want to throw their parentheses at you,” a clear allusion to the “alt-right” echo meme. Currently, he’s responding to his critics from the right with the type of trolling that is typical of message board posters, crudely comparing outcries to “autistic screeching” (a meme often used to signal enjoyment from triggering those deemed oversensitive).

    Meanwhile, the Cardillo tweet remains the only (even second-hand) evidence that Breitbart is at all bothered by the explicit extremism of their chosen candidate. And in response to the HuffPost article that compiled evidence of Nehlen’s ties to white supremacy, Breitbart editor and Team Bannon member Raheem Kassam dismissively tweeted that it was “hysterical rubbish:”

    In fact, Breitbart has continued giving Nehlen a platform. As recently as December 18, Nehlen made a guest appearance on the Breitbart radio show Whatever It Takes with Curt Schilling. If what Cardillo tweeted is true, it shows that Breitbart is trying to have it both ways -- appease conservative critics with a vague reported condemnation of Nehlen’s bigotry, without issuing a full-throated disavowal that could cause them to lose the Gab “alt-right” audience. This audience loves Nehlen, proving once again what's become more than evident this year: Breitbart is OK with playing footsie with Nazis.

    UPDATE: CNN reported that an adviser of Steve Bannon, Arthur Schwartz, said "Nehlen is dead to us" in response to Nehlen's increasingly offensive tweets.