Over the past week, a number of far-right trolls, led by the provocateur and propagandist Mike Cernovich, have been on the warpath against prominent liberal figures in what they see as revenge for the scrutiny instances of explicitly racist, misogynist, and bigoted speech receives on social media.
Their principal tactic? Digging up tweets from up to 10 years ago and weaponizing them against their authors in efforts to, at best, discredit outspoken liberal actors, directors and comedians, and at worst, get them fired.
Last week, Cernovich publicized director James Gunn's offensive Twitter jokes about pedophilia and other topics, leading Disney to fire him on Friday from his role as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. From Cernovich’s perspective, it was a staggering victory -- and one he cast as borne of earnest concern for children in Hollywood.
It’s not the first time Cernovich has made spurious accusations of pedophilia -- he was prominently involved in promoting the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Democratic politicians were involved in running a child sex slave ring from the basement of a D.C. pizzeria. Pizzagate eventually had chilling real-life consequences -- in December 2016, a man drove to Washington and fired a military-style assault weapon inside the family restaurant. However, unlike Pizzagate, Gunn’s now-deleted tweets were real -- and Cernovich’s resurfacing of them and getting Gunn, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, fired as a consequence represented a successful escalation of tactics.
Other far-right figures like MAGA troll Jack Posobiec eagerly amplified Cernovich’s campaign against Gunn. And after Gunn’s firing, the campaign to resurface offensive tweets by left-leaning public figures only escalated. Comedians including Michael Ian Black, Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt have come under fire for previous tweets that contained distasteful jokes trivializing pedophilia. Dan Harmon, co-creator of the hit animated series Rick and Morty, left Twitter after right-wing figures recirculated an offensive 2009 parody he made of the show Dexter. (An investigation by Polygon found that users on the message boards 4chan and Reddit had resurfaced the video before Cernovich began tweeting about it.)
However, previous statements from far-right trolls, including Cernovich himself, poke holes in the fake-concern narrative, making absolutely clear that the primary motive of this new offensive is victory in an ongoing culture war -- and more specifically, taking revenge against the left.
In 2017, Cernovich stated that his goal was to emulate CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and the KFILE research team, whose members frequently comb through the social media and work histories of government and political figures and have discovered racist and conspiracy theory-mongering comments that affect these individuals’ ability to provide unbiased public service. Cernovich, by contrast, has targeted figures in the entertainment industry.
Moreover, Cernovich also explicitly stated that accusations of enabling or accepting pedophilia were part of his mission to use the “rules and tactics” of the left against liberal figures.
Other trolls in the MAGA universe have been even more explicit, indicating that the success represented by Gunn’s firing is a signal of a tactical shift, not an authentic moral concern. Posobiec touted the “strategic significance” of the event:
On 4chan, users in a thread titled “Dan Harmon is a pedophile,” which originally surfaced Harmon’s 2009 parody, were even more explicit about their rationale, repeatedly citing the firing of Roseanne Barr as a motive to vengefully “take scalps”:
CRTV’s Gavin McInnes, the misogynist founder of the violent, fraternal men-only organization Proud Boys, was even more transparent in his articulation of the bad faith that undergirds this latest salvo in the online culture battle. “There’s a new trend going on where the right is exposing the left’s pedophilia, and what they’re really doing is playing dirty pool,” he said in the July 24 edition of his CRTV show Get Off My Lawn. “Now, I know that these pedophile jokes that Cernovich caught these liberals saying are jokes. But I don't have to -- I can pretend I don't know they're jokes. Because they started this war."
The words of Cernovich and his allies put the lie to any notion that this latest offensive is motivated by concern for children. Their desire to endanger the jobs and reputations of popular liberals is driven by lesser motives: revenge and the weaponization of manufactured outrage.