Noted “alt-right” troll and hoaxster Jack Posobiec took to Periscope on May 18 to highlight a group of supposed “protesters” at a net neutrality event in Washington, D.C. who were “holding signs calling for bans on Breitbart, Drudge, and Infowars.” Posobiec has previously been caught staging protests in attempt to characterize his political opponents as extreme.
On May 18, Posobiec tweeted a video and link to a report about a net neutrality protest in Washington, D.C., specifically highlighting a group of masked protesters who recognized Posobiec and appeared to be “holding signs calling for bans on Breitbart, Drudge, and Infowars.” The claim was quickly picked up by right-wing outlets such as Infowars, Gateway Pundit, and Washington Free Beacon.
Posobiec, known for pushing conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, also has a history of arranging inflammatory chants and signage that are meant to paint progressives as extremists. In January, BuzzFeed’s Joseph Bernstein reported that a “Rape Melania” sign seen at an anti-Trump rally was “the culmination of a disinformation campaign by Posobiec and others intended to paint the anti-Trump rallies as violent and out of control,” and “according to a source, it is Posobiec himself holding the ‘Rape Melania’ sign in the photographs.” Bernstein added that Posobiec “claimed that he’d started an ‘assassinate Trump’ chant to goad protesters into copying him, with the intention of filming them.”
UPDATE: In a conversation with Media Matters on May 19, Matt Wood, the policy director for Free Press, one of the nation's leading independent net neutrality advocacy organizations and a convener of the rally, described his interaction with the supposed protesters.
As explained by Wood, the masked protesters who were holding signs advocating for the “banning” of right-wing sites immediately raised the alarm of rally goers who have been involved in the struggle for net neutrality. Not only were the protesters “wooden” and seemingly playing caricatures that served as “dog whistles for conservative media,” as detailed by Wood, but the messages and chants they used -- especially their focus on banning conservative websites -- have nothing to do with the actual goals of net neutrality. Instead, as recounted by Wood, who both interacted with the supposed protesters and observed their interviews with The Daily Caller and Rebel Media, they offered nonsensical justifications for their signs calling for Infowars and similar right-wing sites to be banned. And they countered some who questioned their off-message signage with the following claim: “I oppose the fascists. If you don't agree, you're a fascist.”
When Wood attempted to question the protesters in order to determine who they were and to explain that their calls to ban conservative sites were not aligned with net neutrality, they mostly refused to identify themselves or their organization, although one did respond to Wood's question about “who sent” them by saying it was “a woman.”
When staffers from Media Matters who were present at the rally attempted to interview four of the other supposed protesters, they declined. Two of the protesters said they “were waiting for someone.” At another point, Media Matters filmed a staffer for Rebel Media (wearing a Rebel shirt and carrying other Rebel paraphernalia) following the fake protesters and taking pictures. You can see that in the background of this first video, and in the second video we also filmed as one of the fake protesters was confronted:
UPDATE #2: After publication, Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge, another of the rally's participants, contacted Media Matters and stated that he too approached the supposed protesters and they refused to identify themselves. When Feld asked if he could interview them, they said “we don't give interviews,” and when he asked for their names the same protester said “we don't give names.” Feld asked who the protesters were with, and the reply was “we don't talk to press.” Below, watch video of Feld call out the “trolls” in a speech at the rally and point out that their bizarre calls for censorship of right-wing sites were not only antithetical to the goals of the net neutrality movement, but were also part of a pattern of suspicious behavior meant to discredit efforts to keep the internet open to all:
HAROLD FELD: First, I got to point out, and I hope everybody will take a look and get some airtime to the guys with the “ban Drudge” and the “ban hate speech online.” If trolls could cosplay, this would be -- God, they got it all, they've got the bandanas, they've got the angry looks, but guys, you are all confused. If you want to ban speech, you need the pro-[FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai rally. Because, when you get rid of Title II, then anyone can discriminate. God knows, I hates me all the racism on 4chan and all that stuff, but I think it's a damn good thing that nobody can cut it off, because I know everybody here, especially those who have worked in civil rights, who have worked for the betterment of people, understand that it would be like that to get big companies -- “responsible” companies -- to cut us off as hate speech or disruptive.
But here's the funny thing: We've had, for a couple of weeks now, an ID-stealing spambot filing forged comments -- pro-Pai, forged comments -- to the FCC. If you look on your Twitter feeds, you can see Pai's staff are tweeting up a storm about our trolls over here. Where the hell is action on an actual illegal hack of the FCC? I'm telling you, what did Trump do when Putin came to hack our democracy? He said, “well, I certainly hope they found Hillary's emails,” and when he's in trouble for hacking our democracy, Trump's like, “no one has been treated worse than me.”
So, I've got to say to Chairman Pai and his staff, who are real busy and deeply, deeply concerned that the trolls showed up at the wrong rally, because, of course, there is no pro-Pai rally, because nobody else likes that plan. But, word one about an actual federal crime? Word one about pro-Pai supporters hacking, according to Pai, the comments system so that people opposed to his giveaway of the internet to the companies instead of to us, letting us say what we want to say, that, he doesn't have any time to pursue? That's a crime, man. That's a hack.