Pro-Trump internet trolls claimed that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was a "terrorist organization" and compared the group to Nazis after ADL identified some of the biggest online personalities of the “alt-right” and “alt-lite” movements and called them out for spreading hateful rhetoric.
The ADL recently published a list of “alt-right” and “alt-lite” figures, identifying key players in both the white supremacist “alt-right” and the fringe right-wing media landscape of media trolls and smear merchants it inspired, which the ADL called the “alt-lite.” It included internet troll and Infowars contributor Mike Cernovich; smear merchant Jack Posobiec, who once received a temporary White House press pass; disgraced Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos; The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich; and Rebel Media’s Gavin McInnes, using the “alt-lite” banner to describe their prior affiliation and promotion of “alt-right” figures and ideologies. In a Periscope live stream, Cernovich responded to the list’s publication by urging his followers to spread the hashtag “#ADLTerror” on Twitter. Cernovich also called ADL “a terrorist organization” that had “targeted” him and his family for “murder and assassination” by including his name in the list.
Soon after Cernovich launched the hashtag, other alternative media personalities who were also mentioned in the ADL’s list rallied to attack the organization. Posobiec compared ADL’s members to Nazis and claimed the “death list” was being used to target Trump supporters; Wintrich called the ADL a “liberal terrorist organization” whose “only qualifier” to label people a hate group leader was support for Trump; Yiannopoulos accused the ADL of trying to get pro-Trump media figures like himself “hurt or killed by painting targets on our backs”; McInnes threatened to “sue the living shit out of everyone even remotely involved” with the list if he was attacked following its publication.
Allies and supporters of those on the ADL’s list also joined in on the attack. The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft accused the ADL of publishing “a murder hit list” and stated that his website would take “further action” against the organization if it did not remove Wintrich’s name. Rebel Media’s Laura Loomer decried the ADL’s decision to publish a “hit list,” asking why the organization is “encouraging violent leftists to attack members of the right.” And “Ali,” a rising star among pro-Trump media personalities, also promoted the hashtag. Fans of these personalities created memes and videos and spread them on social media to show their support.
While BuzzFeed technology reporter Charlie Warzel pointed out that the ADL didn't necessarily provide full evidence of the actions that earned these trolls a spot on the list, the ADL was right to include them based on their habits of engaging in hateful rhetoric and online harassment. The organization correctly identified them for using their platforms to spread vitriol and honestly documented their efforts to sanitize their movement’s prior affiliation with “alt-right” circles and differentiate itself from white nationalism.
Warzel also correctly noted that these trolls are "more of a media arm than an ideological group of any kind." These individuals do not spread hate in the traditional way that has been the modus operandi of the “alt-right” figures also included in the ADL’s list. Rather than organizing community events and advocating for any specific policies, these figures have built a potent anti-liberal media apparatus that can be -- and often is -- mobilized to harass and smear any chosen target-of-the-day.
Over the past several months, these right-wing media personalities and pro-Trump internet trolls have fueled and engaged in harassment and doxing campaigns against a variety of people. They misquoted pop star Ariana Grande after a terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester, smearing her as “anti-American.” CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski’s family received dozens of threatening phone calls following an article he wrote about the origin of an anti-CNN meme Trump tweeted. And the internet trolls falsely accused popular online satirist Vic Berger of being a part of an online cohort of pedophiles. They were also key proponents of the “Great Meme War” with CNN, during which social media sites were flooded with high volumes of anti-CNN memes and numerous CNN employees were doxed and harassed.
Though these alternative media figures and internet trolls are now rebranding away from the “alt-right” leaders who once inspired them, they still deserve to be on the ADL list and should remain there until they cease using their platforms to incite harassment and encourage extremist rhetoric.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile shows Lucian Wintrich is an anti-media, pro-Trump troll
The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich said he’s doing “performance art” as a White House correspondent in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile, reinforcing that his role is less of a journalist and more of a sycophantic troll.
Wintrich, who was behind the “Twinks4Trump” photography exhibit, was hired by the far-right fringe (and often wrong) political blog The Gateway Pundit as its White House correspondent in February. Since then, Wintrich has adopted the Trump administration’s playbook for delegitimizing the media, including referring to anything critical reported about the administration as fake news and attacking media organizations like CNN. This coincided with the propaganda effort by the Trump administration to rely on pro-Trump shills to spread its message. Additionally, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Wintrich admitted that "Half of what I do — well, on social media specifically — is f—ing with people."
The Post-Gazette’s July 14 profile noted that Wintrich “has yet to ask a question in a White House briefing” and that he “doesn’t have formal journalistic training” and “wears his [pro-Trump] allegiance on his sleeve.” The Post-Gazette also quoted Media Matters president Angelo Carusone, who explained that Wintrich "is not really doing what a White House correspondent does, but he wasn’t supposed to. They’re looking for that moment when they get a viral response." From the Post-Gazette:
Mr. Wintrich, who previously worked for a New York advertising firm, has yet to ask a question in a White House briefing. But he’s already scored a different kind of journalistic coup: being confronted by another journalist.
When Mr. Wintrich gained White House credentials in February, The New York Times reported “concerns that the Trump administration, which has called the news media ‘the opposition party,’ is favoring outlets more sympathetic to its views.”
For his part, Mr. Wintrich told the Times “We will be doing a little trolling of the media,” referring to the online practice of goading opponents into lashing out and making fools of themselves.
He wears his allegiance on his sleeve, penning stories like “Trump Administration: One of the Most Transparent in US History, Open to Media,” which countered media grumbling with reminders of secretive practices by President Barack Obama.
Mr. Wintrich has largely avoided such controversies. But few of his roughly 100 Gateway Pundit posts since January have drawn on his White House access: Policy issues, like a recent post on internet policy, “get minimal engagement,” he said.
Many posts rely on material reported elsewhere. And often, Mr. Wintrich himself is the story.
“I consider some of what I’m doing to be performance art,” he said, adding that “quote-unquote serious journalists are doing performance art themselves, but they don’t understand that.”
Angelo Carusone, president of liberal media-criticism outlet Media Matters for America, said Mr. Wintrich “is not really doing what a White House correspondent does, but he wasn’t supposed to. They’re looking for that moment when they get a viral response.”
How a lie spread from 4chan to Fox News in less than 12 hours
A false claim posted on 4chan that a Redditor who created an anti-CNN GIF, and who was tracked down by CNN, was just 15 years old made its way to Donald Trump Jr. and on Fox News within 12 hours. According to CNN and the reporter who helped identify the Reddit user, the man is actually middle aged. The fact that the claim (made to smear CNN for attacking a teenager) was able to spread so quickly exemplifies how misinformation from fringe sources can make its way through the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem and to outlets with a broader reach, such as Fox News.
On July 2, President Donald Trump tweeted a video showing himself wrestling and punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his face. The video started as a GIF posted on the Reddit forum r/The_Donald by user HanAssholeSolo and was later turned into a video with music, which is the version Trump tweeted. The Reddit user expressed glee at his GIF being tweeted by the president. On July 4, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reported that CNN had identified the man but was “not publishing” his name “because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology … and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again,” adding, “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
CNN and Kaczynski received a flurry of criticism, “simultaneously draw[ing] accusations of going soft and issuing a threat,” as The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers wrote. But among the accusations made by online trolls and figures affiliated with the “alt-right” was that CNN had threatened and blackmailed a 15-year-old. Responding to the allegation, Kaczynski tweeted, “HanAssholeSolo is a middle aged man. People claiming he’s 15 are wrong. Some are intentionally spreading this.” Business Insider previously reported that the user had "claimed to be 37 in another post."
The claim seems to have first appeared right before midnight on July 4, when a user on the “alt-right”-affiliated 4chan forum /pol/ claimed that the “tough guys over at CNN” “doxxed a 15 year old kid.” Within an hour, in the early hours of July 5, Twitter user Kaiser Willy tweeted a photo of the 4chan user’s post, writing, “Potentially huge development in #CNNBlackmail Reddit user is believed to only be 15.” A couple of hours later, neo-Nazi and “alt-right” website The Daily Stormer pointed to Willy's tweet to push the claim, adding that CNN “must be made to taste their own medicine.”
Shortly after 1 a.m., “alt-right” personality Rick Vaughn tweeted a photo of a 4chan post of supposed CNN advertisers, writing, “Would be a shame if we make this List of @CNN 's Advertisers a lot shorter after CNN blackmailed a 15 year-old... #CNNBlackmail.” Additionally, “alt-right”-affiliated Lucian Wintrich of The Gateway Pundit tweeted, “@CNN pushes propaganda for 1/2 a year, Trump calls them out, they threaten to doxx a 15 year old, now #CNNBlackmail is trending. Happy 4th!” Mike Cernovich, an online troll who dwells in the alternative media sphere, retweeted both Vaughn and Wintrich’s tweets. The claim then spread to Reddit’s r/The_Donald, with users highlighting the original 4chan post. Shortly after, “alt-right” figure Jack Posobiec tweeted, “I can confirm Reddit user HanAHoloSolo is 15 and is an LGBT Trump supporter.” Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars, also an “alt-right” figure, tweeted, “The poor kid that CNN threatened to dox is reportedly only 15 years old. #CNNBlackmail.”
At around 7 a.m., fake news purveyor TruthFeed published a post, claiming, “Many are saying that the Reddit user is actually a 15-year-old kid, which looks even worse for CNN.” Not long after, Donald Trump Jr., who regularly pushes fringe claims, tweeted, “So I guess they weren't effective threatening the admin so they go after & bully a 15 y/o?”
By 9:00 a.m., the lie had made its way to Fox News, as frequent Fox News guest Dan Bongino said CNN “out[ed] a 15-year-old” and added that CNN should find sources for its Trump/Russia stories before they “out a bunch of teenagers playing their Xbox, making giphys you don’t like.” In response, Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade said that CNN “made the kid apologize” and noted that the internet was “going to bat for the 15-year-old.”
The evolution and dissemination of this claim shows an alarming trend: How fake news and misinformation can go from the fringe of the internet to Fox News within a short period of time. The speed with which this falsehood spread demonstrates the dangers of the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem, which has helped 4chan to attempt to impact a foreign election campaign and which regularly pushes conspiracy theories and falsities.
UPDATE: During Fox News’ Fox News Specialists at 5:00 p.m. on July 5, host Eric Bolling repeated the lie, claiming the person being “threatened by CNN” was “a young kid.”
Forney has previously worked for holocaust deniers, declared “everyone hates blacks,” and claimed women “want” to be “raped”
Can't wait to see y'all Sunday! Rally Against Leftist Violence 12:00-3:00PM. White House. MAJOR names. EXCITING prizes. FUN surprises. pic.twitter.com/9kXbBxwSEu
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) June 22, 2017
“Special guest” Matt Forney is a white nationalist previously employed by Red Ice Radio, an anti-semitic online media outlet that promotes Holocaust denialism. Red Ice Radio has previously promoted YouTube videos with titles including “Eric Hunt - The Shoah: The Biggest Hoax of the 20th Century?,” “Ole Dammegard - Making Critical Thinking Illegal: Questioning the Holocaust,” and “David Cole - The Truth Behind the Gates of Auschwitz.”
Prior to his upcoming appearance at the “Rally Against Leftist Violence,” Forney described the children of interracial marriages as “almost always fucked in the head,” claimed “we need strict black control and Muslim control,” claimed “Mexicans are a fifth column in the U.S.,” and declared “Let’s just be honest: everyone hates blacks.” Forney has additionally claimed “Jews support gun control because their limp wrists make it impossible for them to shoot straight.”
Furthermore, Forney has said women “want” to be “raped” and “beat[en]”, and claimed "Blacks do nothing but murder cops, rob and rape people, and bring death and destruction wherever they go.” In a profile in Slate, Michelle Goldberg wrote that Forney said “he’s been gratified by the way the Donald Trump campaign has made his views less taboo.”
UPDATE: Wintrich is disavowing responsibility for the "flyer" and claims that he posted it without reservation because it has "the correct time/place."
If folks want to troll by designing our flyers I'm all for it as long as they have the correct time/place.
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) June 22, 2017
On June 23, Forney posted a YouTube stream with homophobic attacks where he stated that Wintrich had promoted a "joke flyer," clarified that he thinks feminists "want women to be raped," and criticized the current in-fighting and divisions occuring in the "alt-right."
Move Over Nerd Prom; Troll Prom Is In Town.
On April 29, about a mile away from the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, a little over a hundred members of a group who dubiously brand themselves as purveyors of the “real news” gathered in a downtown Washington cigar lounge to revel in their success. And the success is not insignificant - leveraging social media audiences to manufacture controversies and troll, they are now providing for their followers an increasingly expanding alternative to what they see as a hopelessly biased press.
At first glance, The Gateway Pundit's ‘80s-themed “Real News Correspondents Gala” -- billed as an alternative to the simultaneous "establishment media" dinner of the White House press corps -- was indistinguishable from a stereotypical Washington affair: The audience consisted of high-profile figures, apparent benefactors, and an insatiable crowd eager to network with anyone seemingly important. However, the standard, “What do you do?” networking question often preceded the more cultish reference to a new alternative right-wing: “How did you arrive at the movement?”
This movement has run rampant on new-media and is rapidly expanding throughout the internet. Its members have taken to social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, Reddit, and YouTube to promote far-right nationalist politics, conspiracy-laden worldviews, and fact-flexible rants to an audience it has isolated and now dominates, shoddy journalistic practices aside, as its preferred news source. Their increasing reach over online subscribers has turned them into an asset for the White House, which has compensated members of this new media circuit -- often eager to undermine media reporting negatively on the administration -- with access to bring their paranoia straight into White House press briefings.
The event hosted and celebrated a handful of the most prominent members of the so-called “new right fam” (a transparent attempt at rebranding after their "alt-right" identification grew toxic) including “dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft, self-described “guerilla journalist” and fraud-peddling performance artist James O’Keefe, Rebel Media host Gavin McInnes, the White House’s favorite rape-denying troll, Mike Cernovich, Gateway Pundit White House correspondent and troll Lucian Wintrich, and “alt-right” figure Cassandra Fairbanks, who writes for the Russian state-sponsored outlet Sputnik.
The night took off with Hoft, who had donned a retro white headband and a pair of reflective sunglasses, welcoming guests to the shindig, giving shoutouts to a roster of speakers from the “alt-right” including McInnes and Wintrich, and presenting O’Keefe and Cernovich with awards for their “work.” The people Hoft introduced then took the floor to acknowledge that without that digital echo chamber, many in their movement would be virtually unknown. Cernovich reminisced about “Hillary’s health thing,” referring to rumors he helped push that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was chronically ill, whose spread “only happened because of the amplification of social media.”
But for a group that previously basked in its own isolation and claims to despise the Washington establishment media, the night was sharply punctuated by complaints that “the movement” -- shorthand many of its members now use in conversation to refer to these "alt-right" or “new right” online content creators and their acolytes -- and its message are not validated by mainstream reporting.
“Not only do they not do the journalism,” O’Keefe told attendees as he accepted an award for his own so-called journalism, “but they’re too afraid. ... We really are the only ones left to actually do the job.” For the record, O’Keefe’s journalism has included creating misleading and doctored “undercover” videos as well as embarrassing himself while attempting sting operations targeting liberal organizations.
In a self-aggrandizing speech, Wintrich claimed, “Many of the people in this room, we’re all the last bastions of free speech in America. We’ve had this old guard media who have been running with these stale narratives that are purely left-leaning for decades, and finally after ages we’re seeing this beautiful transition.”
But the movement’s idea of journalism contains a clear premise: that their own right-wing bias is an advantage that allows their followers, who already think mainstream media cannot be trusted, to trust them. As described by The Washington Post when profiling Cernovich, “objectivity is less important than an impression of honesty." To gain the trust of their audiences, they actively attack and undermine mainstream media. As Wintrich admitted, he’ll “take the occasional jab at media, because” he “hate[s] them all," and “half of” his job as a White House correspondent is “fucking with people.” To members of this group, this approach validates their charade as legitimate news providers and lends authenticity to their work.
Cernovich went so far as to suggest that many of the movement’s narratives are artificial and self-induced -- yet still journalism.
“There’s this new form of media now which is part activism and part real journalism,” Cernovich said. “And the way I put it is if there’s nothing happening, make it happen, and a lot of people say, ‘Well, that’s not real journalism. Real journalism is observing things,’ and I don’t really believe that’s true, actually. If you can get on a microphone and say ‘Bill Clinton is a rapist’ -- if the crowd reacts, that’s news.”
Despite the questionable journalistic premises the movement holds dear, like Cernovich’s method of provoking crowd reactions for “news,” or O’Keefe’s habit of presenting heavily edited videos as evidence or attempting to smear mainstream media, the night was full of recognition of attendees for their supposed journalistic merit. Along with presenting an award to O’Keefe, Hoft also honored Cernovich for being “one of the main individuals who helped [President] Donald Trump get across that finish line” and celebrated him as the person who “first started noticing” and “pushing” the idea that Clinton “looks a little sick.”
This journalistic debauchery would be nothing more than bad theater if it hadn’t been legitimized by the White House by granting practitioners access to press briefings. Despite Gateway Pundit’s admission that its correspondent is “there to troll,” Wintrich was credentialed to attend White House press briefings. Cernovich was also approved for a press pass, and he used his access to cause a commotion in the briefing room by yelling at members of the press corps. He later uploaded a video of his outburst to his Periscope feed.
The “Real News Correspondents Gala” also hosted many young people hoping to board the new-media train barreling out of the “new right” movement. One amateur media personality told us that he was there to network and make connections to expand his platform online. Media figures in attendance seemed receptive to the aspiring personalities and were eager to pose for pictures. As Cernovich gave his speech, he recounted the story a young woman in attendance told him about her college broadcast journalism professor telling her she would never make it in the industry.
“Her dreams were killed in college, but you can live your dreams now,” Cernovich said. “Give her a hug. Tell her we love her.”
And the movement may have good reason to entertain new media aspirants: Many prominent online personalities of the “alt-right” movement have talked publicly about expanding their media operations and hiring more people. Vanity Fair reported that “alt-right” poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos is planning to launch a new media operation “for libertarian and conservative comedians, writers, stand-up comics, intellectuals, you name it” and plans to hire 30 people. O’Keefe told the audience that his group Project Veritas would hire “dozens of full-time infiltrators who are going to work their way to the top” of progressive organizations.
Cernovich also revealed that the movement’s leaders are considering hosting a TED talk-style conference over the summer and will continue to host happy hours and social events for their supporters.
“Connection and community is what we have to focus more on because everybody on the internet feels isolated and alone, and then they come to an event and they go, ‘Wow, Mike. A lot of people come to your happy hours,’” Cernovich said. “Well, yeah. No shit, right? We’re popular. There’s a lot of us out there and you wouldn’t get that message if you only watched the news.”
As its members enjoy their newfound popularity, the "new right" movement is also challenged with balancing the inflammatory rhetoric and “meme magic” that have been the foundation of its online success, against the backlash that results from deploying this rhetoric in the real world, which could threaten the long-lasting political capital and broader legitimacy they crave. That is what explains their attempts to rebrand themselves as “new right” and distance themselves from the most toxic figures of the “alt-right,” even despite their gaining notoriety and followers during the 2016 election by associating with and praising the “alt-right.”
Online, these personalities behave like trolls, taking pleasure in triggering “social justice warriors” (the pejorative nickname given in online forums to those perceived as socially progressive) by, among other things, using inflammatory language, but claiming it’s in jest. As New York magazine’s Noreen Malone explains, the group uses irony as armor when their jokes get criticism: “If you take them seriously, they’ll claim you miss the joke.” Much of this ironic contrarianism permeates into their real life personas and makes them seem like walking memes. At the “gala,” as Mike Flynn Jr., son of Trump’s former national security advisor and one of the leading proponents of the pizzagate fake news story, generously positioned himself and his Golden Girls T-shirt into any and all pictures he was asked for, he couldn’t help but invite fellow partygoers to“trigger some snowflakes” by flashing the “OK” sign. Members of the “alt-right” have ironically appropriated the “OK” sign to represent their faction after a viral message board hoax pushed the idea that it had white nationalist connotations. The vocabulary of this “new right” group draws so much from the online forums its members frequent that it would be foreign to anyone who hasn’t spent time reading their digital output. Our female reporter was congratulated by a fellow partygoer for being “red-pilled” (someone who has been awakened to the real world) -- which he determined based simply on her being one of the few women in attendance (the male to female ratio was, by generous approximation, seven-to-three -- not counting the women on Flynn Jr.’s Golden Girls T-shirt).
Again, all of this would seem just amusing anecdote were it not for the powerful connections that have legitimized their shoddy journalistic practices, employed in order to reach their growing audiences and leverage their support. President Donald Trump’s sons are allegedly serving as sources to Cernovich, and his media appearances have been publicized by Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president. And those connections suggest the possibility that some “new right” ideas could influence policy. But until it’s possible to assess how much of the movement’s digital output is meant as posturing to continue amassing followers that sustain their digital media enterprises, and how much represents actual positions with enough political support to make them executable, we are forced to keep taking them at their word, meant in jest or not.
Images by Dayanita Ramesh
On the coattails of President Donald Trump’s successful election campaign and an anti-"political correctness" wave, an alternative right-wing media echo chamber successfully reverberated itself into virtual relevance on social media, where it now reaches millions of people every day. This new-media ecosystem exists outside of traditional newspapers and cable news networks, instead taking to social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, Reddit, and YouTube to promote its far-right nationalist politics and conspiracy-laden worldviews to an audience it has isolated and now dominates as its preferred news source.
Key players in this circular far-right alt-media echo chamber, such as online troll Mike Cernovich and Infowars’ Alex Jones, have successfully crafted a false impression of credibility. They have synthesized a “new right” echo chamber from “alt-right” ideologies and orchestrated a media machine that disseminates content across multiple media platforms with extreme efficiency.
Key voices in this ecosystem often work a redundant media circuit across allied platforms to reinforce each other’s worldviews and concepts of reality, cast doubt on mainstream media, and suggest widespread conspiracies along the way. Cernovich demonstrated this tactic as he circulated a faux scandal story that suggested Susan Rice, who served as national security adviser to former President Barack Obama, was responsible for improper unmasking of Trump officials caught in surveillance of foreign officials.
Cernovich toured the Rice story around the alternative media sphere he occupies until it eventually broke into mainstream media. On April 2, Cernovich first tweeted the “breaking news” that Rice had ordered the unmasking. Later that day, Cernovich published his full story about the explosive allegations. On April 3, Cernovich promoted the story in a livestream broadcast to his tens of thousands of Periscope followers. The same day, “alt-right” thought leader Richard Spencer publicly slammed Cernovich in his own broadcast, granting the story a direct platform into the "alt-right" fanbase. On April 4, Cernovich took his story through the alternative media circuit, appearing on Infowars and Free Domain Radio and earning shoutouts from Stefan Molyneux, Lee Stranahan, and Donald Trump Jr. After riding the wave, Cernovich continued his self-promotion in a Reddit AMA thread and a post-story interview with Rebel Media.
Members of the echo chamber attract and maintain a fan base by developing an abusive relationship with their audience members -- a process they label “redpilling.” They gaslight their audiences until readers and viewers feel unable to trust any media other than those particular outlets to deliver them “the truth.” As a result, these new-media companies have groomed rabid fan bases that turn to them as beacons of honesty in a media world that they believe is orchestrated to distract the public from this echo chamber’s version of “the truth.”
Many media outlets disregard this new-media echo chamber, continuing to speak about the movement with the same blanket terms and condescension they used before the so-called “new right” distanced itself from “alt-right” leaders. But now, months later, this far-right alternative media apparatus is encroaching on its mainstream competition online. For example, Infowars recently surpassed CNN in its number of subscribers on YouTube, which marked a major milestone in far-right alternative media's encroachment on the video site’s news ecosystem.
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in early 2016, about half of people age 49 and under said they get their news online. And as cable news viewership declines and as Americans’ trust in news media sinks to an all-time low, alternative new-media stars have leveraged a unique opportunity to redefine right-wing media and reach mass audiences once loyal to established journalism outlets. The alternative media ecosystem has also benefited from attention from top government officials and those close to them; presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway recently elevated Cernovich on Twitter, Donald Trump Jr. pushed an Infowars conspiracy theory, and Michael Flynn Jr., the son of Trump’s former national security advisor, has promoted Infowars and conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” sourced from the alternative media sphere.
Graphics by Sarah Wasko
Lauren Southern, a Canadian “alt-right” media figure, is the latest troll to gain access to the White House press briefing. Southern has a record of making incendiary remarks, denying the existence of rape culture, and demonizing racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. Southern is just the latest of the fringe, sycophantic “alt-right” media personalities that the White House is letting into its press briefings.
Lucian Wintrich, the newly minted White House correspondent for the right-wing website Gateway Pundit, is explicitly attending press briefings to ask fawning questions that support President Donald Trump and troll the other reporters.
The administration is dedicated to a strategy of delegitimizing all independent sources of information that don’t reinforce the message emanating from the White House. As part of that plan, it’s been encouraging pro-Trump propaganda outlets to join the press corps.
Wintrich, a conservative activist with no experience in journalism, is part of that movement. In January he was named Gateway Pundit’s man in the White House by Jim Hoft, the site’s founder, who is known in these parts as the “dumbest man on the Internet” for his frequent posting of hoaxes and fabrications.
In an interview last month with NBC News, Wintrich said that while he supports Trump, his job is to ask about “relevant issues [that] are being ignored by the media” in order to “to keep the public informed.” But The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz tore away that wave at credibility this week in a devastating piece about Wintrich and White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s handling of the press corps. Marantz got extensive access to Wintrich and Hoft last month as they prepared for and attended Trump’s February 13 joint presser with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The article captures Hoft urging Wintrich to ask questions that attack the press and explicitly acknowledging that Wintrich is attending briefings not to ask questions that inform the public, but to troll other journalists. From Marantz’s profile (emphasis original):
Over dinner at a nearby steakhouse, Hoft and Wintrich brainstormed about what they might ask the next day. “Just make sure it has ‘fake news’ in it, Lucian,” Hoft said, passing him a notepad. “Every question you ask with the words ‘fake news,’ you get a ten-dollar bonus. We’ll add that to your contract.”
Wintrich, sipping a Martini, jotted a few notes. “Sean! Over here, Sean!” he said, pretending to raise his hand. “In the past month alone, there have been at least twenty fake-news stories in the failing New York Times. Does fake news like this get in the way of the President’s ability to proceed on policy?”
Andrew Marcus, [a filmmaker documenting their arrival in Washington] , said, “The big decision you have to make is how much of a troll you’re willing to be.”
“He’s there to troll,” Hoft said.
For a moment, Wintrich seemed to get cold feet. “Should we have a couple of backup questions that are specifically about policy?” he asked, tentatively.
“Policy schmolicy,” Hoft said.
Throughout the article, Wintrich comes across as a dilettante with no interest in reporting who is clearly in over his head. Hoft is the hapless mastermind who has stumbled into the management of a widely trafficked website by being too stupid or too careless to realize when stories he reads on the internet aren’t true.
It’s unclear whether the White House considers Gateway Pundit’s complete lack of standards a feature or a bug, but the website is clearly on the press office radar. “Hoft told me that, shortly after the election, he e-mailed ‘Trump’s people, and they encouraged us to apply’ for press credentials,” Marantz reported. He was also on the scene when “Wintrich e-mailed Hope Hicks, Trump’s director of strategic communications, and got a response within three minutes,” and when White House aide Julia Hahn called Hoft “just to say she’s a fan,” according to the blogger.
Hoft’s comments about Wintrich’s role give away the Trump administration’s game.
It has been obvious since before Trump took office that the White House press strategy would involve trying to discredit mainstream news outlets while granting new access and privileges to right-wing outlets that eschew traditional standards in favor of cheerleading for the president.
In press briefings and press conferences, Trump and Spicer regularly rely on this host of pro-Trump propagandists. Trump dodged critical questions at two press conferences last month by calling only on correspondents from conservative outlets. Spicer regularly opens briefings by taking questions from one of the numerous right-wing reporters in the room, and provides access for conservative radio hosts to ask softballs via Skype. Both have regularly lashed out at journalists as dishonest, with the president describing mainstream outlets as “fake news” providers who act as the “opposition party.”
Wintrich is apparently there to take this strategy to a new level. His explicit orders are to ignore policy and attack other journalists, rather than asking questions to inform the public. Instead of having to do the dirty work himself, Spicer will be able to call on Wintrich, knowing that the Gateway Pundit correspondent will ask a question that explicitly bashes his colleagues. Then the press secretary can step out the way and smile as members of the press corps start openly feuding.
Wintrich’s presence in the White House briefing room was already extremely controversial. Now that his boss has announced that he is there to turn the briefing room into the newest battlefield in the conservative media’s war on mainstream journalism, we can hope that the press corps will respond by standing up against the Trump administration’s games.
Gateway Pundit's New White House Correspondent Spent First Day Flashing Hate Symbol From The Briefing Room
The internet’s most hapless political blogger now has his own White House correspondent -- a regular contributor with little reporting experience but ample ties to “alt-right” harassment -- sitting in the White House press briefing room.
At the January 19 “Deploraball” event before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Gateway Pundit founder and “dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft announced that his outlet would have a White House correspondent with the Trump administration, and that Lucian Wintrich would fill the position. On February 13, Hoft posted a "reader alert" that Hoft and Wintrich will be attending the day's White House press briefing. Hoft confusingly wrote, "Please look for us and keep your fingers crossed that one of us is asked a question."
Hours later, Hoft tweeted a photo of himself and Wintrich standing behind the lectern in the White House press briefing room, displaying a hand signal associated with the racist “Pepe” meme. The tweet itself also included the hashtag "Pepe" and a frog emoji, commonly understood to invoke the hate symbol.
Hoft’s political blog has often served as the single source for completely unfounded reporting that nonetheless catches fire in the right-wing internet world, until it becomes what Kellyanne Conway might deem an “alternative fact.” The frequency with which he posts hoaxes and complete fabrications as fact suggests Hoft either has a reckless and total disregard for the truth or is so incompetent he cannot separate fact from fiction.
Most recently, Hoft’s total negligence for the truth led to an internet harassment campaign against Washington Post home-page editor Doris Truong, who he wrongly reported was captured taking secret photos of Rex Tillerson’s notes at his confirmation hearing for secretary of state on January 11. Truong was not at the hearing; she is, however, an Asian-American woman (like the person photographed at the hearing), and that was seemingly enough for Hoft to run with. Truong had already been subjected to extensive racist trolling by the time Hoft quietly corrected his post. This is Hoft’s pattern: decide what a random photo or document means without obtaining any supporting evidence, post it as factual news, watch the “alternative fact” spread, quietly change the post or claim yet another mistake, then repeat.
The Gateway Pundit’s new White House correspondent is now attending press briefings, and it’s unclear how “brand strategist and digital creative” Lucian Wintrich, who frequently refers to the new president endearingly as “daddy,” will approach this responsibility. If his past actions and social media persona are any indication, Wintrich will follow the Gateway Pundit formula for irresponsible and dangerous reporting, and perhaps even more explicitly incite harassment from his new White House platform.
Wintrich is a “gay conservative mouthpiece” primarily known as the artist behind a “Twinks4Trump” photography exhibit that debuted at the GOP convention last summer. He explained that he aims to be “the first rational voice that the American people have had in White House press in ages.” He recently wrote on social media, "I don’t consider myself a journalist, I consider myself the future of journalism.”
Indeed, Wintrich does not appear to have much experience as a political reporter prior to joining The Gateway Pundit; a Nexis search of his name for the last five years reveals only a handful of articles in which he is quoted, and no bylined pieces. He has authored one opinion piece, describing his pro-Trump art, posted on The Hill last fall. Wintrich has now written about a dozen posts for The Gateway Pundit in the past few weeks; he was previously the subject of several posts on the blog, as well as on Breitbart.com, before beginning this correspondent position.
Wintrich is also the founder and “creative director” of Rabble Media, which bills itself as “a new type of media brand providing its audience with original reporting, underserved stories, interesting perspectives, thought-provoking proposals and occasionally, breaking news.” Wintrich says he launched Rabble in late summer; the site appears to have stopped posting articles at the end of September.
Wintrich’s experience as a writer seems to have begun with his tongue-in-cheek approach to personal harassment in college. According to a VICE profile of Wintrich, “his writings were rejected by the student newspaper” at Bard College while he was a student there, so Wintrich subsequently started a rival blog, which posted an anonymously written column referring to a fellow student’s vagina as “cold and damp” and linking to her personal Facebook page. VICE noted that “Wintrich claims that a lawyer for the school told him that his blog was perceived as a sexual threat, though he doesn’t recall why. ‘I think there was a joke about a vagina or something. It was infantile. I totally forget it.’”
Here’s what else we know about Wintrich: He is close with figures of the racist and misogynist so-called “alt-right” who are known for launching online harassment campaigns that frequently target women. Wintrich’s art exhibit featured “contributors” like Breitbart.com editor and transphobic serial harasser Milo Yiannopoulos, “Pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, misogynist and racist conservative troll Gavin McInnes, and deluded “citizen journalist” vigilante James O’Keefe, among others, when he brought it to New York City in October. “We’re bringing back the Rat Pack,” Wintrich captioned a photo of Shkreli, himself, and Yiannopoulos. This group also regularly tweets about and directly at each other, praising and participating in one another’s misguided projects.
Wintrich himself has also encouraged harassment of individuals on Twitter, posting Gizmodo writer William Turton’s personal information after Turton wrote a post criticizing pro-Trump Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s business partner. Wintrich has since deleted his tweet about Turton, which listed Turton’s personal address, phone number, and email. It read, “I think that [Turton] would love a call about what you think of his villainization of Trump supporters and attacks against Thiel.” Wintrich has also repeatedly tweeted photos of Mic.com writer Jack Smith, attempting to connect Smith to the dangerous #Pizzagate conspiracy theory and tweeting, “Someone needs to investigate.” According to Wintrich, Smith’s reporting on Wintrich’s art show may have led an LGBT veterans group to reject a potential donation Wintrich planned to make from the show’s proceeds.
Wintrich’s Twitter account has included disparaging comments about women and hate rhetoric aimed at transgender individuals, as well as jokes about sexual assault:
One more of these asinine #debate questions, and Donald Trump needs to grab Anderson Cooper by the pussy.
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) October 10, 2016
For my 2ed act: I'll take a hormone pill & start bitching about trans rights https://t.co/qpjr7DVElP
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) October 13, 2016
.@la_baumgart do you even date trans, or just pretend to until they choppy chop?
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) October 27, 2016
Can we just register 'conservative' as a 'gender identity' so libs get too confused to keep trying to argue with us?
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) October 13, 2016
He's hitting it out of the park this week! pic.twitter.com/LVMuqjzNgL
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) February 1, 2017
"TRUMP IS PRESIDENT?!?! WTF GET ME A PINK SHIRT AND A SELF-RIGHTEOUS PLACARD" - Everyone at the Women's March rn.
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) January 21, 2017
This is why women's suffrage was one of the country's largest disasters. pic.twitter.com/CWPMBGzTav
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) October 13, 2016
Rather than 'manspreading' on the subway, can we examine 'fatwomanspreading'? cuz rn I'm between two broads who made that their occupation.
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) December 7, 2016
Fuck the 60-year-old fat broad sitting at the front of @GOPWomen_WNRC who thought I was a liberal operative.
— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) February 2, 2017