Paul Joseph Watson | Media Matters for America

Paul Joseph Watson

Tags ››› Paul Joseph Watson
  • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has become fully “red-pilled” by an 8chan conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It was concerning enough when in January 2018, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue encouraged followers to look into the allegations of an anonymous conspiracy theorist on the 8chan message board. Now, it appears that Operation Rescue, with its history of violent rhetoric and harassment, has become fully converted and is seeking to cultivate anti-abortion followers into believers in a far-right conspiracy theory.

    Headed by longtime extremists Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- Operation Rescue has been described as an organization dedicated to “shut[ting] down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.” Operation Rescue initially signaled that they’d been “red-pilled” -- a term popularized by the “alt-right” to refer to an ideological conversion to “seeing the world as it really is” -- in a January 7 press release, in which the group signal-boosted a series of posts from a far-right community on 8chan.

    8chan is a message board system -- similar to 4chan and Reddit -- that enables users to engage in discussions anonymously. This has made such communities hotbeds of racist commentary, misogyny, and politically motivated harassment campaigns, in addition to serving as fertile ground for those in the so-called “alt-right” or white nationalist movement. As Mother Jones’ Mariah Blake explained, “men’s rights forums on sites like 4chan and Reddit are awash in misogyny and anti-feminist vitriol” -- a trend that has turned such sites into what Vox’s Aja Romano called a “gateway drug” that leads people into the “alt-right.” 

    In the January 7 release, Operation Rescue focused on an 8chan conspiracy theory called “The Storm” in which a user who refers to himself as “Q” claims to be a “high-level government insider” secretly sharing clues to “inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has expanded to encompass all types of events, ranging from a fire at Trump Tower to a train accident involving Republican members of Congress. Most recently, followers of The Storm have joined a campaign calling for the release of a four-page classified memo drafted by House intelligence committee Republicans that allegedly shows illicit behavior by the FBI and Justice Department during the early phases of investigating connections between Trump associates and Russia -- a campaign organized around the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. According to The Daily Beast, right-wing figures as well as online message board communities “have since turned the hashtag into a rallying cry, imploring fans to tweet the hashtag.” On February 2, the President Donald Trump authorized the release of the memo, despite explicit warnings from the FBI about the veracity of its contents.

    In the January 7 press release, Operation Rescue acknowledged that "Q" is a conspiracy theorist -- or at least inspires conspiracy theories. Since then, the social media activity of the group and its leadership indicates that they’ve gone full Sean Hannity. Between January 7 and February 12, both Sullenger’s Twitter account and the official Operation Rescue account have increased their engagements with accounts promoting #ReleaseTheMemo and related hashtags (#Qanon, #TheGreatAwakening, #FollowTheWhiteRabbit). In the past month alone, Sullenger’s changed her account handle to “CherylS sez #ReleaseTheMemo” and followed a number of right-wing media personalities’ accounts, including Alex Jones, Jerome Corsi, Paul Joseph Watson, Mike Cernovich, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, and Sara Carter.

    Since January 2018, Sullenger and Operation Rescue’s social media accounts have demonstrated a precipitous slide into full-embrace of The Storm and #ReleaseTheMemo:

    Cheryl Sullenger

    • January 10 -- Sullenger tweeted a National Review article and included the hashtag #Qanon.

    • January 16 & 17 -- Operation Rescue sent a press release, calling on followers to participate in the “Mother of All Tweet Storms.” According to the release, followers of The Storm were “asked to create memes that express truths that have been misreported or ignored by the Main Stream Media (MSM) and call them out for their dishonest reporting.” Operation Rescue characterized the event as “a tweet war of Biblical proportions with folks joined together in a concerted effort to break through to the masses with the truth about governmental corruption, human trafficking, and even Planned Parenthood.” The Operation Rescue Twitter account then spent the better part of January 17 tweeting a variety of memes attacking Planned Parenthood and promoting hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 22 -- Sullenger tweeted #ReleaseTheMemo and included a screenshot from Fox News’ Hannity, in which host Sean Hannity was talking about it. Hannity has been an active promoter of so-called “deep state” conspiracy theories.

    • January 24 -- Sullenger reacted to news that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is leaving the organization sometime in 2018, by tweeting multiple memes of Richards depicted in prison with the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. The official Operation Rescue account also tweeted a press release about Richards’ departure using the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #FollowtheWhiteRabbit. Sullenger also tweeted a link to a YouTube video about #Qanon, calling it, “Must watch!” In addition to Sullenger’s Twitter activity, the Operation Rescue account also liked a tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 27 -- Sullenger retweeted a Jerome Corsi tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo, featuring a story from far-right blog The Gateway Pundit about Hannity and the memo. Sullenger additionally tweeted an explainer video about The Storm, writing, “#TheStorm is real. #ReleaseTheMemo.” Sullenger also tweeted @realDonaldTrump, asking him to read the memo during the State of the Union address because “Americans need to know the #truth.” Meanwhile, The Operation Rescue account liked a tweet about #GreatAwakening and #QAnon.

    • January 28 -- Sullenger attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) -- a frequent right-wing target -- on Twitter, citing a clip from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. This tweet included the hashtags #GreatAwakening and #ReleaseTheMemo. In addition to her own tweet, Sullenger also retweeted content from Jerome Corsi and Hannity about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 29 -- Sullenger quote-tweeted a claim from Corsi about the memo, writing that she would not “be happy until we can all see the memo with our own eyes.” In addition, Sullenger also tweeted about the resignations of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Democratic National Committee CEO Jess O’Connell from their positions -- linking each to #ReleaseTheMemo. Notably, Sullenger shared an image from an account (@Thomas1774Paine) about the memo supposedly being delivered to the White House -- writing in a public post on her Facebook that “we are on the brink of history!” The Operation Rescue Twitter account retweeted a user, @LadyStephC, calling the memo “the tip of the iceberg” and including a number of hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 31 -- After a train crash involving Republican members of Congress, Sullenger retweeted a conspiracy theory from Corsi that suggested the accident was part of a “deep state” plot to stop the Republicans from releasing the memo.

    • February 1 -- Sullenger tweeted several memes linked to the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign, suggesting that if the memo is released some Democratic politicians will go to jail. Another meme that she tweeted showed "Q" as a revolutionary standing up to the "deep state" and implied the only way Americans would be "free" is by following him. Sullenger retweeted “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec, in addition to tweeting a screenshot of an 8chan message board comment (allegedly from “Q”) and including the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon.

    • February 2 & 3 -- Retweeting a comment from Trump’s Twitter account about opposition research firm Fusion GPS, Sullenger argued that the same firm had “issued fake ‘forensic analysis’” in order to “cover up [Planned Parenthood]'s illegal baby parts trafficking” -- referring to a debunked allegation from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. In her tweet, Sullenger included the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #ThesePeopleAreSick. Sullenger also retweeted right-wing media personality Mark Levin. After the release of the disputed memo, Sullenger retweeted several of Corsi's tweets hyping allegations of widespread wrongdoing by government entities. On February 3, Sullenger retweeted Trump claiming that the memo "totally vindicates" him.

    • February 4 -- Sullenger tweeted a video alleging that Super Bowl LII attendees were at risk of being targeted by terrorists, commenting, "Better safe than sorry!" For good measure, Sullenger also tweeted a Life News article about Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards calling her "evil" and using the hashtags #LockHerUp, #AbortionIsMurder, and #GreatAwakening. 

    • February 5 -- Retweeting an account that previously shared screenshots from 8chan, Sullenger commented that both Clinton and Planned Parenthood "both must pay for crimes." Sullenger also shared a press release published by Operation Rescue further connecting the memo to the organization's typical talking points about Planned Parenthood. 

    Troy Newman

    Throughout much of this timeline, the social media accounts of Troy Newman did not engage as often with topics related to The Storm, #ReleaseTheMemo, or even right-wing media personalities. However, on January 31, a public post on Newman’s Facebook page directed followers to what appears to be a conspiracy theory blog for a man named Jim Stone.

    The site seems to house blog posts about a number of conspiracy theories, including one about an alleged plot by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to smuggle a gun into the State of the Union and assassinate Trump:

    Among other extreme conspiracy theories, Stone claimed the January 31 train accident occurred because Republican members of Congress had “received death threats over the memo, and were heading to a safe place when they were stopped by a staged ‘accident’”:

    Perhaps the most outlandish conspiracy theory of all: "If Trump gets killed, they can produce a fake Trump and have him say whatever they need him to say in real time." The blog continued that this technology had been used "with Hillary [Clinton] during the campaign" and that it was "critical information you cannot skip seeing": 

    After the memo was released on February 2, Newman tweeted and posted on Facebook, wondering if it was "too early to call this an attempted coup" against Trump. 

    One thing is certain: If Sullenger and other members of Operation Rescue have been fully “red-pilled,” they are not only exposing their audience to a wellspring of conspiracy theories, but also potentially becoming further radicalized themselves. And if exposure to rapidly misogynist online communities is truly a “gateway drug,” as Romano warned, the cross-pollination between these 8chan conspiracy theorists and anti-abortion extremists is an incredibly dangerous prospect.

  • Meet Peter Imanuelsen, aka Peter Sweden, the bigoted conspiracy theorist who is a frequent source for the American "alt-right" on Europe

    Imanuelsen is a xenophobic pseudo-journalist who has denied the Holocaust, called the moon landing a "hoax," and suggested that LGBTQ people be sent to camps

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Peter Imanuelsen (aka Peter Sweden), a bigoted conspiracy theorist and self-professed “Swedish journalist” who made a name for himself by reporting on so-called migrant crime in Sweden, was recently banned from PayPal. Far-right trolls consider getting banned from such platforms a badge of honor, and Imanuelsen’s ban is a stepping stone for him as he seeks their acceptance.

    Imanuelsen is a far-right vlogger who has worked to carve out a niche for himself at the intersection of pro-Trump trolls and the European far-right movement. Despite his Swedish persona, Imanuelsen is a British national born in Norway, who has spent time living in Sweden but has lived more than half of his life in the U.K. An August 2017 profile of Imanuelsen by the U.K. anti-extremism research group Hope Not Hate suggested that his family’s business appears to have committed tax evasion, which may explain their move from Sweden to the U.K.

    Though a relatively obscure figure during his first year on Twitter, Imanuelsen’s notoriety was boosted around August 2017, a month after he participated in a wildly unsuccessful “alt-right” stunt to disrupt refugee rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea (ironically, the group's ship itself had to be rescued on one occasion by a refugee rescue ship). And, recently, he managed to draw the ire of the current curator of the official Swedish Twitter account.

    Though Imanuelsen’s social media activity is now predominantly focused on blaming immigrants in Sweden for crime and complaining about “the left,” his older tweets, many of which have since been deleted, reveal an array of false, conspiracist, and bigoted beliefs. He has said he doesn’t believe in evolution, that feminism “goes against God’s order,” that people should get “capital punishment” as a “consequence” of “being homo,” that Jews are a “seperate (sic) race from Europeans,” that the Holocaust never occurred (though he claims he has revised his views on the Holocaust), and that the moon landing was a hoax perpetrated by freemasons.

    Since Hope Not Hate’s profile, Imanuelsen has pushed the types of stories, often misleading or outright fabricated ones, that serve as fodder for narratives about Sweden among American “alt-right” Twitter personalities and pro-Trump trolls. His Swedish persona affords him a measure of credibility and gives xenophobic comments a sense of legitimacy (whether or not his conclusions are valid), and he understands the American media landscape -- particularly narratives about President Donald Trump -- well enough to exploit them for his own benefit. In fact, two days ago, he appeared on a list of the 20 most retweeted accounts tweeting about antifa. 

    Imanuelsen regularly tweets unsourced or unsubstantiated claims that allege Sweden’s immigrants are responsible for sexual violence, bombings, gang activity, and other criminality, and that such activity is underreported or covered up by the Swedish police. It’s a two-pronged tactic: It provides a foundation for him to advance his ethno-nationalist arguments against immigrants, and it promotes a sense of distrust of mainstream institutions necessary for the continued relevance of Imanuelsen and people like him.


    Screenshot from Peter Imanuelsen's Twitter account

    More recently, Imanuelsen has promoted himself by fearmongering about government censorship and harassment to a level that could reasonably be considered paranoia. Since October, Imanuelsen, who now purportedly resides in Norway, has been claiming the police have visited his parents many times looking for him and have swarmed his house in the U.K. “probably looking” to arrest him for “hate speech.” On January 10, he also claimed (without evidence) that a “country” reported his January 8 tweet claiming (also without evidence) that Sweden is giving immigrants housing priority over native Swedes, writing, “I would guess it is Germany with their new ‘hate speech’ law that has reported me" to Twitter.

    Imanuelsen has, for months, been ingratiating himself into far-right and pro-Trump Twitter circles -- he once tweeted four times in response to a Breitbart article lamenting the lack of Christian symbolism in a supermarket holiday ad -- and it appears that his efforts have begun to pay off. Imanuelsen now has over 85 thousand Twitter followers, 24 thousand YouTube subscribers, and his Periscope videos regularly draw tens of thousands of viewers.

    Imanuelsen’s relationship with Paul Joseph Watson, an Infowars conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with the canard of Swedish migrant crime, illustrates his rise. Their Twitter relationship seems to have started in February 2017, when Watson quote-tweeted Imanuelsen’s tweet about an explosion in Malmo, which Imanuelsen later deleted. He started quote-tweeting Watson aggressively in March and started tweeting directly at him a few months later. Watson has quote-tweeted Imanuelsen many times and has interviewed him on Infowars. Most recently, Infowars.com reprinted a post Imanuelsen wrote for the anti-immigrant European news blog Voice of Europe. Imanuelsen’s* tweets parallel the content of several prominent far-right outlets that report on the subject of crime in Sweden, and an October 2017 post by the far-right Gateway Pundit was based entirely on his tweets. In November 2017, Imanuelsen was cited as a "journalist" who "keeps track of bombings in the country" in an article on the website of RT, a Russian media outlet which U.S. intelligence officials and experts have said is a propaganda arm for the Kremlin.

    Two days ago, PayPal permanently suspended Imanuelsen for violating the company’s user agreement, a veritable badge of honor for white supremacists since the August 2017 events in Charlottesville, VA. Though PayPal didn’t specify which part of the user agreement he had violated, the company has previously frozen the account of far-right group Defend Europe (with which Sweden was associated). Paypal also told a French outlet that it was the company's policy “to prohibit that our services are used to accept payments or donations for organizations whose activities promote hatred, violence or racial intolerance.” Since the ban, Imanuelsen has joined the trend of soliciting donations via bitcoin, a cryptocurrency white nationalist Richard Spencer calls “the currency of the alt-right.”

    Pamela Geller, America’s most notorious anti-Muslim extremist who has recently gravitated toward the “alt-right” in an attempt to maintain her own fading relevance, ran to his defense. Jihad Watch Director Robert Spencer, another vocal anti-Muslim propagandist, retweeted him.

    But Imanuelsen isn’t content with Infowars-level infamy. He is desperate for an invitation to Fox News prime-time shows (he has pitched stories to their hosts via Twitter), some of which have been increasingly friendly to white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, internet trolls, and the European far-right, leaving open the very real possibility that a bigoted, racist, anti-Muslim, internet conspiracy theorist masquerading as a journalist could be mainstreamed to Americans by a major cable news network.

    * This name has been updated with its correct spelling.

  • Here are the right-wing media figures defending Trump’s racist “shithole” comment

    ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    During a meeting on immigration policy in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump reportedly questioned the United States’ policy of accepting immigrants from, what he said, were “shithole countries,” such as Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations. In the aftermath of the president’s racist remarks, many in right-wing media rallied around him to defend his comments.

  • 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.

  • Far-right trolls are manipulating Twitter into silencing journalists and Trump critics

    Twitter is getting played.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    In October, a notorious right-wing troll quietly launched an "operation" aimed at suspending progressive voices from Twitter. The plan was to use the platform’s mechanisms for reporting abuse in order to silence those he perceived as attempting to censor right-wing voices. With Twitter’s cooperation, and by taking out-of-context tweets that could have been made in sarcasm, the project has now become another successful entry in the playbook online trolls are using to silence progressives.

    On December 6, a user on Gab -- a social media platform resembling Twitter which has been dubbed a “haven for white nationalists” -- commented in a “live topic” dedicated to Roy Moore (a tool similar to Twitter’s trending topics) and reminded fellow Gabbers of “project Titty Twister:”

    A notorious right-wing, pro-Trump troll, known online as “Microchip,” launched Operation “Titty Twister” in late October, and called on his followers to report a list of progressive accounts to Twitter, which they claimed were “responsible for all bans and lockouts of Right wingers on Twitter.” Microchip planned to use Twitter’s blanket enforcement of anti-harassment policies to get those accounts suspended or banned:

    Around the same time as Microchip’s call to arms, Gab founder Andrew Torba also encouraged his followers to engage in fraudulently mass-reporting accounts on Twitter to “cause chaos:”

    The strategy seems to have intensified after Twitter announced major policy changes in late November and moved to suspend or remove verified badges from the profiles of users who had posted white supremacist rhetoric and other hateful speech. Though it is unclear how many accounts have been banned or suspended as a result of this far-right troll operation, Twitter did lock the account of Buzzfeed writer Katie Notopoulos for 10 days over a six-year-old sarcastic tweet. Other far-right trolls, like Mike Cernovich and Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, are now targeting comedian Michael Ian Black for tasteless jokes he made years ago.

    The fact that far-right trolls have succeeded in manipulating Twitter has undoubtedly emboldened them, as it signifies to them that their disinformation strategies work. And the problem will continue for Twitter especially because the social media platform has applied the same one-size-fits-all metric in the application of its anti-harassment policies. As Notopoulos noted while recounting her locked account saga:

    Twitter is getting played. They’re trying to crack down on the worst of Twitter by applying the rules to everyone, seemingly without much context. But by doing that, they’re allowing those in bad faith to use Twitter’s reporting system and tools against those operating in good faith. Twitter’s current system relies on a level playing field. But as anyone who understands the internet knows all too well, the trolls are always one step ahead.

  • Far-right trolls and white nationalists defend Trump's anti-Muslim video retweets

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the far-right, ultranationalist Britain First political organization, who has previously been “found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment.” Trump’s retweets of three videos attempting to link Muslims to violent crime, one of which has been debunked and the other two of which lacked context, were praised by white nationalists and far-right ideologues on Twitter and by internet trolls on 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit message boards. At least one prominent fake news website also defended Trump’s retweets.

    Prominent white nationalist David Duke:

    Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson:

    Far-right vlogger and identitarian movement supporter Peter Sweden:

    White nationalist podcast host James Allsup:

    White nationalist associate of Richard Spencer, Evan McLaren:

    White nationalist congressional hopeful Grant J. Kidney:

    White nationalist group Defend Europa:

    Anti-immigration hate website VDARE:

    A poster on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board: “Trump just went full alt right.”

    Another 4chan/pol/ user wrote, “PRAISE TRUMP,” calling the videos Trump shared “/POL/-TIER MUSLIM CHIMPOUT VIDEOS” -- an indication that the videos were extreme enough to have been promoted by 4chan users.

    One user on the 8chan/pol/ message board, in reference to Trump’s tweets, wrote, “I'm still not tired of winning. Sieg fucking heil.”

    And on the pro-Trump subreddit “/r/The_Donald,” one user shared the videos Trump retweeted and directed other users to an online tool that can be used to download the videos, likely to share them through different mediums.

    Fake news website Conservative Tribune praised Trump’s tweetstorm in a post, writing, “Refusing to cower to political correctness, President Donald Trump went rogue Wednesday, taking dead aim at radical Islamic terrorists and the violence they sow.”

  • Right-wing trolls try to smear protesters as pedophiles by planting a sign referencing a reportedly disbanded organization

    This isn’t the first time right-wing troll Mike Cernovich and his allies have attempted to manipulate their followers into believing false narratives

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Last night, far-right troll Mike Cernovich spoke at Columbia University in New York City about the rise of alternative media, drawing protesters who oppose his far-right views and past dalliances with white supremacists and the “alt-right.” Later, on Twitter, Cernovich and his troll allies tried to smear the protestors by circulating a picture of a sign that they alleged the protestors were carrying, which featured a logo for a practically defunct pro-pedophilia organization. Many reporters pointed out the sign was likely a plant --  an attention-seeking tactic these right-wing trolls have used in the past to start false narratives, manipulate their audiences, and smear those who oppose them.

    The sign in the picture said “no white supremacy, no pedo bashing, no Mike Cernovich” and displayed logos of “antifa” and NAMBLA, which supposedly stands for the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Reporters who have attempted to contact NAMBLA in the past say either that it doesn’t exist anymore or that it has “only a handful of people ostensibly still involved.” Gothamist reporter Jake Offenhartz, who actually took the picture that Cernovich tweeted, mentioned in his original tweet that the sign was an “alt-right” plant. (Twitter apparently took down the photo in Cernovich’s tweet for infringing Offenhartz’s copyright.) An organizer of the protest later told Offenhartz that someone gave the sign to the protesters who held it for a short moment before they realized what it said and ran off the miscreant. Different reporters on Twitter agreed with Offenhartz’s skepticism regarding the authenticity of the sign

    But the damage had been done. Right-wing trolls including Jack Posobiec, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, MAGA Meetups Executive Director Will Chamberlain, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, and conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer joined Cernovich in tweeting about the sign, and the narrative quickly reached the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., who liked Cernovich’s tweet. Trump’s love for far-right internet trolls is well-documented.

    Pedophilia (or “pedo”) isn’t a new focus for these right-wing trolls, who, along with leading conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, pushed the false “Pizzagate” narrative during the 2016 election, claiming that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff operated a child abuse ring from a popular family pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. While Cernovich often presents himself as a warrior against pedophilia on his platforms, he doesn’t seem to mind it as much when it comes from his ally Milo Yiannopoulos, who has defended adult-minor sexual liaisons in the past. Only last week, Cernovich appeared as a guest on Yiannopoulos’ podcast.

    Far-right media and trolls have attempted to discredit protesters by linking them to NAMBLA in the past. MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) trolls have also taken a page from this tired playbook and have planted other incendiary fake signs among real protesters before: They reportedly planted a disgusting “rape Melania” sign at a protest in front of the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., and he was caught distributing fake flyers thanking lawmakers for protecting “ritual Satanic porn videos” and attributing the flyers to the organizers of the Women’s March.

    The strategy of right-wing trolls like Cernovich and his allies is transparent: They make a living out of creating content for their platforms, so it’s beneficial to manipulate their followers into believing false narratives to keep them engaged and outraged. In their need to create a demon for the audience to virulently oppose, they portray protesters and dissidents as monsters who sympathize with horrid things like pedophilia. It makes for compelling targets, which is what made the false “Pizzagate” narrative such a successful conspiracy theory, eventually inspiring a man to self-investigate the matter and open fire at the family restaurant.

    Cernovich, who has been trying to pivot toward becoming “more of a journalistic guy,” has also admitted that his approach to the craft isn’t necessarily based on facts but more on eliciting reactions and getting attention. While speaking at a Gateway Pundit gala celebrating the trolls during the White House Correspondents Dinner weekend in May, Cernovich said: “There’s this new form of media now which is part activism and part real journalism. 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.”

    The right-wing trolls also have another purpose for pulling the stunt at Columbia University protest:  It gives them an opportunity to try to discredit the mainstream media. If media outlets don’t fall for the stunt and refuse to cover it, the trolls can portray them as sympathetic to pedophilia. If outlets do cover the stunt uncritically -- as pro-Trump outlets like Infowars do  -- these trolls can also claim victory. In fact, Cernovich is already doing exactly that.

  • Trump keeps retweeting accounts that promote fake news, conspiracy theories, and message boards beloved by white nationalists

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump has repeatedly quoted or retweeted Twitter accounts that have promoted far-right media trolls, fake news purveyors, conspiracy theories and a message board seen as a haven for white nationalists. This activity comes after Media Matters found last month that many of the accounts Trump had previously quoted were suspicious and that some of them were bots.

    July 27

    On July 27, Trump retweeted a meme from verified Twitter user @JeffTutorials calling CNN the “Fake News Network.” “Tutorials,” according to Paste Magazine, is a “16-year-old MAGA troll,” who has previously been retweeted by Trump and runs a YouTube page dedicated to the video game series Grand Theft Auto. The “Tutorials” account has promoted tweets from far-right trolls Mike Cernovich and Paul Joseph Watson along with @polNewsForever. That since-suspended Twitter account shared material from 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as “/pol/”), a haven for white nationalists that has previously helped far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation.

    August 15

    On August 15, Trump retweeted a meme of a person with the CNN Logo on its head being run over by the “Trump Train,” from the account @SLandinSoCal. The account previously retweeted far-right troll Jack Posobiec (whom Trump has also retweeted), a Facebook post from Paul Joseph Watson, and an anti-Semitic cartoon that Mike Cernovich used as part of his attacks on national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

    August 24

    On August 24, Trump retweeted the account @JerryTravone, which posted a meme of Trump replacing Obama with the words “The Best Eclipse Ever!” The account had previously retweeted Watson, Posobiec, and fellow far-right troll Stefan Molyneux.

    September 17

    On September 17, Trump retweeted a GIF from account @Fuctupmind that showed Trump hitting a golf ball at Hillary Clinton. The account previously retweeted images of Pepe, the cartoon frog affiliated with the “alt-right,” @polNewsInfinity (another account that shares material from 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board), far-right trolls Cassandra Fairbanks, Posobiec, and Watson, and an article from fake news purveyor TruthFeed.

    September 20

    On September 20, Trump wrote “So nice, thank you!” and quoted a tweet from account @10_gop. The account had previously retweeted Posobiec, Watson, and @polNewsInfinity.

    The same day, Trump retweeted account @DonnaWR8. The account previously retweeted articles from fake news purveyor TruthFeed and fringe pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit, an image of Pepe, and content from @polNewsInfinity and far-right trolls Watson and Nick Short.

    Later on September 20, Trump retweeted account @RealEagleBites, which has previously tweeted articles from fringe blog Zero Hedge, fake news purveyors TruthFeed and True Pundit (which played a major role in spreading the baseless fake news Pizzagate conspiracy theory), and which has pushed conspiracy theories from far-right pro-Trump Reddit forum “r/The_Donald” (another forum known for helping far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation.)

  • Alex Jones: "Do we put an ad out" so "Islamist men" can show up at J.K. Rowling's house and "genitally mutilate her"?

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    From the September 15 edition of Genesis Communications Network’s The Alex Jones Show:

    PAUL JOSEPH WATSTON: J.K. Rowling is gonna lecture me about how I am afraid while she lives in a gated mansion in the countryside.

    ALEX JONES (HOST): I got an idea, why doesn't somebody do a Quran burning in front of J.K. Rowling's house, just to point out she's not afraid of the Islamists, you know, just come to her. I mean how do we get the Islamists to her house, do we put an ad out that she's saying 100 Islamist men can move in with her? Maybe they can genitally mutilate her.

    Previously:

    Alex Jones: Sources tell me Trump is being “covertly drugged” and is now slurring his words by 6 or 7 p.m. each night

    Fox News promotes Trump's use of London attack to push Muslim ban

    Fox & Friends spread false information about London attack, hosted anti-Muslim hate group leader

  • PewDiePie is the troll that far-right trolls aspire to be

    The YouTuber is a valuable asset to right-wing online personalities trying to push their narratives to a growing global audience of young people

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Felix Kjellberg, a Swedish YouTube star who goes by the name of PewDiePie and garnered international fame through his videos about gaming and his mocking critiques of popular culture, has developed a symbiotic relationship with politically influential far-right trolls who support and promote him in an attempt to influence his content and reach his massive base of followers.

    PewDiePie, who recently used a racist slur while livestreaming himself playing a video game, has YouTube’s most popular channel, with more than 57 million subscribers. His popularity had earned him a lucrative partnership with Disney, but the company dropped him earlier this year following the Wall Street Journal’s reporting that he had “posted nine videos that include anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery.”

    While PewDiePie’s fall from grace might have cost him a lucrative deal, his following has continued to grow; reports in February put his following at 53 million subscribers, but he has gained nearly 4 million more as of this writing. Among his followers and fans are politically influential far-right trolls, including Brittany Pettibone, Stefan Molyneux, and Infowars’ Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, and Mike Cernovich. These trolls have repeatedly defended and supported PewDiePie while helping him push the narrative that the backlash he has received for his racially insensitive remarks is the result of unfair targeting by the mainstream media and by those offended, whom they pejoratively call “social justice warriors,” or “SJWs.”

    PewDiePie has attempted to distance himself from both his neo-Nazi following (a neo-Nazi publication, The Daily Stormer, once declared itself “the world’s #1 PewDiePie fansite”) and other explicitly racist elements of the self-declared “alt-right” by claiming he wants “nothing to do with that.” But he has shown no qualms in becoming closer with the freshly rebranded far-right trolls who say they’re not “alt-right.” In July, he followed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Twitter after Jones and Infowars made public attempts to contact him for a collaboration. PewDiePie has also indicated he likes rants in which Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson defends him.

    Watson has celebrated PewDiePie’s content on several occasions, once claiming he “red-pilled” -- a term popularized by message boards like 4chan and co-opted by the far-right to signify awakening someone to reality -- his followers with far-right messaging like denying the existence of the wage gap between genders. Watson also lavished praise on PewDiePie when he criticized celebrities for emphasizing the influence of man-made climate change on extreme weather events like hurricanes.

    PewDiePie has found validation and justification for his antics in the trolls’ support for his hateful and offensive rhetoric, which they back under the guise of defending free speech. He's also found them to be common allies in his battle against the media, which he blames for the backlash he gets after his actions are reported. In hopes of continuing to have his grievances validated, he caters to the far-right's tastes by deviating from his regular gaming content to troll “SJWs.”

    At the same time, far-right trolls lionize PewDiePie as a hero of free speech and validate his antics. To them, his worth lies in his vast reach, which they aspire to weaponize by influencing his content and using it as a gateway to introduce unsuspecting, not-yet-politicized young audiences to the far-right narratives of the “culture war.”

    The trolls recognize PewDiePie's style of hiding offensive rhetoric behind layers of irony and then claiming those who object are just taking it too seriously -- because it's straight from their own playbook. New York magazine's Noreen Malone explained as much when profiling the "alt-right": "If you take them seriously, they'll claim you missed the joke." It is this playbook that has allowed trolls to push for further expanding the boundaries of what’s acceptable discourse, as Screener’s Jacob Clifton explained in an article for BuzzFeed.

    In PewDiePie’s screeds against the press, the far-right trolls see a vastly influential ally in their own efforts to “destroy media” and become the primary source of cultural and political information for captive audiences. In the same way that candidate Donald Trump proved to be a valuable ally of the far-right trolls in mainstreaming the white male grievances and anti-social justice rhetoric of the troll swamps, PewDiePie’s coattails also look like a promising ride toward normalization, this time with a powerful global reach among audiences who can’t even vote yet.

  • Fringe media lash out at “cuck” Pope Francis for message welcoming refugees

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Far-right media figures and outlets attacked Pope Francis after he released a message urging nation-states to give aid and protection to migrants and refugees.

    On August 21, Francis released a message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in which he called on governments to offer “broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally.” According to Francis, countries should seek to integrate migrants and refugees by “granting citizenship free of financial or linguistic requirements, and by offering the possibility of special legalisation to migrants who can claim a long period of residence in the country of arrival.” He also argued that people’s dignity “obliges us to always prioritise personal safety over national security.”

    Far-right figures lashed out at the pope in response. Paul Joseph Watson of the conspiracy theory outlet Infowars called Francis “an evil fraud” who “is helping destroy western civilization.”

    Infowars’ Jerome Corsi called Francis a “Hard-Left socialist Pope” who “ignores Spain terrorism.”

    Far-right vlogger Stefan Molyneux claimed Francis “cares more about Social Justice issues than he does defending Christianity.”

    Fake news purveyors also attacked Francis. Conservative Daily Post said Francis has a “Marxist” agenda and called him a “reckless and foolish man.” Eagle Rising claimed Francis is a “globalist” who “preaches that more rapes and murders in Western nations are a price we must pay to fulfill our obligation to receive more immigrants." TruthFeed wrote in its headline that Francis “Thinks RAPE and TERROR are Just Part of the ‘Refugee Experience.’” And in response to the pope’s message, Conservative Fighters topped its piece with the word “SERIOUSLY?”

    Additionally, forums that have previously helped far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation also went after Francis: Some users on Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” called Francis a “cuck Pope” who is a “fucking hypocrite piece of shit,” and users on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” forum (known as “/pol/”) claimed Francis is “the communist pope” and “the antipope.”

  • Far-right alternative-media figures think the “Google Manifesto” proves them right

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Members of the far-right alternative-media ecosystem are lashing out at Google after the company fired an employee who argued that there are biological differences at play behind gender gaps within the tech industry in an internal memo criticizing the company’s diversity initiatives. While the firing was based on the biological claims, which violated Google's code of conduct, far-right media figures latched onto his argument that Google does not entertain conservative viewpoints and used it to validate a broader narrative about supposed tech censorship.

    Last week, a 10-page internal memo written by James Damore, a software engineer at Google, went viral among Google staff. The manifesto was later published in full by the technology news site Gizmodo. In it, Damore claimed that Google’s “discriminatory” biases behind its promotion of diversity in the workplace have created a “politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.” Damore also wrote that “on average, men and women biologically differ in many ways” and that those differences may create less opportunity for women to ascend the corporate ladder for positions that “often require long, stressful hours.” Diversity is not a bad thing, he argued, but Google’s benchmarks for workplace diversity “can incentivize illegal discrimination.”

    Days after the memo circulated throughout the company, Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in an internal memo that Damore had violated the company’s code of conduct by “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” and that “to suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.” Business Insider later confirmed that Damore had been fired from Google for penning the memo.

    Following the news of Damore’s firing, members of the right-wing alternative-media ecosystem leveraged their distribution network to spread claims that Damore’s termination proved Google seeks to suppress conservative viewpoints within its company, even though the controversy around Damore’s comments spurred form his arguments about biological superiority and not his conservative views:

    Right-wing vlogger Stefan Molyneux:

    Infowars Editor-at-Large Paul Joseph Watson:

    Far-right internet troll Jack Posobiec:

    Far-right media personality Mike Cernovich:

    "Alt-right" blogger Ashley Rae:

    Alternative right-wing media outrage also inspired posts on many high-traffic fringe political blogs. Big League Politics blogger Cassandra Fairbanks wrote, “Instead of arguing using facts, logic, or reason, many women within the Google team immediately took to social media to scream about the ‘sexism.’” At the end of the article, Fairbanks asked, “When will the left learn that feelings will never outweigh facts?” Jim Hoft, owner of The Gateway Pundit and possibly the dumbest man on the internet, penned an article about Damore’s firing with the headline “Truth Is A Hate Crime.”

    A Twitter account associated with 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as “/pol/”), posted an image of a predominantly female group it claims is part of “Google’s censorship team” and claimed it “explained so much.” Media Matters is not linking to this post to protect the identity of those pictured.

    In addition to lashing out at Google, Posobiec took to Periscope and encouraged his fan base to tweet the hashtag “#GoogleManifesto,” which briefly became a trending topic on Twitter. Conservative firebrand Chuck Johnson’s right-wing crowdfunding site WeSearchr launched a fundraising page to pool money to help Damore “get back on his feet and see if he can fight Google.” WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange even offered Damore a job at his website; Assange has previously accused Google of colluding with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. State Department to control the distribution of information related to foreign affairs.

    Members of this media ecosystem have found a hero in Damore because they can spin his termination from Google to validate one of their key talking points: that tech companies are actively suppressing conservative voices on their platforms and censoring opinions that contradict a liberal worldview. Conservative columnist Kurt Schlichter called for an antitrust investigation into Google:

    The Verge reported that Damore’s firing does not represent the first time discussions about diversity in the tech industry have served as fodder for right-wing online communities, citing outrage over Pax Dickinson’s ouster from Business Insider after a string of anti-feminist and racist tweets. It’s also worth noting that many personalities who populate the right-wing alternative-media ecosystem (such as Milo Yiannopoulos) first gained prominence in 2014 during another major tech industry controversy called “Gamergate.” Similar to the Google manifesto, the Gamergate online movement found energy when it criticized diversity efforts in the video game industry; it also spurred attacks on a female game developer’s sex life that resulted in death threats.

    The Google manifesto and reaction provide another example of the lengths to which members of this media ecosystem will go to manufacture validation for their fringe worldview and smear its critics.