Alt-right and pro-Trump trolls | Media Matters for America

Alt-right and pro-Trump trolls

Tags ››› Alt-right and pro-Trump trolls
  • Member of violent men-only fraternal organization Proud Boys goes on Infowars to recruit

    Proud Boys member: “But you know, if you want to get involved there is no better time than now”

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    During the July 17 edition of Infowars’ The Alex Jones Show, Alex Jones hosted Ethan Nordean, a member of Proud Boys who goes by the alias “Rufio Panman.” As reported by The Guardian, Nordean garnered viral fame after a fight between him and a counterprotester at a right-wing rally was caught on video, earning him his organization’s designation of “Proud Boy of the Week.” Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes also amplified the violent encounter on his Twitter account:

    Proud Boys is a self-described “Western chauvinist” men-only fraternal organization. While McInnes has included a disclaimer (“We are not a violent group”) on the organization’s website attempting to distance the group from the violence its members somehow keep involving themselves in, violence is in reality ingrained into the group’s ethos. To earn a low-level membership (or “second degree”), prospective members have to subject themselves to continuous punches by other Proud Boys while naming five breakfast cereals. The highest membership level, the fourth degree, is earned only if the member has engaged in violence with anti-fascists. McInnes has also attempted to add “clarification” around what that entails, but his hedging is at odds with his record of glorifying violence. He’s on the record saying he “cannot recommend violence enough. It is a really effective way to solve problems.”

    On its site, Proud Boys also displays its affiliation with the violent organization Fraternal Order of the Alt Knights (FOAK), which, essentially operates like a “fight club” and which Proud Boys refers to as its “military arm.” As recently as June 22, McInnes introduced his CRTV show CRTV Tonight with a bizarre montage glorifying violence and fighting in which he claimed, “What's the matter with fighting? Fighting solves everything. The war on fighting is the same as the war on masculinity.”

    Nordean used his appearance with Jones to recruit for an upcoming rally, saying "As long as there’s 50 to 100 of us, we can take on a thousand of them ... [I]f you want to get involved there is no better time than now.”

    ETHAN NORDEAN: We do have the up-and-coming rally in Portland August 4.

    ALEX JONES (HOST): Yeah. That's August 4. Tell the folks about that.

    NORDEAN: Well, obviously we’re eager to get back, because of the failure of the protection of the citizens that the city showed down in Portland. It was a complete failure on their part, complete lack of leadership, and people's lives were put at risk. And thank God that the Proud Boys showed up in numbers and protect those people. I don't know what would have happened if we weren't there, but it wouldn't have been good.

    JONES: And maybe we should show the police marching antifa up against the demonstration and the prayer vigil -- let's show that footage if we can -- and then what transpired out of that. Because this was -- first they have a rally a few months ago, women and children get beaten up. So you guys come out, you still kick their ass, but the police stand down. So you’re saying three is the trifecta, it's the charm, have a really huge group come out and once and for all let antifa know this is still America.

    NORDEAN: Yeah. Well, it doesn’t take -- as long as there’s 50 to 100 of us, we can take on a thousand of them, that's fine. But if you want to get involved, there is no better time than now. Get involved, find your local chapter, hit him up. We'll be in Portland August 4.

    JONES: And, again tell folks about the rally, why you're doing it again?

    NORDEAN: Well, we're going to see how the city reacts, and we'll see if they step up their leadership and actually provide security and protection against these antifa thugs. We're also going to take another stand against antifa because of their violence that they've portrayed against the people of Portland and really up and down the West Coast.

  • This far-right online campaign has found an ally in the Trump administration

    By lobbying on behalf of the British anti-Muslim troll Tommy Robinson, the Trump administration is carrying water for the international far-right

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After months of relentless online (and occasional offline) hysteria, the far-right campaign #FreeTommy has found an ally in the administration of President Donald Trump. According to reports, Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, lobbied Britain’s ambassador to the United States on behalf of the British anti-Muslim troll known as Tommy Robinson. Robinson is imprisoned in the United Kingdom after pleading guilty for contempt of court for disrupting a trial.

    As documented by Hope not hate, an organization that combats far-right extremism, Robinson was arrested for “breach of the peace” while he livestreamed about an ongoing case outside Leeds Crown Court in Britain. By livestreaming and sharing information regarding the case, Robinson violated restrictions on reporting about the case, a common legal practice in the U.K. to ensure that members of the jury aren’t influenced by media pressure or outside information. He pleaded guilty, and his legal representative said Robinson had “deep regret” for what he had done, but many in the online far-right ecosystem have painted him as a free speech martyr through the #FreeTommy online campaign and its offline, sometimes-violent demonstrations.

    By lobbying for his freedom, the administration is putting its weight behind a troll whose prominence derives from his extremist anti-Muslim rhetoric. Robinson, whose actual name Hope not hate reports as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the co-founder of the anti-Muslim English Defense League (EDL), which he built “into the premier street protest group within the far right.” While addressing an EDL audience in 2011, he blamed “every single Muslim watching this video on YouTube” for theJuly 7, 2005, bombings in London, saying, “You got away with killing and maiming British citizens.” A 2013 guest appearance on Fox’s now-defunct show The O’Reilly Factor shows how American right-wing media helped elevate his extremist rhetoric; Robinson claimed on the air that “Islam is not a religion of peace. It never has been, and it never will be.”

    Robinson was once refused entry into the U.S., but he still traveled to the country in 2013 on a friend’s passport. The stunt got him banned from the country. Twitter has also permanently banned Robinson from its platform for reportedly violating its “hateful conduct” policy.

    Before the Trump administration picked up Robinson’s case, the #FreeTommy campaign found acolytes among the American MAGA universe and far-right conspiracy theorists. Alex Jones of conspiracy theory outlet Infowars (which has hosted Robinson as a guest on different occasions) has mischaracterized Robinson as a “political prisoner”; Lucian Wintrich, White House correspondent for the right-wing site The Gateway Pundit, which struggles with getting things right, warned that what happened to Robinson was “what is coming to the United States,” a take similar to that of opportunistic right-wing troll Mike Cernovich. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. once again displayed his well-documented love for the far-right internet trolls by commenting on Robinson’s situation. Fox host Tucker Carlson hosted anti-Muslim troll Katie Hopkins on his show to advocate for Robinson:

    The developments surrounding the #FreeTommy campaign are illustrative of two notable points: American right-wing media and their prominent online personalities provide a built-in amplification network for the messaging of the international far-right, and the Trump administration is extremely susceptible to its narratives.

    Robinson’s rhetoric reportedly inspired a man to commit an anti-Muslim terror attack in Finsbury Park, London, that left one person dead and 10 others wounded in June 2017.

  • A GOP Twitter account is helping spread the baseless internet conspiracy theory QAnon

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    An account that identifies itself as the “official Twitter account for the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee” spread the 8chan-originated baseless conspiracy theory called QAnon by tweeting out on July 4th a YouTube explanatory video. While not verified by Twitter, the account is linked on the official website for the Florida county GOP.

    Supporters of the QAnon (also known as "The Storm") conspiracy theory baselessly believe that President Donald Trump’s cryptic October 2017 comment alluding to a “calm before the storm” was in reality a hint at a master plan he has set in motion to kneecap members of the “deep state” while dismantling pedophilia rings supposedly tied to powerful celebrities and politicians. Anonymous posts on anonymous internet forum 8chan signed by “Q,” who claims to be “a high-level government insider with Q clearance,” set “The Storm” in motion. Trump supporters claim the posts are clues informing the public of Trump’s plan, shared on the message board to circumvent what they believe is mainstream media’s anti-Trump agenda.

    Prominent right-wing media figures are increasingly using their public platforms to add fuel to the fire and legitimize the anonymous posts. Breitbart's Curt Schilling amplified QAnon on his podcast, both celebrity Trump supporter Roseanne Barr and Fox’s Sean Hannity pushed the bogus claims on Twitter, while conspiracy theorist site Infowars tasked Jerome Corsi with the QAnon beat, only to backpedal when QAnon supporters started attacking Corsi after he criticized “Q.” Turning Point USA’s executive director and Donald Trump Jr. confidante Charlie Kirk also spread bogus statistics seemingly originated in the QAnon universe on a now-deleted tweet.

    8chan, when not the source of this wild conspiracy theory, is best-known as an online message board connected to hoaxes and organized harassment campaigns.

    These conspiracy theories matter. “Pizzagate,” a similar pedophilia-focused conspiracy theory fueled by far-right media during the 2016 presidential election inspired a shooter to open fire inside a Washington, DC, family restaurant. Not only can the same happen again, it has already started. A man is facing terrorism charges in Arizona for just recently using an armored vehicle to stop traffic on a bridge near the Hoover Dam. His demands and his letters have both been linked to the Qanon conspiracy theory. And now that conspiracy theory has been endorsed by an element of the Republican party.

    UPDATE: The Twitter account of Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee has deleted its QAnon tweet.

  • Despite YouTube’s vows to “do better,” white supremacist David Duke keeps going on livestreams

    YouTube’s restrictions are not enough to discourage extremists from using the platform to spread white supremacy

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

     As evidenced by a recent appearance former Klu Klux Klan’s leader David Duke made on a YouTube livestream, the company’s measures to deal with content produced by extremists are seemingly not enough to dissuade white supremacists from using the platform to evangelize and make money. While YouTube has put other appearances by Duke behind a warning explaining that users have flagged the content as inappropriate, the June 27 livestream has no such label.

    On June 27, Jean Francois Gariepy hosted a livestream -- which, as of this writing, has over 22,800 views -- on his channel featuring Duke and known neo-Nazi Mark Collett. According to The Daily Beast, Gariepy has called in the past for “a white ethnostate” and featured other extremists like Richard Spencer on his YouTube channel. Collett, a neo-Nazi who was recently elevated by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) on Twitter, has repeatedly collaborated with Duke and expressed his admiration for Adolf Hitler. The livestream included the Youtube feature Super Chat, through which users can pay for their messages to stand out during a live chat, allowing Gariepy to earn money from users paying to highlight racist slogans like “it’s OK to be white.” During the livestream, Collett bragged about the success of his channel despite YouTube’s restrictions on his “most successful video,” an anti-Semitic tirade titled “The Jewish role in the refugee crisis.” Though his anti-Semitic video displays a warning from YouTube that users have flagged the content, it is still easily accessible after a click.

    Duke complained that his appearance on a June 19 livestream on Gariepy’s channel had been restricted, but Gariepy claimed that YouTube didn’t delete the video meant the platform was “admitting that there was no hate speech in there.”

    DAVID DUKE: I’m still kind of recovering from our last show. I’m really kind of angry at YouTube and it’s just amazing to think that this broadcast -- there was no hatred in it, it was very decent, it was just criticizing some aspects of racism in a different way, and it had a 95 percent positive rating, it had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of comments and they were overwhelmingly positive, and they even blocked out the ratings, they blocked out being able to comment, they blocked out being able to share directly, which really hurts a video, and they also wouldn’t put the numbers -- I think you’ve had about 40,000 views now, only you can see that, the average person cannot see that around the world. It’s just -- it’s amazing. That is very powerful propaganda, right? Because they don’t want people to know and people to see that there’s a lot of support for an idea when 95 percent of the watchers say this is great. They know that when people see that, that it makes people also tend to understand it’s OK, it’s alright to like it, psychologically, and that’s what they always do on the other side. So it’s OK to like this interview, and it’s OK to be white.

    JEAN FRANCOIS GARIEPY: Absolutely. And by choosing to censor in that way and not delete the video, they’re essentially admitting, YouTube is admitting, that there was no hate speech in there. There was not a single sentence that could be interpreted as hate speech. However, as we’ve seen many times in the past, the subject of Zionism, of the involvement of Jewish people in certain industries, has always been a subject that YouTube tries to hide, tries to hide any form of encouragement and any form of social sharing. It is sad. We’ve documented right here on the show, the “Frame Game” reports the kind of advocacy groups that are behind that kind of censorship. They are advocacy groups that are tracking our activities. They are organized and financed for the purpose of reporting these videos as hate speech when in fact they are not.

    On the June 19 appearance that YouTube placed behind a warning, Duke claimed Washington, D.C., is “occupied by the Zionists.” He also went on to say that Jewish people “control most of the media conglomerates” and control “Hollywood, which dishes out horrific hate propaganda, the destructive propaganda against our people, against our heritage, against true values of humanity, the true human values.”

    After issuing an apology to advertisers for placing their brands over toxic content and allowing extremist content creators to make money, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki had reiterated her promises, saying, “We can, and we will, do better.” Yet Duke’s repeated appearances on Gariepy’s thriving channel clearly demonstrate that the mechanisms the platform has put in place to identify and combat extremism are not enough to deter content creators who profit from spreading toxic messaging.

  • On Twitter, Trump's campaign manager plays footsie with Gab, “a haven for white nationalists”

    Brad Parscale uses Gab, which is full of white nationalists and neo-Nazis, to push for favorable conditions from Facebook and Twitter

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Gab, a social media app dubbed “a haven for white nationalists” just wants President Donald Trump to notice it. Recently Gab tweeted at Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign manager, about the myth that Facebook is censoring conservative speech.

    Parscale, who was also the digital director of Trump’s 2016 campaign, has taken a combative stance against mainstream social media companies. He trolls about conservatives being mistreated on social media and has publicly called on Facebook and Twitter not to censor conservative content leading up to the 2020 election, even though social media companies aren’t actually doing this. Parscale’s continued calls for tech companies to address a problem that doesn’t exist are disingenuous given that he (working alongside Cambridge Analytica) exploited Facebook’s ad platform all the way to a Trump victory in 2016 -- even former Clinton campaign staffers have acknowledged that Parscale's ad buys were much more efficient than their own -- and that Trump himself is the world’s most notorious Twitter user. Parscale’s efforts have worked. Just a few weeks ago, Facebook executives met with Parscale and other Republican leaders to hear their “concerns.” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also recently met with conservatives.

    On Twitter, Parscale gifted Gab with a reply. “I’m not against @getongab,” he wrote, but he said he needs the company to do something for him. Remove white nationalists and neo-Nazis from its platform? Nope. He said he is “all for a @Twitter replacement,” but he’d like Gab to “get me an iPhone app.” Trump’s campaign manager is 100 percent on board with using the social media app that white nationalists favor -- just as long as he can do it from his iPhone!

    Parscale’s interactions with Facebook, Twitter, and Gab are all political theater. Playing footsie with Gab will get the base excited, and as we’ve learned, Trump faces minimal fallout whenever he caters to his white nationalist constituency. The Trump campaign isn’t going to leave mainstream social media platforms anytime soon either. It needs Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to win. The campaign spent millions on digital ads in 2016 and that isn’t going to change. No matter how much Parscale whines about social media companies, the Trump campaign can’t afford to abandon them. It's no surprise Parscale made this complaint on Twitter.

    The tech platforms know this. They also know that the claim of conservative censorship has no basis in reality. But the Trump campaign is still a priority customer. It remains to be seen how much tech companies will cater to the campaign’s demands, and how much that might hurt them with the majority of their other users.

    As I was writing this up, Parscale tweeted another whine about Facebook. He blamed management's inability to control Facebook's supposedly liberal staff but offered no evidence whatsoever to support the claim.

  • Townhall senior columnist amplifies white nationalist tropes to troll followers

    Kurt Schlichter made multiple tweets with just the phrase "14." "14" is a common neo-Nazi phrase.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Media Matters

    Twice over the weekend, Townhall senior columnist and Rebel Media host Kurt Schlichter tweeted "14" at Twitter users with whom he appeared to be having political disagreements. “14” is a common white nationalist trope that refers to the slogan coined by white supremacist David Lane: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

    Schlichter is not the only right-wing media figure to use rhetoric linked to white nationalism in order to troll progressives. Milo Yiannopoulos, the far-right troll with Nazi sympathies struggling to stay relevant, recently sent a Jewish reporter $14.88, another code tied to white supremacy (the digital money transfer company Venmo kicked him off the platform, and PayPal did as well).  Similarly, a Department of Homeland Security February press release recently raised questions among journalists for echoing the trope.

    By willingly associating with tropes so tightly tied to white nationalism, whether in jest or intentionally, Schlichter is revealing either that he has white nationalist sympathies, or he is comfortable with carrying water for white nationalists in order to “trigger the libs.” As New York magazine laid out, “ironic” trolling using white supremacist tropes has provided cover to genuine acts of hate and violence. 

  • Far-right online message board users celebrate Annapolis newsroom shooting

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    A shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper building in Annapolis, MD, caused multiple injuries and fatalities. Even before anyone knew details about the shooting, message boards known for their far-right vitriol reacted gleefully, echoing the anti-journalist rhetoric President Donald Trump has made so prominent.

    On the “politically incorrect” boards in 4chan and 8chan, users immediately set out to comment on the breaking news, some dismissing it as a “false flag” meant to distract from Trump “winning all week,” or warning of “a parade of crisis actors” was forthcoming, echoing the narrative pro-Trump media pushed to dismiss survivors of the Parkland, FL, school shooting and their calls to reduce gun violence afterward. More disturbingly, a significant amount of users celebrated and encouraged the violent incident, celebrating what they saw as an attack on journalists.

    These disturbing reactions mirror the sentiment Nazi-sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos expressed when he called for “vigilante squads” to shoot journalists in response to media reporting he disliked. In response to the Annapolis shooting, Yiannopoulos tried to blame his violent comments on the journalists he had made them to and who had then reported it, taking no responsibility for the impact his comments could have on his far-right followers. Media outlets and journalists are a common target of pro-Trump trolls, who have turned “brick a journo” (which refers to throwing bricks at journalists) into a recurring pattern to threaten journalists with violence by tweeting pictures of bricks at them.

  • After Sanders tweeted about Red Hen, pro-Trump trolls unleashed Pizzagate-style targeted harassment

    Trolls harassed the restaurant, its owners, its culinary team, and even an unrelated restaurant with the same name. Past similar campaigns have inspired violent acts, including a gunman shooting inside a Washington pizzeria and an armed police team being deployed.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Saturday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted via her official Twitter account that the owner of the Red Hen in Lexington, VA, had asked her to leave the restaurant because of the Trump administration’s policies.

    Following her tweet, supporters of President Donald Trump and pro-Trump trolls started targeting the restaurant, its staff, its owner, and her family online. The avalanche of harassment so far has included doxxing her (publishing her personal contact information) on multiple online platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and message boards Voat and 4chan. Previous harassment campaigns organized by pro-Trump trolls have had dangerous, real-life consequences for their targets, including acts of violence and potentially dangerous pranks.

    On Voat, pro-Trump trolls called for a comprehensive harassment campaign and posted the personal online profiles of the members of the restaurant’s culinary team:

    Trolls uploaded pictures of the owner’s family, including her son, on 4chan threads that included death threats. They also posted what seemed to be her personal phone number on a now-archived thread:

    Another since-archived thread included her personal address and called on people to send her some “love mail”:

    On Twitter, even though the platform specifically prohibits users from sharing such sensitive information, people shared the restaurant owner’s personal phone number:

    Pro-Trump pages on Facebook were also part of it:

    The doxxing has been accompanied by promises of violence, and prominent trolls are already connecting the restaurant to the dangerous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory and to “Q,” a fictitious person from a related conspiracy theory about the “deep state,” “QAnon.” Pro-Trump trolls pushed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory during the 2016 presidential election, claiming that celebrities and Democratic politicians had links to a pedophilia ring hidden in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. Even though the conspiracy theory was debunked, the story still inspired a man to open fire inside the family restaurant, which he claimed he had entered to self-investigate.

    It is extremely worrisome to see trolls sharing the restaurant owner’s personal information, particularly given the dangerous incident that followed the targeted harassment of Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg. After trolls made his personal information public and spread it on message boards, someone made a prank call to the police and claimed there was a hostage situation inside Hogg’s home, prompting deployment of an armed police team. The act is known as “swatting,” and it’s a harassment tool that trolls aim at their targets; on at least one occasion, it has proved fatal.

    Another terrifying consequence of harassment campaigns unleashed by pro-Trump trolls is that they sometimes target parties with no connection to the situation spurring the attacks. In this case, a D.C. restaurant with the same name as the Lexington establishment has been "bombarded with calls, emails," and "death threats" -- and was egged over the weekend --  despite having no connection to the Virginia Red Hen. Similarly, after the February school shooting in Parkland, FL, Infowars host Alex Jones accused an innocent man of being the shooter, unleashing “ridicule, harassment, and threats of violence” against him.

    Media outlets, however, seem to be focusing their coverage on whether the actions of a private business owner who followed her conscience reflect intolerable incivility. Meanwhile, reporting on the dangerous harassment and attacks that have followed is taking a back seat.

    Natalie Martinez provided research for this piece.