Man Who Swears He’s ‘Not a Dumbass’ Arrested for Attempting to Murder the Internet

Illustration for article titled Man Who Swears He's 'Not a Dumbass' Arrested for Attempting to Murder the Internet

Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP (Getty Images)

A Texas man who, according to court documents, recently stated that he is definitely “not a dumbass,” is now potentially facing decades in prison for plotting an alleged terrorist attack to “blow up” the internet.

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Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was taken into custody by the FBI on Thursday, after attempting to procure what he thought were explosives from an undercover agent in Fort Worth, Texas, a federal affidavit shows (the bombs were, in fact, fake). According to authorities, Pendley wanted to use C-4, a powerful plastic explosive, to target an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data center in Ashburn, Virginia.

Pendley’s target, Ashburn, is home to over 100 data centers and is the site where a majority of the so-called “Cloud” exists. The arrestee allegedly stated in online chats that he wanted to “kill off about 70% of the internet” and, thereby, annoy “the oligarchy” and, naturally, the deep state.

An apparent Trump supporter who claims he was in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 during the Capitol insurrection, Pendley recently implied in online chats that the ugly riot that killed five people hadn’t gone quite far enough. On MyMilitia.com, a rightwing website that ostensibly helps connect people to regional and local militias, Pendley used the screen name “Dionysus” to write a number of increasingly disturbing posts, the feds allege. In one, he wrote:

I feel like we all went into this with the intentions of getting very little done. How much did you expect to do when we all willingly go in unarmed. Let me tell you what I think (knowing going to touch some nerves.) For weeks I had prepared to show up at the capital [sic] as strapped as possible. The whole time I had high hopes that SOMEONE would understand.

In another post, he let it be known that he was not your run-of-the-mill terrorist:

I’m not a dumbass suicide bomber but even if I only have a handful of fellow patriots standing beside me I will happily die a young man knowing that I didn’t allow the evils in this world to continue unjustly treating my fellow Americans so disrespectfully.

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The posts aroused the suspicions of a “concerned citizen,” who later gave screenshots of his comments to the FBI.

Afterward, the feds ascertained Pendley’s email address and issued a search warrant for his Facebook while also subpoenaing the subscriber records connected to his Gmail account. From there, the government appears to have conducted surveillance of Pendley’s home in Wichita Falls, Texas, and also infiltrated his communications with an informant and, later, an undercover agent.

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During a conversation with both the informant and agent, Pendley laid out his masterful plans and nuanced political philosophy like so:

The main objective is to f*** up the Amazon servers. There’s 24 buildings that all this data runs through in America. Three of them are right next to each other, and those 24 run 70 percent of the Internet. And the government, especially the higher ups, CIA, FBI, special sh**, they have like an 8 billion dollar a year contract with Amazon to run through their servers. So we f*** those servers, and it’s gonna piss all the oligarchy off.

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In his apparent crusade to end the world wide web and thereby piss off the powers that be, Pendley has accrued a federal charge of maliciously attempting to destroy a building with an explosive. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.

House Republican Falls for Joke Article by ‘Dick Scuttlebutt’ at Hearing on Extremism in Military

Representative Pat Fallon of Texas at Wednesday’s hearing.

Representative Pat Fallon of Texas at Wednesday’s hearing.
Screenshot: YouTube / U.S. House Armed Services Committee (Other)

On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing with expert testimony on extremism in the U.S. military after dozens of veterans and at least two active duty troops were involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. Republicans on the panel seemed more interested in debunking the need for such a hearing at all, with one apparently hoodwinked by a military satire site.

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The George Washington Program on Extremism has identified at least 33 of the Capitol insurrectionists as having a military background, including 31 veterans, one current member of the National Guard, and one Army reservist. The GOP has a long tradition of downplaying the terror threat posed by violent far-right extremists—perhaps out of wariness that the ideological trail could lead back to the party’s positions or rhetoric, or just as a reflexive response to any criticism of conservatives whatsoever. Per Politico, Republicans on the committee, including ranking member Mike Rogers, shot down the idea the armed forces aren’t doing enough to root out white supremacists, fascists, neo-Nazis, and other extremists.

“We lack any concrete evidence that violent extremism is as ripe in the military as some commentators claim,” Rogers said during the hearing, according to Politico. “While I agree with my colleagues that these numbers should be zero, this is far from the largest military justice issue facing our armed services.”

Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher said there was an “absence of data” and the subject of the hearing was “wild suppositions based on our ideological priors.” Georgia Rep. Austin Scott digressed toward the GOP obsession with so-called “cancel culture,” fretting that some may “lose their jobs and other things simply because of a Facebook post or some other post that was made when somebody was mad.” And Texas Rep. Pat Fallon challenged witness Lecia Brooks, the chief of staff for the Southern Poverty Law Center, with a completely falsified claim that the anti-racist organization had classified the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion as hate groups.

Per Military.com:

“Yes or no question, has your organization named the American Legion as a hate group?” Fallon asked Brooks.

“I don’t believe so,” she replied.

“I found it, and it did,” Fallon replied. “Were you aware they named the VFW as a hate group?”

“Not in our current census, no,” Brooks answered.

The SPLC maintains a database of racist and bigoted hate groups, which has sparked ire among Republicans who consider some of those groups to merely be cultural conservatives (uh huh). However, the SPLC has never classified the VFW or American Legion, nationwide groups of former service members that organize veterans’ support and other charitable work, as hate groups or anything else. Fallon instead appears to have gotten that idea from a site called Duffel Blog that runs military-themed joke articles, such as one claiming Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is rooting out “weak-ass posers who lack the extreme ideologies of Iran’s ‘totally radical’ warfighters” and another titled “Retired general on Pepsi board vows to win War on Thirst.”

In 2017, Duffel Blog ran an obviously made-up article alleging that SPLC President J. Richard Cohen had declared the two veterans’ organizations to be hate groups because they hold “radical, extreme-right-wing ideals such as freedom, safety, and family values.” Said article also mentioned that Cohen wrote the declaration from a “corporate think-tank steam room, where Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Moscow) was seen relaxing in the nude.”

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The byline on the article was “Dick Scuttlebutt,” who can be safely assumed is not a real person.

The post, which was re-upped on the Duffel Blog site on Wednesday, wasn’t exactly cutting-edge satire. But it was at least fairly obvious satire, particularly if one read past the headline. Duffel Blog is also well-known in the military community as sort of heavily armed counterpart to The Onion, so mistaking it for reality is an especially embarrassing blunder for a Republican on the Armed Services Committee. (Previous feathers in Duffel Blog’s hat have included punking Politifact into reporting the military had offered seven Guantanamo Bay detainees to anyone with information on the location of captive troop Bowe Bergdahl and Gizmodo into believing the Army was replacing bayonets with tomahawks.)

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Extremism in the military, despite Republicans’ protestations to the contrary, is a very real and well-evidenced threat. Polling by the Military Times in 2020 of 1,630 active-duty subscribers found more than 36% of respondents, and more than half of minority service members, reported witnessing examples of white nationalism/supremacy or ideologically-motivated racism in the military. Those numbers had increased significantly in recent years. Internal Pentagon surveys from 2017 released earlier this year found nearly a third of Black service members had experienced racial discrimination, harassment, or both in the preceding 12 months. These issues appear to be exacerbated by a command structure disproportionately composed of white males.

In 2018, a Coast Guard officer with prior Marine Corps service was arrested for allegedly stockpiling weapons in a plot to kill Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. In 2020, three veterans in Nevada were charged with felony conspiracy and terrorism over an alleged plot to attack Black Lives Matter protesters in Las Vegas, while a U.S. Army private was charged for providing information on his unit and its defenses to neo-Nazis he believed would coordinate an attack with al-Qaeda. The same year, Gizmodo reported on a former recruiter for terroristic neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen that had joined the Navy, resulting in his administrative separation.

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The Pentagon has acknowledged far-right extremists with military experience are a “threat” due to their “proven ability to execute high-impact events,” and it’s begun implementing programs to screen recruits for any involvement. The Defense Department has also begun assembling databases of domestic extremist groups it believes are trying to recruit current or former troops. According to the Military Times, some troops haven’t been impressed by efforts so far, reporting recent stand-downs with officers on the topic of extremism weren’t being taken seriously by trainers or were cursory at best—though others said their commanders held substantive sessions.

“DoD officials repeatedly claim that the number is small, [yet] no one truly knows,” Audrey Kurth Cronin, director of American University’s Center for Security, Innovation, and New Technology, said during the hearing, according to Politico. “No serious plan can be built without defining the scope of the problem.”

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Fallon’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment by Gizmodo on this story, but we’ll update this post if we hear back.

Facebook Missed 10.1 Billion Opportunities to Stop Juicing Hoaxes and Propaganda in 2020, Study Finds

Illustration for article titled Facebook Missed 10.1 Billion Opportunities to Stop Juicing Hoaxes and Propaganda in 2020, Study Finds

Photo: Lionel Bonaventure (Getty Images)

If Facebook had moved sooner to restrict hoax, toxic, misleading, or other content attempting to interfere with the 2020 elections, it could have limited its reach by around 10 billion views, according to a report by the advocacy group Avaaz.

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Researchers for Avaaz identified the 100 highest-performing pages on Facebook that had shared content classified as misinformation by the company’s own third-party fact-checkers, including at least twice within 90 days, per Time. Those pages received significantly more engagement than others throughout the summer of 2020, amid both the run-up to the election, the novel coronavirus pandemic, and nationwide protests against police racism and brutality triggered by the Minneapolis police killing of Black resident George Floyd.

Avaaz found that “had Facebook tackled misinformation more aggressively and when the pandemic first hit in March 2020 (rather than waiting until October), the platform could have stopped 10.1 billion estimated views of content on the top-performing pages that repeatedly shared misinformation ahead of Election Day.” This allowed some of the disreputable pages to catch up in terms of social media interactions to major networks with far more followers like CNN in July and August, at the height of Black Lives Matter protests, according to the report.

While the researchers took pains to note that disinformation targets individuals of pretty much every ideology on Facebook, the majority of it targeted conservatives, dovetailing with prior research that far-right misinformation spreads far and wide on the site compared to other types of content:

[…] It is important to note that the pages we identified spanned the political spectrum, ranging from far-right pages to libertarian and far-left pages. Of the 100 pages, 60 leaned right, 32 leaned left, and eight had no clear political affiliation. Digging further into the data, we were able to analyse the breakdown of the misinformation posts that were shared by these pages and we found that 61% were from right-leaning pages. This misinformation content from right-leaning pages also secured the majority of views on the misinformation we analysed – securing 62% of the total interactions on that type of content.

In fact, Facebook did worse at policing content it knew was fake or misleading. Avaaz found that the top 100 stories which had actually been “debunked by fact-checkers working in partnership with Facebook” still racked up 162 million views, “showing a much higher rate of engagement on top misinformation stories than the year before, despite all of Facebook’s promises to act effectively against misinformation that is fact-checked by independent fact-checkers.”

The report argues that even when Facebook identified misinformation, its automated systems regularly failed to detect copycat accounts reposting the same material. Before runoff elections in Georgia, Avaaz found, over 100 political ads containing claims debunked by Facebook fact-checkers were allowed to be seen 52 million times. Nearly half came from Senate candidates, who like other political candidates are exempted from Facebook rules on misinformation in ads and thus freely allowed to lie in them.

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“The scary thing is that this is just for the top 100 pages—this is not the whole universe of misinformation,” Fadi Quran, an Avaaz campaign director and one of the authors of the report, told Time. “This doesn’t even include Facebook Groups, so the number is likely much bigger. We took a very, very conservative estimate in this case.”

Avaaz also found that Facebook did little to interfere with the explosive growth of Pages and Groups calling for violence during and after the 2020 elections, which eventually played a significant role in pro-Donald Trump riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6, where five died.

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The group’s researchers identified a subset of Pages and Groups which had “adopted terms or expressions in their names and/or “About” sections commonly associated with violent extremist movements in the USA (e.g. QAnon, Three Percenters, Oathkeepers, Boogaloo and variants such as “Big Igloo,” etc).” To that list, they added Pages and Groups “glorifying violence or that call for, praise, or make light of the death or maiming of individuals for their political beliefs, ethnicity, sexual orientation, as well as tropes and imagery commonly associated with extremist actors.”

The resulting 267 Pages and Groups had a combined following of roughly 32 million. Over two-thirds (68.7 percent) of them had names referencing the QAnon conspiracy theory, a loosely organized anti-government movement popular on the far right called Boogaloo, or various militias. Roughly 118 of those pages were “still active on the platform and have a following of just under 27 million [as of Feb. 24]—of which 59 are Boogaloo, QAnon or militia-aligned.”

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Facebook, which has long insisted it is rising to the challenge of keeping its platform free of hate speech and calls for violence, said the report wasn’t accurate.

Company spokesperson Andy Stone told Mother Jones that the “report distorts the serious work we’ve been doing to fight violent extremism and misinformation on our platform” and relies on “a flawed methodology to make people think that just because a Page shares a piece of fact-checked content, all the content on that Page is problematic.”

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According to the Associated Press, Facebook said on Monday that it had already taken down four and would remove another 14 of the 118 Pages and Groups identified by Avaaz, saying they “actually violated” the company’s policies.

Compelling Facebook to do more may be easier said than done. Avaaz’s recommendations in the report include regulation requiring social media firms to issue “comprehensive reports on disinformation and misinformation, measures taken against it, and the design and operation of their curation algorithms,” to downrank “hateful, misleading, and toxic content from the top of people’s feeds,” and to require firms to notify users when they saw or interacted with misinformation. Each of these solutions raises obvious First Amendment issues, given that they would require the government to define certain categories of speech and compel private companies to act on that basis.

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Another solution proposed by Avaaz is rewriting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that shields websites from most liability for user-generated content and is one of the building blocks of the modern web. The group recommended that the law be altered to “eliminate any barriers to regulation requiring platforms to address disinformation and misinformation,” but wasn’t specific as to which changes.

While pressure has been building on both sides of the aisle to change Section 230—with congressional Dems generally citing misinformation and hate speech, and their Republican colleagues citing baseless conspiracy theories about liberal bias—experts on internet law have generally shot down those efforts, saying they could have massive unintended consequences across the internet. Avaaz acknowledged as much, with its team writing in the report that Joe Biden’s “administration should not pursue the wholesale repeal of Section 230.”

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QAnon, CultTok, and Leaving It All Behind

“I was impressed that it only took four years,” Danielle, self-identified ex-cult member, 34, said on a phone call. This was a few days after Joe Biden’s inauguration, and we were talking about the previous week of SOS social media posts from wide-eyed QAnon followers, like a TikToker propped up on a pillow, pleading, like a disoriented hostage: “If nothing happens on the 20th, how many of you are going to feel stupid as hell?”

With Danielle’s long catalogue of TikTok videos poking fun at Trump worship and conspiracy theories, I waited for her to chuckle, but she was serious. “Just realizing that it’s a lie is only the first step in the process right there,” Danielle reflected. “They’re going to go through some stages until they come out on the other side.”

Like many “#excult” TikTokers, Danielle–aka DutchessPrim on TikTok who wishes to be identified by a first name only—refers to her white Evangelical megachurch as a cult. She’s not broadly describing white Evangelicalism, which would imply that 29 percent of white people in America are cult members. She uses “cult” specifically in reference to her hometown megachurch and monthly stadium-sized televangelist “Crusades” she attended throughout her childhood, where she was told if she strayed from the rules, she would be on the wrong side of “spiritual warfare” of good angels and bad angels battling over souls of potential church defectors. “A lot of the things that I was taught were very hateful towards a lot of groups of people,” she added.

Culttok and similar fundamentalist religious defector TikTok accounts sort of feel like something between educational channels and therapeutic practice; they (often former Evangelicals and Mormons) affirm that they were completely engulfed by a very specific kind of dogmatic ideology. They recall how they rejected what they describe as alternative facts and prejudiced messaging. They discuss the challenges of breaking free and letting go.

“Right now, QAnon and Trumpism [are] part of their identity, and recognizing that they were wrong is going to require a lot of introspection and self-analysis and critical thinking,” an ex-Mormom TikToker said in one video about QAnoners. Others have pointed out that Q, whose drops are littered with Biblical passages, distorted fundamentalist teachings. “Growing up as a fundamentalist Evangelical, we were taught that there was a greater purpose for everything, and that the rest of the world just didn’t know it yet,” an ex-Evangelical tells the camera. “Which is exactly what QAnon believes. They believe that there’s one savior playing a 3D chess game to save them from an evil they can’t see or fight.” Now that there are enough people grieving the loss of Q-pilled family members and friends to fill at least a medium-sized subreddit, it seems natural that some exculttokers and other defectors have addressed the question floating around for months—what’ll it take for all these Q people to leave?


For Danielle and other #excult TikTokers interviewed for this article, TikTok is a safe distance from her family, who are over on Facebook, and the pseudonymous handle makes searching nearly impossible (though a few people from her other life have found her there anyway).

On her TikTok, along with gleeful reacts to news bloopers and ridiculous tweets, Danielle parodies absurd church gossip and the many, many calls from her Q dad, who is portrayed in a tinfoil hat. On January 12th, she reenacted a late night call in which he tells her to withdraw all of the cash from her bank account, fill up her car with gas, and stock up on food; he informs her that Kamala Harris is building concentration camps in Northern Alaska. By January 18th, he tells her that all of the tubs are full of water and there’s a loaded gun next to the door.

In another TikTok, her more despondent “dad” says he suspects he might’ve been lied to, on the day after the inauguration: “I don’t know if you heard, but the founder of Q quit. I mean, that fool just said that we need to accept the results of the election!” Danielle doesn’t seize the opportunity to validate his doubts. Instead she asks if he’s heard about the “face-swap” fantasy that Trump and Joe Biden had literally swapped faces (a scenario propagated by an anonymous 4chan poster, likely a troll). He finds that reassuring, and she warmly hangs up and laughs to someone camera: “I’m just fucking with him at this point, I’m over it.”

She explained, “I think we have to laugh so we don’t scream.”

Danielle’s parents have fallen into the Q pipeline and what she and many call Trump’s “Cult 45” after she left the church. She can’t speak to how many of her former community members adhere to QAnon dogma but added that her education and unwavering devotion to the Republican Party would certainly make people more receptive.

QAnon (as a virus, with the sole purpose of spreading) feeds on the idea that Satanic forces are waging war for control of America and the minds of its citizens; it is explicitly founded on the idea of Satanic pedovores controlling a shadow government and driving media narratives.

But the big one—which dovetails nicely with the elusive, unforeseeable Plan—is the Rapture, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, an apocalyptic event to unfold on an unknowable schedule. Danielle’s mother believed quite literally that, on any day, trumpets from the sky would awaken the family, that God would ride in on a white horse, and the faithful would vanish to meet Jesus while nonbelievers were left behind to suffer the Apocalypse on Earth.

The event is rivetingly described in the 1990s best-selling, almost pornographically gratuitous, semi-fictional end-times series Left Behind, co-written by Evangelical minister Tim LaHaye and Christian author Jerry B. Jenkins. (The Washington Post has described them both as dispensationalists, believers that we are living through unfolding chapters, or dispensations, pre-written by God.) The series lures the reader into an action-packed page-turner full of car wrecks and cities on fire, at turns weaving into conspiracy theories that could easily be imposed on real-world events. The harbingers of doom, according to Left Behind, are a sort of deep state cabal pushing for a One World Government, a single currency, unrest in the Middle East, and the emergence of a Satanic false prophet—themes which, in the 21st century, have been superimposed on the war in Iraq, Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Israel embassy to Jerusalem, the European Union, and virtually all political opposition.

With the looming Rapture in mind, Danielle’s parents and church didn’t so much view politicians as functionaries for maintaining infrastructure, allotting budgets to federal departments and such, but agents of God or Satan, a militant all-or-nothing stance amplified by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News and Alex Jones. When she turned 18, she was overwhelmed by the number of elders, and her parents, telling her that she would be a warrior at the polls, that her role was to stand up for God and cast her Republican vote. She remembers watching a propaganda film about Obama and crying when he was elected. “I’m surprised more churches haven’t lost their 501c3s in the past four years because of how much politics you’re hearing from pulpit,” she said.

When online conspiracies of the 2000s arrived, her parents were ready for them. When she brought up Q last summer, Danielle’s mom admitted that some elements of the ideology “make sense.” “That’s when I realized I was starting to lose them,” she said.

Years before performance artist Marina Abramović sent the notorious 2015 “Spirit Cooking” email that sprawled into a wild InfoWars conspiracy supposedly implicating the Clinton campaign in Satanic pedovore rituals—about midway through President Obama’s first term, maybe—Danielle had started to square up to the sinking feeling that things were all wrong. According to her church’s teachings, even feeling that things were wrong was wrong and meant she’d gotten “lost.” Starting with the question of why women weren’t welcome in church leadership positions and a lack of apparent concern for racial equality, she began re-assessing her own internalized rules: obedience, non-threatening femininity, consignment to a silent battle against her own critical thoughts. Around age 25, she said, her mounting doubts boiled over to a “quarter-life crisis.”

This is, in part, why she sees TikTok as a place where she can “make amends with the universe.” She can no longer wave away the real-world harm caused when a critical mass of people ascribe to the idea that being gay is a choice, for instance. “I felt like I owed a very wide audience…not only an apology but what am I doing to make up for lost time?” Her earliest TikToks weren’t about cult mentality, but amplifying Black Lives Matter protest clips and educating Donald Trump on Confederate atrocities, to the tune of Frozen’s “Let It Go.” (“Take ‘em down, take ‘em down,” she sings, over a slideshow of monuments.)

It took two years for Danielle to gather the strength to get in the car, drive to her brother’s house, and process her breakdown.

“You wake up one morning, and you realize that you don’t have to be that way, but you don’t know what other way to be,” she reflected. Without a friend or a fellow defector, she had to navigate the outside world alone. “It’s like being dumped in a country where you don’t speak the language, and nobody’s willing to teach you.”

You wouldn’t be able to tell from her TikTok—where she regails followers with whacky stories, logically deconstructs the connection between cults and MAGA, and fields questions about her current beliefs—but she can’t delete her emotional programming. She has to hold her doubts and inspect them in a constant process of rewriting and re-analysis. “It’s funny because this is the one thing where I really sympathize with the MAGA crowd,” she said. “I’ll drive by a megachurch and I have this burning desire to go in, like an addiction. I miss it, and I still want to be a part of it. But my logical brain tells me that I feel susceptible to it still 10 years later.”


Danielle identified a series of her former church’s protocols which seemed particularly cultish: “love bombing” new members with a big open-armed Sunday spectacle, maintaining paranoid vigilance of demonic outsiders, keeping tabs on each others’ missteps, possessing secret knowledge which makes everyone else wrong, complete devotion to charismatic leaders (especially televangelists like Benny Hinn) and warning of Biblical consequences for dissidents.

The QAnon ideology doesn’t neatly square with those indoctrination techniques—QAnon followers do ostracize “sheeple” and defer to Q’s total authority, but Trump (his separate-but-parallel cult), checks more of the boxes: charismatic “love-bomber” who demands total fealty from his enablers (or sic an armed mob on them). Former QAnon adherent and QAnonCasulaties subreddit moderator Jitarth Jadeja pointed out to Gizmodo via email that QAnon is psychological manipulation, but “not really a perfect match to anything. It’s kind of like an entirely new phenomenon, like some kind of force of nature we haven’t quite experienced before.”

As news networks have tried to explain QAnon to their viewers over the past few months, researchers have been arguing that we need to tighten up descriptors that adequately convey the danger of QAnon—it’s not just a “conspiracy theory,” any more than a religion is automatically an authoritarian cult. And then the word “cult,” a general term for devotion to a person, orthodoxy, or work—a word that accurately describes both followings of Ayn Rand and the Rocky Horror Picture Show—is kind of meaningless without other adjectives like “destructive” and “authoritarian.” Cult theorist Steven Hassan, author of The Cult of Trump and, himself, a former Moonie, calls this the “influence continuum,” placing QAnon on the “destructive authoritarian” axis of “political” cults, a class which also includes Aryan Nations, the Demoratic Workers’ Party, and the Symbionese Liberation Army.

The “destructive” cult suppresses what he calls the “authentic self” by forcing followers to adopt the dependent, obedient “cult self.” This is where the tightly controlled institution Danielle grew up in and more decentralized psychological manipulation of QAnon align.

“The vast majority of people in the United States in an authoritarian groups, in my opinion, have been raised in them,” Hassan told Gizmodo over the phone. If followers leave a cult but don’t reach a “perspective shift,” Hassan said, they might be just as likely to go along with another one.

“I guess the question is why are they leaving?” he said. “Are they leaving because they realize that their minds have been hacked? Or are they leaving because they realized that the prophecy failed and Trump isn’t going to be the president anymore?”

When asked whether he worried that more conspiracy theory-related destructive authoritarian political cults could simply step in, he said, “I’m very concerned.”


Q not only manipulates scripture to validate vague predictions and elevate Trump to messiah status, but specifically references passages that appeal to the dispensationalism of Left Behind. Q-drops are rife with passages alluding to spiritual warfare, like Ephesians 6:10-18: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Major white Evangelical players reciprocated, early, disseminating QAnon-adjacent theories and sometimes just QAnon. (Danielle isn’t sure exactly how QAnon reached her parents, but it certainly wasn’t through 8kun, she said.)

In the 2020 pre-election book Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump, Sarah Posner covers the robust network of white Evangelical agenda-setters and televangelists who threw support behind Trump early and in return were granted “open door” access to his office throughout his presidency. The most prominent is televangelist Paula White, Trump’s longtime friend, “spiritual advisor,” and previous Trump Tower resident, who’s long maintained that she and Trump are on a mission from God to literally battle demons. White has collaborated with and spoken alongside, Dave Kubal, the director of an Evangelical political issues organization Intercessors for America, which recently put out a QAnon prayer guide titled “THE DEEP STATE PROBLEM.”

Even as a presidential candidate, Trump already attracted some white Evangelical figures who were certain that—even though he couldn’t and never really tried to quote scripture—God has sent, in Trump, a divine instrument to steamroll the heretical liberal cabal where other politicians had merely shown up for photo-ops. In 2015, evangelist Lance Wallnau described Trump on Facebook as “anointed in this season to break things open.” Comparing his to Jeremiah’s God-given assignment to “tear down and to uproot and to plant,” Wallnau continued:

“He has broken up a demonic cartel of political correctness and now it is up to you and me, each of us to move forward in our own sphere and knock down the obstacles that are silencing us and holding us back from what we are called to say and do.”

This and other prophecies would cement his relevance for the next five years.

Others made, and were rewarded for, similarly Apocalyptic prophecies. Televangelist Frank Amedia, a 2016 Trump campaign “liaison for Christian policy,” claimed before the 2016 election that God had told him that he’d sent Trump to bring on the Second Coming. (He’s also claimed to have resurrected people, and an ant, from the dead.) He went on to form POTUS Shield, an unofficial council of religious soldiers battling for Trump.

If you’re looking, you can even find a minister to mix Gospel with QAnon “spiritual intel reports” on a Twitch-style stream at the internet-infamous Omega Kingdom Ministry, which was inspired by QAnon “prophet” Mark Taylor, a former firefighter who claimed that he was told by God that Trump would be president in 2011, a tale that later manifested as a film.

White Evangelical pastors, Christian publications, and leaders in various Christian denominations have sounded the alarm early and often about QAnon, which isn’t only affecting their communities but also spitting back a bastardization of Christian teachings.

“I didn’t just feel like I was being fed overt Christian messaging, I was being fed [overt Christian messaging],” Jadeja, QAnonCasulaties moderator, said via email. (Despite embarrassment, he’s publicly shared his story in the hopes of helping others.) He hasn’t ascribed to Christian teachings before following QAnon. “It’s not a thread, it’s not intertwined, religious messaging is the rock upon which Q built his church.”


April (TikTok: aprilajoy), pillories the alarming QAnon-adjacent content that’s swirling around her conservative Christian community. She’s not #culttok; she’s still a believing Christian who’s disgusted by the abusive and hateful brinksmanship that’s eclipsed Christian empathy and love.

She uses her account, along with family content and news commentary, as a dump for all the toxic QAnon-adjacent waste she’s seeing on Facebook. In her long-running series “Things I saw ‘Christians’ post on Facebook,” she reads aloud a rapid-fire series green-screened memes and panic in a warbled voice effect.

A few samples: “AMERICA HAS FALLEN! ARE YOU LOCKED AND LOADED YET?” “Let he who hath not an AR15 take his $600 stimulus and buyeth a new one.” “Are we wearing red coats Wednesday or what? Sorry, it’ll be my first Civil War.” “What you see from the Capitol is from the Communist playbook. There are NOT Trump supporters!” “I guarantee you Judgement Day won’t be rigged.” “THEY’RE DOING THE SAME THING TO TRUMP THAT THEY DID TO JESUS ON A SMALLER SCALE. BEST PRESIDENT EVER.” “Two biggest LIES of 2020: 1. Epstein killed himself 2. Biden won.” “Father continues to release warrior angels to fight and bind the spirit of Jezebel coming against President Trump to destroy him! AMEN!” “Protected by our LORD AND SAVIOR” (over an image of Trump behind the Resolute Desk with Jesus over his shoulder.) “I tried to stop them, but I am only one man” (over Trump hugging a Statue of Liberty crying red tears.)

The paranoid hostility resembles nothing of the Christian spirit she’d embraced growing up in the 4,000-member church which her father pastored. “[Trump] has torn up families and churches over this,” she said. She says she gets messages daily from people whose parents practically disowned them. “If you speak out against Trump, they take it so personally that it’s like you’re speaking out against them or against Jesus.”

“I don’t know how to emphasize this enough,” she said, “but the Jesus that these people are talking about—a Jesus that is not all-loving—is not Jesus.”


Q’s plan complements certain (mostly white) fringe evangelists’ messaging, but it’s ensnared followers from all over the (mostly white) spiritual spectrum—believers in Norse paganism, Catholicism, New Age spirituality, and (in at least one case) Wicca.

As videos from the Capitol riot circulated on Twitter, a chunk of observers got a laugh out of a guy in what looked like a Roman armor Halloween costume. While he appeared to the uninitiated as a flamboyant oddball similar to the horned “QShaman,” ex-Mormon #culttoker Michelle, 29, immediately picked up on the reference: Captain Moroni, a commander who led an insurrection against “king-men” who attempted to topple democracy and install a monarch.

“The guy dressed as Captain Moroni really got me,” she said. “In the Book of Mormon, the king-men, who are portrayed as evil, are trying to overthrow the government because they lost the election. Captain Moroni is the one who has the title of liberty [a brief affirmation of democratic principles] and kills all the king-men because they’re not following the results of the election.”

Michelle—who asked that we use a pseudonym but goes by actual_agency on TikTok—focuses less on politics than personal transformation. Over the course of her #exMo TikToks, she enjoys forbidden coffee, finds her style, talks about clean-slate loving parenting rules.

She sees how the story of Gadianton robbers—a secret Satanic mafia from ancient America that infiltrates the government and kills people—could be adapted to dangerous narratives.

“People think that the government is run by the Gadianton robbers,” she said. “It’s very, very parallel to the Deep State. And so you search [for the Deep State] and think, well, that must be what this is.”

Her faith crisis began percolating with a latent awareness of the MAGA-like ability to wave away the leader’s abuses. She was horrified to learn in her twenties that apostle Joseph Smith had married teenagers—if the prophet wasn’t the person she believed him to be, what else was untrue? One question led to more questions, and she only got excuses for Republican-backed policies she didn’t agree with, like child separation, racist killings, and ignoring climate change (the last issue was something God would handle). “I really believed for a long time that if you’re a Democrat, you can’t be a Mormon,” she said. “But then I just started looking at my beliefs, and they just didn’t line up with the Republican Party.” When Black Lives Matter protests grew in size and frequency summer, she shared her concerns on Facebook, which only attracted a flurry of fretful texts and apologists on her doorstep.

“It comes back down to the idea that everyone is either working for God or Satan. There’s no alternative…I don’t know, it’s hard to be specific. That’s where I was like, I’m done. I can’t handle this anymore. “

In Mormonism, there is a “shelf,” the apologist term for the place you’re supposed to put your doubts. “Well, it gets to a point where your shelf breaks. There are too many things on there, and it just doesn’t make sense,” Michelle said. “Everyone has a shelf.”

Nashville Bombing Suspect Was Anti-Government Extremist, Believed in Lizard People: Report

The vehicle used in the attack on Nashville on December 25, 2020, as released in a photo by the Metro Nashville Police Department.

The vehicle used in the attack on Nashville on December 25, 2020, as released in a photo by the Metro Nashville Police Department.
Photo: Metro Nashville Police Department (Getty Images)

In the early hours of Christmas Day in 2020, an RV in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, began broadcasting the sounds of gunfire and warnings for anyone in earshot to immediately evacuate. After about 15 minutes, it exploded, killing the perpetrator, wounding at least eight others, and damaging hundreds of buildings.

A New York Times article on Wednesday has some more information on the ongoing federal and local police investigation, which authorities have said they don’t expect to be released until March. It’s further confirmation that the bomber, 63-year-old Anthony Quinn Warner, believed in and may have been motivated by a conspiracy theory that asserts a hidden cabal of reptilian humanoids posing as humans secretly controls world governments and affairs.

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Warner was a computer specialist who used to work for a Nashville-area electronic security firm and did freelance IT work, according to the Times, and he appears to have first become convinced that the U.S. government perpetrated the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. Crystal Deck, who had become friends with Warner in the months before his death, told the Times she immediately knew he was the bomber after she connected seemingly random incidents in the weeks before to the details of the attack.

Deck had witnessed Warner fiddling with a pre-recorded female voice on his computer and playing the 1964 Petula Clark song “Downtown,” she told the Times, both of which were broadcast from a loudspeaker on the van used in the attack that warned residents to evacuate. Deck added Warner had mentioned he was about to do something that would attract police attention (without going into specifics) and had cleared his house of all but a few possessions, alluding to a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Deck and others received essays composed by Warner describing his conspiracy theories, according to the Times, and the bomber also went on manhunts for what he believed were bulletproof reptilians gathering in a local park. From the NYT:

Mr. Warner also camped regularly in Montgomery Bell Park, west of Nashville, a pastime that fed his conspiracy obsessions — he considered the park to be prime ground for hunting alien reptilians.

He described struggling to spot them with an infrared device, believing they could adjust their body temperature to the surrounding environment, and warned that bullets would just bounce off. “If you try to hunt one, you will find that you are the one being hunted,” he wrote.

Mr. Warner composed countless essays that he printed out or loaded onto flash drives, distributing them to Ms. Deck and other friends and acquaintances.

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The lizard people theory is fringe even in conspiracy circles, occupying a status not dissimilar to Flat Earth truthers—a Public Policy poll in 2013 that should be taken with a grain of salt pegged the rate of true believers in the general population at 4%, far below other hoaxes like a broader New World Order conspiracy, the nonexistent vaccines-autism link, Bigfoot, and the claim NASA faked the moon landings. As NBC News noted, the anti-reptilian movement has roots in anti-Semitic and xenophobic propaganda insinuating certain ethnic groups or nationalities like Jewish people were societal infiltrators or parasites, but it was also shaped by occultism and later pop culture items like the snake cult in Conan the Barbarian and Dracula.

The idea didn’t really take off, though, until the last few decades. In the early 1990s, British footballer and broadcaster David Icke decided he was the messiah and began publishing what became a series of a dozen far-right books claiming among other things that interdimensional reptiles have secretly taken control of the planet. (Icke, despite believing in the virulently anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has regularly denied the reptile theory has anything to do with Jews.)

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Raymond Throckmorton III, a former attorney for Warner friend Pamela Perry, told the Times that Warner had assailed his client with “apparently crazy things or threatening or unusual things” and that she had reported a possible bomb plot to police in August 2019 but was ignored.

There’s no mention in the Times article of whether Warner’s attack was connected to a related conspiracy theory next-generation 5G cell service is part of some kind of worldwide plot, though Warner’s bomb detonated in front of an AT&T building and authorities had pursued that as a possible lead in the case. Icke was banned from Facebook, and content featuring him taken down on YouTube, in 2020 for promoting 5G conspiracy theories during the coronavirus pandemic that correlated with a series of attacks on 5G stations in the UK. Perry had previously stated Warner held a grudge against AT&T.

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Conspiracy theorists have taken center stage as a terror threat in the U.S.; on Jan. 6, 2021, a crowd of pro-Donald Trump rioters stormed the Capitol while seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 elections, resulting in at least five deaths. Many in the crowd were organized online on venues ranging from Facebook to fringe internet sites and believed in QAnon, a conspiracy theory that asserted Trump was fighting a secret war against a (generally agreed to be human) global network of Satanic pedophiles. The Times article noted that Warner was not a QAnon supporter, though authorities similarly failed to act on warnings of an attack and the growing threat of violent right-wing extremism.

According to the Times, police and municipal committees are now looking into why the August 2019 warning of a possible attack was never investigated.

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TikTok Users Are Burning Snowballs in Viral Videos to ‘Prove’ the Snow is Fake

Illustration for article titled TikTok Users Are Burning Snowballs in Viral Videos to Prove the Snow is Fake

Screenshot: TikTok

Have you seen those viral videos on TikTok and Twitter where users are burning snow to “prove” that it’s actually fake? Needless to say, the snow is real. The viral videos actually show a perfectly normal reaction to placing the flame of a lighter or match against a snowball. But that hasn’t stopped these videos from racking up millions of views.

Who’s creating this “fake” snow that’s falling from the sky all around the world, according to the conspiracy theorists? Bill Gates, of course, the evil puppetmaster behind so many of the world’s ills right now—from the covid-19 pandemic to secret tracking chips inside all of the world’s coronavirus vaccines.

Yes, conspiracy theorists with smartphones are really worried about being constantly tracked through their… vaccines. And it’s not just Bill Gates. Some people believe China is in on the whole conspiracy, sending fake snow to the U.S. in an effort to convince Americans climate change is real. China may have even done this to make Ted Cruz look bad, according to some conspiracy theorists.

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“No water, no dripping, no nothing,” one woman explains in a recent TikTok video that went viral on Twitter.

“If I put this in the microwave, it’s going to start sparking because there’s metal mixed in it,” the woman insists.

“No way, it’s gotten harder,” a man in the video can be heard saying after she takes the lighter away.

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“It’s not melting, it’s just burning,” the woman continues.

But the snow is real. The secret behind the “burning” snow videos is a term called sublimation. When the flame hits the snowball, it’s turning the snow from a solid into a gas rather than a liquid. The snow is becoming vapor rather than becoming a puddle of liquid at your feet.

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That’s sublimation, and there are several videos on YouTube about the process.

This idea that snow can be “fake” and might be proved to be something else has been around for a while now, as you can see from the videos on YouTube. The YouTube video above is from 2014, just one of the many times when the conspiracy theory was circulating widely on the internet.

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As it happens, the woman from our earlier video actually did put some of her “fake snow” in the microwave to prove that it was all a hoax filled with metal. And to absolutely no one’s surprise, the snow didn’t start sparking. There was no metal.

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Why is this conspiracy theory gaining traction again? It seems to be two factors: First, Texas was hit with an absolutely devastating winter storm that brought snow to areas that almost never see snow. A lot of people in Texas are seeing snow for the first time in their lives and that naturally leads to a lot of questions.

Secondly, there’s the fact that Bill Gates has actually floated the idea of using weather control to battle climate change. The idea is to spray calcium carbonate into the atmosphere so that it can reflect some of the sun’s rays back and hopefully cool down the Earth, as Forbes explains.

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True weather control has been a dream of scientists for decades. The May 28, 1954 cover of Collier’s magazine made weather control a very literal situation where you’d pull different levers to make it rain.

Illustration for article titled TikTok Users Are Burning Snowballs in Viral Videos to Prove the Snow is Fake

Image: Novak Archive

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Actual weather control in the 20th century doesn’t work like that, of course. It took the form of cloud seeding during the Vietnam Waran attempt to extend the monsoon season in Southeast Asia and flood the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the supply line that allowed the North Vietnamese to move weapons, food, and people to fight against the U.S. invasion.

The U.S. military spent roughly $3 million per year from 1967 to 1972 trying to change the weather in Vietnam and when existence of the program, called Operation Popeye, leaked to the Washington Post in 1971, the Nixon administration flatly denied that it existed. That was a lie, of course.

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And that might be part of the problem today when websites like Gizmodo try to debunk something like metal-filled snow falling on Texas. You can conduct your own experiments and find out for yourself that the snow is just snow, but that doesn’t put the issue to rest, if only because the U.S. government has lied again and again about its own plans—from conspiracies to invade Cuba to the notorious CIA program MKUltra that drugged people without their consent.

Bill Gates isn’t making fake snow in Texas. At least not yet.

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Stanley Kubrick’s Daughter Fell Down the QAnon Rabbit Hole

Illustration for article titled Stanley Kubrick’s Daughter Fell Down the QAnon Rabbit Hole

Photo: Evening Standard (Getty Images)

The daughter of late, legendary film director Stanley Kubrick—The Shining, Space Odyssey: 2001, Dr. Strangelove, etc—is on board with extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Boogaloo, and QAnon, according to a Wednesday report in the Daily Beast.

Vivian Kubrick is reportedly largely estranged from her family and largely known for her activities as a Scientologist. She is also apparently on Twitter, where she recently referred to Microsoft CEO Bill Gates as a “bioterrorist,” repeatedly lied about the science behind the novel coronavirus and vaccines, and earlier this month circulated a pamphlet titled “The Boogaloo and You.”

Boogaloo refers to a loosely organized anti-government, pro-gun movement preparing for a second American Civil War, which is primarily popular on the far right. In fairness to Kubrick, the pamphlet’s demands mostly consisted of demands for criminal justice reform, the abolishment of federal police and security agencies and the war on drugs, and restoration of rights like the re-enfranchisement of felons—the more palatable beliefs of some Boogaloo adherents, whose ranks also include armed militants and supremacists. If there’s any doubt where Kubrick is coming from, though, the Daily Beast reported she also promoted discussion groups for QAnon (the pro-Donald Trump conspiracy theory that believes the Democratic Party is a front for a cabal of Satanic child sex traffickers) and supported the street-brawling neo-fascist group the Proud Boys, tweeting that they have “as much right to exist as any #LGBTQ group.”

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Her father “was from Bronx NYC, incredibly sophisticated man, but I know he would have dug PBs sentiments,” Kubrick added.

Kubrick may be down with theorizing that world affairs are secretly controlled by the pedophilia mafia, but she has drawn the line at moon landing denialism. She tweeted in 2016 that speculation her famous father secretly filmed the Apollo landings on a sound stage somewhere were spread by “malicious cranks” and that his “artistic works are his unimpeachable defense.” Kubrick is half-Jewish and has attacked anti-Semitism, according to the Daily Beast, but has also referred to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust as “hapless” and spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about “globalists” and the billionaire activist George Soros.

Stanley Kubrick’s last film was Eyes Wide Shut, which focuses on star Tom Cruise’s discovery of a cult-like secret society that throws orgies as either an elaborate occult ritual or just for fun. That movie, along with his other works like The Shining, has long attracted the attention of conspiracists who see in them veiled warnings about real-world conspiracies rather than allegory.

So this is a lot, to say the least. Vivian Kubrick didn’t respond to the Daily Beast’s request for comment. In her current pinned tweet from Jan. 23, Kubrick wrote she would be tweeting less in the future after allowing some “truly whacky and obsessive behaviors to take hold during 2020. She also encouraged followers to join her in spending time each week protecting civil liberties, suggesting they start with “our local Sheriff, as he/she is the assigned protector of Constitutional Law.”

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QAnon Now Getting Banned On Platforms We’ve Never Even Heard Of

Illustration for article titled QAnon Now Getting Banned On Platforms Weve Never Even Heard Of

Screenshot: Clapper/Google Play Store (Fair Use)

QAnon, the sprawling far-right internet conspiracy theory that asserts the entire Trump presidency was secretly dedicated to waging a shadow war against an omnipresent cabal of Satan-worshipping, pedophilic Democrats, celebrities, and bankers, hasn’t exactly been the belle of the ball lately.

After QAnon adherents joined riots at the Capitol that killed at least five people on Jan. 6, its world was rocked by the revelation that Donald Trump was not, in fact, planning on launching a coup and arresting Joe Biden on Inauguration Day. Purges of QAnon content on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have intensified to varying degrees in recent months, forcing them to congregate on encrypted messaging apps like Telegram, as well as sites and apps either more welcoming to fringe fascist weirdos or caught off-guard by a surprise influx. Among those were “free speech” enclaves like Gab, a site primarily popular with supremacists; Parler, a Facebook/Twitter clone for conservatives that has since been driven totally offline; and Clapper, a similar knockoff of TikTok popular with right-wingers that we only just learned about because it was apparently also infested by—and has now been forced to ban—QAnon.

“We take this matter very seriously,” Edison Chen, CEO of the company we’ve never even heard of before, told the Verge on Thursday. “After investigating, we decided to take action to remove and ban accounts regarding QAnon and mis-info about vaccines… which are against our mission.”

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“From today, if additional users were to post QAnon-related content, it will be removed,” Chen added. “We have zero tolerance about QAnon.”

QAnon promoters using hashtags banned on other sites like #WWG1WGA and #thestorm had managed to accrue tens of thousands of followers on Clapper, according to the Verge, with one supporter of QAnon-loving Representative Majorie Taylor Greene having nearly 30,000 followers. Clapper appears to have been barely mentioned in media reports before it absorbed an influx of QAnon people, which is pretty bleak.

Here’s a TikTok video summarizing the overall vibe of Clapper, if you must know more.

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Chen had previously told the Verge that while the company never set out to attract conservatives migrating from other wings of the web, it made sense that they were drawn by its promise of less moderation:

“There are lots of conservatives and political people,” Chen told The Verge. “I think they feel less censorship here and they’re kicked out from the other social media platforms. So they come to us, and it brings some opportunity to us but [it] also comes with some challenges.”

… Chen said that Clapper did not set out to be a right-wing conservative political platform, and that the company wants to highlight ordinary users’ lives. “Today’s social media platforms push most traffic to big creators while the creator in the middle and the normal user don’t get the opportunity to speak and be seen,” Chen said.

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(Clapper has released a video denouncing the Jan 6. insurrection and helped the FBI identify one of the rioters, according to the Verge, and said it will expand its moderation team from 10 to around 20, as well as audit all million or so videos on the site for the newly banned content.)

Anyhow, let this be a lesson of sorts to aspiring social media developers: If you don’t have any kind of plan in place to deal with these people, they will come in droves. And that will probably be the first thing anyone learns about your company. Whoops!

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When QAnon Blows Up Your Friend Group

Illustration for article titled When QAnon Blows Up Your Friend Group

Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Shutterstock)

Social HygieneSocial HygieneThe internet is hell, particularly social media. In this series, we discuss the ways it’s flawed and how it could be better.

My ex was the first person to tell me about Q. This was near the end of 2016, and we were in the beginning stages of our relationship. I took it as us having the same, passive interest in conspiracy theories. The kind of interest where you go, “LOL sounds like a Dan Brown novel!” I laughed it off, but he dug deeper and continued to dig deeper after we split soon after the election. Good thing too, since he turned into something more than a simple QAnon believer.

He turned into someone who made it his mission to “wake people up,” introduce them to far-right Facebook groups where talks of civil war weren’t simply an insurrectionist fantasy, but a real plan. One post I reported to Facebook, which it removed, was a call for Trump supporters to take up arms and get ready for battle. There was no veil in the threat of violence.

He posted photos of himself at the 2020 Richmond gun rally, AR-15 long barrel rifle slung over his shoulder, with captions that read, “When the #Boogaloo commences, you know we’ll be there!” I haven’t spoken to him since 2017, but I keep tabs on his public social media accounts in case I needed to provide information to law enforcement. That’s how much he scares me.

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But it wasn’t just him. After the 2016 election, a distinct split between my friend groups on social media, Facebook in particular, emerged. While most of us were in the Bernie or Hilary camp, those who became Trump supporters were mostly white, male, and military veterans.

One of the many QAnon posts to grace my Facebook feed in the last four years.

One of the many QAnon posts to grace my Facebook feed in the last four years.
Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

The pieces didn’t start to fall together for me until January 2020 (way later than it should have happened), after the first covid-19 case was recorded in the U.S. That’s when I and those friends cut ties with those people—on Facebook and in real life. These were people we went to high school with. Our family members. Best friends’ significant others. People we will likely never talk to again. One conversation, in particular, ended in myself and seven other people cutting ties with someone we had known for over 15 years.

What began as an exchange about an anti-Black Lives Matter protester getting into a physical altercation with some BLM protesters devolved into me being accused of being biased and “victim blaming” the man with a “FUCK BLM” sign. It progressed into an exchange about a KKK rally that turned violent in Anaheim, California. By then, a mutual friend was declaring that the KKK had the right to their opinions, asking, in so many words, when did a “random” person’s opinion ever hurt anyone directly, on the thread that he presumably thought was magically visible to only people who have never been victims of racism.

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The conversation quickly deteriorated. More mutual friends joined in to futilely try to explain that the KKK’s white supremacist views have tangible, real-life, devastating consequences that have been documented since the deadly hate group’s inception. The soon-to-be-former friend argued that short of directly advocating violence, the KKK had the right to espouse hate freely, seemingly without consequences. In the end, we all unfriended him and he ended up blocking me after that.

The belief that it is ok to just say whatever hateful thing you want—even when spreading dangerous conspiracy theories from a position of influence and power—has been manifesting in our government for years.

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Just look at Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s outlandish allegations straight from the QAnon playbook about the 2018 California wildfires: Those were caused by Jews operating a laser from space to clear a path for a high-speed railway, she claimed. She’s been posting conspiracy theories like that to social media for years, drawing people into her dangerous way of thinking.

Greene’s has since been kicked off both her congressional committees for espousing QAnon conspiracy theories, but the damage was done. This shit spread all over Facebook. It was spread by friends. Aunts. Uncles. Randos who you can’t remember how they got on your friends list in the first place. It didn’t matter how many times I cited someone I knew who worked for PG&E, who worked on those exact power lines that caused the fire, or how many news articles and reports I tossed their way.

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At the same time, the more I fought some of my own Facebook friends on unfounded theories like this to stop the spread of misinformation and hatred, the faster they unfriended and blocked me—if I didn’t get around to it first. Take my friend David* (not his real name).

It’d been a while since pictures of David’s adorable 6-month-old baby graced my Facebook timeline. Concerned by the lack of cuteness, I typed his name into the search bar and discovered his profile didn’t exist. Did he delete his account? Turns out he didn’t. Our mutual friends were still tagging him in posts, but I couldn’t see anything he wrote. I couldn’t click on his name to take me to his profile. I asked one of our mutual friends about it who said, “Sounds like he blocked you.”

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I reported my ex’s comment to Facebook for inciting violence.

I reported my ex’s comment to Facebook for inciting violence.
Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

That’s exactly what he did. No warning beforehand. No major blow-ups between us, aside from the time I asked him, “Why in the ever-living-fuck would you vote for Trump?” “I have my reasons, which I will not share here,” he said. I don’t know how long after he blocked me, but that was our last conversation. One of our mutual friends asked him why he blocked me. “She’s media. She can’t be trusted,” David told him.

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That was back in November 2020, and considering everything that has happened in this country during the last two months alone, I probably would have ended up purging him from my friends list anyway, as I, since then, have blocked every QAnon follower and Trump supporter on my friends list. I’d rather not have my timeline trashed with cultish posts. I mean, Facebook certainly did not do anything to address QAnon on its platform until it was too late. 

When a person close to you has fallen down that rabbit hole, when you’re left shouting into the void with nothing but anger and pain, sometimes the only solution is to unfriend and move on. That’s easier said than done, especially when it’s family. If they do ever manage to see the error of their ways, do you welcome them back into your life? I believe in redemption, but I also believe in personal boundaries.

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The issue here is trust. What happens when a former partner or friend or family member decides to crawl back into your life? There is a reason why white supremacist groups target QAnon followers for recruitment. How can you be sure that the friend that once so easily fell for tales of pedophile cannibal Democrats running a massive child-sex-trafficking cabal isn’t into adjacent far-right garbage? In my friend-losing experience, QAnon and further deprecation of already marginalized groups went hand-in-hand.

The question I’m struggling with is a common one for someone who has, over decades, retained connections with people from all walks of life. I have been driven by a sense of personal responsibility to connect, to grab onto whatever commonality I have left with someone I once knew as their grasp on reality begins to slip, as their views turn from misguided to threatening and inexcusable. After decades of throwing facts their way, of battling it out in endless comment threads on social media and hitting wall after wall after wall, at what point do you stop feeling like it’s your job to “fix” them? And at what point, do you decide enough is enough?

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Remember Steve Bannon? Manhattan’s Attorney General Definitely Does

Illustration for article titled Remember Steve Bannon? Manhattan’s Attorney General Definitely Does

Photo: Stephanie Keith (Getty Images)

Blood-filled wineskin and former White House political adviser Steve Bannon narrowly escaped possible federal prison time for his role in a scammy GoFundMe campaign to build a wall on the border with Mexico, courtesy of a last-minute pardon from ex-President Donald Trump. But that won’t help him in New York, where the Manhattan district attorney’s office is reportedly looking into how they can still nail him.

The original indictment accused Bannon and co-conspirators of taking funds donated to the “We Build the Wall” campaign and pocketing them, with Bannon facing two conspiracy charges on wire fraud and money laundering. Allegedly, Bannon siphoned off at least $1 million towards a non-profit controlled by him, blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars of donor money on personal expenses and paying off credit-card debt. Bannon dodged up to 20 years in prison with the stroke of Trump’s pen (though he left Bannon’s alleged co-conspirators, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea, hung out to dry).

Presidential pardon powers only extend as far as the federal criminal justice system, and Bannon is unlikely to be shielded by double jeopardy in the case, especially as he was never convicted. That means any state prosecutor with a reasonable claim to jurisdiction has an opportunity to file new charges against Bannon related to the GoFundMe scam.

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According to the New York Times, prosecutors in Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office have taken serious steps towards a case, with two sources saying those developments include “seeking records and requesting to interview at least one potential witness.” The Washington Post separately reported that Vance’s office is still handling matters related to the Bannon case because it has not been officially dismissed and that courts would need to order a “sharing order” for federal prosecutors to share evidence with Vance.

Neither the Times or the Post shed any light on whether such an order has been obtained, though the Post reported the original indictment indentified some donors to the We Build the Wall GoFundMe campaign as residents of the Southern District of New York. That could give Vance jurisdiction, as could New York’s status as a global banking center—making it all but guaranteed one financial institution or another could be involved in the scam.

The other defendants in the federal case are scheduled to go to trial on May 24, according to the Wall Street Journal. It’s possible that New York prosecutors could also decide to charge Bannon with other possible crimes they might dig up while looking into him.

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Vance’s office has also been investigating Trump for possible tax and insurance fraudthough Trump’s team is still appealing the release of eight years of relevant records before the Supreme Court. According to the Times, Vance is considering opening an investigation against Ken Kurson, a close friend of Trump’s elfin son-in-law Jared Kushner who received a pardon on federal cyberstalking and harassment charges.

Vance also tried to prosecute former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in 2019—who had the prior year been convicted in federal courts for his corrupt dealings with pro-Russia Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych—on a bevy of state crimes, ostensibly to ensure that Manafort faced consequences even if Trump pardoned him. Vance did not get the results he wanted. Though Manafort did later recieve a pardon from Trump, state courts ruled the double jeopardy defense protected him from further state charges because he’d already been convicted. Vance is appealing the decision.

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