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.

Parler Says It Warned the FBI of Violent Posts Threatening the Capitol Before Jan. 6 Insurrection

Illustration for article titled Parler Says It Warned the FBI of Violent Posts Threatening the Capitol Before Jan. 6 Insurrection

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

Parler, the online safe haven for bigots and far-right extremists, claims it repeatedly alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation about “specific threats of violence being planned at the Capitol” ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, the company’s lawyers said in a letter to lawmakers dated Thursday.

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After seeing record growth in the latter half of 2020, Parler says it developed “formal lines of communication” with the FBI to facilitate cooperation and forward instances of “unlawful incitement and violent threats.” Parler claims that it referred violent content that had been posted on its platform to the FBI more than 50 times in the weeks leading up to the attack. Some of these flagged posts included specific threats to the Capitol, where five people later died during an attack by pro-Trump insurgents trying to prevent Congress from verifying President Joe Biden’s electoral college win.

“Far from being the far-right instigator and rogue company that Big Tech has portrayed Parler to be, the facts conclusively demonstrate that Parler has been a responsible and law-abiding company focused on ensuring that only free and lawful speech exists on its platform,” Parler’s lawyers wrote in a letter to New York Representative Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The posts Parler cites are crystal clear about their violent intentions, no two ways about it. One post Parler said it forwarded to the FBI called for an armed mob of 150,000 to head to D.C. to “react to the congressional events of January 6th.” Another post sought recruits for “lighting up Antifa in Wa[shington, D.C.] on the 6th” because the user wanted to “start eliminating people.” Another post claimed then-President Donald Trump “needs us to cause chaos to enact the #insurrectionact.” One user said the D.C. event planned for Jan. 6 “is not a rally and it’s no longer a protest.”

“This is the final stand where we are drawing the red line at Capitol Hill,” that user wrote, according to the letter. “I trust the American people will take back the USA with force and many are ready to die to take back #USA so remember this is not a party until they announce #Trump2020 a winner… And don’t be surprised if we take the #capital [sic] building.”

The letter also includes redacted screenshots of emails Parler claims it sent to the FBI detailing these threats. While this news would be met with a positive response from any sane userbase, Parler was reportedly flooded with furious posts on Friday from users pissed off that Parler had ratted them out to federal authorities. Several vowed to jump ship and delete their accounts as soon as Trump rolls out his new social media platform.

Parler bills itself as a less censored alternative to mainstream social media sites and the last bastion of “free speech” on the internet. Shortly following the insurrection, Parler briefly went offline after Apple and Google kicked it off their respective app stores and Amazon Web Services severed ties with the platform. All three companies cited Parler’s lax content moderation in their decisions.

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In an effort led by Maloney, the House Oversight Committee has requested the FBI investigate the company’s role in the attack as well as look into claims that Parler tried to bribe Trump into creating an account on the platform.

Parler’s Ex-CEO Sues, Claims He Was Told His Shares Were Only Worth Three Buckaroos

Illustration for article titled Parler's Ex-CEO Sues, Claims He Was Told His Shares Were Only Worth Three Buckaroos

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

Parler, the pro-Donald Trump social media site that’s served as a sort of all-you-can-eat buffet for brain worms in the past few years, is being sued by its own co-founder and ex-CEO.

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Following the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, which was partially organized on Parler’s violent death threat-laden site, Amazon Web Services booted Parler from its servers and Apple and Google kicked it off their respective app stores. The site is now back despite failing to convince any of those other companies to let it return, but CEO John Matze didn’t return for the second leg of the trip. He was forced out in some type of internal squabble with GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, a major investor who is now reportedly personally bankrolling the site, and far-right former NRATV pundit and fellow investor Dan Bongino, whose role appears to at least partially consist of urging his millions of Facebook followers to migrate to a site he has a personal financial stake in.

The departure didn’t go over well, with Bongino accusing Matze of trying to sell out the site’s original mission as a free speech utopia where almost anything legal goes—exactly what got the company in trouble in the first place—and Matze telling media Mercer had turned a blind eye to doing anything about the deluge of QAnon conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, fascists, racists, and other unpleasant zealots taking over the site. Now Matze is claiming that his 40 percent stake in the company was stolen in an “outlandish and arrogant theft… epitomized by oppression, fraud and malice,” per the Las Vegas Sun.

Matze wrote in court filings claiming breach of contract and defamation that Parler was “hijacked to advance the personal political interests and personal advantages of the defendants rather than serve as the free expression platform as originally conceived.” Both Mercer and Bongino are named as defendants in the suit, alongside chief operating officer Jeffrey Wernick and Parler’s new interim CEO, Tea Party activist Mark Meckler.

Matze wrote in the suit that the company was initially founded using a holding company designed to obfuscate Mercer’s involvement, and quarreled over financials (in his telling, Mercer characterized her 60 percent equity stake as a loan that would need to be paid back). He added that Mercer seemed to lose interest in the site until around November 2020—it’s not clear exactly when, but this would have been sometime around when Parler signups were surging amid Trump’s claims the election was stolen—and that she subsequently refused to compromise on proposals for more stringent moderation in the wake of the riots. Per NPR:

“Matze’s proposal was met with dead silence, which he took to be a rejection of his proposal,” according to the suit.

Matze says in the suit that Mercer brought in allies, including Wernick, to “strong-arm him out of the company.”

Wernick allegedly threatened Matze with an “avalanche of legal claims and expenses if he dared defy Mercer,” the suit states.

Wernick, according to the suit, told Matze not to consult his own lawyer and threatened that “he would be ruined” if he did so.

Matze plays himself up to be sort of an innocent-minded patsy in the suit. Court documents claim that upon meeting his eventual replacement, Meckler, it “became apparent to Matze that Meckler’s efforts were not to grow Parler as a free expression platform, but instead to redirect it into what Meckler called as the ‘tip of the conservative spear’ for a brand of conservatism in keeping with Mercer’s preferences.” Considering Parler’s obvious ideological pandering, that it allegedly sought to lure Trump into registering an account with promises of an equity stake in Summer 2020, and that Matze bragged about banning liberal “trolls” across the site, it’s hard to take the claim Matze had no idea his site would be used to advance the right-wing agenda seriously.

Finally, Matze claims in the suit that Parler management smeared him with suggestions of misconduct and breaches of his obligations as a manager, when in reality the site was continuing to get back online using the technical game plan he developed, just very poorly. (As Meckler “lacked the technical know-how to actually run such a social media platform—and his real role was to simply push a political agenda—the implementation was beyond lacking,” Matze added.) He also writes that as part of the shakedown, Mercer’s people determined the “fair market value” of his 40 percent stake to be a measly three dollars.

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Perhaps on that, we can agree: Parler is worth about $7.50, give or take a few dollars depending on whether it helps successfully provoke another failed insurrection.

Matze, however, says his stake in the internet hellhole is actually worth millions, and that in internal discussions he and Mercer had valued the site at $1 billion or more.

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The former CEO “looks forward to presenting his claims in court and being vindicated,” Matze’s attorney James Pisanelli told the Sun in a statement.

Parler Drops One Lawsuit Against Amazon, and Files Another

Illustration for article titled Parler Drops One Lawsuit Against Amazon, and Files Another

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

Alleged domestic terrorist haven/free speech network Parler has bowed out of its antitrust lawsuit against Amazon. For a blessed moment it seemed we might get a break from conservative bitching and moaning about unfairness. No such luck.

In January, following the storming of the capitol, major tech companies rushed to cut ties with the short-lived (alleged!) insurrectionist hub, including its erstwhile web host, Amazon Web Services. This led Parler to file an ill-conceived suit, asking a judge to force AWS to reinstate the platform, arguing that Amazon had violated antitrust law by giving an unfair advantage to Parler’s “competitor” Twitter, one of the thousands of platforms that also relies on AWS. Amazon, like every other legitimate business, has terms and conditions around the use of its services, and the host of death threats floating around Parler were deemed to be in violation of said terms of service. A judge denied Parler an injunction against Amazon, finding, among other things, that the company was unlikely to win the suit and was unable to prove its claim that keeping the site online was in the public interest. Further undermining Parler’s already paper-thin case was that Amazon had apparently been warning the platform about violating content in the weeks leading up to the riots.

Now, in a 66-page complaint published by NPR, Parler’s staking a new case on 15 counts including defamation, and unlawful business practices. Its long tale of victimhood casts Amazon as a “bully” and itself a “victim of Amazon’s efforts to destroy an up-and-coming technology company through deceptive, defamatory, and bad faith conduct.” The thrust of the defamation argument seems to be Amazon’s termination email which Amazon allegedly “leaked” to Buzzfeed, which, according to Parler, makes “false allegations” that Parler was (in Parler’s terms) “used to incite, organize and coordinate the attack on the Capitol.” Parler claims Amazon did not have, and still has not provided, any evidence.

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Here are a few samples of the evidence Amazon provided in a legal filing. Amazon said that it had flagged these to Parler over the weeks leading up to the attack on the Capitol:

  • “We are going to fight in a civil War on Jan.20th, Form MILITIAS now and acquire targets.”
  • “Fry’em up. The whole fkn crew. #pelosi #aoc #thesquad #soros #gates #chuckschumer #hrc #obama #adamschiff #blm #antifa we are coming for you and you will know it.”
  • “Shoot the police that protect these shitbag senators right in the head then make the senator grovel a bit before capping they ass.”
  • “This bitch [Stacey Abrams] will be good target practice for our beginners.”
  • “This cu** [United States Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao] should be… hung for betraying their country.”

Amazon Web Services claimed that in the days following the insurrection, it talked to Parler about its failed efforts to do something. From its filing:

On January 8 and 9, AWS also spoke with Parler executives about its content moderation policies, processes, and tools, and emphasized that Parler’s current approach failed to address Parler’s duty to promptly identify and remove content that threatened or encouraged violence. In response, Parler outlined additional, reactive steps that would rely almost exclusively on “volunteers.” AWS continued to see problematic content hosted on Parler. During one of the calls, Parler’s CEO reported that Parler had a backlog of 26,000 reports of content that violated its community standards and remained on its service.

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In Parler’s new complaint, it says that it in fact “quickly removed any arguably inappropriate content brought to its attention.” Guess they just don’t agree on this one!

There is no merit to these claims. AWS provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we respect Parler’s right to determine for itself what content it will allow,” an AWS spokesperson told Gizmodo.However, as shown by the evidence in Parler’s federal lawsuit, it was clear that there was significant content on Parler that encouraged and incited violence against others, which is a violation of our terms of service. Further, Parler was unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which coupled with an increase in this type of dangerous violent content, led to our suspension of their services.”

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Parler was unavailable for comment by publication time.

While the company was offline, Parler’s leadership reportedly bickered over the site’s ideology. Co-founder and CEO John Matze claimed that he’d advocated for intervening in white supremacist, terrorist, and QAnon content—and was subsequently fired. GOP megadonor and Parler’s apparent main source of funding, Rebekah Mercer, brought on Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, who’s been a lot more gung-ho about pushing the narrative that tech companies are conspiring to silence speech. Today, NPR reported insiders’ claims that the company even snatched back all of Matze’s shares, though given that Parler has been removed from app stores and no major tech companies seem to want to touch Parler with a ten foot pole, the value of said shares is questionable.

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Interestingly, Matze also wondered this aloud on Parler last week:

Illustration for article titled Parler Drops One Lawsuit Against Amazon, and Files Another

Screenshot: Parler

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Gizmodo reached out to Matze via LinkedIn and will update the post if we hear back.

Parler returned in mid-February, hosted by SkySilk, with some preemptive community guidelines declaring that Parler “will not knowingly allow itself to be used as a tool for crime, civil torts, or other unlawful acts.” That said, Parler will not moderate “on the basis of the opinion expressed,”whatever that means.

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Error 404: The Internet Broke

Illustration for article titled Error 404: The Internet Broke

Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)

A strange outage is impacting internet users in the Northeast U.S. It’s not entirely clear what is going on, but it sure is annoying.

Around noon on Tuesday, outage reports began pouring in, according to DownDetector, which tracks online service outages. But it’s not limited to one company; users reported issues with Comcast, Google, Zoom, YouTube, Slack, Amazon Web Services, and many others. (AWS’s own status page indicates that its services are operating normally, for what it’s worth.)

While the cause (or causes) remains unconfirmed, a cut Verizon fiber optic cable in Brooklyn, New York, may be the culprit. Verizon’s customer support confirmed on Twitter that one of its cables had been severed, and customers said they received notice of the outage via email.

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Not all services, nor all users, appeared to be affected equally. Even among the New York-based Gizmodo staff, the problem seems just… weird. One editor could access Slack fine, but Google services were down. Others experienced slower response times while still being able to access all services they attempted to use.

At the time of writing, several services, including Google and Zoom, appear to be coming back online. Others remain inaccessible for some users.

A Verizon spokesperson said in an email that they are looking into the issue.

An AWS spokesperson said the issue was related to an internet service provider and not AWS itself. A Comast spokesperson said in an emailed statement that its services were not directly impacted. “We didn’t observe any problems on our network, or any impact to the performance of our services related to the issue reported earlier today,” the spokesperson said.

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In an email, a Google spokesperson echoed AWS and Comcast, saying in a statement, “We are aware of reports regarding issues affecting access to some Google products, but have not found issues with our services. We’re continuing to investigate.”

If the outage is impacting you, let us know what you’re seeing in the comments.

Update 1:25 PM ET, Jan. 26: AWS confirmed that issues customers experienced were related to an internet service provider, not AWS. Google said it’s investigating the issue but has found no problems with its services.

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Update 2:23 PM ET, Jan. 26: Added statement from Comcast.