Area Man Wants You To Check Out His Blog

Illustration for article titled Area Man Wants You To Check Out His Blog

Photo: Drew Angerer / Staff (Getty Images)

After threatening for months to disrupt social media with a bespoke platform that would allow him to bypass community guidelines (and the embarrassingly long list of platforms he’s been banned from), our big patriotic boy has finally made good on his promise. Folks, the wait is over — the future is now, and it’s a blog.

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On Tuesday, former president Donald Trump launched his long-awaited social media platform, which, if you really squint at it, kind of resembles a rudimentary version of Twitter, if Twitter had been designed by a day-glo boomer hunkered down in Palm Beach, Florida. Titled “From the desk of Donald J. Trump,” the “feed” is tucked inconspicuously into a corner of Trump’s website and features that classic commentary we all know and love — pithy observations from a very old man who always cared more about how his snarky commentary would be received than he did about actual governance or, you know, people.

“Happy Easter to ALL, including the Radical Left CRAZIES who rigged our Presidential Election, and want to destroy our Country!” reads one post.

“So nice to see RINO Mitt Romney booed off the stage at the Utah Republican State Convention,” reads another. “They are among the earliest to have figured this guy out, a stone cold loser!”

Although the platform just launched, there are already posts dating back as early as March, which implies the existence of a universe where developers could have simply “forgotten” to plug this thing into the internet and kept it offline forever, leaving Trump content to shoot his foul musings straight off into the void for the rest of time.

The platform also features the option to share Trump’s commentary on Twitter and Facebook — two platforms that, as of this writing, the former president is still currently banned from. Significantly, the platform’s launch comes just hours before Facebook’s Oversight Board is expected to hand down a decision on whether or not Trump will be allowed back on Facebook and its subsidiaries, including Instagram.

Trump was famously banned from a host of platforms in January after his rage-stoking rigged-election commentary incited an angry mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol, ultimately leaving five people dead.

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According to Fox News, the page is the work of Campaign Nucleus, a “digital ecosystem made for efficiently managing political campaigns and organizations,” helmed by Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale.

The moral of the story is clear: You can take the Twitter out of the president, but you can’t take the tweet out of the poster. Or something like that.

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Read Facebook’s Internal Report on How Badly It Screwed Up Stopping ‘Stop the Steal’

Riot police clash with pro-Trump rioters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Riot police clash with pro-Trump rioters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP (Getty Images)

BuzzFeed has posted the entirety of internal Facebook documents outlining in detail the results of the company’s investigation into its role in the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, during and after which at least five people died.

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The report, which was first reported in detail by BuzzFeed last week, found that Facebook played a key role in the explosive growth of the “Stop the Steal” movement, a group of diehard Donald Trump supporters that rallied around the ex-president’s conspiracy theories about his 2020 election loss. Members of the movement, alongside overlapping groups such as QAnon, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the vote.

The authors assessed that Facebook failed to recognize that groups such as Stop the Steal and the Patriot Party were part of an “adversarial harmful movement” and thus only moderated associated Groups and Pages in a “piecemeal” fashion. Facebook also conceded that its focus on fake and “inauthentic” activity blinded it to harm being organized on the site by people under their real identities. The lack of a coordinated, sitewide response came despite months of warnings from Facebook staff that Groups on the site were becoming vehicles for extremism.

According to BuzzFeed, the authors of the report uploaded it to Facebook’s internal message boards last month, where it was widely circulated among and read by staff. But after BuzzFeed’s report last week, Facebook yanked it from circulation with the official explanation the authors “never intended to publish this as a final document to the whole company” and had only “inadvertently” made it accessible to employees outside a working group on the issue.

So BuzzFeed posted the whole report on Monday. It describes confusion at the company whether the Stop the Steal circus “was a coordinated effort to delegitimize the election, or whether it was protected free expression by users who were afraid and confused and deserved our empathy.” The first Stop the Steal group created on the night of the election contained “high levels of hate and violence and incitement (VNI) in the comments,” the authors wrote that it “wasn’t until later that it became clear just how much of a focal point the catchphrase would be, and that they would serve as a rallying point around which a movement of violent election delegitimization could coalesce.” By the time Facebook got around to deleting that first group on Nov. 5, BuzzFeed wrote, it had swollen to 300,000 members and spawned innumerable copycats.

The report noted evidence that white supremacists, hate groups, and militias were involved in coordinating the Stop the Steal effort both on and off Facebook. It also found that a relatively small number of people were clearly trying to supercharge the movement by flooding the site with invites to related Groups, a tactic known as growth hacking: “30% of invites came from just 0.3% of inviters,” according to the report, and many of these “super-inviters” were admins on other related Groups, clearly indicating coordination between them.

“We were not able to act on simple objects like posts and comments because they individually tended not to violate, even if they were surrounded by hate, violence, and misinformation,” the report added. “After the Capitol Insurrection and a wave of Storm the Capitol events across the country, we realized that the individual delegitimizing Groups, Pages, and slogans did constitute a cohesive movement.”

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Facebook implemented limits on the number of invites that individual users could send, but the report notes this was clearly ineffective and Groups were “regardless able to grow substantially.” Furthermore, there were high levels of interaction between the users engaging with Stop the Steal content the most, adding to the evidence. These amplifiers posted significantly more hate speech and threats of violence than even the rest of the Stop the Steal movement, driving it to more extremes.

The Facebook report also name-drops specific far-right activists that Facebook failed to rein in, such as Ali Alexander, one of the main organizers of the rally preceding the failed insurrection who has a long history of working with extremists such as the neo-fascist Proud Boys. It also mentioned the Kremer sisters, who run the event’s official host Women for America First and one of whose names appeared on the rally permits.

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“The terms Stop the Steal and Patriot Party were amplified both on platform and off,” the report states. “Ali Alexander and the Kremer sisters repeated slogans at rallies, and spread them through super Groups like Women4Trump and Latinos for Trump. The Kremer Sisters were admins of both Women4Trump, and the original Stop the Steal Group. After January 6th, Amy Kremer confirmed on platform that she was an organizer for the Stop the Steal rally that precipitated the Capitol Insurrection.”

“Ali Alexander worked on and off platform, using media appearances and celebrity endorsements,” it continued. “We also observed him formally organizing with others to spread the term, including with other users who had ties to militias. He was able to elude detection and enforcement with careful selection of words, and by relying on disappearing stories.”

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The authors wrote in their key findings that Facebook’s “early focus on individual violations made us miss the harm in the broader network,” messy moderation tools made it hard to count how many strikes each Group was racking up, and the company has “little policy around coordinated authentic harm.”

Joan Donovan, the research director of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, told BuzzFeed that Facebook appeared to have been caught off guard because it was more focused on the type of hoaxes, spam, and interference operations that it bungled during the 2016 elections.

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“In 2016, you had to engineer lots of fake engagement and stories because the networks were not mature enough,” Donovan said. “It’s only after you have four years of MAGA and the Trump caravan and the anti-vaxxers meeting up with the militia groups during the pandemic that you start to see these networks become agile, extensible, and adaptable to the moment.”

“…There is something about the way Facebook organizes groups that leads to massive public events,” Donovan added. “And when they’re organized on the basis of misinformation, hate, incitement, and harassment, we get very violent outcomes.”

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Read the whole report at BuzzFeed here.

Marjorie Taylor Greene Brags She Read All 14 Pages of the Green New Deal

Illustration for article titled Marjorie Taylor Greene Brags She Read All 14 Pages of the Green New Deal

Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—the QAnon-loving bigot who ranks as possibly the furthest-right member of Congress—is a very slow reader, apparently.

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Earlier this year, Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, which she characterized as actually fitting her very clever plan to spend most of her time in DC pulling publicity stunts and generally going around making a jackass of herself. Since then, Greene has busied herself with things like harassing another representative with a trans child, meeting with Donald Trump at his sad parallel court in Mar-a-Lago, trying (and failing) to found a white nationalist caucus, and throwing rallies where police are forced to provide extra security in case her supporters riot. She’s also repeatedly challenged New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to a debate on the Green New Deal, AOC’s sweeping package of proposed environmental reforms—a debate that AOC has expressed no intention whatsoever to engage in.

Greene has continued to pretend such a debate is forthcoming, and per the Daily Dot, claimed AOC had agreed to one. The only problem, of course, is that while touting the supposed victory, Greene admitted she hadn’t bothered to read the resolution and referred to its 14-page length as a protracted slog it would take her some time to catch up on.

“I’m glad I ran into you today @AOC to plan our debate about the Green New Deal,” Greene tweeted on Wednesday. “After I finish reading all 14 pages, like we agreed, I’ll schedule time for our debate.#MTGvsAOC”

By Thursday, Greene tweeted that she had managed to read all 14 pages in the preceding nine hours or so. Heroic.

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According to Business Insider, Greene said she intended the fictional debate with AOC to be a pay-per-view TV program. Because, you know, there’s nothing like a congressperson making a little dough on the side.

Anyhow, if the representative from Georgia needs a nice quiet place to power through a dozen pages of reading or so in the future, might we recommend this beautiful if tiny AirBNB?

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MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell Told Us What He Would Do If Someone Said There Were Knives in His Pillows

Illustration for article titled MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell Told Us What He Would Do If Someone Said There Were Knives in His Pillows

Screenshot: Ongoing Frankathon on Frankspeech dot com

Many weird and wild things are coming out of Mike Lindell’s 48-hour bananathon livestream today—Ted Nugent, a crank call from a “reporter,” another crank call from “Donald Trump”—and somehow, I, too, was there. After a press request this morning to MyPillow, which has ignored my emails on two previous occasions, my phone rang.

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“Are you okay with being live on the air?” Mike Lindell asked me. “Twenty-six million people?”

Gotta respect the game. For context, this broadcast is ongoing on the homepage of Lindell’s borked social media platform Frank, which was supposed to launch last week, and this weekend, and again today. After disgruntling followers with days of silence, Lindell struck back with a gripping tale of a foreign cybersecurity attack(!!!), the biggest of all time ever in the world. Somehow the livestream has been functioning smoothly, for tens of millions, so parts of it are theoretically working. While we still don’t know exactly what Frank will look like when it does come to fruition, the platform is supposed to be a “mix of YouTube and Twitter,” multi-billion dollar platforms that took over a decade to build and still don’t function as their overlords would like to claim.

Lindell regaled this morning’s captive audience of potential Frank users with the news that My Pillow is suing Dominion Voting Systems for $1.6 billion—retaliation for Dominion’s $1.3 billion defamation suit against MyPillow and Lindell for the latter’s multitudinous unsubstantiated speculation about a wide-ranging Deep State conspiracy that involved Dominion’s voting machines robbing Donald Trump of the presidency.

Elected officials and cybersecurity experts have almost unilaterally rejected Lindell and Trump’s nonsense on the basis that it has no basis. The Washington Post found that, as of December 20th, at least 86 Democrat and Republican judges (including at least one open Trump supporter) had rejected Trump’s post-election lawsuits. The Supreme Court, which includes three Trump appointees, tossed aside a suit brought by the state of Texas asking to throw out election results in key states. As Dominion points out in its lawsuit, a wide swath of bipartisan officials have refuted Lindell’s conspiracy theories, including Trump appointees attorney general Bill Barr and Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity head Chris Krebs. Fifty-nine election security experts jointly condemned bunk fraud claims, agreeing that none had seen any credible evidence of a “technical compromise.” Numerous top government election overseers also rejected fraud claims, noting that voting equipment was tested and certified by state and federal bodies.

In numerous interviews, Lindell had confused who owned Dominion Voting Systems and said that Dominion’s “algorithms” had failed despite additional hand counts of paper ballots.

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Lindell didn’t shed further light on where he’s getting his intel or the nature of today’s supposed cybersecurity attack (just that it’s from “overseas”). He did repeatedly tell me that as a journalist I “should know” about this stuff and he used the opportunity to promote his forthcoming movie (a sequel to the “documentary” that he released in February). He did say what he would do if someone was going around making up unsubstantiated nonsense about his pillows. “You could put this in your article,” he said. “If everybody out there was saying MyPillow is full of rocks and knives, I wouldn’t sue them. I would go, hey, guys, look inside my pillow. It’s beautiful patented felt.”

It’s a line that he’s been repeating throughout the day, so I pressed the issue. How would Mike Lindell disprove un-dis-provable widespread fraudulent allegations about a single pillow, were someone to make them repeatedly on air?

Gizmodo: To compare this to Dominion, would you provide that person with every single pillow? Like, how can you disprove that one pillow did not arrive at someone’s house with rocks or knives inside?

Lindell: Are you for real?

Gizmodo: I’m curious. I mean, if you’re looking for—

Lindell: This is the common sense that has been lost in our country. I’ve sold over 50 million MyPillows. I’m just saying, if all of the sudden—actually [Alan Dershowitz, attorney retained by MyPillow] said, if all of the sudden people are out there saying there’s stuff in his pillows, I would show them in my factory and say, look at this. Or I would say, bring them in. You know what, bring in your pillow and show the news desk. Dominion won’t show one machine.

So, you know, I would say, okay, if you’ve got a rock and a knife in your pillow, show the world. They won’t even show this. So there’s the difference. I would not only show my manufacturer, I would say, I would want to show every pillow I could in the world. Everybody, open up your pillows. If Dominion didn’t have any corruptness to hide with the biggest cyber crime, part of it with China, in the history of the world—this is a crime against humanity. Dominion should say, hey, you know what? Smartmatic, all of them, they’re all tied together. We’re going to show that you open up every machine. Let’s go in there and show this to the world once and for all.

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So, he wouldn’t sue. Food for thought, I suppose.

Dominion legal counsel Stephen Shackelford told Gizmodo today, in a statement, that My Pillow’s “meritless retaliatory lawsuit” was filed with the goal of trying “to distract from the harm it caused to Dominion.”

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Anyways, Mike Lindell’s social media platform will allegedly be available to collect your personal data at some point in the future.

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.

HBO’s Q: Into the Storm Lays Out Its Case That 8Chan Admin Ron Watkins Is Q

Members of the National Guard remain deployed in Washington, DC in March following deadly riots involving scores of QAnon conspiracy theorists at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Members of the National Guard remain deployed in Washington, DC in March following deadly riots involving scores of QAnon conspiracy theorists at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

The final episodes of HBO’s Q: Into the Storm aired on Sunday evening, and it’s put all its cards on the table.

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Director Cullen Hoback believes he’s unmasked Q, the unknown individual or individuals behind the sprawling, pro-Donald Trump QAnon conspiracy theory that asserts the Democratic Party and Hollywood are ruled by an Illuminati-style cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles. For years, Q pretended to be a high-ranking government official with firsthand knowledge of the Satanic threat, posting anonymously on a series of fringe boards beginning with troll hive 4chan and later white supremacist haven 8chan (now itself relaunched as 8kun). Countless right-wingers and gullible rubes took the bait, and QAnon surged in popularity on Facebook and wormed its way into the ideology of the Republican Party. QAnon peaked, at least for now, in riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6, which sought to overturn the 2020 election results but only succeeded in causing five deaths.

It hasn’t exactly been a secret that Hoback’s preferred suspect is Ron Watkins, the son of creepy 8chan owner Jim Watkins and the site’s longtime administrator (several months ago he claimed he was resigning, though it may have only been a ploy to build his credibility as he pivoted to promoting pro-Trump election hoaxes). Six episodes of following the Watkinses around and interviewing practically everyone in their orbit in, Hoback thinks he’s tricked Ron into admitting Q is what he was “doing anonymously before.”

Both Watkinses obviously view themselves as master psychological manipulators, though they’re nothing of the sort. Whether it’s due to some feckless attempt to spread a cloud of ink over everything going on at 8chan or sheer incompetence, the two couldn’t keep their stories straight for the duration of the series.

The older Watkins spends much of the documentary denying he’s a “political” guy. But he ran a conspiracy news site called The Goldwater and barely even pretends to care that 8chan’s white supremacist /pol/ board, a festering wound on the internet, was tied to at least three mass shootings in 2019 by white supremacists who killed at least 75 people and wounded 66 others. By the end of the series, he’s in attendance at and cheering on the riots at the Capitol.

Amid vaguely menacing Hoback and his documentary crew with a mochi hammer and trying to pressure the documentarians into visiting prostitutes as a sort of vetting exercise, the younger Watkins is alternately suspiciously familiar with various facets of Q world and in total denial that he knows anything about the conspiracy theory at all. The show also makes clear that as the site’s administrator, Watkins would have had total access to the Q account and technical data that could help unveil the poster’s identity—and his behavior is well beyond suspicious.

The theory doesn’t require Watkins taht started QAnon; at an early point in the QAnon saga, the writing style of Q’s posts changed dramatically, suggesting that the account changed hands. Whether that was because of some behind-the-scenes deal or the result of a hostile takeover is a mystery that may never be solved. But it’s clear that Watkins had the means to easily seize control of the account associated with the posts, and Hoback details a large number of instances in which the seemingly new Q’s posts mirror or reference Watkin’s actions in supremely obvious fashion. At one point, the administrator leads Hoback on a wild goose chase to unveil former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon as Q, a dubious theory that relied on possibly forged IP address logs pointing to Bannon’s address in Orange County, California, and a monastery in Italy where he tried to set up an alt-right training camp.

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“In order to throw off anyone who came sniffing around, wouldn’t it be smart to create a fake digital forensics trail, one that leads to someone from Trump’s inner circle?” Hoback asks in the documentary.

But it’s not until near the end that Watkins makes one seemingly major confession and slips up on another one. First, Watkins claims that he was personally driving much of the activity on /pol/, thus tying him even more directly to the terroristic massacres tied to its community. Second, Watkins all but outright states he controlled the Q account for years before immediately backtracking.

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“I’ve spent the last, what, almost 10 years doing this kind of research anonymously,” Watkins told Hoback. “Now I’m doing it publicly, that’s the only difference…. don’t think for a second that half the threads on /pol/ (the political page of 8Chan) weren’t like, me digging.”

So thinking back on it, like it was basically three years of intelligence training teaching normies how to do intelligence work,” he continued. “It’s basically what I was doing anonymously before.”

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Watkins paused, smiled, and added, “But never as Q.” Both he and Hoback broke into laughter, which Hoback appears to believe was a shared moment of recognition that his subject had finally fucked up, big time.

It’s certainly an overt admission that the Watkinses were much more involved behind the scenes with the toxic culture of 8chan than they’d otherwise like to let on—something that would have already been obvious to anyone paying attention to the site’s history. An ironclad admission that Watkins is Q it is not, especially given how much of Q: Into the Storm fixates on painting him and his father as weirdo narcissists who spend most of their time lying for attention (not particularly well, but still). It seems unlikely the public will get a more detailed confession out of Watkins or any other suspect soon, given the movement is now facing the scrutiny of the feds.

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According to the Washington Post, the Watkinses doubled down on the Bannon theory in a recent livestream, but also argued it could be Hoback himself. Other researchers have noted that QAnon involved a sweeping set of political actors including Trump admin officials and allies, GOP politicians, conspiracy activists, and grifters in it for the merchandising opportunities, making it far larger than any one person.

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“Even if it was only Ron Watkins, the movement has grown far beyond one person or alias,” SITE Intelligence Group director Rita Katz told the Post. “It is now a global societal virus that has become a vessel for everything from [anti-vaccine] misinformation and coronavirus conspiracy theories to political agendas. … Everything Jim or Ron Watkins say should be taken with skepticism—even if that statement comes in the form of a bizarre ‘slip-up.’”

Whoever was last in control of the Q account, they’re not posting. The account went dark in December, around the same time Watkins supposedly resigned as admin of 8kun, leaving its adherents high and dry and in search of new causes. As Hoback noted, some of them are moving on to new, more fertile pastures like rallying against so-called “cancel culture,” a relatively recent Republican obsession. Many others have simply continued on out of blind devotion, busying themselves with projects like defending Trump-allied Rep. Matt Gaetz from allegations of sex trafficking or switching their focus to racism. Two, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Boebert, are in Congress.

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These Text Message Receipts Reportedly Led Feds to Rep. Matt Gaetz

Illustration for article titled These Text Message Receipts Reportedly Led Feds to Rep. Matt Gaetz

Photo: Samuel Corum (Getty Images)

Federal investigators began looking into Florida U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz following a mysterious after-hours visit to a Florida tax agency where a former local official was allegedly churning out fake IDs, the Daily Beast reports. Little did they know that was just the tip of the iceberg. Gaetz now faces a Justice Department probe into allegations of sex trafficking in a growing scandal that was outlined in a New York Times report this week.

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The congressman, who was a close ally of former President Donald Trump, purportedly attracted federal scrutiny during an investigation into the aforementioned official, Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, for identity theft and stalking. Greenberg is also the subject of a Justice Department probe over a bevy of eyebrow-raising charges, including allegations that he and Gaetz recruited young women online, at least one of whom was 17 years old, and paid them for sex.

A series of text messages referencing the clandestine visit and attempts to secure Gaetz an ID under the table eventually led Secret Service agents to the congressman, per the outlet. Three people with direct knowledge of the incident told the Daily Beast that Greenberg brought Gaetz to the Lake Mary, Florida branch of his tax collection agency on a weekend in April 2018. When an employee returned to the office on Monday, she was surprised to find drivers’ licenses “scattered all over the desk instead of in the appropriate disposal basket.” Upon reviewing security camera footage and seeing that Greenberg and another man had stopped by the office after hours, she said she contacted her boss.

The Daily Beast reviewed screenshots of the text message thread in which Greenberg confirms he had been “showing congressman Gaetz what our operation looked like” that weekend. A few months later, he reached out to an employee outside of proper channels and business hours to request a new ID card for the congressman without him having to jump through the typical legal hoops involved in the process, such as providing additional documentation for security purposes.

“Amy- is there anyway to assist one of our Congressmen in getting an emergency replacement ID or DL by Tuesday 2pm? His was lost yesterday and he’s got a flight Tuesday. Doesn’t have any other form of ID currently on him. Sorry to bother you on Sunday,” Greenberg wrote in a screenshotted text reviewed by the outlet. He then confirmed that the requested ID was for the Florida representative, “Matthew Louis Gaetz II” born on May 7, 1982.

A source told the Daily Beast that a full copy of these text message conversations was printed out from online At&T records and forwarded to the Secret Service and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in January 2020. Another undisclosed federal agency also later received a copy.

Greenberg resigned from his post in 2020 just one day after federal authorities charged him with his first indictment, which included allegations of harassing and stalking a political opponent. As authorities uncovered just how far this bizarre rabbit hole goes, his rap sheet has grown to include a whopping 33 charges, including wire fraud, misuse of driver’s license information, aggravated assault, and human trafficking.

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And as horrible as those are, they aren’t even the wildest charges. Greenburg is also accused of using $90,000 in taxpayer money to build a cryptocurrency mining rig in his personal office and embezzling $400,000 in government funds to buy and sell cryptocurrency.

As for the congressman, authorities have been investigating Gaetz since last summer over alleged violations of federal sex trafficking laws, for which a conviction carries a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, the New York Times reports. Sources told CNN this week that even before this investigation came to light, Gaetz gained a reputation on Capitol Hill for oversharing about his sexual escapades, which he purportedly bragged about frequently and even shared photos and videos with other lawmakers of nude women he claimed to have slept with.

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Gaetz, for his part, has vehemently denied the sex trafficking allegations and claims he’s being targeted as part of some elaborate extortion scheme. On Friday, his communications director abruptly stepped down in the face of mounting pressure amid the scandal. However, Gaetz apparently doesn’t intend to go down without a fight, and has since confirmed he does not plan to resign, the Wall Street Journal reports.

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.

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.

Twitter-Banned Clown Seeks New Posting Crown

Illustration for article titled Twitter-Banned Clown Seeks New Posting Crown

Photo: Drew Angerer / Staff (Getty Images)

Donald Trump has been retired from the U.S. presidency for a good two months now, but the urge to post has only gotten stronger by the day.

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Banned from his former platform of choice, Twitter, for accidentally-oopsie-woopsie-inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Trump has reportedly been growing restless — and according to recent reports, the former president has been in touch with several existing, if obscure, app vendors in recent weeks in the hopes of minting a social platform of his own someday soon.

On Wednesday, Axios reported that Trump and his digital adviser, Dan Scavino, are currently in talks with a relatively unknown platform called FreeSpace about a potential partnership. The details of that relationship seem fuzzy so far: As Axios notes, Trump is famously loathe to sink any of his own money into a business, preferring rather to lend his name and likeness and hope for the best. The platform itself also appears to be an odd fit for Trump’s brand, given that FreeSpace bills itself as focused on the “POWER OF POSITIVITY” and “incentivizing, highlighting and rewarding good habits and healthy online interactions.”

While it’s of course always possible that Trump is seeking to rebrand as some sort of Gary Vaynerchuk-esque positivity guru, sources with knowledge of the talks noted to Axios that the partnership is far from finalized, and that Trump’s eventual choice could be “any of several companies, with more meetings this week.”

In any case, it does seem increasingly likely that we’re going to see a Trump-branded media venture lurch out of the sea at some point in the near future, and during a Sunday appearance on Fox News’ “#MediaBuzz,” his former senior advisor, Jason Miller, hinted unsubtly to that effect.

“I do think that we’re going to see President Trump returning to social media in probably about two or three months here, with his own platform,” Miller said.

While spending your post-presidency twilight years finding new ways to own the libs online is certainly a spirited choice, if Trump’s inner circle of toadies and sycophants had any respect for him at all, they might advise him to try peanut farming instead.

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