Fyre Festival Co-Founder Billy McFarland Paid Someone to Write His Wikipedia Bio

— McFarland’s self-promotional Wikipedia bio now describes him as a “fraudster”

Billy McFarland, co-founder of the doomed Fyre Festival, paid a professional Wikipedia editor in 2014 to create his current bio as part of a promotional effort to raise his public profile.

According to Wikipedia editing records, McFarland paid a user with the handle Bernie44 an undisclosed amount to promote his involvement in two tech startups: the failed content-sharing site Spling; and the ultra-exclusive Magnises black card, which with Fyre went down in flames following McFarland’s conviction last year for defrauding investors.

Billy McFarland (source)

“McFarland founded Magnises in August 2013, and officially launched the card on March 1, 2014, aiming to create an exclusive black card that was community-oriented and technology-based, offering perks, guidance and cachet that would improve the everyday life of its members and appeal to the millennial generation,” reads Bernie44’s paid draft from September 8, 2014. “As of August 2014, Magnises has 3,000 members, including actress Rosario Dawson, former NBA player Baron Davis, and musicians French MontanaWale and Gabe Saporta.”

Bernie44 disclosed having been paid by McFarland in accordance with Wikipedia’s June 16, 2014 update to its terms and services.

“[This] is to disclose that I am paid for some of the articles I create and/or edit, in most cases by the subject of the article,” Bernie44 wrote. “Whether paid or not, I always aim to contribute positively to Wikipedia and to edit within Wikipedia’s guidelines, with properly sourced, neutral, constructive edits. I hope my work is judged based on those standards.”

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McFarland found fame in 2017 when his attempt to organise the luxury Fyre music festival in the Bahamas fell apart in spectacular fashion. The $1,200 to $100,000 per ticket event promised two weekends of music, gourmet meals, luxury villas, and parties on yachts with supermodels. But after months of failed preparations, the event crashed and burned in real time, leaving attendees stranded on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma without food, water, or shelter.

Last year, McFarland pleaded guilty to “fraudulently induc[ing] investments into his companies Fyre Media, Inc., Fyre Festival LLC, and Magnises, Inc., including in connection with McFarland’s failed venture to host a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ music festival in the Bahamas.” He was later sentenced to six years in prison.

Adding to that growing list of failures, last week McFarland’s self-created bio, originally titled “Billy McFarland (entrepreneur),” was moved to a new page, “Billy McFarland (fraudster).”

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Daily Beast: Google Yanks Services From Sanctioned Russian Website

— USA Really has been barred from using Google Analytics as the website’s American contributors reconsider their involvement. Meanwhile, the site’s parent company has postponed its lawsuit against Facebook while its attorneys apply for a sanctions exemption. Read my latest at The Daily Beast

Via “Google Yanks Services From Russian Propaganda Site” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, February 07, 2019:

Tech giant Google has cut off a sanctioned Russian propaganda website from popular tools that allowed the site to track and collect extensive data on the site’s readers.

The website, USA Really, has been barred from using Google Analytics, the company told The Daily Beast last week, depriving the site of reporting data on readers’ countries of origin, time of visit, pages visited, referring websites, IP addresses, and types of operating systems. The information is typically used for search engine optimization and marketing purposes.

It’s the latest setback for USA Really, which has seen multiple other tech firms cut ties with the site after its parent company, Russia’s Federal News Agency (FAN), was hit with U.S. sanctions in December. Federal authorities accuse FAN of complicity in a widespread, Kremlin-backed disinformation campaign dubbed “Project Lakhta…”

The sanctions have also thrown a wrench into a FAN lawsuit against another tech giant, Facebook, over its closure of USA Really’s pages on that platform, part of a long-running effort to rid Facebook of malicious foreign propaganda efforts…

Both parties agreed on Tuesday to postpone a conference later this month to update a federal judge on the status of the lawsuit. Treasury’s sanctions against FAN require its attorneys—with the U.S. law firms Diamond McCarthy and Whiteford, Taylor & Preston—to obtain a specific license from the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to continue their representation…

Sanctions against FAN also have USA Really’s American contributors reconsidering their own involvement, given the possibility that any payments for their writing might run afoul of prohibitions on business dealings with the site.

“Our authors continue to cooperate with us,” Malkevich told The Daily Beast. “They write about their thoughts, about the problems of American society.”

Click here to read the full story.

And here’s a response from USA Really author Jeffrey Silverman, who was quoted in the article:

A couple of days back The Daily Beast published an article on USA Really titled “Google Yanks Services from Russian Propaganda Site.” The foregone conclusion upon reading the title would be that USA Really is “Guilty as Charged!”

However, I must admit that barring the click-bait like title the article was more balanced than expected.

Since I have been a regular contributor to USA Really, the authors of the Daily Beast article while working on the article contacted me and other writers with their many questions. I was a bit skeptical to communicate with them at first, as my experience communicating with the American mainstream media in the past had not been very productive.

My previous comments to the media were construed to present views that were contrary to mine—taken out of context.  More often than not, to distort what I actually said, with few exceptions.

However, I decided to discuss the matters with them thinking that this might be a chance to tell the true story, the story of how USA Really, just because of its Russian roots, is being harassed.  At least to be able to demonstrate that neither I personally nor USA Really had anything to hide… we were both being upfront and transparent.

My trust in The Daily Beast has paid up, albeit not entirely, but certainly more than I had honestly expected. And I am not the only one who felt this. A colleague of mine during an informal discussion shared:

“Fairly balanced article, I would say. Other than the fact that in the title of the article as well as in the very first sentence they mention USA Really to be a propaganda website; they would have done better by saying ‘alleged propaganda website.”

Surprisingly the article mentioned my true credentials stating, and put all my comments correctly without twisting them, unlike some other previous publications that described me as being an eccentric American with an ax to grind against the US government.

“Jeffrey K. Silverman, a Tbilisi, Georgia-based U.S. Army veteran who previously worked for Radio Free Europe, has written over 30 articles for USA Really on topics as varied as the BDS movement and the tobacco industry. In an e-mail, Silverman said that he continues to write for the site on a paid basis despite the sanctions.

I don’t know how they could legally apply to a US citizen, as the 1st Amendment still applies …”I continue to cooperate, and with greater enthusiasm. I don’t like being told as a US citizen that I am subject to 1984 and USSR-styled censorship.”

With Dean Sterling Jones—the article’s author—I shared my dilemma of not getting an answer from responsible American authorities (Treasury Department and American Citizen Services) about my legal plight and whether I can legally contribute to USA Really, even after asking them multiple times.

Consequently, Dean tried contacting the concerned departments to get their side of the story too. And unsurprisingly, as with my requests, Dean’s too were met by a wall of silence. I know many would say that we did not receive any response was because of the government shutdown, but deep down my heart I know that it is a device of subterfuge—on the part of the US government.

Or maybe they are waiting to ambush me on my next trip to the US, as they have done in the past, [at the airport] or are just not willing or capable of putting anything of substance in writing.

Or, maybe these sanctions are but a Red Herring because there must be some serious reason for picking on a fringe alternative media site, and based on my experience they are testing the waters to understand as to who they can block next?

Click here to read Silverman’s full article.

Mumbai Cyber Police Demand Personal Details of Modi Critics

— Mumbai cyber police are demanding that U.S. tech companies hand over personal details of Internet users who insulted Indian PM Narendra Modi

Last year, I blogged about efforts by Mumbai’s “cyber police crime division” to purge the Internet of doctored images of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. Since that post, the officiously censorious division has refocused its efforts on trying to scrub the Internet of derogatory terms associated with the famously gaffe-prone Indian PM.

Narendra Modi (source)

Recently, the division sent Google a criminal complaint ordering the removal of all search results for “Feku No. 1,” a derogatory Hindi slang term that, according to Urban Dictionary, refers to “[a] person who tries to project himself as a people’s leader by spreading false propaganda using paid media and crony capitalists.”

The term became synonymous with Modi in 2013 when a political opponent used it to mock the Indian PM and, according to the complaint, is allegedly intended to “outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs,Defamation” and “create UNREST, BREACH of PEACE which might result in LAW & ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India.”

The complaint was filed by senior inspector Ravi Sardesai, who according to one news report is “an old hand at handling cyber crime.”

In a separate criminal complaint, Sardesai also recently ordered Google to remove all search results for “CHUTIYA modi.” According to Urban Dictionary, Chutiya is “[a] uniquely Indian expletive [that] classifies the recipient as either an idiot, or an ignoramus or someone behaving stupidly. Derived from Chut, Hindi for vagina.”

But Sardesai’s most aggressively heavy-handed demand, listed as a “TOP PRIORITY BASIS so as to avoid Law and Order problems in Maharashtra and INDIA,” sought that U.S. tech companies, including Google and YouTube, immediately furnish mobile phone numbers, e-mail and IP addresses of creators of the offending content.

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Section 91 of India’s Code of Criminal Procedure permits “any officer in charge of a police station” to request “any document or other thing” from “the person in whose possession…such document or thing is believed to be.”

A quick scan of the invaluable Lumen Database, which archives online takedown demands, shows that Sardesai has sent dozens of similar demands within the past year, most of which include requests to “BLOCK/DELETE” a seemingly endless flow of allegedly “defamatory morphed/vulgar photos” of Modi.

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Per my previous post on the Mumbai cyber division’s legal shenanigans, those photos include a widely shared photoshopped image of Modi homoerotically embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on a beach.

Twitter is Censoring Criticism of Turkish President Erdoğan

— Twitter deletes ‘insulting’ tweets/accounts by critics of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following court order

Since 2016, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sued, arrested, and detained thousands of opposition journalists, academics, civil servants, and other critics of his government’s increasingly authoritarian policies.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (source)

Online, Erdoğan’s efforts to control his public image have been equally aggressive, with a seemingly endless string of takedown requests, censorship demands, and court orders demanding the removal of mocking satirical cartoons and images, “hurtful, exaggerated words,” and “humiliating” news reports comparing him to Adolf Hitler.

Now it appears that Erdoğan has found an ally in U.S. social media platform Twitter.

Within the past month, Twitter has deleted over a dozen tweets and suspended a number of users for violating “[Erdoğan’s] personal rights by being insulting,” in compliance with a December 28, 2018 court order obtained by the Turkish leader and subsequently posted by the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests.

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The court order does not specify the substance and manner of the insulting content. However, details gleaned through a review of a few remaining uncensored tweets suggest that Erdoğan objected to the online dissemination of a Guardian newspaper article titled “2018: Year of the Autocrat” by foreign affairs reporter Simon Tisdall.

That article, which included stinging criticisms of “America’s first ‘rogue president'” Donald J. Trump, Russia’s “rigged poll” president Vladimir Putin, and North Korea’s “ever-grinning dictator” Kim Jong-un, described Erdoğan as having “bullied his way to another presidential term and sweeping extra powers.”

The court order also sought to halt the dissemination of news of a corruption scandal involving Erdoğan’s son Bilal, and at least one tweet that appeared to mock Bilal’s moustache.

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According to Twitter’s biannual transparency report, Turkey leads the world in Twitter censorship demands, accounting for 508 of 628 of all court orders filed in the first half of 2018.

According to that same report, in 2018 Twitter withheld 1464 tweets and “filed 113 legal objections with Turkish courts in response to 508 court orders on the grounds that they did not comply with the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of press, and/or did not specify the content at issue. Four objections were accepted in full and one was partially granted.”

Round-Up 2018: Here’s the Scoop

Russian trolls and stealth political campaigns. Revisiting my scoopiest stories of 2018

2018 was undoubtedly my most successful year since I started writing at Shooting the Messenger almost five years ago.

Once described as an “amateur sleuth” by Politico and unceremoniously trashed by a surrogate for U.S. president Donald Trump on Fox News (something I’ve always worn as a badge of pride, thank you), in 2018 I was delighted to land a freelance gig at The Daily Beast, from which I served a few decent-sized scoops.

Huge thanks to the Beast’s Editor-in-Chief Noah Shachtman for generously inviting me to write for him, and Beast reporters Asawin Suebsaeng, Lachlan Markay, and Lachlan Cartwright (count ’em, two Lachlans) for their help and encouragement.

Big thanks to everyone else who provided me with invaluable help and encouragement in 2018, including (but not limited to!): Zen Master Blogger Peter M. Heimlich and his wife Karen Shulman, Techdirt reporter Tim Cushing, nutrition journalist/author Nina Teicholz, FoodMed.net publisher and editor Marika Sboros, journalist/fact-checker extraordinaire Brooke Binkowski, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, and BuzzFeed Canada’s Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko.

The year started strong when a story I wrote in late 2017, about the HuffPost’s retraction of a pay-to-play puff piece on former Trump business partner Felix Sater, was picked up by the Beast in January.

Felix Sater (source)

Via “Who Paid for the HuffPost Puff Piece on Trump’s Felonious Friend?” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, January 11, 2018:

An unknown client paid a Pakistani national to place an article at the HuffPost defending a controversial associate of President Donald Trump.

HuffPost scrubbed the article, written in December, from its website after a blogger in Northern Ireland, Dean Sterling Jones, inquired about the piece, which hailed the dismissal last year of a $250 million tax fraud case against Felix Sater, a Russian-born former Trump Organization executive.

The article’s author, listed on HuffPost’s website under the name Waqas KH, runs a Pakistani company called Steve SEO Services. That company offers to ghostwrite articles and organize internet commenting campaigns for paying clients. On the freelancer website Fiverr, Waqas goes by the username “nico_seo” and offers to place articles on HuffPost for an $80 fee. For an extra $50, he will write the article himself.

Following that article, the HuffPost announced that it was permanently closing its flagship contributor platform, which allowed readers to self-publish articles on the HuffPost website, and which the author of the Sater piece had been exploiting for financial gain.

In an interview with The New York Times, which cited my story, the HuffPost’s Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen said that the decision to close the platform was due to the proliferation of fake news.

Via “HuffPost, Breaking From Its Roots, Ends Unpaid Contributions” by Sydney Ember, The New York Times, January 18, 2018:

Since its founding nearly 13 years ago, The Huffington Post has relied heavily on unpaid contributors, whose ranks included aspiring writers, citizen journalists and celebrities from the Rolodex of the site’s co-founder Arianna Huffington.

…On Thursday, it said it was immediately dissolving its self-publishing contributors platform — which has mushroomed to include 100,000 writers — in what is perhaps the most significant break from the past under its editor in chief, Lydia Polgreen…

[Recently] a contributor with the byline Waqas KH published an article about Felix Sater, an associate of President Trump, that he had been paid to post. The site has since deleted the article.

In July, I co-authored a follow-up story—my first for the Beast—about a much larger campaign to whitewash Trump’s Russian business ties by manipulating Google’s search rankings.

Via “Inside the Online Campaign to Whitewash the History of Donald Trump’s Russian Business Associates” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, July 5, 2018:

A mystery client has been paying bloggers in India and Indonesia to write articles distancing President Donald Trump from the legal travails of a mob-linked former business associate.

Spokespeople for online reputation management companies in the two countries confirmed that they had been paid to write articles attempting to whitewash Trump’s ties to Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman who, with former Russian trade minister Tevfik Arif, collaborated with the Trump Organization on numerous real estate deals from New York to the former Soviet Union.

The campaign appears designed to influence Google search results pertaining to Trump’s relationship with Sater, Arif, and the Bayrock Group, a New York real estate firm that collaborated with Trump on a series of real estate deals, and recruited Russian investors for potential Trump deals in Moscow.

The story was covered by The Washington Post, Politico, and ABC News, among others.

Perhaps my biggest story of 2018, about Russian government media adviser Alexander Malkevich’s attempts to launch a troll factory-linked disinformation website from an office near the White House in Washington, D.C., was my second to make it to The New York Times.

Alexander Malkevich (source)

The website, the conspicuously titled USA Really, was in fact created by Moscow’s Federal News Agency (FAN), one of a number of Russian entities U.S. prosecutors claim “employed hundreds of individuals in support” of Project Lakhta, a multi-million dollar social media influence operation that aimed “to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system.”

I first started writing about USA Really in April, following FAN’s attempts to recruit “English-speaking journalists” to write for the website. That early reporting was picked up by The Daily Beast, Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, and Press Pool with Julie Mason. But USA Really only really caught the attention of mainstream news outlets in June, after a story I wrote about Malkevich’s ties to the Russian government, his involvement in the USA Really website, and disastrous attempts to stage a flash mob event at the White House to celebrate Trump’s 72nd birthday, was picked up by—who else?—The Daily Beast.

Via “New Russian Media Venture Wants to Wage ‘Information War’ in Washington, D.C.” by Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, June 10, 2018:

A Russian government adviser who aims to wage an “information war” in the U.S. and Europe is running a new media venture a block from the White House that cybersecurity experts say has ties to the country’s infamous disinformation apparatus.

In April, Russia’s Federal News Agency (FAN) announced the creation of an American outlet called “USA Really.” Its website and accompanying social media pages sprang up in May and quickly began promoting a mid-June rally to be held in front of the White House in protest of “growing political censorship…aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation.”

At the helm of the project is Alexander Malkevich, a Russian media executive and a member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, a body created by President Vladimir Putin in 2005 to advise government policymaking…

USA Really’s “flash mob” protest was initially scheduled for June 14, in what it says was a recognition of Flag Day and President Donald Trump’s birthday. But rather than applying for a rally protest with D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), which oversees such events, it asked the city’s film and television office for a film permit, the type that movie studios obtain before taping scenes on D.C. streets.

The FAN posted a copy of an email from the film office, which referred USA Really to the MPD. “Your permit application is denied,” the email read, “since we’ve determined that this is a rally more so than a filming.”

The FAN claimed on its website that it subsequently spoke with the MPD, which also denied them a permit and warned that they had alerted the CIA, which does not operate on U.S. soil, of USA Really’s activities. MPD told Dean Sterling Jones, a Belfast-based investigative writer who’s followed the USA Really case for weeks and first reported Malkevich’s involvement, that it had received no requests for a rally permit from the group.

Included in that article was reporting about an unsuccessful attempt by someone at USA Really named Michael to suppress my story:

For all its talk of combating misinformation, USA Really appears to be as invested in vendettas as it is in truth-telling. On Saturday, Jones received a diatribe from someone named Michael using a USA Really email address in response to a post he’d written on the group.

“Are you a semicrazy person?” Michael asked, according to a copy of the message provided to The Daily Beast. “WFT is wrong with you? How can you suck so much with fact interpretation?”

Asked about that exchange, Michael, who said he was emailing from Moscow, struck a conciliatory tone. “Actually, I appreciate Dean’s work a lot so I offered her to write to us too,” he wrote, apparently unclear of Jones’ gender. “So I cannot tell you what I objected in her beautiful articles.”

Following that article, the story quickly made its way to The Washington Post and Politico, then on to NBC News, NPR, Foreign Policy, and The New York Times.

USA Really (source)

Via “Is a New Russian Meddling Tactic Hiding in Plain Sight?” by Kevin Roose, The New York Times, September 25, 2018:

To an untrained eye, USAReally might look like any other fledgling news organization vying for attention in a crowded media landscape. Its website publishes a steady stream of stories on hot-button political issues like race, immigration and income inequality. It has reader polls, a video section and a daily podcast.

But this is no ordinary media start-up. USAReally is based in Moscow and has received funding from the Federal News Agency, a Russian media conglomerate with ties to the Internet Research Agency, the “troll farm” whose employees were indicted by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, for interfering in the 2016 presidential election…

Its founder, Alexander Malkevich, is a Russian journalist with little previous experience in American media. Its domain was registered through a Russian company, and its formation was announced in a news release on the Federal News Agency’s website. The project, originally known as “USAReally, Wake Up Americans,” was intended to promote “information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications controlled by the political elite of the United States,” according to the release…

Mr. Malkevich’s fumbling misadventures in American media have, at times, made him seem more like a Sacha Baron Cohen character than a sinister propagandist. In June, he planned a rally outside the White House, but canceled the event, he said, after failing to obtain the proper permit. He scheduled a round-table discussion about fake news inside a WeWork office in Washington, but his membership was abruptly terminated. An NBC News story about Mr. Malkevich carried the headline, “This man is running Russia’s newest propaganda effort in the U.S. — or at least he’s trying to.”

As I reported in an article I co-authored with Lachlan for the Beast, by September FAN and USA Really had become ensnared in the F.B.I.’s probe into Russian election interference.

Via “D.C.-Based Russian Media Venture Boasts that Indicted Kremlin Operative Is Its CFO” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, October 26, 2018:

When federal authorities allege a massive, foreign-government-backed campaign to undermine America’s democratic institutions, the expected reaction from those accused of complicity is to put some distance between themselves and the culprits.

But when Elena Khusyaynova, the alleged financier of a sprawling Russian disinformation effort, was indicted last week, one Russian media outlet rushed to associate itself with the St. Petersburg accountant. USA Really, a conspiratorial website run by a Russian media executive and Kremlin policy adviser, quickly boasted on its website that Khusyaynova was the company’s chief financial officer.

It’s not clear what USA Really hoped to gain through the admission. The site is quick to deny that Russia had any involvement in the 2016 election. But its gleeful association with Khusyaynova suggests that USA Really is not the independent, inquisitive news organization that it claims to be, but rather an adjunct of a deep-pocketed propaganda apparatus that federal prosecutors say amounts to a criminal conspiracy against the United States.

Last month, half a year after my first post, Malkevich and USA Really were officially sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for “attempted election interference.”

Via “Treasury Targets Russian Operatives over Election Interference, World Anti-Doping Agency Hacking, and Other Malign Activities,” U.S. Treasury Department, December 19, 2018:

Today, [the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control] designated several entities and individuals related to Project Lakhta, a broad Russian effort that includes the IRA, designated previously under E.O. 13694, as amended, which has sought to interfere in political and electoral systems worldwide…

Within weeks after the designation of the IRA, the Federal News Agency LLC — an entity utilized by Project Lakhta to obscure its activities that was also designated today — announced that it was creating a new Russian-funded, English-language website called USA Really. USA Really, which is operated by Alexander Aleksandrovich Malkevich (Malkevich), engaged in efforts to post content focused on divisive political issues but is generally ridden with inaccuracies. In June 2018, USA Really attempted to hold a political rally in the United States, though its efforts were unsuccessful. As of June 2018, Malkevich was a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber commission on mass media, which serves in a consultative role to the Russian government. Based on this activity, USA Really was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for being owned or controlled by the Federal News Agency LLC, while Malkevich was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, USA Really.

Another article I co-authored with Lachlan that made national news told the story of an anonymous editing campaign to whitewash the Wikipedia page of Russian spy Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty last month to engaging in a Kremlin-backed conspiracy to infiltrate prominent conservative groups in America. As we reported in our story, the edits traced back to Butina’s D.C. alma mater.

Maria Butina (source)

Via “Who Whitewashed the Wiki of Alleged Russian Spy Maria Butina?” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, July 24, 2018:

Anonymous Wikipedia users engaged in a lengthy campaign this year to alter and whitewash the online biographies of two people at the center of an alleged Russian plot to infiltrate prominent conservative groups in America.

Starting in early spring 2018, the users, one of which maintained an account on Wikipedia’s Russian-language site, made a series of edits to bios for Maria Butina, a Russian national accused of conspiracy and illegal foreign influence, and Paul Erickson, a Republican political activist whom Butina allegedly roped into her espionage campaign and with whom she allegedly traded sex for political access as a “necessary aspect of her activities.”

The edits sought to discredit reporting on the FBI investigation into one of Butina’s alleged co-conspirators, and to scrub details of Erickson’s and Butina’s business history. It also downplayed attempts by Erickson to arrange a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, allegations of fraud against Erickson, and Butina’s ties to a Russian political figure instrumental in her efforts to ingratiate herself with prominent political groups including the National Rifle Association (NRA)…

Details gleaned through a review of Wikipedia’s edit logs link two of the accounts to the Washington D.C. university where Butina studied before she was arrested last week. The edits suggest that months before her life blew up, someone close to, or allied with, Butina knew what investigations into her and her associates might uncover and launched a clandestine campaign to expunge the record or at least downplay it.

The story was subsequently covered on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show:

My last big story for the Beast in 2018 was a collaborative effort with Lachlan and the Beast’s White House reporter Asawin Suebsaeng, about a conscious effort by National Enquirer boss David Pecker to distance himself and his tabloid from Trump, with an assist from Hollywood’s leading talent agency. Take a guess at which part of the story I contributed.

David Pecker (source)

Via “National Enquirer Boss David Pecker Tiptoes Away From His Pal Trump as Scandal Swirls and Circulation Drops” by Asawin Suebsaeng, Dean Sterling Jones, and Lachlan Markay, The Daily Beast, August 02, 2018:

Shortly after the feds raided the office of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s now estranged personal attorney and longtime enforcer, National Enquirer publisher David Pecker went into a state of calculated retreat.

For years, Pecker’s tabloid had promoted and puffed up Trump’s political rise and his presidency. But once a regular fixture on the cover of the National Enquirer, Trump hasn’t appeared on it since an issue dated early May. That appearance was for a cover story on the various scandals swirling around Cohen…

According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, Pecker and the Enquirer’s top brass made a conscious decision to pull back on their pro-Trump coverage, just as Pecker’s media empire found itself increasingly embroiled in Trumpworld’s legal and public-relations woes.

A month after the Enquirer’s last Trump cover, the Wall Street Journal reported that federal authorities had subpoenaed Pecker and other executives at American Media Inc. (AMI), which publishes the tabloid. They sought records related to allegations that the company purchased the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump, then killed the story for Trump’s benefit, a practice known as “catch and kill.” Prosecutors are exploring whether such an agreement may have constituted an illegal in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign by AMI…

As Pecker and his team were distancing themselves from Trump publicly, a more surreptitious effort was underway to cleanse the public record of details of Pecker’s involvement in the McDougal scandal and the AMI boss’s relationship with the president.

Over the course of a week last month, an anonymous Wikipedia user repeatedly tried to scrub Pecker’s page of damaging information regarding his alleged links to the McDougal hush-money scandal, removing huge blocks of text describing Pecker’s and AMI’s roles in paying the model for her story. The edits also removed references to Pecker as “a close friend of Donald Trump” and a supporter of his 2016 presidential campaign in addition to scrubbing mention of a federal investigation of the payment that stemmed from the raid of Cohen’s office (In a recently-leaked tape, Trump told Cohen to make the payment “in cash” to “our friend David,” assumed to be Pecker.)

The origin of the edits was even more interesting. They were made by someone using an I.P. address associated with the high-powered Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor, according to publicly-available web database information. The same I.P. address has been used to edit pages for WME itself, the head of the agency’s literary division, and a number of WME clients.

Click here for a clip of Asawin discussing the story with MSNBC news anchor Katy Tur.

Finally, here’s a quick story I blogged in February about how the Robert Mueller-indicted Internet Research Agency (IRA), better known as the Russian troll factory, used online job ads to recruit its army of election-meddling “Kremlebots,” then allegedly expected successful applicants to work for free.

Vladimir Putin (source)

Via “Here Are Some Job Ads For The Russian Troll Factory” by Jane Lytvynenko, BuzzFeed News, February 22, 2018:

The Internet Research Agency, now commonly known as the Russian troll factory, has gained international fame for its work during the 2016 US election, and the resulting indictments of 13 people announced by the Department of Justice last week.

Job ads from the IRA posted before the election give a sense of the kind of person the agency was looking for and how it helped weed out candidates. The ads were posted on Russian employment websites in 2014 and 2015 and the address listed in them matches the known location of the IRA’s headquarters. The blog Shooting the Messenger first posted some of the job ads.

One ad posting was for a social media specialist, offering a monthly salary of 40,000 rubles, or about $700.

The responsibilities included preparing “thematic posts,” publishing content, growing social audiences, and monitoring social media, blogs, and groups.

When it came to skills, the IRA wanted candidates he knew how to write “informational texts” and create an online community. It also asked for applicants with a sense of responsibility, initiative, and an “active life position”…

One uniting factor for all of these ads is a desire for energetic applicants. The ads also sought out people with “active life position,” “vigor,” “perseverance,” “ambition,” and the “ability to clearly and structurally express their thoughts.”

But with job postings come job reviews, and one reviewed by BuzzFeed News was not positive about work at the troll factory.

The review, from 2014, complained about being asked to do unpaid work for two days before being hired.

“The company invites you for the content manager for a vacancy, they give you a test task, when you do it, they invite you to an internship, 2 days for 8 hours. When you try to hint that it’s already full-time work and it would be nice to negotiate the terms of the employment contract, you hear ‘I’m sorry, you’re not a good fit’ in return,” the reviewer wrote said.

The story was subsequently covered by The Hill.

Via “Job ads reveal work of Russian troll farm employees” by Max Greenwood, The Hill, February 22, 2018:

Job postings for the Russian troll factory that allegedly meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election sought prospective employees with coding and social media skills and promised work on “interesting projects.”

The job listings for the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency were placed on Russian employment websites in 2014 and 2015, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday. Some of the listings first surfaced on a blog Wednesday.

One listing for a social media specialist position advertised a monthly salary of 40,000 rubles – about $700 – and said the job would require composing “thematic posts,” monitoring social media and growing social followings, according to BuzzFeed.

Another listing for a web programmer job offered prospective employees 60,000 rubles per month, or about $1,060, and advertised that the successful candidate would be part of a “friendly team” and work on “interesting projects.”

Click here for more stories from 2018.

Head of Russian Disinfo Website Sanctioned by U.S. Treasury

— In June I scooped a story about attempts by Russian government media adviser Alexander Malkevich to set up a troll factory-linked propaganda website in Washington, D.C. Yesterday Malkevich was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for “attempted election interference”

Since April, I’ve been doing original reporting on USA Really, a now-infamous disinformation website aimed at U.S. readers.

USA Really was created by Moscow’s Federal News Agency (FAN), which U.S. federal prosecutors recently linked to election interference campaigns carried out by the Robert Mueller-indicted Internet Research Agency (IRA), better known as the Russian troll factory.

USA Really EIC Alexander Malkevich (source)

In a press release yesterday, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned USA Really and its Editor-in-Chief Alexander Malkevich for their alleged involvement in Project Lakhta, a Kremlin-backed social media influence campaign which, according to prosecutors, aimed “to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system,” and which both FAN and the IRA allegedly participated in.

From the press release:

Today, [OFAC] designated several entities and individuals related to Project Lakhta, a broad Russian effort that includes the IRA, designated previously under E.O. 13694, as amended, which has sought to interfere in political and electoral systems worldwide…

Within weeks after the designation of the IRA, the Federal News Agency LLC — an entity utilized by Project Lakhta to obscure its activities that was also designated today — announced that it was creating a new Russian-funded, English-language website called USA Really. USA Really, which is operated by Alexander Aleksandrovich Malkevich (Malkevich), engaged in efforts to post content focused on divisive political issues but is generally ridden with inaccuracies. In June 2018, USA Really attempted to hold a political rally in the United States, though its efforts were unsuccessful. As of June 2018, Malkevich was a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber commission on mass media, which serves in a consultative role to the Russian government. Based on this activity, USA Really was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for being owned or controlled by the Federal News Agency LLC, while Malkevich was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, USA Really.

The press release mirrors my earlier reporting on USA Really and Malkevich. You can read more about that via my 2018 round-up by clicking here.

Update, December 22, 2018: The Kremlin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, has denounced the “illegal” sanctions in a statement in support of FAN and USA Really.

Russian Trolls Gatecrashed a D.C. Midterm Election Party at the National Press Club

The Federal News Agency allegedly engaged in attempts to interfere in U.S. elections. Last week it gatecrashed a National Press Club election night party attended by Michael Avenatti: “Putin must be so proud”

Attendees at a National Press Club election night event have become targets of a disinformation campaign by Moscow’s Federal News Agency (FAN), which U.S. federal prosecutors recently linked to Kremlin-backed efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.

The $95 per ticket event, dubbed the Hottest Election Night Party in Washington, boasted an all-star guest list including celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti, who represents porn star Stormy Daniels in two lawsuits against President Donald Trump, and former presidential adviser David A. Keene.

In its indictment of St. Petersburg accountant Elena Khusyaynova in September, the Department of Justice identified FAN as one 12 entities that allegedly “employed hundreds of individuals in support” of Project Lakhta, a multi-million dollar social media influence operation that aimed “to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system.”

Russian government media adviser Alexander Malkevich, who covered the event for FAN, says he travelled to D.C. earlier this month as “an observer in the November 6 elections” as part of a broader effort to help Russia “fight back in the world information war.”

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Last week, Malkevich’s reporting of the event was cited by Russian state-owned news outlets including Sputnik News and Ria Novosti as part of a cross-platform media campaign seemingly intended to boost Malkevich’s profile and stir up anti-U.S. feelings in Russia.

The campaign was launched via the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, from which Malkevich chairs a group that advises the Kremlin on media policy. In a press release published on the chamber’s website, Malkevich claimed that he made a speech at the event comparing electoral systems in the U.S. and Russia.

“I am deeply shocked by the level of violations that were committed in states with democratic leadership, where representatives of this party rule,” the website quotes Malkevich as having said. “I know about a completely blatant situation when a public observer from the election commission of New York was removed from the polling station, having learned that she is Russian. And this is despite the fact that she had a document in her hands!”

In an e-mail, the event’s organisers denied that Malkevich made any such speech.

“We did not invite him to speak. Alexander did not give a speech,” said a spokesperson for Alexandria, Virginia-based election tour company Political Events, which organised the event. “We had a banner on the wall in front of our room with a microphone. He must have stood in front and had someone take a photo.”

Malkevich at the National Press Club (source)

Subsequent articles on the FAN website ramped up the disinformation tactics.

One article, titled “A porn star lawyer is ready to be president of the United States,” claimed that Malkevich had been physically accosted at the event by members of Michael Avenatti’s entourage.

“[After] Avenatti’s speech, I wanted to talk to him,” said Malkevich. “I was not given such an opportunity: his entourage pushed me back, and in rather strong words said ‘We cannot allow the Russians to spoil the future career of a potential president of the country.'”

Photos from the event do not corroborate Malkevich’s claims, and there have been no additional reports about the alleged incident.

Michael Avenatti (left) / Alexander Malkevich (right)

In an e-mail, Avenatti emphatically denied the unsubstantiated claims.

“This never happened and I don’t travel with an entourage,” said Avenatti. “Putin must be so proud of this nonsense.”

The National Press Club did not return a request for comment.

*   *   *

Malkevich made headlines in June when he travelled to D.C. to promote USA Really, a self-described “community-supported news” website created by FAN’s editor-in-chief Yevgeny Zubarev “to promote crucial information and problems, which are hushed up by the conventional American media controlled by the establishment and oligarchy of the United States.”

Articles on the USA Really website, such as the anti-Semitic “Star of David spotted amidst migrant caravan: Who’s behind the invasion?,” mirror the same kind of false, misleading, and purposefully offensive content peddled by the Robert Mueller-indicted Internet Research Agency, better known as the Russian troll factory.

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As I reported in June, Malkevich had organised a flash mob to take place at the White House on Donald Trump’s 72nd birthday. Things did not go to plan.

Malkevich was forced to cancel the event after his application for a rally permit was rejected. He was subsequently removed and banned from re-entering an office he’d rented for a roundtable discussion on fake news.

In a series of deeply conspiratorial articles, USA Really hinted at a sinister plot by “deep state” security forces to violate its First Amendment rights.

“[There] are forces bent on the suppression of expression and speech – basic 1st amendment stuff here,” claimed an anonymously penned article on the website. “This project hasn’t even officially started yet, but the deep state and the security services have already launched into their standard defamation campaign.”

However, I was unable to locate any deep state officials for comment, and USA Really provided no evidence for its claims other than a screenshot of an e-mail (published on the FAN website) clearly showing that Malkevich had sent his rally request to the wrong government department.

After scooping the story, I received a comment from someone at USA Really named Michael, seemingly intended to deter reporters from covering what he described as a “sucker job” written by “some anonymous dude from the internet.”

As reported by The Daily Beast:

On Saturday, [investigative writer Dean Sterling Jones] received a diatribe from someone named Michael using a USA Really email address in response to a post he’d written on the group.

“Are you a semicrazy person?” Michael asked, according to a copy of the message provided to The Daily Beast. “WFT is wrong with you? How can you suck so much with fact interpretation?”

Asked about that exchange, Michael, who said he was emailing from Moscow, struck a conciliatory tone. “Actually, I appreciate Dean’s work a lot so I offered her to write to us too,” he wrote, apparently unclear of Jones’ gender. “So I cannot tell you what I objected in her beautiful articles.”

Evidently, the dissuasion effort didn’t work, and by late June Malkevich had landed profiles in NBC News, McClatchy D.C. Bureau, and Foreign Policy, among others. They weren’t exactly flattering either.

“Russian Troll or Clumsy Publicity Hound?” asked Foreign Policy in its article detailing Malkevich’s calamitous attempts to set up shop in D.C.

The New York Times was even less flattering in its assessment of Malkevich, describing the bumbling provocateur as being “more like a Sacha Baron Cohen character than a sinister propagandist.” In that article, Malkevich denied any connection to Russian troll operations, but refused to say who funded the USA Really website.

“I don’t know anybody from so-called troll farms,” he told the Times. “I am [only] interested in cooperation and friendship between our two great countries.”

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As Malkevich tried his best to remain button-lipped, Michael returned with a second unhinged comment.

“You’re really crazy person, not just semicrazy,” he wrote, this time with an IP address placing him in Moscow. “See the doctor for the specific.”

*   *   *

Less than six months after Malkevich’s U.S. media blitz, USA Really has become ensnared in the F.B.I.’s probe into Russian election interference.

Last month, the website appeared to implicate itself in a vast criminal conspiracy when it loudly proclaimed that Elena Khusyaynova, the indicted St. Petersburg accountant accused of financing Project Lakhta’s election-meddling campaigns, currently works as its chief financial officer.

It’s unclear what USA Really hoped to achieve by the admission, but it appears that investigators are now looking into the website.

According to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, on November 9 Malkevich was briefly detained at a Washington airport and told that USA Really must register in the U.S. as a foreign agent. The USA Really website subsequently posted what it claimed was a search and seizure warrant for Malkevich signed by Virginia district judge Michael S. Nachmanoff.

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The Department of Justice declined to comment for this item.

It isn’t the first time Malkevich has faced scrutiny over USA Really’s ties to the Russian state, but with prosecutors working to uncover an ever-expanding network of dark money, trolls, and oligarchs, it likely won’t be the last.

In the meantime, social media accounts controlled by the infamous Russian troll factory are busy protesting the news of Malkevich’s detainment.

Daily Beast: D.C. Media Venture Boasts Indicted Russian Agent as CFO

— In June, USA Really tried to set up shop in Washington D.C. It just implicated itself in a multi-million dollar criminal conspiracy. Check out my latest byline at The Daily Beast.

Via “D.C.-Based Russian Media Venture Boasts that Indicted Kremlin Operative Is Its CFO” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, October 26, 2018:

When federal authorities allege a massive, foreign-government-backed campaign to undermine America’s democratic institutions, the expected reaction from those accused of complicity is to put some distance between themselves and the culprits.

But when Elena Khusyaynova, the alleged financier of a sprawling Russian disinformation effort, was indicted last week, one Russian media outlet rushed to associate itself with the St. Petersburg accountant. USA Really, a conspiratorial website run by a Russian media executive and Kremlin policy adviser, quickly boasted on its website that Khusyaynova was the company’s chief financial officer.

It’s not clear what USA Really hoped to gain through the admission. The site is quick to deny that Russia had any involvement in the 2016 election. But its gleeful association with Khusyaynova suggests that USA Really is not the independent, inquisitive news organization that it claims to be, but rather an adjunct of a deep-pocketed propaganda apparatus that federal prosecutors say amounts to a criminal conspiracy against the United States.

Click here to read the full story.

Why Did This Florida Takedown Lawyer Try to Suppress Negative Reviews for InventHelp?

— InventHelp is currently being sued for allegedly scamming aspiring inventors. Two years ago, Florida takedown lawyer Zachary Sloan tried to suppress those allegations

InventHelp is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based company that claims to help aspiring inventors patent and market their inventions.

From its inception in 1984, InventHelp has cultivated a slick image. For example, since 2014 legendary former boxer turned small appliance pitchman George Foreman has been spokesman for the company, appearing in upbeat, “you can do it” promotional videos.

Despite that image, in recent years InventHelp has faced allegations of fraud.

Recently, some of InventHelp’s former clients filed a $108 million class action lawsuit against the company, claiming, among other allegations, that the company had failed to follow through on its promises, that it preyed upon low income people, and that it also “fraudulently targets minorities and women through the use of misleading websites, including www.black-inventor.com and www.women-inventor.com.”

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In April 2016, someone named Zachary Sloan—who according to ZacharySloan.com appears to be a defamation lawyer in Boca Raton, Florida—sent Google four identical de-indexing requests targeting InventHelp’s profile on PissedConsumer.com, an online forum that allows consumers to write reviews of companies.

(Sloan previously represented online reputation management company Profile Defenders, which is currently facing scrutiny for allegedly filing fraudulent lawsuits in order to get negative reviews de-indexed from Google’s search results).

“How to get your money back from an invention scam!” wrote one anonymous reviewer, who provided a step-by-step guide on how to force InventHelp into offering a refund. “1) send out your complaint letter, 2) contact an attorney, and 3) call an investigative journalists (like “7 On Your Side”) – this will keep up the pressure. The last thing the invention company wants is to be scrutinized by Attorney General’s, the Federal Trade Commission, lawyers and reporters.”

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Citing a court order he claimed he’d obtained from an unidentified court in Canada, Sloan requested that Google de-index four PissedConsumer.com pages from its search results, including the above review, which Sloan claimed contained defamatory information about InventHelp.

“We are requesting these links be deindexed from Google.CA specifically per the details of the attached court order that calls for deindexing from all of Google Domains, specifically Google.CA,” Sloan wrote. “This Plaintiff is a US and Canadian business, but most of its customers are Canadian and find Plaintiff’s website and reputation via searching Google.ca. However, these postings which have been ruled as defamation and admitted by the Defendant to posting them, and are severely impacting the Plaintiff and its ability to acquire new customers.”

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It’s unclear if Google capitulated to his de-indexing request, and multiple attempts to contact Sloan went unanswered. However, it appears that InventHelp, or someone working on behalf of InventHelp, did succeed in obscuring the Pissed Consumer reviews.

Now when consumers try to access InventHelp’s profile at Invent-Help.PissedConsumer.com, instead of being directed to a page of negative reviews and accusations of fraud, they’re quickly redirected to a second, privately registered domain, InventHelp.reviews, where they’re shown a page of glowing testimonials.

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Although the negative reviews are still available to view via that second domain, most have been moved to the back of the website, while many others, including the anonymous review quoted above, are only available to view by clicking a drop-down option below InventHelp’s own, more prominently positioned replies to the reviews.

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InventHelp and Pissed Consumer did not reply to requests for comment. However, Pissed Consumer’s page of Frequently Asked Questions states that the website will remove reviews upon receiving a U.S. court order. The website also provides a dispute resolution service.

Emboldened by Trump, Alt-Right Gloats Over Death of John McCain

— A white nationalist, a professional provocateur, a former revenge pornographer, and a big basket of deplorables

On August 14, 2017, Unite the Right rally organiser Richard Spencer held a press conference at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, where he spoke at length about the alt-right’s affinity for US president Donald Trump.

“We were connected with Trump on this kind of psychic level,” Spencer explained. “He was the first true, authentic nationalist in my lifetime…and in that sense we were connected with him in a way that the conservative movement wasn’t.”

Richard Spencer (source)

The rally in nearby Charlottesville had turned violent when two days earlier, James Alex Fields Jr., an outspoken neo-Nazi sympathiser, crashed his car into a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer.

Signalling his own affinity for the alt-right, Trump refused to denounce the marchers, who’d mobbed the city carrying tiki torches and chanting Nazi-era slogans—even arguing that there “were very fine people on both sides.”

Unite the Right marchers (source)

The president’s response contrasted sharply with statements by another prominent Republican, Senator John McCain.

“White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special,” said McCain, who died late last month after a year-long struggle with cancer.

It wasn’t the first or last time McCain publicly clashed with Trump; the two men seemed to fight each other at every turn, often over basic American principles.

Trump/McCain (source)

At the outset of Trump’s campaign, McCain denounced the unlikely candidate’s inflammatory anti-immigration rhetoric, and refused to attend an early MAGA rally in Phoenix, Arizona—McCain’s home state. When Trump subsequently took the stage to ridicule McCain before an audience of 15,000 ardent supporters, McCain accused him of having “fired up the crazies.”

The war of words escalated at an event in Iowa the following week, when Trump disparaged McCain’s service in Vietnam.

“He’s not a war hero,” said Trump, who was deferred from the draft no fewer than five times. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

Amid the glowing eulogies following news of McCain’s death, Trump did not appear to waver from that opinion, initially vetoing an official White House statement praising the late senator. The episode hinted at deep divisions within the GOP, between the so-called “principled conservatism” espoused by McCain, and a radically new brand of conservatism, unconstrained by the normal parameters of American politics and decorum.

It also demonstrated the extent to which Trump’s presidency has emboldened previously unseen elements of the far-right fringe, who appeared to be taking cues from Trump in echoing some of his most flagrantly disparaging comments about McCain.

“Is it okay to be glad when a vindictive old bastard dies?” asked Milo Yiannapolous in an article published on his website, Dangerous, where the alt-right provocateur confessed to only being “a little ashamed of the warm feeling in my stomach” upon hearing about McCain’s death.

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The vitriol continued to pile up on Gab, a social media platform associated with the alt-right, where users celebrated McCain’s death using the pro-Trump hashtags #MAGA,  #DrainTheSwamp, and #NotAWarHero.

On Twitter, Richard Spencer rehashed old conspiracy theories that McCain was responsible for starting a deadly fire aboard a naval aircraft carrier in 1967, and that in 2013 McCain met and had his photograph taken with the leader of Islamic terrorist group ISIS. Both claims were previously debunked by the fact-checking website Snopes.

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Meanwhile in McCain’s home state of Arizona, Craig Brittain, a lesser-known member of the alt-right, has been running a one-man campaign against McCain.

Brittain found infamy in 2013, when he was busted by the Federal Trade Commission for engaging in “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” via his now-defunct revenge porn website, IsAnybodyDown?

On that website, Brittain facilitated and encouraged the publication of non-consensual nude photos—along with victims’ full names, home addresses, and Facebook screenshots—then charged hundreds of dollars for removing victims’ profiles using a second business he also controlled under the alias David Blade III.

Earlier this year, Brittain ran for senate seeking to replace outgoing senator for Arizona Jeff Flake. When he failed to produce enough votes to make the ballot, Brittain filed a lawsuit against Arizona’s governor Doug Ducey and secretary of state Michelle Reagan in an attempt to force a second vote, and in a “frivolous” attempt to remove McCain from office.

“[A] reasonable person would conclude that McCain’s seat has been ‘vacant’ since his final Senate vote in December of 2017,” Brittain said in an e-mail. “This does not weigh on his qualifications but rather is a simple statement of fact. He wasn’t there; the seat was vacated, THE TRUTH IS THE TRUTH.”

Last year, an anonymous Gab account registered to Brittain’s personal phone number was used to post numerous disparaging comments about McCain’s cancer diagnosis.

“Maybe God does exist after all,” read one of the posts. “If so, good job, God. I’m rooting for the brain cancer – the best chance to replace John McCain as a US Senator.”

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When asked if he owned the account, Brittain said he’d never used Gab and suggested that the anonymous account holder was an impersonator.

Minutes later, the account was mysteriously deleted.

When asked again, Brittain suggested that “maybe the site administrator of Gab realized it was a fake account and deleted it.” He subsequently sent a lengthy, pro-Trump diatribe criticising the mainstream media, and speculating that Chelsea Clinton—who sits on the board of directors at IAC, the parent company of The Daily Beast where I recently co-bylined a few stories—was personally involved in this article.

“Soon, President Trump will restore social media access (the loss of which crippled my campaign severely and left me vulnerable to impersonators) to people of all genders, races, creeds, origins, and beliefs,” Brittain railed. “That is when the current Mainstream News Media, which is Non-Representative, will be deleted. It will fade away and be classified as obsolete.”

*   *   *

In the end, Trump capitulated to mounting criticism over the White House’s “disastrous” response to McCain’s death, issuing a statement praising the late senator, and ordering that the flag be lowered to half-staff until after McCain’s interment.

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The gesture was arguably a big move for a president known for bearing grudges, yet it did little to appease his critics, or, for that matter, his supporters on the far-right.

“I love you, Mr. President. But this was a pussy move,” said one self-described “Middle aged conservative Odinist.”

It was just the latest reminder that within the alt-right, the only consistent principle is trumping your opponent.