After becoming the first person banned for life from Twitter, Chuck Johnson has largely receded from public view. Rumors (either planted or encouraged by Johnson himself) occasionally crop up that he’s taken on the role of a shadowy string-puller connected to the Trump administration, but his only visible venture besides the infrequently updated GotNews blog is Wesearchr—a crowdfunding site for “specific information that is of journalistic value.” For those hoping to fund the doxxing of private figures, Wesearchr today became largely inaccessible after allowing its SSL certification to lapse.
The timing could not be more perfect: The site’s fastest-rising bounty is a legal defense fund for Andrew Anglin, publisher neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. More importantly, this ordeal reveals the interconnected dealings of the rogue’s gallery known as the alt-right, linking the movement’s mainstream figureheads to literal hategroups.
On April 18, the Southern Poverty Law Center brought a lawsuit against Anglin after he “orchestrated a harassment campaign that has relentlessly terrorized a Jewish woman and her family” through The Daily Stormer. The woman in question, Tanya Gersh, is a real estate agent who was attempting to help the mother of Richard Spencer—the white nationalist and creator of the term “alt-right”—to sell a mixed-used building she owns in Whitefish, Montana. The circumstances are murky, and a Medium post by someone purporting to be Sherry Spencer claims Gersh attempted to strong-arm her into selling the property—though the emails from Gersh she made public appear innocuous enough. What’s certain is that besides the hundreds of harassing messages Anglin’s readership directed towards Gersh, he also attempted to hold an armed march through her town, with the goal of having the last stop of its route be her home. Thankfully, he was denied a permit.
Following the lawsuit from SPLC, Andrew Auernheimer, the white supremacist and black hat hacker better known as Weev, started a crowdfunding campaign on Wesearchr asking for “shekels” to defend The Daily Stormer. At the time of this writing, the fund has raised over $57,000 in just four days—making it the third-highest bounty in the site’s short history. The most generous donation to Anglin is currently one made under the name of Sam Hyde, the alt-right personality most famous for having his Adult Swim show Million Dollar Extreme cancelled. The $5,000 contribution has this note appended: “starting to really think something’s up with these [J]ewish people everyone’s talking about.” (Asked for comment, Hyde sent Gizmodo a sarcastic email thanking Adult Swim creative director Mike Lazzo for “providing the funding for this project.”)
Despicable, yes, but interestingly legal defense funds also don’t fall under Wesearchr’s stated mission of whistleblowing in the slightest. And although section 230 of Communication Decency Act insulates online services from the content posted by their users, Wesearchr has leveraged its following on Gab.ai—a sort of knockoff Twitter for trolls—to direct funding towards the Stormer defense, enthusiastically announcing new milestones on the way to its $150,000 goal. Johnson launched Wesearchr after he was booted from Twitter for soliciting funds to “take out” Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, but it seems the standard doxxing bounties just don’t tug at vicious reactionaries’ sense of charity. Legal defenses for a variety of far right personalities have become the most popular “bounty” types on the service.
One of the two bounties which has raised more money than Weev’s is the legal defense fund for Kyle Chapman, also known as “based stickman.” Chapman gained his nickname when a video of him, clad in homemade riot gear and armed with a wooden stick which he subsequently shattered over the head of an AntiFa protester at a Trump march near UC Berkley, caught the attention of others in the movement. They quickly memed him into an alt-right hero. His previous convictions include second-degree robbery, grand theft, and illegal possession of a firearm, and he was arrested again this month while clashing with protesters.
An ongoing Wesearchr fund has raised over $87,000 for Chapman, with $2,500 of it allegedly coming from Mike Cernovich, an alt-right manosphere figurehead who, in a ploy for legitimacy and influence, has attempted to erase his history of ugly statements about “white genocide” and claims that “Date rape does not exist.” Recently, he was a guest on 60 Minutes, the longest-running newsmagazine on television. Only $5,000 of the fund was used to bail Chapman out for his first assault on a Berkley protester, according to The New Republic. Now free, he’s formed a “military division” of counter-protesters, under the banner of and with the full support of the “Proudboys”—a loose gang of self-described “male chauvinists.” The Proudboys is headed by Gavin McInnes, who you might remember for allegedly committing assault outside the alt-right’s “Deploraball,” and for co-founding VICE media group.
But back to Chuck: What’s the benefit to tacit support for neo-Nazis and violent militiamen? 15 percent of all donations to successful campaigns, according to Wesearchr’s fine print.
The site’s terms stipulate that of money raised for any fully funded bounty, a scant 75 percent is meted out in payment and 10 percent goes to whomever started the campaign. Wesearchr itself takes the remaining 15 percent, nearly twice what Kickstarter takes off the top. In the event that a bounty doesn’t reach full funding or if its requested “information” never surfaces, donated money continues to be held by Wesearchr and essentially becomes store credit. If funders ask for the money to be returned to their bank accounts, that process also incurs the 15 percent fee.
Whether anyone delivers on a given bounty is functionally immaterial—Johnson still makes money hand over fist. Of the six campaigns marked as “solved,” five were created by the Wesearchr staff. Solved bounties are flaired with a “see the story” badge and four link to either Johnson’s GotNews or the GotNews YouTube channel. Alex Jones’s InfoWars claims the fifth, an uneventful but distortedly-packaged video of a young Barack Obama describing race relations in Kenya. (The sixth, reported by the Daily Mail, states Wesearchr claims “partial credit” for flying the Clintons’ rape accusers to a presidential debate.)
The overlap of “things Wesearchr appears suited for” and “things Chuck Johnson would have written about anyway” has led some to believe the site exists mainly as an extension of GotNews’s donations page. Or, as Johnson confirmed to Heat Street in an article titled “Why Is Chuck Johnson’s Crowdfunding Site WeSearchr Making Payouts to Chuck Himself?”:
When we asked Johnson if he set up WeSearchr primarily to make money off information he had already had in his possession, he said “pretty much.”
Despite a handful of conspiratorial tweets—and no shortage of precedent for Johnson getting booted from online spheres—the lapse in certification appears to be nothing more than Johnson or one of his associates forgetting to renew a one-year contract with Thawte, the Cape Town-based certification service Wesearchr was covered by since April 28, 2016. According a post on Wesearchr’s Gab.ai account, they only became aware of the issue nearly a full day after anyone with a modern browser was shooed from the site by security warnings and are seeking to fix it.
In these paranoid times, it’s tempting to jump to the conclusion that Johnson, a scumbag par excellence, could have allowed the site to grind to a halt intentionally. After all, if Anglin’s defense fund doesn’t reach the proposed $150,000, Wesearchr will hold the current donations with no obligations towards the Stormer. But Weev’s bounty has 64 day left, and Johnson’s confidence game is clearly longer than that.
Over the past few months, claims have surfaced of Johnson’s involvement in the Trump administration, from an informal role on the transition team helping to pick cabinet members to supposedly leading a campaign against disloyal staffers. There’s little reason to believe Wesearchr as an entity has any direct ties to White House dealings, but its conceit makes Johnson’s alleged presence in those spheres believable. As grifts go, it’s as Trumpian as they come. Johnson enthusiastically assists the most prominent neo-Nazi website in order to secure strategic alliances and cut himself a healthy paycheck; the president played on middle America’s fear of a more diverse nation, befriending any crackpot conspiracist, flaunting the constitution’s emoluments clause and ethics norms, all while shaking down the Secret Service for some spending money. Like the frontpage of Wesearchr, Trump’s rally in Pennsylvania last week featured members of an avowed white nationalist group.
But the SSL lapse points to the most fundamental similarity between the Trump administration and its loathsome lapdog: incompetence. A website that can’t be accessed is no website at all, and a government that doesn’t understand (and refuses to learn) the basic tenants of governance is hucksterism through and through. Most people see neo-Nazis as a virulent strain of hate. Men like Johnson and Trump see them as useful idiots they can part from their money.
Both will continue to make mistakes large and small. All hucksters are eventually revealed as such, and when they are, it’s their targets who seek justice.
Update 5/1/17 6:33pm ET: Nearly two days after letting its SSL certificate lapse, Wesearchr now appears to be functioning normally. We are all the poorer for it.
Johnson, Weev, and Chapman have not responded to requests for comment. If you have information regarding Chuck Johnson’s finances, send me an email.