On Monday morning, President Donald Trump finally took the time to issue a (hollow and thoroughly unconvincing) denunciation of white supremacy in the wake of mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas over the weekend that collectively resulted in at least 31 deaths and scores of injuries—in the latter case involving a gunman whose manifesto clearly reflected Trump’s racist immigration rhetoric and reportedly targeted Hispanics.
Of course, it never takes long for him to return to his usual bullshit. So it’s the opposite of surprising that by Monday evening, Trump was posting clips from a Fox News interview with a former Google engineer who claimed the company discriminated against him for his conservative political views. In reality, said employee had reportedly urged other Googlers to contribute to a “bounty” to find an individual who punched white supremacist Richard Spencer, as well as suggested that the Golden State Skinheads (GSS) rebrand so as to provide better “branding” for the “American nationalist Right.”
In the clip from Lou Dobbs Tonight posted to the president’s feed at 9:33 p.m. ET, former Google engineer Kevin Cernekee parroted debunked claims that the company’s executives “want to use all the power and all the resources that they have to control the flow of information to the public and make sure that Trump loses in 2020.” This dovetails nicely with Trump’s grudge against Google, which along with all of the president’s other perceived political enemies, he has targeted with baseless smears and doctored videos asserting a devious conspiracy against him.
Cernekee, who has been hitting the right-wing media circuit lately as a sort of James Damore redux, has claimed that starting in 2015, political views he expressed on internal message boards raised hackles within the company. He was let go in 2018 for what the Wall Street Journal reported Google characterized as multiple violations of company policy “including improperly downloading company information and misuse of the remote-access software system,” but which Cernekee told the paper was the result of “a lot of bullying at Google” directed against conservatives.
The Journal noted that another engineer, Michael Wacker, had characterized Cernekee as “the face of the alt-right” at the company in a document circulated internally. Cernekee denied this, describing himself to the paper as a mainstream Republican and Donald Trump supporter who disagrees with white supremacist philosophy, but who was nonetheless targeted by liberal employees for retaliation. (In one example he provided to the Journal from 2017, Cernekee said that a manager had written “Can’t we just fire the poisonous assholes already?” on a public internal forum.) Yet on Monday, the right-wing Daily Caller site posted some of the stuff Cernekee had actually said in those internal Google message boards.
In January 2017, according to the Caller, Cernekee wrote on the Free Speech listserv that “[A] well known conservative activist was sucker punched on camera in DC while giving an interview.” That “conservative activist” was Spencer, who by that time was one of the country’s best-known white supremacist ringleaders. He further suggested two days later that Google employees organize a “group donation” to find the individual who punched “Dr. Spencer” at Trump’s inauguration via WeSearchr, a crowdfunding platform run by far-right agitator Chuck C. Johnson:
BTW, there is a bounty to track down Dr. Spencer’s assailant:
Should we put together a group donation in the name of “freespeech@Google”? It would be a nice gesture.
Months later, WeSearchr reportedly raised $150,000 for the legal defense of the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer, which was scrambling to raise funds to defend against a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) suit claiming it organized a troll campaign against a Jewish woman in Montana, Tanya Gersh. (The Daily Stormer recently lost that lawsuit to the tune of $14 million.) The SPLC said that year that it considered WeSearchr a hate group, but Johnson’s reputation preceded him well before January 2017.
“Dr. Spencer” is also not a doctor of anything, as he never finished his Duke University doctorate program.
More per the Daily Caller regarding that series of posts:
“I can’t believe someone is actually suggesting that we come to the aid of a prominent, vehement racist and anti-Semite. What the hell does that have to do with free speech?” one [Google staffer] wrote.
“Interesting argument, so are you saying it is OK to sucker punch somebody because you disagree with their politics?” Cernekee replied.
In other internal posts related to a brawl at a far-right rally in 2016, Cernekee offered his thoughts on two neo-Nazi groups: the Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP) and the Golden State Skinheads (GSS).
“Wait, were these actual neo-Nazis or something else?” Cernekee wrote. “From what I can tell TWP is more of a separatist organization and they openly reject racial supremacy.” (They do not.) He further argued in response to another employee that the GSS, which the Anti-Defamation League notes uses Waffen-S.S. iconography, had “stood up for free speech and free association” against anti-fascist groups. He also wrote that the word skinhead has “unfortunate baggage” and suggested the GSS rebrand as the “Helpful Neighborhood Bald Guys” or “Open Society Institute” “form alliances with other supporters of liberty and civil rights”:
Thank you, I missed that detail. Catching up on news coverage of the event, I started wondering: why is the American nationalist Right so terrible at branding?
In this situation the GSS stood up for free speech and free association. They defended a peaceful, nonhateful gathering against antifa who showed up armed with bricks, bats, and knives a clear sign of premeditated violence. The antifa group’s own posters stated that “This is not a protest. This is a shut down.” Per ABC 10 in Sacramento: upon seeing any sign of a suspected “Nazi” the antifa crowd immediately charged them and attacked.
Now I’m the farthest thing possible from a Nazi, but seeing people hunted down and assaulted just for existing makes me extremely uncomfortable, as does the racially based targeting. That’s not who we are as Americans. I have many unpopular opinions myself, and I’d hate to think that is enough to put me in physical danger someday. The right to peacefully disagree is fundamental to our way of life.
The term “skinhead” has a lot of unfortunate baggage and allows members to be painted as aggressors even in cases where the opposite is true. Why not rename themselves to something normie-compatible like “The Helpful Neighborhood Bald Guys” or “The Open Society Institute” instead of trying to change the near-universal negative perception of their old label (which is futile)? This would make it much easier to form alliances with other supporters of liberty and civil rights. The only thing I could figure is that they value having an edgy badass image over mainstream acceptance.
The Caller article was timestamped 3:02 p.m. ET, well more than six hours before the president or someone tweeting for him by proxy posted the Fox News clip featuring Cernekee front and center.
It should be noted that the Caller itself had previously ran multiple largely uncritical articles pegged to Cernekee’s claims of anti-conservative bias and the supposed threat of Google interfering with the 2020 elections. It also has a long record of what could charitably be called... reporting controversies. BuzzFeed News reporter Ryan Mac, however, tweeted that he had independently confirmed the messages were genuine.
In a statement to the Caller, Cernekee referred to the reports as “false and baseless smears from a jealous and vindictive ex-colleague” and that “I have always supported free speech and opposed white nationalism.” Instead, Cernekee characterized his posts on Spencer as arising out of an opposition to anti-fascist “mobs” and “thugs”:
To that point, I occasionally defended the free speech of extremists, and I frequently spoke out against Antifa mobs who supported shutting down political discussion through force. When the infamous white nationalist leader Richard Spencer was sucker punched in the face during an interview, several Googlers openly defended the violent act and took to internal company forums to promote the idea the “Nazis deserve to be punched.”
While I strongly disagree with Spencer’s views, I found this precedent absolutely horrifying, and I spoke out. I also spoke out against a masked gang of Antifa thugs who violently attacked a skinhead group. I would have unabashedly defended far-left activists if violent right wingers had attacked them. I have been steadfast in maintaining that the rule of law and the right to peacefully protest are cornerstones of our society.
In any case, this is the person who this administration decided needed to be heard today.