One of America’s most famous internet-grown white supremacists, Baked Alaska, has threatened to sue news outlet AJ Plus over a photo of him holding a gun. He says the image was photoshopped by the news organization. The only problem? Baked Alaska tweeted the photo less than a month ago.
Baked Alaska, whose real name is Tim Gionet, has been a key figure in organizing the new coalition of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and other white supremacists online. And he helped bring that online movement into the physical world on August 11th and 12th when he attended the infamous Charlottesville tiki torchlight rally and was scheduled to speak at the neo-Nazi rally the following day.
News outlet AJ Plus recently published a video about Gionet and his admiration for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and used an image of Gionet holding a gun. But Gionet made the startling accusation that the news outlet had fabricated the photo.
Gionet tweeted, “Wow @ajplus photoshopped a picture of me holding a gun & calls me white supremacist, putting me in danger! BIG LAWSUIT coming!”
Many of his supporters have called the image “fake news” and have sought to discredit the new organization over the photo. But the thing is, Gionet actually uploaded the photo on August 8, 2017 with the caption, “get in bitch we are saving the world.”
Presumably Gionet created the image, though he has not responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment, calling Gizmodo a “shit news outlet.” It’s unclear on what grounds Gionet would sue, but one possibility that has been raised by his supporters is “defamation.” But that would present the question of whether a photo you publish online of yourself could be considered defamatory in some bizarre way.
Others have raised the possibility that Gionet could sue for being called a white supremacist. But then we start to get into questions of who gets to define the words we commonly ascribe to ideologies of hatred and bigotry. If you surround yourself with people doing Nazi salutes and chanting “blood and soil,” a famous Nazi slogan, can you claim that you’re somehow not a neo-Nazi? Are you “alt-right” just because you say you are?
Gionet, like so many members of the so-called alt-right, doesn’t like being called a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi. This, despite the fact that he spreads the same hate-filled rhetoric as other neo-Nazis by repeating the 14 Words, saying that the Holocaust is fake news, and attending rallies where he shouts “hail victory,” the English translation of “sieg heil.”
So again, it’s unclear what Gionet would be able to sue AJ Plus over.
There was a remarkable shift in the white supremacist community during the few days immediately following Heather Heyer’s death in Charlottesville. Many of those radicalized online were suddenly calling for non-violence, even though they had previously said “Hitler did nothing wrong.” When Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Charlottesville rally, tweeted that Heyer’s death was “payback time” during a night of mixing alcohol with prescription drugs, other hardcore neo-Nazis disavowed him. And Christopher Cantwell, now known as the “crying Nazi” even made a video about how he was afraid for his life. The macho white supremacist image faded quickly.
But then President Trump’s equivocating came into play the following Tuesday and the white supremacists were once again emboldened. Trump held an infamously combative press conference where he said that there were “very fine people” on both sides. And his Phoenix rally the following week was like a big green light for those who espouse hatred and bigotry throughout the country.
“They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history,” Trump said at his rally in Phoenix on August 22nd. “And our weak leaders, they do it overnight. These things have been there for 150 years, for a hundred years. You go back to a university and it’s gone. Weak, weak people.”
White supremacists on Twitter were particularly energized when Trump said the word “Antifa,” when describing the “thugs” who opposed him. Neo-Nazis on Twitter have devoted an enormous amount of time and effort since Charlottesville to get those on the left to denounce the leaderless Antifa movement. And some of it has worked just as cynically as they had hoped, with spineless Democrats like Nancy Pelosi denouncing the anti-fascists.
White supremacists know they have an ally in the White House and now it’s an ally who pardons racist sheriffs like Joe Arpaio. Those who were ready to turn tail, previously deleting their social media accounts and softening their tone, found a second wind and a safe space in Donald Trump’s words.
It’s unclear why Gionet would continue to claim that AJ Plus photoshopped that image of him when he tweeted it himself. But it seems unlikely that he would’ve been so emboldened without Donald Trump in the White House. Society will always have sad white men who blame racial minorities or women or Jews for their own frustrations in life. But it’s a terrifying change to see that represented so forcefully in the White House.
Update 10:30 am: The story has been updated to clarify that Gionet tweeted the image.