Alex Jones and his conspiracy hub, Infowars, have been all over the news recently. Tech giants such as Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Spotify, Vimeo and YouPorn have banned or restricted the circulation of Infowars’ content on their platforms due to violations of the companies’ hate speech policies. Credit: Tamir Kalifa/Austin American-Statesman via AP

In this week’s roundup: how Alex Jones’ conspiracy hub and the online message board 4chan breed white supremacists.

Andrew Anglin’s website, The Daily Stormer, is one of the most powerful forces in the online hate ecosystem. But Anglin wasn’t always a neo-Nazi. He used to be hippie vegan who would wear a hoodie with a “Fuck racism” patch on the back.

What changed?

In a 2015 interview on the white supremacist radio show “Stormfront,” Anglin laid out his own radicalization process. It all started at an unexpected gateway: Alex Jones’ conspiracy hub, Infowars.

“I grew up with a pretty serious sense of personal alienation in the modern Jewified society,” Anglin told “Stormfront” host Don Black. “I went and looked for answers of why this was happening. Nothing really felt right about the way the world worked. It was a process. The first thing I came across was Alex Jones.”

Jones and Infowars have been all over the news recently. In the last few weeks, tech giants such as Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Spotify, Vimeo and YouPorn (really) have either banned or significantly restricted the circulation of Infowars’ content on their platforms due to violations of the companies’ hate speech policies.

Anglin’s 2015 interview shows that Jones’ brand of conspiracy peddling also helps usher new recruits into the white supremacist movement. Seeing the whole world as a massive conspiracy is a foundational part of the white nationalist mindset.

“This was when I was 17 or 18,” Anglin told Black. “Back in that period … (Jones) was a lot more hardcore than he is now. He was saying some things were kind of edgy. Now he’s basically just a mainstream Republican. But at the time, that was inspirational.”

Black agreed there was significant overlap between the listeners of his own white supremacist show and the world of Infowars. He noted his show has regular callers who were formerly Jones listeners.

“In some ways, I can appreciate Alex Jones because he is an entry point for a number of our people,” Black said.

We reached out to David Neiwert, a journalist we’ve worked with before who has spent decades tracking the far-right extremist movement.

He said Anglin’s route into the conspiracy world – and out the other side into white nationalism – is one he’s seen over and over again.

“There are many different kinds of far-right extremists in America: neo-Nazis like Anglin, militiaman Patriots and Oath Keepers, white nationalists, Proud Boys, anti-Semites, misogynist ‘incels,’ ” Neiwert said. “But they all have one thing in common: They functionally live in the same alternative universe, the epistemological bubble, concocted and controlled by a mini-media industry of conspiracy theorists who make large bundles of money by conning true believers into believing them.”

“And the No. 1 purveyor in all this,” he said, “the man who took the marketing of his bubble mainstream, and in the process ruined millions of people’s lives, is Alex Jones.”

Infowars essentially functions as a gateway drug for convincing people that a shadowy cabal of elites is manipulating the world behind the scenes. It’s a narrative that requires an oppositional “other” and, often, that “other” is defined by racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. That’s a narrative Jones frequently pushes explicitly.

“There are so many people in power who happen to be Jewish when they’re less than 1 percent of the world’s population, but they’re about a third of the people in power positions around the world – whether it’s in banking, academia or revolutions,” Jones said in a recent Infowars video.

The site long has propagated false stories designed to make readers and listeners angry at minority groups. For example:

  • The Parkland, Florida, high school shooter was affiliated with the Islamic State.  
  • Three Syrian refugees raped and murdered a 5-year-old girl in Idaho.
  • Sweden banned the hanging of Christmas lights to avoid offending Muslim refugees.
  • A woman yelled, “Allahu Akbar,” as she ran down a group of people on the Las Vegas Strip.
  • Black Lives Matters supporters planned a massive looting spree following Hurricane Matthew.
  • Hate crime charges against four black people accused of attacking a white teen were quietly dropped.
  • A “black mob” beat up a white man because he had voted for President Donald Trump.
  • Immigrants living in the U.S. illegally were responsible for starting a destructive California wildfires.

In addition, as Right Wing Watch noted, Infowars has hosted friendly discussions with white nationalists such as Vincent James Foxx and Nick Fuentes.

Brad Galloway, a former white supremacist organizer who has since left the movement and now studies it from the outside, said he never much liked Infowars, even when other hate group members recommended it to him. He found it too untethered from reality for his taste.

However, as Galloway was recruiting new people for his hate group, the conspiracy-minded sentiments of Infowars were a powerful tactic. Regardless of who he was talking to, Galloway’s strategy primarily involved identifying his target’s pre-existing grievances and framing them through a lens of racist conspiracy theories.  

“I would ask the person what they were pissed off about, whether it was Islam or homosexuals or whatever, and I would connect that to conspiracy theories,” he said. “There are conspiracy theories associated with every group of people in the world. It could be as simple as GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and that’s a conspiracy theory you can talk to them about. That gets them in the door. And we went on from there.”

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What does the FBI know about 4chan? We’re suing to find out

After Anglin outgrew Infowars, the next step on his path to radicalization was the anarchic online message board 4chan.

Created in 2003 as a forum for anonymously posting about Japanese cartoons, 4chan long has been known as the internet’s playful, menacing id. 4chan is responsible for spawning indelible parts of internet culture – funny cat memes, for example. But the site gradually has evolved into a hub for the racist far right.

This toxic stew led Anglin to start seeing sinister Jewish conspiracies behind every corner and eventually fully embracing white nationalism.

“In recent years, 4chan has been getting a lot of crap … for all this Jew stuff and this racist stuff … but it was a big part of what influenced me,” Anglin told Black in that interview in 2015.

Anglin isn’t alone. Users of the long-running white supremacist site Stormfront frequently post about having been brought into the fold of white supremacy via 4chan.

4chan is clearly playing an important role in the online hate ecosystem, which is why we wanted to learn more about what the government is doing about it.

In December, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI, asking the agency to turn over all documents and records regarding investigations into extremist activity on 4chan. All we got back was 18 pages of previously released documents about a bomb threat against New York City posted to the site in 2007. There was nothing about the site’s role as a potential recruiting vehicle for violent groups or promoting extremist ideology.

We appealed. The agency’s appeals office agreed, demanding that the FBI conduct a further search. But the FBI is dragging its feet producing new documents. That’s why we’re suing.

It seems unlikely that the FBI wouldn’t have records about 4chan.

  • Last year, the agency arrested a 26-year-old white man for threatening to kill African American students at Howard University in a post on 4chan.
  • The FBI publicly stated its officials were investigating whether the man who carried out a mass shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College in 2015 had bragged about it beforehand on 4chan.
  • 4chan played a crucial role in the formation of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, which has been associated with five homicides across the country.
  • The site was used to perpetuate a hoax linking the Parkland school shooter with a neo-Nazi militia, something one would expect the FBI would at least look into long enough to produce a single email on the subject.

The FBI’s response suggests that officials have no documents related to these events. If that’s the case, it would be startling. If the FBI does have documents but it won’t release them because of pending investigations, then it has to explicitly say that, which it hasn’t yet.

As violent clashes between white nationalist groups and left-wing antiracist counterprotesters regularly erupt on America’s streets, there’s evidence that 4chan plays a significant role in the ideological and aesthetic formation of many far-right groups. The green “Kekistan” flag brandished by members of last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, for example, has its origin on 4chan.

We’ll let you know what we find out.

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Aaron Sankin is a reporter for Reveal covering online extremism, election administration and technology policy. Before joining Reveal, he was a founding editor of The Huffington Post's San Francisco vertical and a senior staff writer on The Daily Dot's politics team. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Salon, Time, The Motley Fool, Mashable, Business Insider, San Francisco magazine and The Onion. A San Francisco Bay Area native, Sankin studied history and sociology at Rice University. His work at The Daily Dot was a finalist in Digiday's 2015 publisher of the year award, and a story he wrote about a Midwestern family being terrorized by a teenage hacker was labeled by The Atlantic as an essential piece of journalism for 2015. Sankin is based in Seattle.

Will Carless was a correspondent for Reveal covering extremism. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Asia and South America. Prior to joining Reveal, he was a senior correspondent for Public Radio International’s Global Post team based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Before that, Will spent eight years at the Voice of San Diego, where he worked as an investigative reporter and head of investigations. During his tenure in San Diego, Will was awarded several prizes, including a national award from Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has been a finalist for the Livingston Awards for young journalists twice in the last five years. He surfs, spends time with his family, travels to silly places and pretends he’s writing a novel.