If you are lucky enough not to know who Charles C. Johnson, also known as Chuck Johnson is, here’s a quick primer: Johnson is a far right blogger who was permanently banned from Twitter in 2015 for a tweet that was perceived as a threat against civil rights activist DeRay McKesson. His site, GotNews, is known for stories that make wild, often provably false allegations. Johnson has claimed that both President Obama and Emmanuel Macron are gay, wrongly identified the woman he thought was “Jackie” of the UVA scandal, and has, overall, demonstrated what Forbes called a “disregard for facts.” Gawker once called him “the web’s worst journalist.” (Johnson sued Jezebel’s former parent company Gawker Media over two stories written about him; Univision deleted several posts, including one about Johnson, after it purchased Gawker Media.)
He also appears to be in a position to influence the president of the United States, in one crucial way. A piece in Politico on Monday alleges that Donald Trump’s staff routinely pass him news articles—including the occasional fake one— to promote their own agendas or gain a competitive advantage over their enemies in the administration. Among the incidents Politico describes was one in which a clip from GotNews, blaming deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh for leaking to the press, set Trump to “asking staff about Walsh,” leading to internal investigations and counter-investigations. Walsh has since left the White House.
Who in the Trump White House is reading and promoting Johnson, and why? Politico characterizes the GotNews distribution to Trump as a “mischievous” act, but Johnson’s ability to reach the Oval Office is a troubling development. Johnson has long positioned himself in a grey zone of “ironic” alt-right racism, where his penchant for deliberately provoking liberal sensitivities serves as cover for some of his more explicitly bigoted pronouncements. Lately, however, off-color jokes have given way to unambiguous, explicit white supremacy: His company, for instance, is currently hosting an online fundraiser for the Daily Stormer, an old-fashioned neo-Nazi hate site.
Johnson claims a close relationship with the White House, and he was an avid supporter of the Trump campaign. Forbes reported in January that he was working with the administration’s transition team, although the level of his involvement and influence has never been clear. Johnson has been vague on the subject, and he is, anyway, what we might call an unreliable narrator. He was, as Forbes noted, spotted standing in the VIP section at Trump’s election night party, and he has claimed on Facebook to know White House advisor Steve Bannon.
All of which makes Chuck Johnson’s ideas about race and his evident relationships with white supremacists a matter of public concern. Johnson’s language around race isn’t subtle: On GotNews, he’s referred to an alleged mob of Hispanic men protesting a Trump rally as “savages,” has repeatedly referred to Black Live Matter supporters as “thugs” and posted numerous stories alleging criminal acts by people he claims were affiliated with BLM. He’s also appeared on a podcast hosted by The Right Stuff, a proudly and profoundly anti-Semitic show hosted by white nationalist Mike Enoch.
On his personal Facebook page, Johnson recently shared a story speculating that black people have a “violence gene.”
He’s also posed with far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who was convicted of inciting racial hatred.
Johnson does not, however, consider himself a white separatist, which we know because he’s made it clear that he is married to an Asian woman. He noted that when their daughter was born, he claimed that “white nationalist” friends were excited about it.
Besides GotNews, Johnson also runs a site called WeSearchr, which allows anyone to propose a question and crowd-fund a “bounty” to get it answered. (In WeSearchr’s early days, several proposed bounties had to do with Gawker: One offered money to expose alleged “criminal acts” by former CEO Nick Denton, while others wanted to expose plagiarism at Gawker sites or bring humiliating personal information about Gawker Media employees to light. Nothing ever came of those bounties, apparently, and no stories have been published based on them.)
WeSearchr is also currently hosting three legal defense funds: one for Kyle Chapman, accused of assaulting people with a stick at a protest in Berkeley, one for John Rivello, accused of purposely giving journalist Kurt Eichenwald a seizure with a GIF on Twitter, and one for the Daily Stormer, a neo Nazi website currently being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Daily Stormer is run by Andrew Anglin, a self-described neo Nazi and internet troll from Ohio who launched a “troll storm” this winter against Tanya Gersh, a Montana real estate agent who is Jewish. Anglin claimed that Gersh was trying to make the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer sell her property in Whitefish, Montana and encouraged his followers to contact her, her husband, their young son, and a local human rights group. The lawsuit accuses Anglin of unleashing a “terror campaign” against the Gershes. From the L.A. Times:
Gersh, her husband and 12-year-old son received a barrage of more than 700 “threatening” anti-Semitic and homophobic emails, phone calls, texts, social media comments, letters, postcards and Christmas cards, the lawsuit alleges.
“I once answered the phone and all I heard were gunshots,” Gersh told reporters Tuesday in a telephone news conference.
“Thanks for demonstrating why your race needs to be collectively ovened,” one email read.
The WeSearchr legal defense fund for Anglin wasn’t launched by Johnson, but it is hosted on his site. And the Daily Stormer has linked to GotNews articles for years.
We don’t know who at the White House is promoting all this, but we do know that “news” written by a man with demonstrably racist ideas and ties to white supremacists is making its way to the president.
When contacted for comment, Johnson responded via email:
There are no reporters at Gizmodo Media Group, only serial harassers who fabricate stories for attention.
I’m currently in a lawsuit with what remains of Gawker. The case looks promising and I’m looking forward to rolling some of the funds over to finish the job.
Please direct all future correspondence to my attorneys.
We also contacted Anglin and WeSearcher CTO Pax Dickinson for comment, and will update if we hear back. If you know more about the Trump administration’s relationship to Johnson or GotNews, please get in touch.
Update, 1:15 p.m.:
WeSearchr is currently down, with Dickinson going on a lengthy tweetstorm about having resigned from the company and financial disputes with Johnson. He also claims that Johnson let the hosting plan lapse, leading to the site being down.
Johnson has commented on the situation on the Ralph Retort, another Internet troll’s blog; Dickinson accuses him of lying.