We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned
ed note–Many, many moons ago, over 20 years I’d say, when I first started running with this gang calling itself the ‘Truth movement’ (back then, it was called the ‘Patriot movement’) various friends/associates from around the country were simultaneously getting calls from the media–both local and national–wanting to do news stores on their involvement in ‘the Militia’ and the ‘take America back’ movement that was reaching a fevered pitch after the election of Bill Clinton. From the reports I was getting from various members of ‘the gang’, the media people contacting them were ‘very friendly’ and ‘open minded’ to what they were doing. In some cases, these media people, in trying to get the interview expressed admiration and support for what they were doing, going so far as to say ‘I and a lot of my friends in the media are fighting our own war to save America and we’ll make sure to give you the kind of fair coverage you deserve…’
Almost to a man, everyone across the country was excited with this latest development, except for, guess who–yours truly. I told everyone that it was a set-up, that something big was planned and that the only reason they wanted to get us all on tape was to prepare the public mind for something that was about to go BOOM that we would all be blamed for. I counseled anyone and everyone who would listen not to grant any interviews, and for God’s sake, DON’T let them video tape you in your camos running through the woods with guns.
And, predictably, to a man, they all ignored the counsel and were strutting around like peacocks after the interviews aired and nothing bad happened.
A few months later, a truck bomb went off in Oklahoma City and the guy who got the blame for it was a ‘militia/Patriot movement’ type named Timothy McVeigh. Immediately afterwards, the ‘militia movement’ fell apart as the perception around the country was that they were domestic terrorists and a danger to the safety of America.
We can see a similar phenomenon building now with all the sudden interest by the JMSM in this business of ‘fake news’. The seeds for this were planted exactly 4 years ago this month after the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary when a slew of people within the ‘truth movement’ came out with some of the most off-the-wall assertions imaginable. Gordon Duff, Jim Fetzer and others immediately alleged that the killings had been done by a ‘Mossad death squad’ despite there being not a shred of even circumstantial evidence that this was the case. Shortly thereafter, they changed their tune radically to say that indeed, no ‘Mossad death squad’ had carried out the massacre and in fact, that ‘no one died’ at Sandy Hook, that it was all a ‘hoax’, that ‘crisis actors’ had been hired to play parts and make it all look real, as if the various entities responsible for conjuring all of this up had suddenly experienced some ‘coming to Jesus’ moment and had decided that they weren’t going to kill innocent people anymore in achieving their geo-political goals after having done enough killing in the Middle East and throughout the world. Other notable ‘alternative media’ people, including Alex Jones, ran with this as well, despite the warnings of a few within ‘the movement’ that this was a ticking time bomb designed to destroy our credibility with other issues such as 9/11 and the Israeil-engineered ‘war on terror’.
Now, a ‘list’ of ‘fake news’ sites has been published and is getting worldwide attention, and especially after one mentally unstable individual, Edgar M. Welch, entered the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington DC armed with an AR15 rifle and started shooting up the place after learning from various ‘experts’ in the ‘truth movement’ that it was being used to run a child sex slave ring tied to Hillary Clinton. This event has already been linked to Trump via the son of Gen. Michael Flynn who is himself being considered for a cabinet position and whose son passed along the news of this child sex ring tied to Clinton via his Twitter feed.
With the publishing of this ‘list’, various individuals within the movement are crowing in celebratory fashion that their website ‘made it’ in much the same way that the ‘militia/patriot’ people from years ago were enjoying their 15 minutes of fame after their interviews were aired showing them running through the woods with their camos and their Chinese-made SKS rifles, drilling and preparing for how they were going to ‘save America’.
They–these people crowing about being on ‘the list’–are not ‘getting it’. They think this is a badge of honor without realizing that whatever it is that they do on their websites, the same Zionist conspiracy which they claim to be fighting sees them and what they do as beneficial to their own interests, otherwise they would not be giving them the airplay that they are right now.
And for perfectly understandable reasons is the JMSM bringing these people and their websites to light. You have the rancid, over the top antics of individuals such as Anglin and his ‘Daily Stormer’ which–in addition to solidifying the narrative with which organized Jewish interests have spent the last 50+ years toxifying the American mind vis a vis Naziism, Hitler, etc being peopled with ugly, racist individuals, he also propagates the most important poison that these same organized Jewish interests need in order to keep their ‘clash of civilizations’ going, which is hatred of Muslims and the characterization of Islam as a ‘violent’ religion. In this regard, he and the other ‘white nationalist’ groups and individuals who carry the water for Israel by propagating the hatred of Muslims differ from Israeli assets such as Geert Wilders, Pamela Geller, Daniel Pipes, etc, only in the sense that they hate Jews with equal measure that they hate ‘muzzies’ as they disparagingly refer to Muslims on their websites.
And it is not just limited to Anglin, Veteran News, etc. Some of those sites that make the appearances of striking some kind of ‘balance’ nevertheless willingly and wittingly act as platforms for dispensing that same Judaic poison on a daily basis as well. One site, which claims to be ‘Jew wise’ recently ran a piece featuring in celebratory fashion how they had made ‘the list’ and the image used in discussing the piece was an angry Muslim holding a blood-drenched scimitar threatening to cut the head off of the reader for daring to engage in free speech, pictured below–
Obviously, there is something really, really wrong with a ‘truth’ website claiming to be devoted to deconstructing the Zionist lies destroying our world running an image such as this, when anyone with 3 functioning brain cells knows it ain’t DEM MOOZLUMS running the censorship racket in America and throughout the West, but rather the Jews.
Thankfully, this website, The Ugly Truth, along with a handful of others–did not make ‘the list’, despite the traffic that we get on an international basis. Obviously, the JPTB do not want to draw attention to the types of discussion(s) taking place here on a daily basis as opposed to other unhinged websites that indeed made ‘the list’ for the kind of BS that they regularly peddle. Those making the list, with their racist and oftentimes completely incoherent and irrational narratives, including those making the ridiculous assertion that ‘Islamic censorship’ is running the show in the West, are EXACTLY the kinds of sites that organized Jewish interests want showcased in ruining the credibility of the ‘truth movement’.
Now, where is all of this going?
Very simple–a 5 word answer–
President-elect Donald J. Trump
All should prepare themselves for all kinds of nasty business that is about to take place where members of the ‘alt right’ and ‘truther’ websites are linked to something really nasty taking place that is then going to be dropped right smack-dab down in the lap of President-elect Donald J. Trump. He will be blamed for his association with these types, for having encouraged them during the campaign and for having opened the ‘floodgates of hate’–look for those very words to be used–that is threatening America. As president, whatever plans he may have had with reigning in overt Israeli influence vis a vis dragging America into further wars for the benefit of the Jewish state will now have to contend with a barrage of JMSM barking that he is ‘being influenced’ by ‘conspiracy theories’ that originated with the ‘alt-right’ and with ‘fake news’ sites such as the aforementioned.
And in this manner, President Donald J. Trump will be brought into line and made to heel with the various pressures that result from the showcasing of these various ‘truther’ websites in the same way that Bill Clinton was brought into line and made to heel with the explosion of news coverage featuring him and a young Jewess named Monica Lewinsky having ‘carried on’ in the White House.
And like the ‘militia movement’ of decades ago that really was no more dangerous than a bunch of middle aged, overweight men running through the woods of wherever with their rifles, imagining themselves the modern day reincarnation of the Minutemen of 1775, the ‘truth movement’ will be seen as enemy numero uno, and what little credibility we may have accrued following 9/11 will evaporate into thin air in the same way that Islam was immediately assumed to be violent the moment that the Twin Towers came down in September of 2001.
And when it happens, remember, you heard it here first.
A lot of fake and misleading news stories were shared across social media during the election. One that got a lot of traffic had this headline: “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide.” The story is completely false, but it was shared on Facebook over half a million times.
We wondered who was behind that story and why it was written. It appeared on a site that had the look and feel of a local newspaper. Denverguardian.com even had the local weather. But it had only one news story — the fake one.
We tried to look up who owned it and hit a wall. The site was registered anonymously. So we brought in some professional help.
By day, John Jansen is head of engineering at Master-McNeil Inc., a tech company in Berkeley, Calif. In the interest of real news he helped us track down the owner of Denverguardian.com.
Jansen started by looking at the site’s history. “Commonly that’s called scraping or crawling websites,” he says.
Jansen is kind of like an archaeologist. He says that nothing you do on the Web disappears — it just gets buried — like a fossil. But if you do some digging you’ll find those fossils and learn a lot of history.
The “Denver Guardian” was built and designed using a pretty common platform — WordPress. It’s used by bloggers and people who want to create their own websites. Jansen found that the first entry ever for the site was done by someone with the handle LetTexasSecede.
The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction.
“That was sort of the thread that started to unravel everything,” Jansen says. “I was able to track that through to a bunch of other sites which are where that handle is also present.”
The sites include NationalReport.net, USAToday.com.co, WashingtonPost.com.co. All the addresses linked to a single rented server inside Amazon Web Services. That meant they were all very likely owned by the same company. Jansen found an email address on one of those sites and was able to link that address to a name: Jestin Coler.
Online, Coler was listed as the founder and CEO of a company called Disinfomedia. Coler’s LinkedIn profile said he once sold magazine subscriptions, worked as a database administrator and as a freelance writer for among others, International Yachtsman magazine. And, using his name, we found a home address.
On a warm, sunny afternoon I set out with a producer for a suburb of Los Angeles. Coler lived in a middle-class neighborhood of pastel-colored one-story beach bungalows. His home had an unwatered lawn — probably the result of California’s ongoing drought. There was a black minivan in the driveway and a large prominent American flag.
We rang the front doorbell and a man answered, his face obscured by a heavy mesh steel screen. I asked for Jestin Coler. The man indicated that’s who he was. But when I asked about Disinfomedia, he said, “I don’t know what to tell you guys. Have a good day.”
We left Coler our contact information thinking he wasn’t likely to talk. But a couple of hours later he had a change of heart. He sent us an email and we set up an interview.
Coler is a soft-spoken 40-year-old with a wife and two kids. He says he got into fake news around 2013 to highlight the extremism of the white nationalist alt-right.
“The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction,” Coler says.
He was amazed at how quickly fake news could spread and how easily people believe it. He wrote one fake story for NationalReport.net about how customers in Colorado marijuana shops were using food stamps to buy pot.
“What that turned into was a state representative in the House in Colorado proposing actual legislation to prevent people from using their food stamps to buy marijuana based on something that had just never happened,” Coler says.
During the run-up to the presidential election, fake news really took off. “It was just anybody with a blog can get on there and find a big, huge Facebook group of kind of rabid Trump supporters just waiting to eat up this red meat that they’re about to get served,” Coler says. “It caused an explosion in the number of sites. I mean, my gosh, the number of just fake accounts on Facebook exploded during the Trump election.”
Coler says his writers have tried to write fake news for liberals — but they just never take the bait.
Coler’s company, Disinfomedia, owns many faux news sites — he won’t say how many. But he says his is one of the biggest fake-news businesses out there, which makes him a sort of godfather of the industry.
At any given time, Coler says, he has between 20 and 25 writers. And it was one of them who wrote the story in the “Denver Guardian” that an FBI agent who leaked Clinton emails was killed. Coler says that over 10 days the site got 1.6 million views. He says stories like this work because they fit into existing right-wing conspiracy theories.
“The people wanted to hear this,” he says. “So all it took was to write that story. Everything about it was fictional: the town, the people, the sheriff, the FBI guy. And then … our social media guys kind of go out and do a little dropping it throughout Trump groups and Trump forums and boy it spread like wildfire.”
And as the stories spread, Coler makes money from the ads on his websites. He wouldn’t give exact figures, but he says stories about other fake-news proprietors making between $10,000 and $30,000 a month apply to him. Coler fits into a pattern of other faux news sites that make good money, especially by targeting Trump supporters.
However, Coler insists this is not about money. It’s about showing how easily fake news spreads. And fake news spread wide and far before the election. When I pointed out to Coler that the money gave him a lot of incentive to keep doing it regardless of the impact, he admitted that was “correct.”
Coler says he has tried to shine a light on the problem of fake news. He has spoken to the media about it. But those organizations didn’t know who he actually was. He gave them a fake name: Allen Montgomery.
Coler, a registered Democrat, says he has no regrets about his fake news empire. He doesn’t think fake news swayed the election.
“There are many factors as to why Trump won that don’t involve fake news,” he says. “As much as I like Hillary, she was a poor candidate. She brought in a lot of baggage.”
Coler doesn’t think fake news is going away. One of his sites — NationalReport.net — was flagged as fake news under a new Google policy, and Google stopped running ads on it. But Coler had other options.
“There are literally hundreds of ad networks,” he says. “Early last week, my inbox was just filled every day with people because they knew that Google was cracking down — hundreds of people wanting to work with my sites.”
Coler says he has been talking it over with his wife and may be getting out of the fake-news racket. But, he says, dozens, maybe hundreds of entrepreneurs will be ready to take his place. And he thinks it will only get harder to tell their websites from real news sites. They know now that fake news sells and they will only be in it for the money.
Below are highlights of NPR’s interview with Coler.
Tell me a little about why you started Disinfomedia?
Late 2012, early 2013 I was spending a lot of time researching what is now being referred to as the alt-right. I identified a problem with the news that they were spreading and created Disinfomedia as a response to that. The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly false or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction.
What got you engaged in this?
My educational background is in political science. I’ve always enjoyed the ideas of propaganda and misinformation. Then I coupled that with an interest in what makes things go viral. So that led me to finding those groups and ultimately to finding contributors. But it was just something I had an interest in that I wanted to pursue.
When did you notice that fake news does best with Trump supporters?
Well, this isn’t just a Trump-supporter problem. This is a right-wing issue. Sarah Palin’s famous blasting of the lamestream media is kind of record and testament to the rise of these kinds of people. The post-fact era is what I would refer to it as. This isn’t something that started with Trump. This is something that’s been in the works for a while. His whole campaign was this thing of discrediting mainstream media sources, which is one of those dog whistles to his supporters. When we were coming up with headlines it’s always kind of about the red meat. Trump really got into the red meat. He knew who his base was. He knew how to feed them a constant diet of this red meat.
We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.
How many domains do you own and run?
Well, I would say there’s somewhere around 25 domains that I am currently managing. National Report has been my bread and butter, where I’ve spent most of my time. I have people who work with me and for me in developing and maintaining the other sites and social media kind of stuff. [Coler later said not all his sites are fake news.] So I, for the most part, focus on National Report, and a lot of the other stuff is run by other folks on the team.
So, you’re the publisher of an empire.
Well I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an empire but, yes, it’s several sites [chuckle].
How many people do you have writing for you?
It comes and goes, and as for actual employed writers, again these guys sort of make their own money through ad code. So I don’t say, ‘Hey, you have to write 10 stories this week’ and this and that. Really, we have a more free-form idea where people, when their creativity strikes them then they can write something. And if they’re in a slump then they just go dormant for a while. With that said, at any given time there’s probably 20, 25 contributors all over the country. …
Talk about the “Denver Guardian.”
Well, it’s kind of a side project. We have some people working on next steps in the fake-news industry, and that came from that whole discussion. We had purchased several domain names that sounded legitimate. … More local news sort of stories. The idea was to make the sites look as legit as possible so the home page is going to be local news and local forecast, local sports, some obituaries and things of that nature, and then the actual fake news stories were going to be buried off the home page.
We’ve tried lots of things in the past. The dot-com-dot-co domains were something I toyed in for a while. Those I quickly got away from because you don’t get away long with borrowing someone’s copyright or trademark. That was something that worked very well from a fake-news perspective. People were fooled into the domain name, but that wasn’t so much what we were after. So again, the next step was to go after more city-type sites. And the “Denver Guardian” was one of those sites.
You’re talking about the future of this (fake-news business) which looks more insidious because it’s more real?
That’s the way that it’s going to be. Not just from where I am. I mean, this is probably going to be my last run in the fake-news biz, but I can promise you that it’s not going to go away. It’s even going to grow bigger and it’s going to be harder to identify as it kind of evolves through these steps. …
Do you know who wrote the actual FBI Clinton story?
I do know who wrote the story, but only through an anonymous pen name. Privacy is something that we take very seriously in our writers group. The actual reasonings behind that story … it’s one of hundreds that have been written about mysterious deaths of Clinton associates or political foes. This one kind of took off more than others, I believe, just because of the nature of the story. The people wanted to hear this. So all it took was to write that story. Everything about it was fictional. The town, the people, the sheriff, the FBI guy. Then, we had our social media guys kind of go out and do a little dropping it throughout Trump groups and Trump forums and boy it spread like wildfire.
Why hide your identity?
This isn’t the safest business to be in, to be honest. Just the number of death threats I’ve received. I have a beautiful family, a beautiful life.
Some of these people that we … bait is probably the right word — are often — let’s call them the deplorables, right? They’re not the safest crowd. Some of them I would consider domestic terrorists. So they’re just not people that I want to be knocking on my door.
It seems like National Report is getting spoofier.
If you went to National Report today, it’s specifically satire. “Chris Christie nominated to Supreme Food Court.” “Sarah Palin Banning Muslims from Entering Bristol Palin.” They’re a little bit more offensive than some people care for their satire. I mean fat-shaming and slut-shaming isn’t something that is normally met with applause. But again, it’s a lot more fun in nature.
Do you make serious money?
It depends on what you would call serious money. I think I do pretty well.
Can you say how well?
I would rather not. There have been some people who have been reported on recently. The folks in Long Beach that were doing just all right stuff. They were reporting $10,000 to $30,000 a month; I think that’s probably a relative ballpark.
So you’re doing as well as those?
You’re making money through the ads?
Who do you work with?
We have several advertisers. Google was one, although they shut down my account last week. We’ve replaced them with other advertisers.
Can I ask who?
There are literally hundreds of ad networks. Literally hundreds. Last week my inbox was just filled everyday with people, because they knew that Google was cracking down — hundreds of people wanting to work with my sites. I kind of applaud Google for their steps, although I think what they’re doing is kind of random. They don’t really have a process in place for identifying these things. I happen to know a very successful site that, as of today, of this morning is still serving Google ads. So it seems to be a kind of arbitrary step that they’re taking either based on, I don’t know if it was my reputation within the industry or specifically the “Denver Guardian” site that angered them, or I don’t know what it is, but back to your question, there’s hundreds of people that will work with me.
What can be done about fake news?
Some of this has to fall on the readers themselves. The consumers of content have to be better at identifying this stuff. We have a whole nation of media-illiterate people. Really, there needs to be something done.
Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
Are you one of the biggest in the fake-news biz?
If you look at someone who has specifically sometimes peddled in fictional news then I think that I would probably be considered one of the larger sites.
As a liberal, do you have any regrets?
I don’t. Again, this is something that I’ve been crying about for a while. But outside of that, there are many factors as to why Trump won that don’t involve fake news, right? As much as I like Hillary, she was a poor candidate. She brought in a lot of baggage.
You don’t feel responsible.
I do not.
Do you think you would have kept doing it if it wasn’t so lucrative?
Really, the financial part of it isn’t the only motivator for me. I do enjoy making a mess of the people that share the content that comes out of our site. It’s not just the financial incentive for me. I still enjoy the game I guess.
Would you do this all over again?
Well, I guess it came to a head here and we’re talking about it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens moving forward. If I had to, if I knew specifically the “Denver Guardian” situation, that would have been handled differently. But everything else, as far as the work I’ve done with National Report, I’m very proud of, and I’m going to continue doing it.
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