A members-only social media network founded in 2013 by former representative Jason Lewis, the current Republican nominee for Senate in Minnesota, hosted message boards that promoted a pro-Hitler documentary, called for migrants to be put in camps, and raised money for an ad campaign that paid Lewis and his business partners.
In 2014, Lewis sat down with Fox Business host John Stossel to promote the network, which he called Galt.io, after the hero of an Ayn Rand novel. Lewis, still a talk radio host, explained that Galt.io would be a closed community whose members could invest using a digital currency earned with their participation or bought with real money. The Galtcoins functioned like Reddit upvotes, signaling which topics people cared the most about as they invested into “causes” or “missions.”
“We’re not going to tell people what causes are going to win,” Lewis told Stossel. “That’s going to be a function of the marketplace. So once that cause is out there, what people are interested in is going to be determined on Galt.io.”
According to archives and screenshots, what people on Galt were interested in was doubting climate change, scapegoating immigrants, and promoting a pro-Hitler documentary that denied the Holocaust. Lewis stepped away from the site in 2015 and Galt.io went offline in the summer of 2020.
Lewis left his talk radio job in 2014 to devote himself to the site, which he cofounded with financial strategist Kurt Lieberman and entrepreneur Alex Huff. In the code of conduct, they compared it to “a secret society” and evoked the movie Fight Club saying, “First Rule of Galt.io: Do not talk about what goes on in Galt!”
Lewis claimed to have raised $590,000 for Galt, a number that could not be verified. Records filed with the House of Representatives in 2016 show he defaulted on a $25,000 loan to the company and transferred ownership of the site to undisclosed parties.
During his time running it, Lewis touted the site’s popularity, saying in a post on Galt.io that it received 12.8 million pageviews in 2014. That number couldn’t be independently verified, but the Facebook page for Galt.io has just over 1,000 likes and little activity. Despite the lack of clarity, a review of Galt.io’s archive and screenshots revealed deeply troubling material.
“Blaming Jason Lewis for comments made by others on a public website is akin to blaming Mark Zuckerberg for everything that’s said on Facebook, even less so when you consider Jason Lewis has had no involvement with this website for nearly six years,” Christine Snell, communications director for the Lewis campaign, told BuzzFeed News.
She added, “the Minnesota Senate race has been ranked a toss-up and Jason Lewis is statistically tied in numerous polls, so right on cue, Democrat-aligned Buzzfeed trots out a boring and pathetic hit job in an attempt to distract from Tina Smith’s full-on embrace of radical positions like her affinity for the defund the police movement.”
Lewis has a history of controversial comments and views of his own, including comparing gay people to rapists and suggesting that children could be harmed by having gay parents. But the content that his site hosted was even more extreme.
Among the causes people on Galt.io promoted was a six-hour pro-Hitler documentary, which BuzzFeed News is choosing not to name, that denies the Holocaust. BuzzFeed News could not determine when this post was made.
“To understand the dangers in the world at this time, just watch this film,” the poster said. “One can see the facts, indisputable facts, of what happened before, during, and after WWII.”
There’s no evidence that the documentary raised any money or attracted attention.
But another discussion topic certainly did. A group called De-Migrantize Zone was started in 2018 after President Donald Trump seized on news of people from South America traveling to the US border. On Galt.io, people condemned those migrants, with one person saying they should be placed in camps.
“When the DMZ base camp has been secured at location, move to mobilize and capture as many of the invaders as possible by encircling them into an internment facility for processing to their future destinations,” wrote a person with the username Scarecrow.
The anti-migrant post was made after Lewis gave up ownership of the site. But he seemed to know the person who created the post. In an earlier comment to members about a real-life meetup at a Minnesota pizza shop while he was active, Lewis thanked Scarecrow and a few other members “for doing the legwork.”
In another post, Lewis started a topic called Save Our Streets, where he criticized the anti-NRA stance of the relatives of a victim of the Isla Vista massacre, in which Elliot Rodger killed six people.
“What is the complete and accurate history of the suspect’s use of psychotropic drugs,” Lewis wrote. “Are anti-depressants doing more harm than good? I don’t profess to know, but they seem to be omnipresent in a modern era marked by these bizarre and dangerous outbursts. Should we reconsider their use?”
While on the site, Lewis used it to promote his audiobook, organize a letter-writing campaign against “mainstream media,” and raise money for ads opposing a state gas tax, which he funneled to himself and his business partners. That campaign appears to be the only one of the site’s fundraisers that successfully received money.
Lewis raised just over $6,000, promising the money would go toward an advertising campaign. Although the ads were produced, documents show Lewis moved the funds to himself and his associates to carry them out.
Galt.io had its own PAC, which purchased the ads, including two billboards, a radio ad, and a TV ad. The Galt.io PAC was created by a firm run by Dan Backer, a DC lawyer. But those donations ran through a complex structure: Rather than donors giving directly to the PAC, the money came from Loximity, a company started by Huff, one of the Galt cofounders, possibly to shield the identity of the donors.
Most of the PAC’s expenditures were tied back to entities connected to Lewis. The largest cut, $2,000, went to Lewis’s former employer, Clear Channel. A smaller portion, $1,500, went to Jon Foss Productions. Foss runs a YouTube channel that hosts promotional videos for Lewis and Galt. The Jason Lewis Show also received $500, records show. The hike did not pass.
Lewis departed the company soon after, winning a seat in the House in the 2016 election, which he lost two years later.
“For the last couple of years with you in Galt, I was amazed with the ideas, activity, and community that is developing,” Lewis wrote in a farewell note published on the site. “Although there’s no shortage of uninformed critics, we have created something amazing together, mostly under the radar. It is my sincere belief that the network will be a force for liberty going forward.”
That force stayed in motion. Since he departed, members of the site have called anti-fascist activists “rats,” railed against the “deep state,” and opposed vaccinations.
In discussions, the site’s participants mixed racism and conspiracy theories about “Nazi Pelosi,” and “delusional bitch” Hillary Clinton, with Lewis’s attempts at self-promotion. One post read “Is ISIS good for the jews.” Another warned of a “sharia invasion” and the “Muslims that our Globalist handlers are allowing into our country.”
Another post complained about the movie Black Panther, writing, “I find it interesting that this movie is gushed about as a triumph of diversity when the premise of the movie is an ethnostate that wants to protect its borders from other ‘cultures’ in order to preserve their own. Gee, that doesn’t sound diverse. In fact richard spencer talks about the same thing and yet he is called racist and supremacist, but in this movie they are lauded. Hypocrisy, thy name is liberal!”
Members also rallied around their love for golf.
“The audience for the golf tournament was probably conservative,” one member posted under the “I love golf” cause. “I doubt if there are any illegals watching and the normal lib probably can’t figure it out, with all the different numbers.”
Correction: Dan Backer was misidentified in a previous version of this post.
Trump Supporters Planned Coup On Facebook
Right-wing extremists used Facebook to make calls to overthrow the government and storm the US Capitol building in the period leading up to a violent insurrection on Jan. 6, a tech watchdog group has found, contradicting attempts by the social media company to downplay the role of its platform in the affair.
A new report from Tech Transparency Project (TTP) shared with BuzzFeed News uncovered a slew of specific threats made in pro-President Donald Trump and militant groups on Facebook both before and after President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory in November. In those groups, organizers and members alike perpetuated the lie that the election results were fraudulent and made open calls to “Occupy Congress” on Jan. 6.
“If they won’t hear us, they will fear us,” read one image shared on Dec. 31 to a 23,500 member private group called The Patriot Party, which has since been deleted. “The Great Betrayal is over.”
While Facebook said it had banned pages and groups from right-wing militants and QAnon conspiracists over the summer, TTP’s report shows that extremist groups continued to flourish on Facebook. BuzzFeed News previously found that groups for “Stop The Steal,” the go-to slogan for Trump supporters casting doubt on Biden’s victory, persisted on the social network in the days after the violence at the US Capitol.
Last week, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said that the company had acted appropriately to prevent election misinformation and the incitement of violence, and attempted to pin the blame on smaller websites and apps with less content moderation.
“I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, don’t have our standards, and don’t have our transparency,” Sandberg said in an interview with Reuters.
“I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate.”
The report from TTP, a research organization funded by the Open Societies Foundation and Craigstlist founder Craig Newmark, draws a straight line from the vitriol, election lies, and threats posted and amplified on Facebook and the events in the District of Columbia earlier this month.
“[Facebook] has spent the past year failing to remove extremist activity and election-related conspiracy theories stoked by President Trump that have radicalized a broad swath of the population and led many down a dangerous path,” the report said.
While federal investigators have said many people coordinated their Jan. 6 activities using Parler, a social network that attracted members of the far right because of its lax approach to moderation, they also noted the use of other platforms, including Facebook. Many of the charges brought against people arrested for being involved in the insurrection have been supported with evidence of people boasting about their storming of the Capitol on Instagram and parent company Facebook.
“In the lead-up to January 6th, our teams were vigilant in removing content that violated our policies against inciting violence and dangerous organizations,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois said in a statement in response to TTP’s findings. “Given the risk of further violence, we’ve taken additional emergency measures ahead of this week’s inauguration — including suspending President Trump’s accounts indefinitely.”
In August, Facebook said it had removed groups and pages “that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organizations and QAnon,” the mass delusion that believes a cabal of child-eating pedophiles is running the government, and would “restrict their ability to organize on our platform.”
But they continued to use Facebook to assemble and proselytize, largely using private groups where members must request and are vetted by administrators, the TPP found. Its report shows that extremists began promoting and coordinating militia training before election day and then increased their incendiary and threatening language after Biden was declared the winner. Some of these groups then began heavily promoting the Jan. 6 event in DC as what users felt was a last resort to prevent perceived tyranny. One described it as “Independence Day 2.0” in a 3,200 person private group, while others made references to 1776, the start date of the American revolution.
“Patriots heading to DC, raise holly hell, its the only thing that Democrats understand,” read one Jan. 5 post in a private group for “Patriots” with 9,600 members. “If you want your country back, show them!!!”
“Are [you] willing to fight or maybe even Die for YOUR COUNTRY?”
Another post, in a 8,600 member private group, actively sought to recruit “patriots, pissed off vets, and first responders” to the “Ohio Minutemen Militia,” including an image of the organization’s insignia.. One private group, which was created two weeks after election day and whose stated purpose was to “support 45,” even screened prospective members by asking if they were willing to be a martyr for the cause.
“Are [you] willing to fight or maybe even Die for YOUR COUNTRY?” administrators asked applicants.
To monitor the increase in violent rhetoric online, TTP created a Facebook profile that mimicked the online behavior of a right-wing extremist. While the account did not comment or react to posts, it did follow pages and groups that pushed election misinformation or militant rhetoric.
While Facebook occasionally took action against these pages or groups, TPP found new ones continued to pop up, including some for the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, militant movements that preach distrust of the federal government. On the morning of Jan. 6, a member of one private Facebook group associated with the Three Percenters posted a meme that read, “WE CANNOT WE WILL NOT COMPLY, Prepare to Take America Back.”
“ATTENTION PATRIOTS WE ARE TAKING BACK THE PEOPLE’S HOUSE,” one user who identified as a Three Percenter wrote on their personal page during the attack. “ALL GUARDIANS IN DC IT’S GO TIME!!! We are at the DOOR…”
Affidavits for search warrants used by the FBI to monitor extremist activity last year showed specific planning to mount political violence on Facebook dating back to the fall of 2019.
In one message sent in October of that year, for example, a Delaware man said he was “going to North Carolina on Saturday to discuss going to war against the government of North Carolina.” That man, Barry Croft, subsequently used Facebook to discuss plans to put the governor of South Carolina “in custody,” the affidavits show, and he was ultimately arrested and indicted for another plot to kidnap and potentially murder Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Although Croft’s co-conspirators in the alleged Michigan scheme also used encrypted messaging apps to communicate, they relied heavily on public and private Facebook groups to organize and recruit for their efforts up until the day of their arrest on Oct. 7.
A militant-affiliated Facebook event in Kenosha, Wisconsin following the police shooting of Black man Jacob Blake, brought outside right-wing agitators to the town in August, leading to the shooting deaths of two protestors. Facebook users reported the event page 455 times in an attempt to prevent violence according to documents seen by BuzzFeed News, but the company failed to remove it.
Ahead of Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, Facebook has said it has taken measures to prevent any unrest by removing content containing the phrase “stop the steal” and blocking the creation of new Facebook events happening in close proximity to the White House, US Capitol building, and state capitol buildings through Inauguration Day.
Following reporting from BuzzFeed News and pressure from lawmakers, the company said it would also temporarily pause advertisements for weapon accessories and body armor, though those ads persisted on the social network through Monday.
Facebook employees have also flagged suspicious pages and groups, according to posts from the company’s internal message boards seen by BuzzFeed News. Last week, one employee uncovered a page called “Storm the inauguration, they can’t intern all of us” which had created an event called “Popular Revolt.”
The event was scheduled for Jan. 20 in Washington. It is unclear who is behind the event or page, though both appear to have been taken offline.
“Share far and wide,” the event’s description read. “Storm the inauguration. They can’t shoot or arrest all of us. They don’t have enough balls or bullets.”
Ethereum (ETH) cryptocurrency nears all-time high
Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images
Ether is closing in on an all-time high. The cryptocurrency, one of many alternatives to bitcoin, rallied as much as 17% on Tuesday to an intraday high of $1,439, according to data from industry site CoinDesk.
That’s just shy of the $1,448 record ether hit in early 2018, when major cryptocurrencies led by bitcoin climbed to new heights before slumping sharply later in the year. Ether, the world’s second-biggest cryptocurrency by market value, has almost doubled year-to-date.
Bitcoin has been in the spotlight for several months now, thanks to a blistering rally that saw it notch fresh highs. The cryptocurrency shot up close to $42,000 a couple weeks ago, but has declined since and was last trading at $36,980.
It’s still up almost 30% so far this year, and has surged more than from 800% its 2020 low in March. Bitcoin bulls say its rise has been helped by increased institutional buying and the perception that it is an uncorrelated safe-haven asset akin to gold.
On the other hand, skeptics in the traditional financial world — like economist Nouriel Roubini and strategist David Rosenberg — view it as a speculative bubble.
Bitcoin was the original cryptocurrency, created in 2009 as a peer-to-peer payment system that doesn’t require a central authority to maintain. Alternative digital coins that were created after bitcoin, like ether and XRP, are known as “altcoins.”
Ethereum, the network that underpins ether, is touted by its proponents as potential infrastructure for a decentralized internet. That’s because developers can build applications on Ethereum, known as “decentralized apps.”
The Ethereum blockchain — a digital ledger of transactions in the cryptocurrency— began a major upgrade late last year called Ethereum 2.0. Ether investors say it will make the network faster and more secure.
Detractors have complained of sky-high transaction fees on Ethereum. The average transaction cost for ether skyrocketed to a record high of $16.53 on Jan. 11, according to data from BitInfoCharts, triple the peak average transaction fee in 2018.
By comparison, bitcoin transaction fees are rising but are nowhere near a late 2017 peak. They rose as high as $17.09 on Jan. 12, down 69% from an all-time high of $55.16 on Dec. 22, 2017.
ViacomCBS Paramount+ streaming service launches March 4
Bob Bakish, president and chief executive officer of ViacomCBS Inc., center left, and Shari Redstone, chair of VicaomCBS Inc., applaud during the opening bell in celebration of the company’s merger at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, U.S., on Thursday, December 5, 2019.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
ViacomCBS said Tuesday it will launch its Paramount+ streaming service on March 4.
Paramount+ will enter the streaming wars at an increasingly crowded time. It’ll join rivals such as Disney‘s Hulu and Disney+, NBCUniversal‘s Peacock, and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max as traditional media companies embrace streaming.
The company’s stock was down more than 1% in the premarket.
The company’s current streaming service, CBS All Access, costs $5.99 per month with advertisements and $9.99 per month without, though all of the live programming includes commercials. Previously, the company’s chief digital officer, Marc DeBevoise, told CNBC pricing will not change. A spokesperson said we can expect to hear more on pricing on Feb. 24.
Paramount+ will offer new content, as well as CBS All Access’ existing offering of more than 20,000 episodes and movies from MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, Paramount Pictures, CBS, original series and more.
The company said Paramount+ will debut in Latin America on March 4, the Nordics on March 25 and Australia in mid-2021. ViacomCBS is set to report fourth-quarter earnings Feb. 24, where it is expected to deliver an overview of its streaming strategy.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.
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