Over the weekend, a man calling himself “TheBigKK” muscled his way onto Shia LaBeouf’s #HeWillNotDivideUs livestream, his face obscured by a red scarf. He was also on his phone sending messages to a 4,000-person chatroom called “/pol/nation” on a platform called Discord — think Slack for gamers but with audio — where he had been an admin. Unlike LaBeouf’s earnest, always-on protesters TheBigKK was clearly there to troll. At one point he posed with a noose, and at another attempted to trick a protester who had previously been targeted by trolls into saying the “14 words” (a creed often recited by neo-Nazis).
But things didn’t go as he had apparently planned. In the chatroom he once moderated and where he was taking questions, instead of support, TheBigKK found himself being called a “cuck” and an “autistic furry” for failing so awkwardly to bait protesters. From there, things just got messy. Moderators were kicked out. Users were banned en masse. Accusations that some users were secret anti-fascist trolls were thrown about. Throughout the entire incident, there was chatter on 4chan and 8chan about how /pol/nation had become too large — some even labeled it “compromised” because of the possibility of journalists and anti-fascists lurking within it.
What happened in /pol/nation reflects what’s going on across Discord and, to some extent, across the wider internet, where people have taken to fighting trolls by, well, trolling them.
Discord is a voice-and-text chat app that allows users to speak to one another over audio channels. Users are also able to share links to different servers, allowing like-minded communities to interact and organize at lightning speed. It’s quickly become a popular Skype alternative for gamers and anime fans. It has, in the last year, ballooned from 3 million to 25 million users.
Over the past several weeks, Discord has also become a surprisingly effective hub for Trump supporters, members of the alt-right, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis to congregate, metastasize their political ideology, share memes, and plan out campaigns of organized harassment — largely due to the veil of real-time anonymity it offers users.
But anonymity is a double-edged sword. The same secrecy that masks fascists and extremists provides cover for “good trolls" to lurk among them, spying on their actions and organizing, also at lighting speed, to counter them.
Last week, BuzzFeed News was tipped off to the existence of a Discord group that is attempting to infiltrate French social media platforms in an effort to promote France’s far-right party the National Front, as well as a second group that helped organize a harassment campaign against Shia LaBeouf and the anti-Trump protesters who joined his #HeWillNotDivideUs livestream project. (That’s also how BuzzFeed News initially met and interviewed “TheBigKK.”)
“It’s inevitable that there will be actors using the product for things that are not completely wholesome,” Discord CEO Jason Citron told BuzzFeed News last week. “Because we have such a large product, I think it’s inevitable that you have people who are misbehaving.”
There are users who believe this kind of behavior is beyond “misbehaving,” however. After BuzzFeed News started writing about the platform, we were invited into a private Discord room full of anti-Trump trolls and greeted with a message reading “viva la resistance.” And another user, via Twitter DMs, tipped BuzzFeed News off to an extremist chatroom and signed their message, “Please take care, and keep fighting the good fight — a Good Troll.”
Three “good trolls" operating an anti-Trump Discord server agreed to speak to BuzzFeed News and explain how and why they’re hiding in some of the most vile chatrooms on the internet. All asked to remain anonymous to protect themselves from possible retaliatory harassment.
A user who asked to be referred to as Becky invited us into a number of chatrooms populated by neo-Nazis. The 23-year-old from Australia said she hides out in some of these rooms partly because of her personal history. “My grandmother was a niece of Polish Jews,” Becky said. “So, I have no time for Nazis really.”
The anti-fascist Discord trolls appear to have a couple of main tactics. Most often, it’s as simple as seeing an invite go out on a Reddit or 4chan thread, jumping into an extremist chatroom, and filling it with anti-fascist memes. It’s basically the same tactic trolls have long used to disrupt message boards all across the internet.
Their favorite games are to try to trip up neo-Nazis in their own rooms. Sneak in as a supporter with a new username, get everyone talking, and then get the neo-Nazis to embarrass themselves and, of course, screenshot the whole thing. "Gaslight them, use the same tactics they use for us," Becky said.
She likes to go a step further. “I also report it to the Southern Poverty Law Center,” she said.
Becky said that in her journeys through neo-Nazi Discord, she’s seen an indoctrination process. “I would say using things like Discord can help [fascism] spread easier,” she said.
The two biggest public Discord servers for political discussion right now are “Uncensored Politics” and “Centipede Central.” (For the uninitiated, Trump supporters refer to themselves as centipedes, which is a reference to a YouTube series called “Can’t Stump The Trump" that mashed up footage of President Trump in a Republican debate with audio from a nature documentary about a centipede killing a tarantula.)
Discord’s invitation system allows rooms to connect and cross-pollinate. Becky said that alt-right–identifying servers are hard to find, but people are sharing invites frequently from those main rooms. For example, BuzzFeed News joined “Uncensored Politics," which was on a list of recommended public servers, and from there followed another invite code to one of Discord’s most infamous neo-Nazi servers, “Blood And Soil.”
But those same trails that make it easy for neo-Nazis to find fellow travelers also make it easy for the “good trolls” to hunt them — which they say pours water on the idea that Discord can’t police itself. “The owner of Discord should be very disappointed in himself, honestly,” Becky said.
“I don't know if I'm a modern-day Nazi hunter, but I do lurk in weird places and have some experience with internet Nazis on here,” a second user, going by Little Timmy, said.
In addition to disrupting fascist chatrooms with memes, a lot of anti-fascists are silently lurking and documenting extremist activity. Little Timmy gave BuzzFeed News screenshots of a recent conversation they were documenting inside of “Blood And Soil.”
“I chatted with some of them and found their worldview interesting, though strange and misguided,” he said. “I started joining alt-right/neo-Nazi Discords to see what these guys are up to.”
In the screenshots, a moderator was asking members to create fake email addresses and then sign up for Mega accounts. “That’s where we will keep this division’s work,” a moderator announced to the room. Another moderator in the same screenshot was putting out a call for any black-hat hackers who wanted to help the group with an unspecified project.
As the type of paranoia that divided /pol/nation spreads across Discord, more and more extreme communities are trying to find ways of organizing somewhere more private. Which makes documenting these communities before they can slip away all the more valuable.
“I can't tell if it's just for memes and Nazi art or other stuff, but whatever it is they want to share it off Discord,” Little Timmy said.
There are signs that the havoc and documentation is effectively breaking up these communities. Another large room, La Taverne des Patriotes, one of the rooms currently coordinating harassment campaigns in support of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, has also locked itself down.
On three separate occasions, BuzzFeed News was invited into the room, only to be kicked out for not being a “patriot” and put in an unusable chatroom called the “bagne de cayenne" or “Prison of Cayenne." Think of it like a digital holding pen. It’s named for an infamous French penal colony and labor camp that operated during the 19th and 20th centuries.
A third user, who went by the name Kindler, told BuzzFeed News that the dangerous link between the larger mainstream rooms and the more extreme smaller ones is important.
“There is a direct correlation to political channels and many memetic ones,” they said. Kindler identified themselves as a 19-year-old from California who once considered themselves part of the alt-right.
“When I was younger, I felt kind of abandoned by society as a whole. I channeled my rage against this into sexism and racism, and I got involved in ‘anti-SJW’ [Social Justice Warrior], far-right nationalist, and ultra-sexist MRA [Men’s Rights Activist] groups,” they said.
Kindler said that they now realize that a lot of what the alt-right stands for isn’t in line with reality. “Only someone who felt hated by society, a psychopath/sociopath, or someone raised in a belief like this could be alt-right,” they said.
Kindler has decided to take their anti-fascist activism offline, as well. “In regards to Nazi hunting, did you know I'm my town's only Antifa member?” They declined to say what town they were in for fear of harassment.
They said, however, that they’ve definitely seen more and more young people on Discord get radicalized through memes.
“Stuff like this is something that hooks in many people who are looking for somewhere to belong. They start with nonpolitical channels who tinge their content with political stuff, and then move on to things like [alt-right YouTubers] Sargon Of Akkad, Thunderf00t, and Blaire White. Then, they get into the hardcore Nazi stuff.”
Ryan Broderick is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Ryan Broderick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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