“Trolling is the Boston Tea Party of our time.”
Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer is truly one-of-a-kind. He is an Internet troll, white nationalist, hacker, and a refugee from what he calls “American tyranny” after he was falsely imprisoned for 11 months. In an Esquire column he was called a “paranoid, anti-Semitic, pro-genocide misanthrope”; Assistant United States Attorney Zach Intrater called him “A menace on the Internet”; Gabriella Coleman, professor of Scientific & Technological Literacy at McGill University, wrote that “his knowledge of the strange, fantastical, and shocking is encyclopedic—he is a natural ethnographer of the most extreme and vile forms of human esoterica.” He describes his own life as “a comedy show that is run on a scale that hasn’t been fathomed since Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’.” As he says himself he has been “a millionaire, then a prisoner, and then a destitute, wandering refugee.”
Weev says his “journey started” in 2001, at the age of 15, when he joined the Christian Identity movement, a religious sect subscribing to a white supremacist interpretation of Christianity, in which white Europeans are the true descendants of the ancient Israelites. Weev says within the movement he “taught people about encryption technologies, and distributed our propaganda on the Internet”, soon leading to him being federally catalogued. What exactly he did in the years following is not clear. He was an active Internet troll notorious in certain circles, and a “Full Disclosure” posted on a forum (an “effort by community citizens to expose” notorious trolls) lists some of his “victims” (“a list too long for even his associates to remember in entirety [sic]”), but they have all been long forgotten. All that survives of those days are a few chatlogs, such as the following in which someone asks Weev to remove an Encyclopedia Dramatica article, a site of which he was then an admin:
< weev> i’m an encyclopedia dramatica administrator
< weev> i could delete your article right now
< weev> the thing is
< weev> what do you have to offer the lulz
<@dys> to be honest
<@dys> that page is pretty bad
< weev> littelmensch: would you willing to draw the ae logo on your chest
< weev> and jerk off
< weev> on videocamera
< weev> singing the national anthem
<~fapman> it’s got some pretty unflattering material on there
< weev> you dont have to show your face
<@dys> he is german
<@dys> so the german anthem then
< weev> oh wait
< weev> a nazi anthem then
< littelmensch> I’ll buy a ae t-shirt or something. Please, just delet it..
< weev> i dont know dude
< weev> i think i gave you a pretty fair offer.
He first shows up in the press in the late 2000s, such as when an article in the Jewish Review reported him being “detained and questioned by members of the FBI and the Portland Police Bureau” about “threats on the Jewish community”, although he was not found to be involved. That the article neglects to mention his innocence upset Weev somewhat. In a forum post he told people to “look at these fucking kikes” who made it look as if he was “responsible for it unless you read the article real hard.” He also gained some notoriety from being the president of “The Gay Nigger Association of America”, a far-right trolling organization now listed as a cyberterrorist group. Its members derived great humor from mainstream media platforms having to spell out the organizations name in full.
Weev has reported many of his successful “trolls” from those days himself. One of the most infamous involved Amazon’s book reputation system, which was based on user input. Weev says he despised user input systems ever since he “was trying to score chicks to do heroin with”. Apparently “listings like ‘looking to get tarred and pleasured’ and ‘Searching for a heroine to do the paronym of this sentence’s lexical subject’ kept getting flagged” over at Craigslist. Seeking a chance, Weev took advantage of fatal flaws in Amazon’s system. At the time Amazon had a “report as inappropriate” option. Weev noted that when he used this feature, he could get books removed from Amazon’s search rankings with “an insignificant number of votes.” The system was also vulnerable to “Cross-site request forgery”, which means if he “referred someone to the URL of the successful complaint, it would register as a complaint if they were logged in.” When bored, he quickly devised some elementary code which could grab all the gay and lesbian metadata-tagged books listed on Amazon, so that he had an overview of all of them. Through some website featuring contacts and ads for “third-worlders”, Weev played the “numbers game” which resulted in a mass delisting of gay and lesbian fiction. Amazon users were outraged over the apparent “censure” from Amazon. An Amazon spokeswoman hid the exploitation of their system as “an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error”, but that Amazon removed the customer-based reporting of adult books soon after says enough.
This is a fairly elementary example of the sort of schemes Weev has concocted over the last decade. Other “trolls” include a hoax where he convinced reporters he was interned in the same building as Dominique Strauss-Kahn; using targeted Twitter ads to display white supremacist propaganda on the timelines of left-leaning men and women; and, most recently, the printing of neo-Nazi pamphlets over network printers all throughout the United States. The Washington Post called the latter incident “a coordinated cyberattack that included the University of Maryland and Princeton among thousands of targets” – yet there is an issue with labels such as these. What exactly constitutes a “cyberattack”? The reality is that Weev has rarely done anything actually outside the bounds of the law. Weev finds loopholes, simple errors, and takes (legal) advantage of them with apparent ease. It is fascinating – if not also unnerving – to see the dexterity with which a (probably) largely autodidactic hacker can fool the media and security systems of such important institutions.
Massive mainstream media coverage of Weev followed when the security firm that Weev helmed with other members of his association found a flaw in AT&T’s security system, through which they obtained the email addresses of thousands of iPad users. Weev reported this to Gawker, giving them the email addresses but with the important data removed – and not before the security flaw was fixed, so that no one else could take advantage of it. Weev later wrote that the big “troll” was that the security firm was called “Goatse Security”, with as tagline “Gaping holes exposed”. Goatse is a somewhat dated meme of “a photograph of a nude man holding open his anus wide enough to stick a football inside it.” Because the Goatse hack of AT&T was nationally covered, hundreds of people were made to google this image and were horrified. Weev was eventually sentenced to 41 months in prison for the “hack”, but the verdict was highly questionable and eventually withdrawn.
Weev was indignant over his treatment by the U.S. government. “After being kidnapped from my childhood home and held in a hostile foreign territory under ransom for 2 years,” he wrote, “I was sentenced to prison on false charges in retaliation for my beliefs.” Indeed when for some he became a martyr for Internet security, others cited his political and social creeds in outrage. When Weev revealed a massive swastika tattoo on his chest, he was naturally denounced further. Yet the media, in fact, loved to cover him, and there are several dozen interviews online, conducted on major network news shows, next to a full New York Times profile and several articles in major news outlets after every incident. Nevertheless Twitter recently expelled him, refusing to give him a platform to speak.
Because of his legal innocence but controversial views, Weev is one of the strangest figures of our time: a man innocent of actual crime, falsely imprisoned and tortured, yet with beliefs for which most would say he deserved the punishment. He is certainly a one-of-a-kind product of the 21st century – a true child of post-modernity. While his strange case was argued over, he fled from the United States. Weev now apparently lives in Abkhazia, and has, by betting on Trumps victory for untold amounts of money, earned enough to “live for a year”. Certainly he is an important figure for our times: a type of man who cannot be ignored, but must be faced. Him and his followers constitute a significant fraction of those who eagerly voted for Trump. As the epitaph to this piece indicates, Weev’s intentions are expressly political. And because of his success in obtaining notoriety, they are relevant intentions too.