Skip to main content

Late last year, student reporters Shannon Carranco and Jon Milton received an intriguing message from their sources in antifa.

Anti-fascist activists had acquired thousands of messages from a private neo-Nazi chat group on Discord, an encrypted chat service for gamers that became popular with the far-right. They wanted to pass them on to reporters.

Carranco and Milton — undergraduates in their mid-20s at Concordia University in Montreal — weren’t full-time professional journalists. But their work would eventually lead to the downfall of one of the internet’s most prominent neo-Nazis.

After meeting with the anti-fascist activists, Carranco and Milton received expansive chat logs that went back to August 2016 and contained more than 12,000 messages. Members in the Discord chat spouted racist, misogynist and anti-Semitic rhetoric and celebrated far-right violence, including Alexandre Bissonnette’s killing of six Muslim men at a mosque in Quebec City.

But what made the cache of messages especially valuable was its organizer: Zeiger, a pseudonym used by the second-most prolific writer on Andrew Anglin’s neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website. Zeiger had spent years spreading white nationalist propaganda on far-right podcasts and internet hate forums and promoting the Atomwaffen Division — a violent American extremist group linked to at least five murders in the last 19 months.

Zeiger hid his real identity and whereabouts. As with a number of other far-right extremists, his anonymity allowed him to incite hatred and promote violent groups without repercussions from the public or authorities. But now the Discord group appeared to show that Zeiger was living in Montreal and actively building a network of white nationalists in the city.

The chat also functioned as a sort of support group and echo chamber for lonely, angry men who had turned to extremism. Zeiger, as the de facto leader of the group, had been organizing in-person meet-ups and events as he recruited the chat’s members into the white nationalist scene.

The reporters found that there were around 48 members in the chat, all white men ages 18 to 40, all living in the Montreal area, Carranco said.

Carranco and Milton began to see the wide reach of Zeiger’s neo-Nazi activities and how in private he dropped the detached, racist snark of the Daily Stormer for more sincere hate — neo-Nazism without irony.

As Carranco and Milton read through the thousands of messages and cross-checked information with their anti-fascist sources, they were slowly able to piece together the identities of Zeiger and other prominent members of his Discord group. They began trying to match up usernames in the chat with other social media accounts, listening to far-right podcasts for traces of identifying information, and saw Zeiger had even posted his home address in 2016 while inviting members of the group to watch a Clinton-Trump debate.

They also began to worry about their own personal safety and the backlash they would face after exposing the group.

“I’m very thankful to have gotten to work on all of this,” Carranco said. “But especially as a woman working on this story, I was kind of an immediate target just based on my gender.”

One of the members the pair were able to identify, a far-right extremist named Shawn Beauvais-Macdonald, was a Unite the Right attendee who talked about grinding women into dog food.

“That’s pretty fucked up to read,” said Carranco, who began to carry pepper spray.

Reporting on extremists carries risks for journalists who have the backing of major news outlets, let alone for student journalists without the resources for more sophisticated security. Extremists often threaten and harass reporters and their families ― sending death threats, publishing their personal information online and sometimes showing up at their homes. ...
Read full story at Huffington Post