How Jack Posobiec Became the King of Fake News

The Trump troll the Internet loves to hate is a 32-year-old kid from Norristown.

Photograph by Chris Buck

It’s a crisp midsummer’s night in late June in Central Park. The air flickers with fireflies, and the breeze hums with the insectoid klezmer of cicadas and crickets. The evening seems pregnant with portent. Tonight’s performance of New York Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar — which has triggered a firestorm for casting an actor who looks and acts like Donald Trump as the titular Roman leader — nears its murderous climax, in which Caesar is betrayed and flayed on the floor of the Senate by trusted-allies-turned-assassins Cassius, Casca and Bannon — er, Brutus.

As Caesar-Trump bleeds out onstage, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, suffect consul of the Roman Empire, delivers the play’s infamous postmortem declaration: “Liberty! Freedom!” But before Cinna can utter the immortal “Tyranny is dead!,” a woman dressed all in black springs from her second-row seat and storms the stage.

“Stop the normalization of political violence against the right!” she cries. “This is unacceptable!” Meet Laura Loomer, pro-Trump fangirl/social media demi-celeb known for IRL stunts such as donning a burqa on Election Day and asking poll workers for a ballot under the name Huma Abedin. “Shame on the New York Public Theater for doing this!” Loomer rages. “You guys are ISIS! CNN is ISIS!”

As Caesar’s assassins break character and converge on her, Loomer is showered with a Greek chorus of boos from the audience. Right on cue, Jack Posobiec, a trim, dark-haired young man wearing a blue checkered shirt, rises from the middle of the crowd and extends a selfie stick cradling an iPhone that is, the world will soon learn, Periscoping the proceedings live on the Internet. He points his finger accusingly at the crowd and bellows, “YOU ARE ALL GOEBBELS!” — invoking Hitler’s infamous Reich Minister of Propaganda — “YOU ARE ALL NAZIS LIKE JOSEPH GOEBBELS! YOU!ARE! ALL! GOEBBELS! YOU ARE INCITING TERRORISTS!” His bizarre accusations shock the audience into stunned silence.

An usher is on top of him almost immediately: “Sir!”

Posobiec ignores him. “GOEBBELS WOULD BE PROUD!”

The crowd boos.

“Sir!”

“GOEBBELS WOULD BE PROUD!”

“Sir! Come this way!” says the usher, grabbing his arm. “Sir, grab your stuff and let’s go.”

“NAZIS! YOU ARE ALL NAZIS!”

It’s all over in one minute and 18 seconds, but the incident will prove to be the heckle heard round the world as news of the rogue political counter-theater spreads like a virus across the 24/7 media landscape. Never mind that the play is closing anyway, and that this attempt to disrupt it extends its run in the news cycles long after the final curtain. Never mind that Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman, avuncular pussy-hat-wearing hero of the Resistance, responds on Twitter to Posobiec’s crowing with head-patting words to the effect of “Calm down, little fella.” Never mind that online haters will mock Posobiec’s pronunciation of “Goebbels” and recut his video with footage of gerbils as brownshirts. Haters gonna hate, and Posobiec’s gotta Posobiec. Shakespeare got trolled. Hard.

This is where our interest in Loomer, arrested and now facing criminal trespass and disorderly conduct charges, ends. For her unindicted co-conspirator, this is where our story begins. Jack Posobiec — born in Norristown, proud “Philly kid,” Temple grad, onetime Santorum intern, former WPHT account exec — is a relentless, ruthlessly effective pro-Trump political dirty-tricks operative/fake-news ninja/social media assassin who salts the fields of the Internet with alternative facts and dank counter-factual memes that he blasts out to his 199K Twitter followers at least 20 times a day. Posobiec studied the dark arts of ratfuckery — a Watergate-era term for Nixonian political dirty tricks — at the feet of the master, GOP strategist Roger Stone, who regards him as the torchbearer for his toxic legacy. Stone’s prime directive is, “Attack, attack, attack. Never defend. Admit nothing, deny everything” — a mantra Posobiec has honed like a razor.

Posobiec’s infamy stems in part from his status as one of the prime figures in the #Pizzagate hoax, the viral dissemination of French President Emmanuel Macron’s leaked emails, and the RAPE MELANIA protest-sign fiasco. All of which, when lumped in with the rest of his exponentially expanding body of work — filing a human-rights complaint against a Brooklyn theater’s ladies-only screening of Wonder Woman; standing in front of Auschwitz and lecturing the Anti-Defamation League about the Holocaust; tweeting fake news that fired FBI director James Comey “said under oath that Trump did not ask him to halt any investigation”; smearing net neutrality advocates as satanic porn fiends; tweeting fake news that pro-Trump neo-Nazi James Alex Fields, charged with the second-degree murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, was an “anti-Trump, open borders drug addict” hours after Heyer’s death — has made him the Trump troll the Internet loves to hate.

Posobiec with his parents at a Trump rally in Hershey last December. Photograph courtesy of Jack Posobiec

Young, hip and telegenic, Jack Posobiec is part of a new breed of far-right social media “influencers” — Twitter trolls, YouTube monologists, Medium town criers, Periscope Platos, and the fake newsboys of Facebook. They’ve built massive six-figure online audiences to which they endlessly evangelize the gospel of #MAGA — “Make America Great Again” — over hot cups of liberal tears. Posobiec’s known associates include: date-rape denialist and white genocide alarmist Mike Cernovich; flamboyant controversialist/pedophilia apologist Milo Yiannopoulos; tinfoil-hat haberdasher Michael Flynn Jr., the Hillary-hating scion of Trump’s disgraced national security adviser; and Alex Jones, the conspiracy nut job on whose Infowars Posobiec appears regularly.

“These guys are all proponents of information warfare — a hybrid of regular warfare and psychological operations, or psy ops,” says David Carroll, associate professor of media design at the New School’s Parsons School of Design. “Their willingness to militarize the media space in the spirit of political warfare, I think, is extremely disturbing and characteristic of what makes these guys different from anything else that’s come before them.”

Ask them what they want, and you’ll likely get something about wresting control of the narrative from the liberal lamestream media gatekeepers. “I want to question everything, as Thomas Jefferson once urged,” Posobiec will tell me in an email. In practice, however, the effect is that nothing you read, watch or hear anywhere can be trusted anymore — that facts are always in dispute, and truth has been rendered unknowable. This is not a design flaw — it’s a feature.

During the 2016 campaign, Posobiec was the “special projects director” for Citizens for Trump, a grassroots online spin-off of the Tea Party, as is detailed in Citizens for Trump, the campaign memoir he self-published in June. In the wake of Trump’s victory, he was one of the primary architects of the DeploraBall, the unofficial shadow inaugural for Trump’s online troll army. Posobiec was briefly Washington bureau chief for Rebel Media, a Canadian hard-right news outlet with more YouTube subscribers than the Washington Post and the Associated Press combined — until he and the outlet parted ways in May in the wake of allegations that he’d plagiarized alt-right journalist Jason Kessler, whose name will live in infamy as the organizer of Charlottesville’s violent Unite the Right rally in August.

During Posobiec’s brief tenure at Rebel Media — which was, he says, the only time he was paid by anyone for his media activities — he was made a temporary credentialed member of the White House press pool by the Trump administration’s beleaguered communications shop. Along with fellow New Media gadflies from fringe-right outlets like Infowars, Breitbart and Gateway Pundit, Posobiec seems to have been charged in the press briefing room with haranguing legitimate journalists and running out the clock on press conferences with inane softball questions and Dear Leader obsequiousness.

However, Jack Posobiec isn’t a journalist; he’s the journalistic equivalent of putting the guy trying to sue the EPA out of existence in charge of the EPA. In reality, Posobiec is a hyper-partisan social media fact assassin, and a frighteningly good one at that, able to blur the lines between truth and fiction and right and wrong and, uncannily, make the ensuing confusion go viral in the gaslit midnight of the American Century. In the Twilight Zone of Posobiec’s Twitter feed, there is never a retraction or an admission of guilt. The record is never corrected. When tweets are incontrovertibly outed as fictions, they simply disappear down the memory hole of the delete key. Admit nothing, deny everything. Nothing is true, everything is permitted.

It’s a seasonably swampy late-August day in D.C. at Ebenezers, a coffee shop situated in the shadow of the Capitol dome, and Jack Posobiec is sucking back a dirty chai iced latte and flashing his impish Maurice Sendak grin as he answers Philadelphia’s many, many questions. Scheduled to appear later in the afternoon on the Trump-approved upstart conservative TV network One America News — where he’ll be called upon to speak out against the removal of Confederate statues — he is dressed in the standard cable-news commentator uniform: salesman-blue takin’-care-of-business suit, long slate tie, crisp white shirt. In person, he’s much more likeable and charming than his bellicose, take-no-prisoners social media avatar would lead you to believe. Asked to account for his pugnacious online persona, he explains, “I guess it’s that Philly attitude of ‘Someone pushes you, you push back even harder.’” In other words, always bring a machine gun to a knife fight.

I got a taste of Posobiec’s machine-gun etiquette back in June when I first reached out to request an interview. He emailed back 12 minutes later: “Sounds good!” But not before he’d screen-shot my request and posted it to Twitter, where his rabid followers revealed that I’d written for BuzzFeed, warned him of a Megyn Kelly-style ambush, advised that he write his own profile for the magazine, and cordially invited me to “shit in [my] hat.” Afterward, Posobiec ghosted me for months before finally agreeing to talk — three days after my deadline. Still, I got off easier than the president of France.

Back in May, two days before the French presidential election, a vast tranche of Macron campaign emails — allegedly stolen by Kremlin-connected hackers — was uploaded to the alt-right-dominated /pol/ board of 4Chan. Posobiec, along with the rest of the alt-right, was backing Macron’s anti-immigrant opponent, Marine Le Pen. Moments after the cache went live, Posobiec duly tweeted out a link to it, encouraging his followers to crowdsource the materials under the #MacronLeaks hashtag. Though this would ultimately prove to be the Al Capone’s Vault of political oppo hacks, the whole story went viral, no doubt helped by Posobiec tweeting the lie that the Macron campaign had filed a lawsuit to silence him. That night, Posobiec celebrated in a rented mansion in Miami where scandal-scarred alt-right superego Milo Yiannopoulos was throwing a party in his own honor. Raising a glass at 10:57 p.m. the following evening, according to a tweet by @CassandraRules, Posobiec toasted his good fortune with the words, “I just raped Macron worse than when he was 15,” a snide reference to the fact that the French president and his wife began seeing each other when she was his teacher and he was her pupil. (Posobiec denies making the comment.)

An analysis by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab identified Posobiec and WikiLeaks, which also tweeted a link to the stolen documents, as the primary drivers of the #MacronLeaks hashtag. The analysis asserts that the chain of transmission may have included “bots” and leads to a Kremlin-connected account with suspiciously high retweet rates. Posobiec denies having anything to do with such an account. “I wouldn’t know how to use a bot,” Posobiec told the New Yorker. “I just find interesting things and post them to my Twitter feed.”

“That wasn’t trolling,” Posobiec tells me now. “There had been this ominous post prior to that, saying, ‘Hey, keep an eye out, there’s gonna be some stuff on Macron.’ I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll check it out.’ I literally just sat there hitting refresh all day, and when it came out, I said, ‘Guys, look at this: emails.’ The way I look at it, it wound up being one of my biggest scoops.”

Posobiec also had a hand in the character assassination of a dead man. Twenty-seven-year-old Seth Rich was voter expansion data director for the DNC in Washington, D.C., when he was murdered on July 10, 2016, in what Washington Metro Police believe was a botched robbery attempt. Given his place of employment and the many open questions about his death, the case was ripe for partisan conspiracy-mongers to fill in the blanks. From the fever swamps of the far-right Internet bubbled a theory: Rich, a lifelong Democrat, was, for some never-explained reason, suddenly disillusioned with the Democratic Party, so he turned whistle-blower and leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks. When the Clintons and the DNC learned of the leak, the theory goes, they had him whacked, then blamed the hack on the Russians.

Though the story was debunked by just about every credible fact-checking and news outlet, Posobiec pimped it hard on Twitter as well as with a sarcastic Seth Rich vigil held outside the DNC on the anniversary of his murder. Eventually even Fox News disavowed the story; an investigator then filed a lawsuit alleging that President Trump himself was coordinating the spread of the rumor, meaning it was now a matter for special counsel Robert Mueller to look into. That’s when Posobiec went dark on the topic. “There were definitely times I’ve talked about different conspiracy theories that are out there, and I talked about the Seth Rich thing,” he says. “You know what, I’m not even going to talk about that stuff anymore.”

Not even Star Wars — the lodestar mythos of Posobiec’s youth — was spared the ravages of partisan warfare. Three days after Trump’s election, the screenwriters of Rogue One, the highly anticipated and heavily hyped Star Wars reboot set to open in theaters the following month, tweeted out the following:

Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization — Chris Weitz (@chrisweitz) November 11, 2016

Opposed by a multi-cultural group led by brave women. — Gary Whitta (@garywhitta) November 11, 2016

As payback, Posobiec went on Twitter and started a rumor under the hashtag #DumpStarWars that Disney’s Rogue One had been reshot in the wake of the election to include anti-Trump scenes that called the president-elect a racist. The hashtag went viral and turned into a news story, and Disney was forced to issue a formal denial. The incident had no discernible impact on box-office receipts when Rogue One opened in December, absent any references to Trump. “He is just a troll like any other; he does stuff like that all the time,” says Weitz. “He’s not even vaguely clever about it. He knows he can get away with it because his followers are morons.” Posobiec stands by his tweet. “That was absolutely not trolling,” he counters. “It is an anti-Trump movie. One hundred percent. It’s garbage.”

It wasn’t always like this.

Jack Posobiec’s story began 32 years ago in Norristown, where John Michael Posobiec III was born to Democrats. His father, John, is a retired psych nurse and a lifelong Phillies fan. His mother, Lorraine, is a reproductive toxologist for GlaxoSmithKline, where she’s worked on a malaria vaccine. Both are Life NRA members who voted for Bill Clinton — twice. He has a brother. He says his childhood was largely happy and un-eventful until he turned 11. That was the year a close family friend named Lisa Marie Manderach was murdered by a wolf in goth clothing named Caleb Fairley. Her body was found in the woods in King of Prussia; the body of her 19-month-old daughter was found in Valley Forge National Historic Park. The murder shocked the nation and left a deep mark on young Jack. “That’s when I realized that the real monsters were people,” says Posobiec.

At Kennedy Kenrick Catholic High School, Posobiec split his time between football and baseball and artier pursuits like theater and sci-fi writing. (He would later pen a sci-fi noir novella called Wade Asher — Agent Of Admiralty, under the pen name Jack Michael Doyle.) He was an industrious young man, working at Corropolese Bakery & Deli in Norristown — he’d go in before school and prep the tomato pies and then return after classes to close the shop, earning enough money to purchase his first car, a well-used Toyota Corolla. It seemed like all his co-workers at the bakery were in rock bands, and Posobiec wanted in, so he focused his energies on music — he saw David Bowie four times! — teaching himself to play guitar and, later, bass. He joined a band called the China Syndrome, which never got far but did score a gig opening for splatter-rock faves Gwar — a point of pride to this day.

He studied broadcast journalism and political science at Temple. It was during the 2004 presidential campaign that he first became politically aware and active. His parents were dispassionate Democrats, but many of his professors were hard-core lefties, so the teen-rebel thing to do was to lean right and lean hard — think Alex P. Keaton as a millennial. He served as chairman of the Temple University College Republicans and later became executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans. From the get-go, it irked him that his professors flaunted their liberal politics in the classroom. So he filed a formal complaint with the college and started a Temple chapter of campus-liberal scourge David Horowitz’s Students for Academic Freedom. A series of public hearings resulted in the university’s board of trustees adopting a “Student and Faculty Academic Rights and Responsibilities” policy that provided a forum for students to register complaints of political bias and stipulated that “faculty are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects, but should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial (or other) matter which has no relation to their subject.”

In 2005, after an Oasis concert, a brief romance with social drinking came to a sudden halt when the car Posobiec was riding home in got pulled over by a state trooper on I-76. The driver — the brother of Posobiec’s best friend at the time — was wasted, and when the trooper asked for his ID, he launched into a slurred Obi-Wan Kenobi impersonation: “You don’t need to see our identification; these are not the kids you are looking for,” punctuated with the Jedi mind-trick wave. Everyone thought it was hilarious except the trooper, who slapped on cuffs and took the driver to jail. “It was equally the funniest and the scariest thing that had happened in my life,” Posobiec says. “I was like, there’s two roads in front of you, Jack; which way are you going to go? I decided I was done with it.”

He got a summer internship at Rick Santorum’s Senate office and volunteered for Curt Weldon’s doomed bid to protect his U.S. House seat from Joe Sestak. This is when he began to learn the ropes of political pranksterism. The Weldon campaign would send Posobiec out to troll Sestak town halls with a sign that read JOE DON’T KNOW DELCO, hoping to paint the candidate as a carpetbagger for maintaining a primary residence in Virginia while running to rep Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District. This would be his first introduction to meme warfare.

Three weeks before Election Day, the FBI raided the homes of Weldon’s daughter and several other associates as part of an influence-peddling probe, and Sestak wound up trouncing Weldon at the polls. But it hardly mattered. Posobiec had learn-ed an important lesson about the power of memes to explain and disseminate complex notions simply, sarcastically and, if all goes according to plan, contagiously. “You learn so much more from a loss than a win,” he says. “It’s funny; people always say after a loss, ‘I’m going to leave the country.’ I actually did. I went to China and stayed for two years.”

After graduating from Temple in 2007, Posobiec worked for the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. He became fluent in Mandarin and traveled all over the country. When the Sichuan earthquake rocked China that May, killing 69,000, he helped the Chamber raise $3 million from U.S. companies doing business in China. The Philadelphia Orchestra was touring the country at the time, and Posobiec helped coordinate small impromptu concerts in quake-ravaged villages.

He also, improbably, landed a minor role in The Forbidden Kingdom, a martial-arts flick starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Posobiec plays a young street thug from South Boston who bullies and robs the good guys. He’s a natural. “I had three lines, and two of them were cut,” he says, “but I remember staying up all night before auditioning, watching The Departed over and over, trying to get the accent.”

When he returned to the States in late 2008, he reengaged in politics, getting an internship at WPHT — which represents both sides of the talk-radio political spectrum, conservative and very conservative. He parlayed that into a paid gig in the sales department, but nobody seems to remember much about his tenure. “You are not the first to ask, because he apparently tells people he spent two weeks interning for me several years ago,” says CNN’s Michael Smerconish, who used to work at WPHT. “I don’t doubt that it’s true, but I just have zero recall of him. None.”

Later, Posobiec landed a staff job on the campaign of a proto-Trump anti-candidate named Steve Johnson who was running to be Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor. Even though Johnson came in a distant fourth in a primary field of nine, Jack was now adept at pairing bare-knuckle political warfare with humor and theatricality. “We had everything the Trump campaign had six years later: the nicknames, the jokes, the songs,” he says. “One of our opponents, Daryl Metcalfe, was running for both lieutenant governor and state rep, so we called him Double Dippin’ Daryl. I made a GIF of his two heads on an ice-cream cone dancing around. He hated it. We did a lot with social, but it hadn’t really taken off yet. … By that point, I’d gotten fed up with establishment Republican politics. Even when we would win elections, nothing would change. I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m gonna go join the military.”

In 2010, Posobiec enlisted in the Navy and shipped off to boot camp, where he lost 20 pounds of baby fat in two months, then put it back on as muscle thanks to a daily regimen of heavy weight lifting, a high-protein diet and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He scored an impressive 98 out of 99 on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery test, qualifying him to serve as an intel specialist; he eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant junior grade with top-secret security clearance. In 2012, he pulled a 10-month deployment at Guantanamo Bay, where he was part of the team that interrogated prisoners and rewarded the cooperative ones with hamburgers, Lost DVDs and Harry Potter books. “People paint this picture of it as a gulag,” he says. “When I tell people I was at Gitmo, they’re like, ‘How many people did you waterboard?’ Nobody. Nobody got waterboarded at Gitmo; that was CIA black sites overseas. Besides, by the time I got to Gitmo, all those extreme-interrogation-measures programs were canceled.”

Posobiec in the White House Roosevelt Room at a press conference with Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photograph courtesy of Jack Posobiec

In 2015, Posobiec dipped his toe back into the dirty waters of politics. He turned down a regional director post with the Ted Cruz campaign. There was a candidate who really spoke to his punk-rock anti-establishmentarian streak: Donald J. Trump. Through his connections with the Tea Party, Posobiec got an unpaid gig as special projects director for Citizens for Trump, the coalition of disaffected Republicans led by Roger Stone and Tim Selaty. Even though he was still deployed by Naval Intelligence, he did campaign work on the Internet in his spare time. He started livestreaming, and pivoted his Twitter persona from Angry Game of Thrones Fan to Enfant Terrible of Trumplandia. The leash was off; so were the gloves. Attack, attack, attack. Never defend. Admit nothing. Deny everything.

Behold, a troll is born.

Five days after the election last November, alt-right social media lit up with outrage when a group of protesters was photographed outside the president-elect’s D.C. hotel and one of them was holding a sign that said RAPE MELANIA. In January, that outrage turned to shock when BuzzFeed’s Joseph Bernstein reported that the incident was actually a false-flag operation intended to tar the protesters as would-be First Lady violators, and, according to a source, that the holder of the sign was none other than Jack Posobiec. BuzzFeed published screenshots of text messages that it claimed showed Posobiec and a redacted accomplice hatching the RAPE MELANIA scheme.

Posobiec denies BuzzFeed’s account. “First of all, not me,” he says. “The Secret Service showed up at my place on January 19th — the morning before the DeploraBall — to have a little chat about it. Knock knock knock. ‘Mr. Posobiec.’ They went down the list of things, and I explained that the accusation came from Baked Alaska [another Trump troll] in the wake of us kicking him out of the DeploraBall for — I don’t know how else to put it — he fell in with the Nazis. So he was mad, and he took this intern, Kat, along with him, and they were looking for a way to get back at us. He has since publicly recanted, saying, ‘Hey, this wasn’t true, I was just really mad.’ And that’s what it was.”

In May, Posobiec declared that the Secret Service had cleared his name. (The agency declined to comment when asked to confirm or deny Posobiec’s claim. Posobiec says the proof is that the White House later granted him press credentials.) Posobiec briefly threatened to sue BuzzFeed in a hastily penned missive on Medium that he took down after a few hours. When Philadelphia informed BuzzFeed of the legal threat, a spokesman issued the following statement: “We stand fully behind Joe’s reporting, and are only surprised it took Mr. Posobiec so long to lash out with this poorly written nonsense.”

Last year, Posobiec was one of the loudest social media amplifiers of the infamous #Pizzagate hoax, which tricked a shockingly large number of Internet dupes into believing John Podesta and Hillary Clinton were running a child sex and torture ring in the bowels of the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., while she campaigned for the presidency of the United States of America.

Eight days after the election, Posobiec Periscoped a recon visit to the pizzeria in which he and a buddy pretended to be diners while looking for hidden rooms and secret passageways. Posobiec was caught livestreaming by staffers and asked to leave. Someone uploaded the videos to YouTube; Posobiec then went on Infowars to discuss his thwarted attempt to uncover the sinister goings-on at Comet Ping Pong. He told host Owen Shroyer that the walls were decorated with “demonic artwork,” that he discovered “a secret door,” that children kept disappearing behind a curtain in the back, and that staffers seemed “shady” and acted like they had something to hide. The videos were widely viewed and disseminated among believers, and new converts and Posobiec continued to aggressively press the hoax on Twitter.

Two weeks later, after binge-watching Pizzagate conspiracy videos on YouTube, a North Carolina man named Edgar Maddison Welch stormed Comet Ping Pong with an AR-15 and shot up the place in a mission to rescue the nonexistent child sex slaves imprisoned there. Moments after the gunman surrendered, Posobiec tweeted a fake quote he attributed to the D.C. chief of police: “Nothing to suggest man w/ gun at Comet Ping Pong had anything to do with #Pizzagate.” Posobiec then tweeted that Welch was a crisis actor and that the whole fiasco was a false-flag operation financed by corporate media to discredit and “censor” independent journalists such as himself. Welch, a father of two, is currently serving a four-year sentence in federal prison. A victim impact statement from a Comet Ping Pong employee filed in Welch’s case singles out Alex Jones and Jack Posobiec as “agitators who are taking advantage of people.”

Posobiec now claims he always thought Pizzagate was ridiculous and that he filmed his trip to debunk it. “The way they paint me online, it’s like I invented [Pizzagate],” he says now. “No, I heard about it online and thought it was stupid. I went there to show that it was just a restaurant. And you guys are idiots. … I didn’t have anything to do with these claims, and they were stupid claims.” Jones later apologized for his role in hyping the conspiracy and the damage it did to so many whose only crime was eating pizza and playing ping-pong in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Posobiec did not.

Admit nothing. Deny everything.

In mid-June, a schism in the alt-right that had been a long time coming was ripped wide open. Both Posobiec and Laura Loomer had been scheduled to speak at the Lincoln Memorial at the Rally for Free Speech being organized after Milo Yiannopoulos’s Berkeley speaking engagement was shut down by protesters in February. When cosplay Nazi Richard Spencer was added to the speaker list, Posobiec and Loomer decided it was time to make a clean break with the unapologetically racist end of the MAGA spectrum, which encompasses everything from 21st-century Archie Bunkers to white ethno-state nationalists to goose-stepping Nazis. Posobiec organized a counter-protest — the Rally Against Political Violence — to be held across town at the exact same time, to emphasize the split. And the renegades renounced the name “alt-right,” insisting on being referred to as the “New Right.”

Instead, they were mocked by the often openly racist/anti-Semitic left-behinds as “Alt-Lite.” Meanwhile, Spencer tweeted out a photo that seems to show him and Posobiec smiling side by side in what looks like a bar. Spencer says it was taken in summer 2016 in Cleveland, at the RNC. “Jack praised me and other alt-right leaders for the work we did helping Trump,” he tweeted. “He presented himself as a supporter.” Posobiec insists he never wanted to have anything to do with Spencer and that the photo is a fake.

That both rallies combined drew fewer than a hundred people speaks to the practical limitations of Posobiec’s 199K Twitter following when it comes to getting boots on the ground. Or perhaps it speaks to the popularity of these personalities, or the lack thereof. In any event, the Anti-Defamation League included Posobiec and Cernovich in its rogues’ gallery of intolerance and bigotry headlined “From Alt Right to Alt Lite: Naming the Hate.” Posobiec was livid.

In mid-August, multiple news outlets reported that his Naval Intelligence security clearance had been suspended pending review*. Posobiec says it’s standard procedure for a top-secret clearance to be reviewed every five years, which is true. He says he hasn’t been told the reason for the review but suspects it’s related to either his political activities — the mysterious Trump-hating “Deep State” out for another scalp — or the fact that his fiancée, a pretty blonde named Tanya Tay with 14K followers of her own, is from Belarus, which was formerly part of the USSR and to this day maintains close relations with the Kremlin.

Posobiec with Tanya Tay in Belarus. Photograph courtesy of Volha Tay

“If it’s Tanya, I have nothing to worry about,” he says. “Her dad is a mechanic, her mom is an accountant, no relation to any of that stuff. … I followed all the standard procedures when you start a relationship with someone born overseas.”

Still, if the Navy did find his potential Russian associations and his many Kremlin-friendly tweets suspect, it’s not alone. (The Navy declined to comment for this story.) Many people on social media openly suspect that Posobiec is a Russian agent, a deep plant à la The Americans. While that beggars belief even in the funhouse hall of mirrors that is America circa now — and to be clear, there’s no evidence it’s true — he’s given plenty of people cause to scratch their heads and wonder: about his man-crush on Putin; about him tweeting in August that General Mike “Misha” Flynn never should have been fired; about the computer experts suggesting that he disrupted the French presidential election; about him parroting the Kremlin line on Poland and Ukraine and NATO and pimping Aleksandr Dugin, a.k.a. Putin’s Rasputin, on Twitter. And then there’s Tay and how the couple donned traditional Slavic wedding garb for their late-July engagement party in Belarus, which, when viewed through the reality-warping prism of Posobiec’s Periscope, seemed like one big troll. Between the tommy gun, the white tunics and crowns of flowers and the tank with the red star, it was like an acid-fueled Doctor Zhivago LARP designed to blow the minds of libtard normies and Russophobe dead-enders still fighting the Cold War.

Then came the Unite the Right debacle in Charlottesville, the alt-right’s Altamont. Posobiec wanted no part of that from the get-go, and he was hundreds of miles away in Atlanta, at a sweaty MAGA meetup with Roger Stone, the night the Nazis, white supremacists and the KKK — along with some fine people, some very fine people, the President assured us — drove ol’ Dixie down in a shitstorm of hate, blood and murder. Which is not to say that Posobiec was silent about the tragedy.

On the Monday after Charlottesville — which ended with a neo-Nazi driving his car into a crowd of anti-Nazi protesters and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer — Posobiec tried to change the subject, tweeting out:

That night, the President of the United States of America retweeted him.

If you want to know what that might have felt like for Posobiec, google “TheRebel.media gets White House press credentials.” The first minute or so of the video is probably the most sincere, snark-free thing Jack Posobiec has ever put out — all heart, no meme. His eyes beam with the quasi-religious ecstasy of a pilgrim with a selfie stick inside the gates of MAGA Mecca: “I gotta tell ya, for a kid from Philadelphia, this is an amazing feeling,” he says in hushed, reverent tones as he practically floats up the North Lawn. “This is truly hallowed ground we are walking on right now.”

A few days after Charlottesville — amid a torrent of condemnation of Trump for retweeting a notorious troll — Posobiec tweeted out a link to a Medium post containing the most shocking and hard-to-believe news he’s ever broken:

Today, I’m formally announcing that I’m done with trolling.

Its [sic] over.

Its [sic] time to do the right thing.

Asked what prompted the change of heart, he says the presidential retweet and the scorching flame war that ensued were a wake-up call. I ask him if this is just more fake news — if giving up trolling is simply another troll. No, he says, he’s done with all that stuff: Pizzagate, Seth Rich, #DumpStarWars. Time to grow up and be responsible. The President is watching, for God’s sake. Plus, he’s marrying Tanya Tay in Philly this fall. And yes, he knows he’s got his work cut out for him, that people have a right to be skeptical and that his actions have to speak louder than his words.

Posobiec brushes aside the suggestion that cleaning up his act could be a prelude to a future run for political office. “If you’d asked me back in my college Republican days, I’d definitely have jumped all over it,” he says. “If I did run, though, I’d make it an entire reality show. It’d be really unprecedented. I’d be livestreaming the entire time.”

I ask if he finally wants to apologize for his piece of Pizzagate. A lot of people got hurt, after all: John Podesta, Hillary Clinton, everybody at Comet Ping Pong from the owner down to the staffers, who still endure death threats and struggle with PTSD, as do many of those who were in the restaurant with their kids the day Edgar Maddison Welch stormed in and shot up the place. Welch was perhaps the biggest victim, serving four years for being unable to distinguish between fake and real news.

“If I had anything to do with the hysteria … ”

You definitely did, I remind him; it’s all still on the Internet and in court documents.

“ … I totally renounce, and I’m not going to be doing stuff like that anymore. From here on out, I’m playing it completely straight. Getting involved in any of these things, not something I’m interested in doing. I don’t even want to be associated with any of that stuff.”

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

We shall see. Some of his tweets since we talked have tapdanced on the line between snark and trolling.

He’s got a pretty steep hill to climb. And it’s a long way up. Telling the truth is a zero-sum game. When everything is true, nothing else is permitted.

Published as “Capitol Offender” in the October 2017 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

*An earlier version of this story misreported that Posobiec had been reassigned to urinalysis officer, a role he says he hasn’t held since 2015.

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