The Gatekeeper Files: How One Conspiracy Brought Together a Consortium of Actors

Part One: The Gatekeeper Files: The Rise of the Alt-Right
Part Two: The Gatekeeper Files: How Trump Sold You on Fascism
Part Three: The Gatekeeper Files: Operation Pizzagate

Five days after the Comet Ping Pong story spread across social media like wildfire, Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. Former CIA operations runner and founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater, Erik Prince, celebrated Trump’s victory over breakfast with far-right figure Charles C. Johnson, who would go on to become an unofficial advisor to Trump’s transition team. Meanwhile, the remainder of the far-right spectacle commemorated the occasion by organizing “DeploraBall,” an “inauguration bash celebrating the role a right-wing social media insurgency played in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.”  Organizers behind the event included anti-feminist Mike Cernovich who, with the help of Jeff Giesea, brought in a network of pro-Trump social media figures to assist including former Navy intelligence officer, Jack Posobiec, and Cassandra Fairbanks.

Jeffrey Giesea is considered an expert on “memetic warfare” and according to Buzzfeed, he helped create the “troll army that boosted Trump in the election.” However, he’s much more than that. While attending Stanford University, he edited the Stanford Review, a paper founded by Peter Thiel, CEO of Palantir Technologies, a software company that works with the Military-industrial complex and U.S. Intelligence agencies like the NSA. After graduation, Giesea went to work for Thiel Capital Management before joining Koch Industries’ public affairs office.

He has since become a “communication strategist and national security thinker” based in D.C., and at the “forefront of studying memetics in politics and diplomacy.” In 2017, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation’s OPEN Publications published a 2015 article written by Giesea entitled, “It’s Time to Embrace Memetic Warfare,” in which he wrote,

“Why aren’t we weaponizing trolling and memetics to fight ISIS and other enemies? I had seen the effectiveness of these crafts in political contexts.”

“[F]or many of us in the social media world, it seems obvious that more aggressive communication tactics and broader warfare through trolling and memes is a necessary, inexpensive, and easy way to help destroy the appeal and morale of our common enemies.”

At the time, Giesea was speaking more in terms of combatting enemies like Daesh but as Buzzfeed reported, he appeared very much involved in taking down Trump’s enemies during the 2016 election, more specifically, Hillary Clinton, through a company called MAGA3X:

“The MAGA3X accounts were a water cannon of memes, Breitbart stories, WikiLeaks theories, pro-Trump YouTube videos, and cartoons about #Pizzagate, and they swelled to the tens of thousands, eventually gaining public praise from Gen. Michael Flynn, the national security adviser to be.” 

According to OPEN, Giesea’s work received “notoriety in the national security community, resulting in requests to speak with the Department of Defense, U.S. Army, and the NATO Strategic Communications COE peer-reviewed Defence Strategic Communications publication. His article, “It’s Time to Embrace Memetic Warfare,” was actually featured in the Defence Strategic Communications’ first edition in which Janis Sarts, Director of NATO StratCom COE, mentioned Behavioural Dynamics Institute in the introduction:

“During the summer the COE trained 20 students from 11 different NATO nations in the Behavioural Dynamics Institute Advanced Target Audience Analysis methodology.”

For those of you who missed it, Behavioural Dynamics Institute was founded by Nigel Oakes, the owner of the parent company of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer’s now-defunct Cambridge Analytica.

When DeploraBall finally came to fruition in January 2017, it was attended by none other than Peter Thiel and the who’s who of the alt-right (or “alt-light” as some like to be called now) including Jack Posobiec, Roger Stone, and Proud Boys’ Gavin McInnes who traveled to the event with Cassandra Fairbanks. And so it appears that the line between fascist ideology; alt-lite, pro-Trump, social media figures; and those directly associated with the 2016 Trump campaign and the U.S. Intelligence community, intersected with one another yet again, this time on January 19, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.

Besides Americans needing to wake up to the fact that Giesea’s “memetic warfare,” probably helped elect a fascist to the White House more so than any Russian hacker, what’s worth looking into is how a handful of pro-Trump individuals who attended DeploraBall, some of whom helped spread the “Pizzagate” narrative and have either direct or indirect ties to the U.S. Intelligence community, continued to promote conspiracy theories well into 2017. The Seth Rich conspiracy theory and other shenanigans led to these actors, as well as a myriad of others, to come together and take control of the community to support WikiLeaks publisher, Julian Assange, the most wanted man in the world by the U.S State Department and intelligence agencies.

Cicada 3301

Welcome to what some describe as the most challenging puzzle to hit the internet: Cicada 3301. If you’ve never heard of it, The Sydney Morning Herald describes the challenge as a “scavenger hunt that has led thousands of competitors across the web, down telephone lines, out to several physical locations around the globe, and into unchartered areas of the ‘darknet.'” If that’s not bad enough, you’ll apparently need to freshen up on “number theory, philosophy and classical music,” as well as cyberpunk literature, numerology, and Victorian occult, among a host of other of things, to solve the puzzles.

Cicada first appeared online via the 4chan boards with this message posted on January 4, 2012:

Some speculated that it was a corporate PR stunt or an intelligence agency searching for talented cryptologists, while others theorized it was a “‘Left-Hand Path religion disguised as a progressive scientific organisation” and comprised of “military officers, diplomats, and academics” disillusioned with the world. “This is a dangerous organisation,” one alleged ex-member declared.

New puzzles were posted on the same day in 2013 and 2014, but 2015 came and went without any new puzzles much to the dismay of the organization’s avid followers. The puzzle returned in 2016, and not surprisingly, FBI Anon, an anonymous 4chan poster mentioned in both Part 2 and Part 3 of this series because they’ve appeared at virtually every turn in this story, had something to say about it:

“Cicada is a Pentagon program to induct special minds to work on simulations and strategic planning for their models. A model of the entire world is under development there, several prominent economists have worked on it.”

In recent years, there have been rumors that the former Deputy Director of the CIA, Bruce C. Clarke Jr., and Debian founder, Ian Murdock, were the original co-founders of Cicada. In fact, Thomas Schoenberger, a music composer who hinted on Facebook in late December 2015, that he was one of the puzzle creators, appears to have known Clarke. He stated during a recent deposition, “…Bruce Cooper Clarke who was a former deputy director of the CIA. He’s a close friend. He’s the one who cleaned up the CIA. It’s dirty again, by the way.”

It’s unclear why Schoenberger spoke about Clarke in the present tense (stenographer mistake?) since he died in October 2014, but he did go on to say, “Bruce was a great guy.” Murdock also passed away a year after Clarke under mysterious conditions.

Whether or not Schoenberger was actually one of the creators of the puzzles or he simply hijacked the game sometime between 2016-2017 remains unknown but what seems to be clear is the fact that although the Cicada puzzles had always stood on their own previously, in early 2017, something changed. Someone tried to link Cicada to WikiLeaks, more specifically their Vault 7 publication, which revealed the CIA’s malware and hacking arsenal along with the agency’s inability to keep them from being released into the wild.

On February 4, 2017, WikiLeaks dropped their first hint about the pending publication and shortly thereafter a Twitter account allegedly belonging to Schoenberger made multiple attempts to push the idea that Cicada and WikiLeaks were linked. And yup, there’s FBI Anon again:

Additionally, the alleged Schoenberger account tried to link Cicada to Anonymous Scandinavia (@AnonScan), who played a significant role in promoting the upcoming publication with a series of hints and clues. In fact, the account allegedly went so far as to tell at least one individual that they were running the @AnonScan account.

I spoke with Schoenberger who admitted he had access to the account but denied posting the tweets, claiming that it was his friend who controlled the account at the time. But even if that’s true, why didn’t Schoenberger stop him from pushing fake news online that the individuals behind the 2017 Cicada puzzles–meaning Schoenberger–was working directly with WikiLeaks and Anonymous Scandinavia? Or at least clear it up publicly? At the time, Julian Assange was in negotiations with the U.S. government which were cut short by then-FBI director, James Comey.

Interestingly, despite a new Cicada puzzle being released in January 2017, the last two legitimate messages that the organization sent out, confirmed by their unique PGP signature, was a puzzle released on January 5, 2016, and a Pastebin message found in April 2017, warning followers about false paths and to always confirm their PGP signature, possibly signifying that indeed someone had hijacked the puzzle.

Despite the warning, the attempts to link the Cicada puzzle to both @AnonScan and WikiLeaks continued well into the summer:

In the tweet above, @Defango is a Youtuber and online personality who claimed in a now-private Youtube video, (you can still find it on Periscope) that he got involved directly with Schoenberger after solving the 2017 Cicada puzzles (which had no PGP signature from Cicada 3301), or at least part of them. In early April, he drove to California and met with Schoenberger in a cafe during which time Schoenberger gave him a “spear of destiny,” or “The Holy Lance,” which is “legendarily known as the lance that pierced the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross,” it seemed, as a sort of a finale to the puzzle.

However, according to Defango, he later found out that the spear (we don’t actually believe this was the “spear of destiny”) Schoenberger gave him belonged to Michael Levine, a Hollywood music composer who appears to have been involved with Schoenberger and Cicada 3301, as well. Defango was asked to return it to Levine’s home after which Schoenberger and Levine allegedly offered for him to become the voice of Cicada. It remains unclear what exactly Defango did for Schoenberger or Levine in terms of Cicada 3301, if anything. What is clear is that three months later the three of them, as well as a woman who uses the Twitter handle @NoxFemme (previously known as @WellTraveledFox and @Foxfire3113), decided to start a “reputation defense” firm.

Seth Rich

On July 10, 2016, Seth Rich, an employee of the Democratic National Committee, was murdered in the middle of the night, in a Washington D.C. suburb, while walking home hours after leaving a neighborhood bar. He was shot twice from behind and to this day police suspect it was a robbery attempt despite the fact nothing was taken from the 27-year-old, including his watch, cellphone, and wallet. Conspiracy theories that he may have been murdered due to his job cropped up almost immediately after his death.

The first conspiracy to appear online was on July 11, 2016 at 21:45 GMT. Reddit user “Kurtchella,” posted a lengthy conspiracy theory that Rich may have been killed for having inside information about voter fraud perpetrated by the DNC. They also mentioned WikiLeaks publisher, Julian Assange, as a potential theory:

“There is still a possibility that Russia/Julian Assange has DNC information and could be planning to leak it to the public in time for the convention. Mr. Rich could have known of this.”

As of today, the post has only received 91 upvotes on Reddit meaning that at no point did it go viral and if you search Google for “Kurtchella” and “Seth Rich,” it only returns nine results. Pretty sparse considering Google.

The earliest result is from stromson2001.wordpress.com, a religious, conspiracy theory blog that published Kurtchella’s post on August 6, 2016. The next earliest result is literally three years later by realclearpolitics.com, a pro-Trump news outlet which mentioned Kurtchella’s post to counterattack journalist Michael Isikoff’s 2019 theory that the Russians planted a fake Russian SVR report with an obscure conspiracy website that said Rich had been murdered by DNC hired guns. Although Isikoff’s theory seems absurd (why would the Russians point the finger at themselves?), it’s curious that a pro-Trump website was aware of Kurtchella’s post which has never received any notoriety whatsoever.

Two days after Kurtchella’s post, whatdoesitmean.com published a story about the Russian SVR report that Isikoff points to as the genesis of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. However, the article reads more like a page from the “Pizzagate” and Clinton Foundation operations that the alt-right and Trump campaign were running throughout the entire 2016 election, as reported in Parts 2 and 3 of this series:

“What had drawn the concern of DNC official Seth Rich causing him to contact the Clinton Foundation, this report explains, was his discovery of a “pay-to-play” scheme that involved people seeking jobs with a new Hillary Clinton presidential administration to funnel money to the Clinton’s through their foundation with various US federal government positions being designated by the dollar amount it would cost to buy them.”

“[T]he SVR had previously documented as being involved in the assassination of the husband of the State of Georgia prosecutor investigating Bill Clinton for child sex crimes and the murder of American pop singer Christina Grimmie and massacre of nearly 50 gay pride celebrants.”

“To what FBI Director Comey will now allow to happen to this Clinton “hit team” who assassinated DNC official Seth Rich this report doesn’t speculate upon—but it does conclude with a presentation of the many stunning facts regarding the Clinton Foundation that shows it to be nothing more than a “Clinton slush fund…[Hillary’s] failing to report millions of dollars given to it by foreign governments…”

There’s nothing in the whatdoesitmean.com article suggesting Seth Rich had any information on voter fraud or why the DNC would want to murder him besides one statement that said he was going to “testify against Hillary Clinton” for the Clinton Foundation’s pay-to-play schemes. First, how in the world did Seth Rich obtain this kind of information? He wasn’t a hacker and he didn’t have access to the Foundation’s servers. Second, the Clintons’ pay-to-play schemes had already been reported on for at least a year before his death and used by the alt-right, anonymous 4chan posters, and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

In fact, whatdoesitmean.com links to an April 2015 article about Peter Schweizer’s book, “Clinton Cash,” which discusses the Clinton Foundation, foreign donations and the “Clinton slush fund,” published with the help of Steven Bannon and the organization they both co-founded, the Government Accountability Institute (see Part 2).  Released emails also showed that Hillary was using the State Department as her own personal playground so the theory that Rich was murdered because of dirt he had on any pay-to-play schemes seems absurd at best. The entire whatdoesitmean.com article reeks of Trump campaign propaganda.

What they needed was a new theory and on August 9, 2016, WikiLeaks provided it on a silver platter. That was the day when they offered a $20,000 reward “for information leading to conviction for the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich,” and the same day Julian Assange did an interview with Dutch news outlet, Nieuwsuur, during which he mentioned Rich. Both the tweet and interview fueled the conspiracy that Rich had provided WikiLeaks with the DNC emails, and a Texas financial advisor soon thereafter claimed to have evidence that Rich was, indeed, WikiLeaks’ source.

Ed Butowsky is a Texan money manager who has been a leading promoter of the conspiracy theory that Seth Rich was murdered because he leaked the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, something that Kurtchella may have been eluding to. He used to write for Breitbart News and says he’s a friend of Steve Bannon although he’s never met him. According to NPR, he also appears to be a friend of Sheldon Adelson, the second largest donor to the Trump campaign next to the Mercers. Adelson was recently exposed for allegedly using his Las Vegas casino staff as middlemen between the CIA and a Spanish security company that illegally spied on Julian Assange while he was at the Ecuadorian embassy in London including his meetings with attorneys, visitors, and even his doctor. Reportedly, there was a live feed that was installed in the embassy that the CIA could tap into, as well as surveillance equipment that, unbelievably, was placed in the women’s bathroom.

The Birth of a New Theory

According to Butowsky, he “stumbled into the RCH [Russia Collusion Hoax] crosshairs after Ellen Ratner, a news analyst for Fox News and the White House correspondent for Talk Media News, contacted him in the Fall of 2016 about a meeting she had with Mr. Assange.” Butowsky claims that Ratner, whose now-deceased brother represented Assange, met with Assange in November 2016, during which time he told her that Seth Rich was “responsible for releasing the DNC emails to WikiLeaks,” and that she wanted the information passed along to Seth’s parents, Joel and Mary. 

In December 2016, and disregarding for the moment that WikiLeaks nor Julian Assange have ever disclosed a source and it’s unclear why they would start with Ellen Ratner, or the fact that the Rich family was already well aware of the conspiracy theory that their son was a source for WikiLeaks as evidenced by an August 2016 Dailymail.co.uk’s story which reported, “The WikiLeaks reward generated speculation that Rich was responsible for the leak of DNC emails – speculation that has been been vehemently denied by family and friends,” Butowsky reached out to the Rich family and passed along the information allegedly given to him by Ratner. According to Butowsky, Ratner also passed along the information to the co-president of Fox News and Fox News producer Malia Zimmerman but there’s been no evidence released showing that that ever happened.

After speaking with Seth’s parents, Butowsky claims that a former analyst at the CIA, Larry C. Johnson, put him in contact with Sy Hersh, a renowned, investigative journalist who told Butowsky over the phone that he had a source who saw the FBI file on Seth Rich. Butowsky sent the audio recording of the conversation over to the Rich family, keeping it under wraps for seven months. In the meantime, a month after speaking with Hersh, he reached out to Rod Wheeler, a private investigator in D.C., on behalf of the Rich family, asking if he would be interested in investigating Seth’s murder. Wheeler subsequently met with him and Fox News’ Malia Zimmerman.

According to a lawsuit filed by Seth’s parents against Fox News, Butowsky approached the Rich family, encouraging them to hire Wheeler while hiding the fact that Wheeler was working for both him and Fox News.  The lawsuit goes on to explain that the Rich family turned down Butowsky’s agreement that Wheeler would provide the family with media representation; instead, he promised that they would have full control over what Wheeler would say publicly. But that didn’t happen and Butowsky denies having ever hired the private investigator.

Regardless of whether or not he paid Wheeler, Butowsky continued to take an active role in the Seth Rich investigation by setting up a meeting with then-White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, on April 20, 2017, to discuss the Sy Hersh audio tape, the Seth Rich conspiracy, and Fox Newsplan to cover the story.  When asked by the media about the meeting, both Spicer and Butowsky initially denied that it happened.

The Fox News Story

On May 14, 2017, Ed Butowsky sent a text message to Rod Wheeler stating that President Trump had read Fox‘s impending news story about Seth Rich and that he wanted it out “immediately.” He later told CNN‘s Chris Cuomo that the text messages were meant to be “tongue in cheek,” and were taken out of context:

Two days after Butowsky sent the text about Trump, Fox published the story, “Slain DNC Staffer had Contact With WikiLeaks Say Multiple Sources,” and despite how involved Butowsky had been with the story up until that point, this seems to be the first time his name appeared in the news in conjunction with Seth Rich.

According to the article, an unnamed federal investigator stated, “I have seen and read the emails between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks,” and in a second story run by Fox later that day, they claimed that Wheeler was the one who was aware of an email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks. Wheeler categorically denied it and to this day, no evidence has ever surfaced showing that Seth Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks. According to the Rich family:

“Contrary to Wheeler’s and Butowsky’s assurances and explicit representations, Wheeler worked with Fox News, Zimmerman, and Butowsky to develop the fictitious article for Fox News without telling Joel and Mary he was doing so. Wheeler has confirmed several communications commemorating such work in which he participated with and between Fox News and its producers, Zimmerman, and Butowsky.”

A week later Fox retracted the story stating, “The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed.” But not soon enough to stop it from going viral.

Seth Rich and Kim Dotcom

To make matters worse, on the same day that Fox News ran the story, Kim Dotcom, a multi-convicted millionaire currently residing in New Zealand and fighting extradition to the United States, posted on Twitter that “Seth was @WikiLeaks DNC source” and that he was “killed for that reason.”

The first question someone should probably ask Dotcom is whether or not he spoke to anyone before posting that tweet, whether it be Fox News, Butowsky, or anyone else because it seems odd that out of the blue, Kim Dotcom, of all people, would suddenly start publicizing this kind of information after remaining silent for nine months after WikiLeaks’ offered a $20,000 reward for any information pertaining to Rich’s death. Did he happen to see Fox News‘ story and think to himself, “Today’s a good day to dump this crazy information”?

So for whatever reasons, Dotcom not only decided to announce that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source, to this day he continues to push the theory that he was behind the DNC leaks despite failing to produce a shred of evidence to back it up. In an interview two years later, he said that he had to be careful so he wouldn’t be charged with anything that has to do with the leaking of the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, meaning he wants immunity from the U.S. government before divulging any information. Of course, that doesn’t explain this January 2019 tweet:

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