Andrew Marantz, “Trolls for Trump”

By: Andrew Marantz

New Yorker, October 24, 2016

In late August, Hillary Clinton announced that she would soon give a speech, in Reno, Nevada, linking Donald J. Trump to what has become known as the alt-right—a loose online affiliation of white nationalists, neo-monarchists, masculinists, conspiracists, belligerent nihilists, and social-media trolls. The alt-right has no consistent ideology; it is a label, like “snob” or “hipster,” that is often disavowed by people who exemplify it. The term typically applies to conservatives and reactionaries who are active on the Internet and too anti-establishment to feel at home in the Republican Party. Bizarrely, this category includes the Republican nominee for President. It also includes extremist commentators, long belittled or ignored by the media, whom mainstream pundits are now starting to take seriously.

The afternoon before Clinton’s speech, Mike Cernovich, a thick-chested white man in his late thirties, sitting on a veranda in Southern California, opened the live-streaming app Periscope on his iPad and filmed a video called “How to fight back against Sick Hillary and the #ClintonNewsNetwork.” By “Clinton News Network,” he meant CNN and other corporate media outlets. The word “sick” described Clinton morally and physically: Cernovich was among the first to insinuate publicly that Clinton had a grave neurological condition, and that the media was covering it up. By “fight back,” he meant, basically, tweeting. Internet activism is sometimes derided as “slacktivism”—a fair characterization when an online campaign tries to, say, cure aids or end child labor. When the goal is to seed social media with misinformation, though, online organizing can be shockingly effective.

“Tomorrow, everybody’s going to be Googling the alt-right,” Cernovich said. He has an adenoidal tenor and a lisp, but when he is indignant he can be an impassioned orator. “The narrative is being written, and you’d better get off your fucking asses and write your own.” His feed filled with real-time comments. (@beelman_matt: “PC is for PUSSIES”; @ciswhitemale: “Mike is a bosss.”)

Cernovich wore a plaid shirt, partially unbuttoned to display his chest hair. Visible behind him were a swimming pool, trimmed boxwoods, and a mountain glowing in the afternoon sun. (@CanadaUncuck: “nice pool.”) Cernovich often blogs about fitness, and he publishes self-help books for men. He also writes about how to build a personal brand online; his maxims include “Conflict is attention” and “Attention is influence.” Although he doesn’t appear on Fox News or syndicated radio shows, he is an expert at using social media to drive alt-right ideas into the heart of American political discourse.

“Here’s what we’re gonna do tomorrow,” he said. “We have to think of a good hashtag, and we have to have all of our memes lined up.” He suggested talking points for his followers to deploy, such as “If the alt-right is racist, is Israel racist, too?” Cernovich prefers to call himself an “American nationalist,” but he often uses “we” when discussing the alt-right movement. “We can control the narrative on Twitter,” he continued. “Mainstream media we’ve lost.” He said he hoped that Clinton’s Reno speech would elicit “a full-scale media attack on me,” adding, “I want this to become an international trending topic.”

Clinton did not mention Cernovich, but she attacked Alex Jones, the paranoiac Texas radio host, and, the Pravda of the alt-right. She listed some recent Breitbart headlines, including “Would You Rather Have Feminism or Cancer?,” which were written by Milo Yiannopoulos, the fame-seeking troll. Cernovich calls Yiannopoulos “one of the only guys, other than me, who’s doing social media right.” Before the current election, Cernovich and Yiannopoulos were known primarily as Internet misogynists. Cernovich was drawn to political commentary after recognizing a kindred spirit in Donald Trump.

Yiannopoulos, writing on Breitbart the next day, called Clinton’s speech “a drive-by shooting with a water pistol fired from a mobility scooter.” Alex Jones recorded a video in which he stood in his back yard, wiping sweat from his brow, as he muttered about the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds. “People say, ‘Oh, my God, you’ve hit the big time—Hillary Clinton talked about you,’ ” he scoffed. “Give me a break. Hillary Clinton’s average YouTubes, on her own channel, have, like, five thousand views. Our average one has hundreds of thousands.” His video was viewed more times than the official upload of Clinton’s speech.

Cernovich covered the Reno speech on Periscope. “Is she gonna fall?” he said, watching live footage of Clinton approaching the stage. “She’s grabbing the handrail!” He tweeted, “Sick Hillary grabs handrail as walking up steps. #AltRightMeans.” The hashtag was already trending on Twitter, as the alt-right’s supporters and opponents competed to define the movement. Political spin battles are waged online every minute, and it can be difficult to gauge who is winning. Media consumers don’t believe everything they read, and, because of personalization algorithms, no two social-media feeds look the same. The next day, the mainstream consensus was that the two sides had fought to a draw.

Cernovich thought that Clinton’s speech “was the stupidest thing she could have done.” He added, “Her social-media advisers are twenty-four-year-old basic bitches who feel triggered by us, and so they asked their boss to yell at us and make us go away. Well, we’re not going away. They just made us stronger.”

Cernovich lives fifty miles south of Los Angeles, in a deep-red congressional district. On the Internet, he represents himself as a “Pulitzer-worthy journalist” who runs Cernovich Media, a “global worldwide brand.” When we first spoke, on the phone, I asked him whether he worked from home or in an office full of employees. Chuckling, he said, “It’s definitely just me, dude.”

I visited him in mid-September. He had recently moved to a cul-de-sac where every house has stucco walls, a ceramic tile roof, and bland xeriscaping. He met me outside, wearing a rumpled gingham shirt and jeans. A day-old Orange County Register lay at his feet. He looked fleshier than he did in his videos, and his eye contact was less steady with me than it is on camera. Next door, a sticker on a garbage bin advertised WorldNetDaily, a Web site known for promoting birtherism. Cernovich hadn’t met the neighbors yet. “They’d probably geek out if I told them my name,” he said. “Then I’d have to say hi every time I see them, and maybe they’d want to be friends—nah, not worth it.”

Cernovich trained as a lawyer. In 2003, he was accused of raping a woman he knew; the charge was later dropped, but a judge ordered him to do community service for misdemeanor battery. (His record has since been expunged.) On his first blog, which he started in 2004, he offered a libertarian critique of prosecutorial overreach, emphasizing free speech and false rape allegations. He launched his current blog, Danger and Play, in 2011, after his first wife filed for divorce.

His second wife, Shauna, who is twenty-nine, and pregnant with their first child, was in the kitchen. She is as warm as her husband is taciturn. “I’m so embarrassed!” she said, apologizing for an imaginary mess. The house was clean and compact; the small, paved back yard had a single lawn chair. The lush veranda in the Periscope videos belonged to Shauna’s parents, who live a few blocks away.

Mike and Shauna met in 2011, at a bar in Santa Monica. “He was pretty aggressive,” Shauna told me. “He grabbed my arm, pulled me into him, and said, ‘You fit nicely.’ ”

“It sounds creepy, but it looked less creepy in context,” Mike said.

“It worked,” Shauna said. “We were making out, like, five minutes later.”

Mike said that, when they started dating, “I didn’t take it seriously. But she just refused to go away, and now—”

“I’m married and pregnant!” Shauna said, smiling.

“And my life is over,” Mike said, half-smiling.

“We’re having a girl!” Shauna said. “I think it’ll be good for him, soften him up a bit.”

“I’ll be nice to her, as long as she’s not a basic bitch,” Mike said.

Cernovich sat at the kitchen table, facing a mirror, and placed his laptop next to a teapot full of flowers. (Shauna is in charge of decorating.) “Right now, a hundred and twenty-eight people are reading Danger and Play,” he said. “What’s fun is when you get a hot story and watch the number tick up into the thousands, like a video game.” Nowadays, the blog is mostly a platform for pro-Trump spin, but at first it was about how to pick up women. Its name comes from Nietzsche. (“The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything.”) Early posts included “Misogyny Gets You Laid” and “When Should You Compliment a Woman?” (Answer: “During or after sex.”)

Early in Shauna’s relationship with Mike, she read Danger and Play, including such posts as “How to Cheat on Your Girlfriend.” She said, “I would come home from work crying—‘How can you write such rude things?’ He’d go, ‘You don’t understand, babe, this is just how guys talk.’ ” (Advice from the blog: “Always call your girl ‘babe,’ ” to avoid mixing up names.) Shauna, who has stopped working, continued, “I was still upset, though, and he eventually deleted some older posts.”

“I rewrote some of the wording,” Mike insisted. “I never disavow things I’ve said.” Throughout our September conversations, he referred to his more misogynist remarks as “locker-room talk.”

His political analysis was nearly as crass as his dating advice. In March, he tweeted, “Hillary’s face looks like melting candle wax. Imagine what her brain looks like.” Next, he tweeted a picture of Clinton winking, which he interpreted as “a mild stroke.” By August, he was declaring that she had both a seizure disorder and Parkinson’s disease.

“There are a million things wrong with Hillary,” Cernovich told me. “She’s a documented liar. She’s massively corrupt. She wants to let in more so-called refugees, which makes her an existential threat to the West.” (He calls the Syrian refugee crisis a “media lie.”) “But I was looking at the conversation online—what was getting through to people and what wasn’t—and none of that was sticking. It’s too complex. I thought that the health stuff would be more visceral, more resonant from a persuasion standpoint, and so I pushed that.”

On September 11th, Clinton fainted after attending a memorial service at Ground Zero. Cernovich wrote a post called “Complete Timeline of Hillary’s Health #HillarysHealth,” which included such data points as “peculiar travel habits” and “lengthy naps.” It got two hundred and forty thousand page views—less than a marquee Huffington Post story, but impressive for a blog with no advertising budget. More important, #HillarysHealth became a national trending topic on Twitter. That day, Chris Cillizza, a centrist pundit at the Washington Post, wrote an article titled “Hillary Clinton’s Health Just Became a Real Issue in This Campaign.” Scott Greer, a deputy editor of the Daily Caller, tweeted, “Cernovich memed #SickHillary into reality. Never doubt the power of memes.”

Without months of priming by Cernovich and others, Clinton’s collapse might have been seen as an isolated event. And the alt-right rumors may have prompted Clinton to be secretive about having pneumonia, making it a bigger story when it was revealed. “I decline the Pulitzer for my work on Hillary’s health,” Cernovich tweeted. “I will not accept a scam award from a scam organization.”

There is a lot of discussion in certain parts of the Internet about “red-pill moments.” In the 1999 film “The Matrix,” the hero faces a choice: the blue pill will allow him to stay within a comfortable delusion; the red pill will cause him to wake up. “Red pill” is good branding—it’s cowardly to live a lie. On many message boards, though, the lie being dismantled is gender equality.

“My first marriage was ruined by feminist indoctrination,” Cernovich told me. He married his first wife in 2003, when they were law students at Pepperdine. Initially, he said, the “power arrangement” was “fifty-fifty.” Then came a realization: “What she actually wanted was for me to be more assertive, to be the man in the relationship. So I would be more assertive, and she’d be happier for a few days. Then she’d go, ‘No, I need to be in charge,’ and we’d butt heads.” They separated in 2011. (Cernovich’s ex-wife declined to be interviewed.)

After law school, his wife became a successful attorney in Silicon Valley. But Cernovich was not admitted to the California bar until nine years after getting his law degree. In the meantime, he says, he got by with “freelance legal research” and “appellate stuff.” Cernovich’s wife earned millions of dollars in stock from an I.P.O.; he told me that he received “seven figures” in the divorce settlement. This seems to have been, and might still be, his primary source of funds. (He insists that book sales provide his main income.)

Cernovich says that during college, at the University of Illinois, he was socialized to be submissive. “I was friends with a lot of girls who had crushes on me, but I was too polite to fuck them,” he said. After his divorce, he reinvented himself as an alpha male. His self-published 2015 book, “Gorilla Mindset,” is a manual for men who want to “unleash the animal” within them. The book is filed under Gender Studies in the Amazon Kindle store. Until recently, it was the top seller in that category, ahead of “We Should All Be Feminists,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

On his blog, Cernovich developed a theory of white-male identity politics: men were oppressed by feminism, and political correctness prevented the discussion of obvious truths, such as the criminal proclivities of certain ethnic groups. His opponents were beta males, losers, or “cucks”—alt-right slang for “cuckolds.” “To beat a person, you lower his or her social status,” he wrote on Danger and Play. “Logic is pointless.”

Although he disdained electoral politics (“No thinking man buys into this two-party political system”), he was in an ideal position to foresee Trump’s rise. In July, 2015, he tweeted, “I said if a Republican acted like me and ran for office, it’d be a movement. Donald Trump has proven me right. People are tired of pussies.” Politics is a blood sport, but, during the primaries, Jeb Bush and the rest of Trump’s “cuckservative” opponents preferred to be genteel. “What are Trump’s policies? I don’t particularly care,” Cernovich wrote on Danger and Play. And, in another post: “If Trump offends you, it’s because you live in a cucked world where no one speaks their minds.”

While I was in California, Cernovich hosted a meet-up for his readers, on the boardwalk in Hermosa Beach. I arrived early, not quite sure what to look for. A crowd had gathered around a drum circle. “Can you feel the Earth’s rhythm?” a drummer asked. Nearby, a film crew from was shooting a video about sex positivity. At an outdoor bar, I spotted some beefy white men, in T-shirts and shorts. “Cernovich?” I asked. They nodded.

About sixty people showed up, including a few women and people of color. Cernovich’s admirers peppered him with questions. “What about Hillary’s body count?” a young man asked, referring to rumors that Clinton has ordered the killing of several enemies—among them John F. Kennedy, Jr.—or has murdered them herself. Cernovich looked skeptical, and the young man was disappointed. “Then again, Bill’s brother was a drug dealer, and they have ties to organized crime,” Cernovich said. “So who knows?”

Cernovich told me, “I believe in strong borders, including keeping out Islamic terrorists. If people think that’s inherently racist, fine—but I’m an American nationalist, not a white nationalist.” A few people at the meet-up were white nationalists—not the skinhead type but the more polished, just-asking-the-question variety. Some attendees proudly called themselves “deplorables,” and many praised Cernovich as a corrective to traditional journalism. “Corporate news is fucking fake, dude,” a cybersecurity consultant named Jeff Martinez said. “You can just tell.” An informal poll revealed that no one believed in polls. Trump was going to be President, no matter what the cucked media said.

Most conversations touched on free speech (which everyone was for) and political correctness (which everyone was against). “I’m sick of the censorship, the words you can’t say,” Steven McHale, a marketing analyst, told me. Milo Yiannopoulos had recently been banned from Twitter, and the attendees were outraged. “It’s straight-up thought policing,” someone said. “It’s ‘1984.’ ”

The prevailing logic was that, short of yelling fire in a crowded theatre, anyone should be able to say anything, in any venue. But censure is not censorship. The Constitution guarantees that the government won’t restrict what you can say; it does not guarantee that you can shout obscenities on CNN, or that you can harass co-workers, or that you can make racist arguments without being made to feel like a racist. One of the unifying marks of the alt-right sensibility is the assumption that no speech act is beyond the pale. Instead of being offended by blackface or pictures of dead babies, you are encouraged to see them as funny, even if you don’t understand why. At the meet-up, a pudgy man wore a T-shirt with a picture of Harambe, the gorilla that was killed earlier this year at the Cincinnati Zoo. People pointed at the shirt and snickered, adding, “Dicks out for Harambe.” I asked the man to explain the joke. “It’s a funny thing people say, or post, or whatever,” he said. “It’s just a thing on the Internet.” At times, it can seem like anything—a dead gorilla, a rape threat, a Presidential election—is just a thing on the Internet.

“You guys want a snack?” Shauna asked.

“Not now, babe,” Mike said, his eyes on his computer screen. She put out a bowl of pita chips, which he ignored.

It was 11 a.m., and he had been sitting at his kitchen table for hours. First, he appeared, via Skype, on “The Gavin McInnes Show,” an online alt-right talk show. Then he perused Twitter. In September, Cernovich’s tweets were seen more than a hundred million times. When he bragged about this on Twitter, one of his followers replied, “Guerrilla Mindset: How Mike Cernovich waged war on journalism and won.”

“Some people say they hate Beltway insiders and establishment media types, but it’s actually sour grapes,” Cernovich said. (Ann Coulter came to mind.) “Deep down, they want the cool kids to love them. I actually fucking detest those people.” He grew up in Kewanee, a farming town in Illinois. Not long ago, he said, “I started looking into who these neocon policy wonks are. Every backstory was the same—East Coast, Harvard, trust fund, nepotism. Look, if the experts decide tomorrow that we’re going to war with Russia, who’s gonna fight that war? Jonah Goldberg and Ross Douthat? Fuck no. It’ll be guys I know from Kewanee.”

His parents are devout Christians. His mother didn’t finish high school; his father bounced between factory jobs, eventually working at a junk yard. “Kids I knew either joined the Army or didn’t leave town,” Cernovich said. “The smartest kid in the class above me got into the University of Chicago, and I went, ‘What’d he do wrong?’ Because, in my mind, a city is smaller than a state, so the University of Illinois had to be a better school.” Cernovich’s parents and his three siblings still live in the area, but he rarely visits or calls home. “There’s nothing to talk about,” he said. “If I still believed in Jesus, we could talk about that.”

As we spoke, a fan sent him a message: Rush Limbaugh had just mentioned #ZombieHillary on his radio show. The hashtag, referring to Clinton’s supposed frailty, had trended the previous day on Twitter, after Cernovich encouraged his followers to use it. “I would like to claim credit for it, but I can’t,” Limbaugh had said. “Somebody on Twitter did it.” Cernovich told me, “He’ll never mention me by name, but he’s at least listening to the periphery.”

“I think we overordered.”

People have always expressed extreme views online, but for many years there was no easy way for such opinions to spread. The Internet was a vast landscape dotted with isolated viruses. The rise of social networks was like the advent of air travel: a virus can now conquer the world in a day. Instead of picking up a newspaper or visiting its home page, people scan their social-media accounts, where myriad information sources—the Daily Mail, links posted by Steph Curry, a distant relative’s Facebook rants—compete for their attention.

The term “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins, in his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene”; he defined it as any “unit of cultural transmission” that stays alive by “leaping from brain to brain.” In a footnote to the 1989 edition, he wrote, “Computers are increasingly tied together. Many of them are literally wired up together in electronic mail exchange. . . . It is a perfect milieu for self-replicating programs to flourish.” Dawkins was worried about computer viruses. He couldn’t have predicted Guccifer 2.0 or #ZombieHillary.

“We may be at a threshold,” Dawkins told me recently. “In the past, I would’ve been tempted to say, about the Internet, that although everybody has a megaphone, in many cases it’s a quiet one. You can put up a YouTube video, but who’s going to watch it? Now, however ridiculous what you’re saying is, if you make it memetically successful, something really bad can spread through the culture.”

Cernovich had another red-pill moment during a trip to Budapest, where he saw hundreds of Syrian émigrés camped out in a train station, waiting to be resettled elsewhere in Hungary. Based on the media coverage of the crisis, he’d expected to see squalor, amputees, wailing children. Instead, he said, “there were able-bodied men playing soccer. Guys and girls flirting. It hit me—these people aren’t refugees. It’s a hoax.” He shared photographs of the refugees on Facebook, writing, “There is no oppression. The media lied.” The photos were shared nearly five thousand times—his first taste of viral fame.

Cernovich realized that a meme could reach more people than a newspaper story, without having to cross an editor’s desk. With savvy framing, an alternative voice could seem as authoritative as the nightly news. He decided to become one of those voices.

He had already insinuated himself into public conflicts in order to gain followers. (“Conflict is attention.”) And in 2014 he became a champion of GamerGate, a vicious campaign against feminists in the video-game industry. He goaded his opponents on Twitter: “Who cares about breast cancer and rape? Not me.” Cernovich’s affiliation with GamerGate made him, he said, “toxic in the eyes of a lot of people,” but he calculated that the exposure was worth it.

He picked fights with celebrities on Twitter. (Seth Rogen took the bait; Cernovich called him “Cuck Rogen.”) “I’m not a pure troll,” Cernovich told me. “Pure trolls are amoral”—they post swastikas, he suggested, not out of an allegiance to Nazism but because they enjoy riling people. “I use trolling tactics to build my brand.”

Pro-Trump activism channelled several of Cernovich’s interests: he could hurt a feminist’s chances of becoming President, associate himself with the year’s top story, and deploy brawler methods on behalf of someone who is even more ruthless online than he is. In mid-October, Cernovich released another book, “maga Mindset,” about Trump’s “unapologetically masculine” persona.

Ever since the advent of the mass media, professional journalists have been a bulwark against seditious or far-fetched theories. One might attribute this fact to their paternalism, their myopia, or their rectitude. In any case, their work tended to have a homogenizing effect. Newscasters told us that the world was more or less as we expected it to be, and we more or less believed them. This system had its faults: after all, far-fetched theories are sometimes true. In 1922, Walter Lippmann, in his book “Public Opinion,” warned of “the manufacture of consent,” a power that media gatekeepers could use for good or for ill.

That was a twentieth-century problem. The media no longer has the ability to manufacture consent. Walter Cronkite was once the most trusted man in America; in 2013, according to a Reader’s Digest survey, the most trusted person was Tom Hanks. “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Walter Cronkite lied about everything,” Cernovich said. “Before Twitter, how would you have known? Look, I read postmodernist theory in college. If everything is a narrative, then we need alternatives to the dominant narrative.” He smiled. “I don’t seem like a guy who reads Lacan, do I?”

These days, Cernovich’s primary target is the “hoaxing media.” He told me, “The mainstream media has lost so much legitimacy at this point that if they reported, ‘We just saw Trump beat the shit out of a guy on the street,’ skeptical people like my readers would go, ‘Really? Is there video? Was the video doctored?’ ” Such casual cynicism, of course, redounds to Trump’s advantage. For his part, Trump may have changed his mind about almost every policy proposal and campaign strategy, but he consistently maintains that journalists are scum.

In 2010, when the right-wing provocateur Andrew Breitbart started a blog called Big Journalism, the name was ironic. Now gets more traffic than the Los Angeles Times, and Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s former editor-in-chief, is running Trump’s campaign. Cernovich said, “Going by the statistics, I’m less influential than some people”—Trump, say, or Kim Kardashian—“but way more influential than some punk blogger at Politico or The Weekly Standard who thinks of himself as part of the media élite. Objectively, I am the new media.”

As Shauna Cernovich was leaving the house to visit her parents, she told me, “They don’t fully understand what Michael does. They get that he likes Trump and that he puts stuff on the Internet—they just don’t get how that’s a job.” Her parents are secular Persian Muslims who left Iran before it became a theocracy. “My dad hates when women cover their hair,” she said.

“We sometimes joke that he’s more Islamophobic than I am,” Mike said.

“My dad actually created an anonymous Twitter account so he could troll Muslims,” Shauna said. “At the same time, he hates Trump, because he’s, like, ‘If he’s saying negative things about different groups, then how do we know he’s not going to come after Persians one day?’ Even if you believe certain things, you shouldn’t necessarily say it openly.”

Mike shrugged. “I don’t think any ideas are off limits,” he said. “Actions, yes. Words, no.”

“Neither party seems to be talking about cats.”

He stood up and stretched, thrusting his chest forward and his arms back. “Lowers your cortisol,” he explained. He poured himself a coffee, sat down, and read articles about Ahmad Rahami, who was suspected of planting bombs in New Jersey and Manhattan. Developments in the Rahami case were big news in the New York area, but not everywhere on the Internet. “If there’s a story that can hurt Hillary, I want it in the news cycle,” Cernovich said. “When I first started, that meant figuring out how news cycles work.” One way to propel a story into the mainstream is to get it linked by the Drudge Report. “If it’s on Drudge, then it’s on ‘Hannity,’ ” Cernovich said. “If it’s on ‘Hannity,’ then Brian Stelter’s talking about it on CNN.” The Drudge Report favors big newspapers and established right-wing blogs; Danger and Play is not on the list. “If I have a really hot story, I might leak it to someone at Breitbart, or to someone else who can get the Drudge link.” That journalist usually returns the favor by embedding a Cernovich tweet in the story.

Twitter is Cernovich’s favorite medium for promoting memes. The site devotes a prominent place to its list of trending topics—the most discussed phrases and hashtags of the moment, according to a proprietary algorithm. “It starts on Periscope,” he explained. “I’ll show you.” He propped his iPad upright on the kitchen table, so that the camera lens faced the mirror, and started filming.

Within seconds, thousands of viewers had signed on. “We’ve gotta get a hashtag trending,” he said. “We definitely need to remind the world that Hillary Clinton is bringing in the terrorists.” Viewers made suggestions, and Cernovich, monitoring the feed on his laptop, read them aloud. “HillarysMigrants is good,” he said. “HillarysTerrorists is good. Yeah, just keep throwing them out.” He overlooked #hillaryshitmen and #hillarysmigrantcuntlickers, as well as a commenter who wrote, “Nice tea kettle of flowers Cuck.”

After a few minutes, Cernovich chose #HillarysMigrants. He instructed his followers, “Remind people that Angela Merkel, George Soros, Hillary Clinton—they’re all together. Post pictures of them together. Post pictures of the terrorist attacks.” While he was talking, Shauna returned home and sat on a couch in the background of the shot. (“If I stayed out of his videos all the time, I’d never be allowed in the living room,” she told me.) He went on for twenty more minutes, referring to George Soros’s son six times as a “basic bitch.”

He ended the Periscope video and searched for #HillarysMigrants on Twitter. “Ninety-two people have posted to it in the past minute,” he said. Many of the tweets included images, as he’d requested: Clinton and Merkel laughing conspiratorially; a caricature of Clinton as a ventriloquist’s dummy, sitting on Soros’s lap. “It’s hard to tell yet whether this is a killer hashtag or just an O.K. one,” he said. A hashtag will trend, he estimates, if it gets thirty-five hundred tweets within an hour. “That’s a guess—Twitter keeps that stuff secret,” he said.

Around 3:30 p.m., he announced that he was done for the day. “I’ll go to the gym, relax for a bit,” he said. Before closing his laptop, he checked his direct messages on Twitter, and found a tip alleging that, in 2014, a Reddit user had asked for help removing a “VERY VIP” e-mail address “from a bunch of archived e-mail.” The tipster claimed that the Reddit user was Paul Combetta, one of Hillary Clinton’s I.T. staffers. Cernovich clicked the link to the Reddit thread and noticed that it had been deleted. “Son of a bitch!” he said. “This might actually be true.”

He returned to muckraking mode. “We’re going to make a whole new news cycle about her fucking e-mails again!” he said. “This poor fucking woman.” He started a new Periscope video. “What do you guys want to do for a hashtag?” he said. He decided on #HillarysHacker. It was trending before he finished the video. That day, more than forty-two thousand tweets were posted with the hashtag.

I returned to Cernovich’s house the next morning. By then, the Reddit story had been covered by Vice and New York, and a congressman had asked prosecutors in Washington, D.C., to look into it. Cernovich had tweeted dozens of times since I’d left, including at 1:30 a.m. He was wearing the same gingham shirt. “I didn’t go to the gym last night,” he said, sheepishly. “I’ve gained twenty pounds during this fucking election.”

He told me that he’d been reading Andrew Breitbart’s 2011 autobiography, “Righteous Indignation”: “There’s a part where he’s on a plane for five hours, without Wi-Fi, and he has withdrawal symptoms. I relate to that. And, you know, Breitbart had a huge cultural impact, but he died of heart failure at forty-three.”

The following week, Cernovich went to the first Presidential debate, at Hofstra University. He lacked press credentials, so he found a few dozen Jill Stein supporters on the perimeter of the campus, and streamed their protest via Periscope. “Police keep sending us to different areas,” he texted me. He claimed that this was “psyops” designed to dampen the protesters’ morale. In a Periscope video called “No free speech at #Debates2016,” he said, “Mainstream media’s not gonna talk about this.”

“The cops are Soros people!” one commenter wrote.

“Harambe!” another wrote.

I was inside the gates, in a gym where the TV networks had set up broadcast booths. I ran into Lou Dobbs, the Fox Business anchor, who was wearing pancake makeup. I asked him if he’d heard of Cernovich. “Absolutely!” he said. “I follow him on Twitter. Seems very smart.”

We parted, then Dobbs chased me down. “Can I revise that?” he said. “I’m not sure I follow him.” (He does.) “I’ve seen his stuff, and I think it’s interesting,” he added. “Interesting is a good thing, right?”

Cernovich watched the debate from a parking lot, on his phone. Afterward, he gave me a ride to Manhattan. Trump had spent much of the debate sniffling audibly, and I asked Cernovich if he worried about Trump’s health. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they messed with his mike to make it sound like that,” he said.

He predicted that traditional journalists would spin the debate in Clinton’s favor. “The left likes to talk about power structures, right?” he said. “Well, the media still thinks of itself as speaking truth to power. What they don’t realize is that someone like me is perceived as the new Fourth Estate. Maybe they should check their structural privilege.” The “paternalistic” media, he said, was giving way to a more democratic one. “It makes journalists crazy, because they used to be in control,” he said. “They can’t control people anymore. Everyone has a voice now.” ♦