Trump's "social media summit" is a haven for far-right fringe figures

Trump's "social media summit" at the White House feels more like a gaggle of far-right internet micro-celebs

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published July 11, 2019 2:45PM (EDT)


President Trump's "social media summit" on Thursday will be an unprecedented gathering of far-right media figures from across the American political landscape.

The attendees are a veritable who's-who of the right-wing internet, according to Media Matters for America's comprehensive list of invited guests.

Individuals and organizations that have said they were invited to the summit or have been confirmed to attend include conservative radio host Bill Mitchell, a right-wing meme maker known online as Carpe Donktum, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, right-wing propaganda YouTube channel Prager University, pro-Trump cartoonist Ben Garrison (whose invitation has since been rescinded), Human Events publisher Will Chamberlain, Media Research Center founder Brent Bozell, conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, Students for Trump co-founder Ryan Fournier, right-wing personality Ali Akbar (also known as Ali Alexander), discredited “citizen journalist” James O’Keefe, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), right-wing commentator Tim Pool, Turning Point USA Chief Creative Officer Benny Johnson, far-right blog The Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft, fringe social media platform, conservative singer Joy Villa, and anti-abortion activist Lila Rose.

"I feel like maybe the rest of us are in denial, or disbelief, that these kinds of internet celebrities and social media influencers are already a powerful force shaping our culture," Erin Gallagher, right-wing disinformation expert, told NBC News. "The people and topics that they elevate with their massive platforms are incredibly toxic and will have very damaging long-term effects on society."

Although the president initially refused to open up the summit to the mainstream media — or the "fake news," as he likes to say — he eventually relented, saying reporters would be permitted to cover the event "for a limited period." White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere told NBC News that Trump's ostensible angle is to "engage directly with these digital leaders in a discussion on the power of social media."

One noteworthy detail is that many far-right groups that have been banned from major social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were not invited, even though one of the major complaints of the online far right is that such bans have occurred. Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes are among those who were seemingly snubbed, according to The Daily Beast. The publication also reported that White House social media director Dan Scavino, a key point man in keeping tabs on Trump's support among the online right, played a crucial role in assembling the list of attendees.

This isn't to say there won't be plenty of toxicity on hand. According to Media Matters for America, the invitees have a checkered record, to say the least. The "meme creator" known as Carpe Donktum has been criticized for encouraging violence against law enforcement officials. Ryan Fournier reportedly worked with white nationalists in his capacity as national chairman of Students for Trump. Tim Pool has released videos that appeared to legitimize white nationalists. Ali Alexander spread the false claimed that Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is not black. Bill Mitchell has promoted the conspiracy theories associated with QAnon. James O'Keefe has repeatedly edited videos in misleading fashion to smear or discredit various liberal causes and groups. Gateway Pundit has promoted several discredited conspiracy theories, including those about Barack Obama's birthplace and the murder of Seth Rich.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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