Epik’s hosting services provide connection for Jones’ Infowars and Fuentes’ white nationalists

Epik’s hosting services provide connection for Jones’ Infowars and Fuentes’ white nationalists

Alex Jones has always tried to frame his far-right conspiracist Infowars site as a nonracist operation that eschews overt antisemitism and bigotry, even though his conspiracy theories are common grist for the mills of explicit white nationalists like “Groyper” leader Nicholas Fuentes. The fact that both Jones and Fuentes frequently appear at the same pro-Donald Trump, COVID-denialist events seems a mere coincidence.

Except that it’s not. Stellar reportage from Michael Edison Hayden, Megan Squire, and Hannah Gais at Hatewatch this week ripped the cover off that façade by revealing that Jones’ and Fuentes’ operations are fundamentally connected at the hip through the web-hosting company, Epik, that keeps both of them online after being deplatformed. They not only share employees and extremist strategizing, but appear to be jointly buying up web domains that reference far-right terrorist acts.

Hatewatch reports that among those domains purchased by Epik employees are several that reference the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre, including “tarrantmanifesto.com” and “sainttarrant.com.” Epik also now owns domains that reference “Right Wing Death Squads” as well as “shooterchan.com.”

The person who oversees all these connections and domain-name purchases is Michael Zimmerman, who currently is Epik’s director of enterprise services, and formerly was Infowars’ information technology director, though he apparently still does work for Jones. He also is a member of the development team for Fuentes’ America First organization. Zimmerman heads up a team of about 12 people at Epik who have been involved in the domain-name purchases.

Hatewatch found 12 different people working together in a technical capacity across America First, Infowars, Epik and a livestreaming platform called Vieo.com, recently purchased by Epik. Over a span of 25 months starting in 2019, these individuals cumulatively registered approximately 212 different domains with Epik and organized eight different limited liability companies (LLCs). Zimmermann registered most of the domains and LLCs and appears to have the longest-standing ties to this tech network supporting these far right media companies.

Epik, a hosting service and domain registrar based in Sammamish, Washington, has a long history of dalliances with the extremist right. In particular, it has become the website host for a number of far-right websites and pundits that were booted from mainstream platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as large service providers. These include Gab, which became a nesting ground for white nationalists even before one of its members massacred worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, went out of service shortly afterward, and then resurrected itself on Epik; as well as Parler, the far-right chat platform which hosted a growing mountain of violent-right rhetoric prior to Jan. 6, as well as a massive amount of material from the Capitol insurrection itself posted by users who participated, after which it lost its hosting services and moved to Epik.

Epik founder/CEO Rob Monster claims that he has no white-nationalist sympathies, and points to his company’s removal of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer from its platforms after buying the company that hosted it as proof. Instead, the company likes to boast that it is a “protector of responsible Free Speech.”

However, as Hayden reported earlier, Monster in fact has interacted on Gab, where he has an account, with Chris “Crying Nazi” Cantwell—currently appearing in a Charlottesville courtroom for his role in the lethal August 2017 “Unite the Right” riots—and a white nationalist podcaster named Eric Striker, who in addition to writing for the Stormer is known for his frequent collaborations with white supremacist David Duke.

In January, Monster appeared on “The People’s Square,” a livestream project run by Striker, and commented about how the internet can make people more open to controversial views: “You look at a guy like David Duke for example, and he has some far-right views and so forth. But he’s actually a pretty clever guy, he’s articulate. He knows history. And I don’t know the body of his work, but I have a feeling that many people grew up with this mindset that you shouldn’t listen to anything David Duke says.”

It’s unsurprising that Infowars snagged domain names related to the March 2019 massacre at two Christchurch mosques; Jones made his sympathy for the killer quite clear afterward. Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes went on Jones’ program and told listeners that the terrorist’s motives were legitimate:

When a guy who’s worried about or concerned about mass immigration of Muslims into Europe goes crazy and kills people, then they’re gonna blame all the rest of us who have the same concern. That’s how it’s gonna be used. And this is why we have to just fight back and say, “You know what, that doesn’t erase the fact that this is a problem. This is what drove this guy over the edge.”

Jones and Rhodes also avidly promoted the right-wing discussion about declaring civil war against liberals, particularly during Trump’s 2019 impeachment, when Jones warned: “If Trump falls, you and your family are next.” The connection between the Infowars and America First operation has often involved these contiguous talking points and their conspiracy theories, but after the 2020 election, they began appearing together at the same events.

Notably, both of them had speaking roles at the Nov. 12, 2020, “Millon MAGA March” protesting Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in the election, while Rhodes’ Oath Keepers showed up to provide security. Fuentes promoted the rally on Parler: “[W]e will rally in DC this weekend. GROYPERS ARE GOING TO STOP THIS COUP!,” he wrote. On Twitter, he called the event “MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE.” For Jones, Biden’s election—which he insists only occurred through fraud—was the final apocalyptic straw, who concluded: “We must not comply. This is the final assault. It’s the takeover. And it’s here.”

Both men appeared at the Dec. 12 “Stop the Steal” rally, denouncing the election results. Jones predicted that Biden would be removed from office “one way or another,” while Fuentes denounced Republicans for their supposed weakness in preventing Trump’s loss, saying, “We are going to destroy the GOP.” Having helped whip up a frenzy among their followers both men were present during the Jan. 6 Trump rally at the Ellipse and at the Capitol siege that followed.

David Kaye, an online speech expert at the University of California-Irvine, told NPR that while figures like Jones and Fuentes maintain an appearance of operating within their own spheres, Epik and Monster—who describes far-right extremists as mere “shock jocks” who shouldn’t be taken seriously—have real culpability for the violence that ensues from their speech, because it’s being platformed on their business.

“He can say they’re just ‘shock jocks,’ but what we actually see is real world harm coming from the platforms,” he said. “So how much is somebody who is allowing that content to be hosted operating in real good faith?”

Hayden told NPR that the extremist sites Epik hosts are especially noteworthy for the violence they help engender. “The difference is there are people with terroristic ambitions plotting out in the open, producing propaganda that they seek to use to kind of encourage violence,” he said. “And those are the kind of websites Rob Monster is willing to pick up.”

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