Butterfly Attack: The Origins of Fake Antifa Social Media Accounts
Throughout 2017, pranksters and extremists utilized parody accounts to discredit the antifascist movement in the US, taking advantage of available and official-sounding Twitter handles and public confusion about antifascists to spread narratives about antifa violence and drive wedges between antifascists, Black Lives Matter activists, and liberals. These butterfly attacks used keyword squatting to capture attention during breaking news events, and tactically adjusted over the course of the year. An outcome of this campaign was that it muddied the waters through the volume of official-sounding accounts. This case study outlines the origin of butterfly attacks that continue to the present day, with news events like #AntifaFires being a prime recent example of a campaign made possible by the media manipulation campaign outlined here.
STAGE 1: Manipulation Campaign Planning and Origins
On February 21, 2017 a Facebook page called “God Emperor Trump” swarmed a Facebook page run by genuine antifa activists called “Boston Antifa.” This mass reporting campaign resulted in Facebook suspending the antifa page. The same day, dual imposter Boston Antifa Facebook pages sprang up, created by different groups of right-wing trolls: one that posted pro-Trump memes that got little attention, and another by two alt-right trolls from Eugene, Oregon whose postings mimicked and parodied antifacist media. That parody page looked convincingly real — real enough to dupe some users on 4chan.1
In the next week, posters on 4chan’s /pol/ board launched a two pronged attack on antifa: they called on people to troll the Boston Antifa Facebook page (that they didn’t realize was fake),2 and to submit fake blogs to the legitimately anarchist and antifascist It’s Going Down website, using its submission form.3
On March 3, a poster in /pol/ pointed out that the parody Boston Antifa Facebook page was actually created by Trump supporters to troll the left, and asked users to stop attacking it.4
This revelation led to a tactical readjustment. Inspired by the fake Boston Antifa page, /pol/ users began emulating it, making more parody antifa accounts — on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — to dupe the left, while at times also tricking people in the very forums where the campaign was being planned.5 This quick growth of activity escalated, turning isolated acts of trolling into the beginnings of an ongoing meme war.
One March 6 comment on /pol/, for example, read: “Create a bunch of fake twitters that are so divisive to either draw antifa away from each other, or just frighten normies.”6 At least 26 fake antifa parody Twitter accounts were created that month, including the viral Beverly Hills Antifa, and popular Mar-A-Lago Antifa. On March 25, a Facebook post from the fake Boston Antifa page created by the Eugene trolls was shared to a /pol/ thread,7 goading users to make more fake antifa accounts. A cluster of comments on /pol/ followed, suggesting users make fake antifa accounts: "time to ramp up impersonating Antifa,"8 “Start making fake Antifa chapters,”9 “There should be fake Antifa pages made daily,”10 “Make fake Antifa Chapters on Facebook.”11 A /pol/ comment on March 28 even suggested, "we should organize a Conservative vs Antifa brawl" and make a fake Antifa “call to action” poster to go to a field with weapons.12
- 1Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #114730309,” 4chan, March 1, 2017, accessed via 4plebs,https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/114730309/#114753206.
- 2Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #114464646,” 4chan, February 26, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/114464646/.
- 3Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #114730309,” 4chan, February 28, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/114730309/.
- 4Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #115049435,” 4chan, March 3, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/115049435/#q115049435.
- 5Ulmius, “A Friendly Suggestion to Antifa’s Men (the Whole Thing, Believe Me, y’all Will Love This XD),” Free Republic, March 25, 2017, http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/3538389/posts; Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #119039373,” 4chan, March 31, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/119039373/#q119040616.
- 6Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #115446846,” 4chan, March 6, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, http://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/115446846/#115447601.
- 7Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #118271760,” 4chan, March 25, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/118271760/#118271760.
- 8Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #118271760,” 4chan, March 25, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/118271760/#q118276765.
- 9Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #118271760,” 4chan, March 25, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/118271760/#q118274749.
- 10Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #118285086,” 4chan, March 25, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/118285086/#q118287325.
- 11Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #118286990,” 4chan, March 25, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/118286990/#q118294926.
- 12Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #118690524,” 4chan, March 28, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/118690524/#q118712238.
STAGE 2: Seeding Campaign Across Social Platforms and Web
By the end of March, public figures like James Woods1 and Dinesh D’Souza2 recognized the joke and boosted fake antifa tweets. On March 31, conservative Twitter aggregator website Twitchy posted a blog titled “These parody antifa Twitter accounts mocking anti-Trump protesters are the FUNNIEST things going right now” and embedded tweets from several of the early parody accounts.3
New fake antifa accounts were created steadily throughout April and May. When news coverage about “Antifa” spiked in August of 2017 because of reporting about the Unite the Right rally, a second wave of accounts were created.
The two Eugene trolls behind the fake Boston Antifa Facebook page made Boston Antifa accounts across multiple platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, Gab, YouTube, Minds, MySpace, and .4 They have since set up Discord Servers, a Patreon account for donations,5 and a Telegram Channel.6
All total, we have found evidence of 66 fake Facebook antifa pages created between 2017 to 2020 (21 are still online as of October 2020), 486 Twitter accounts (218 remain online as of October 2020), 12 Gab accounts (most of which are dormant, privated, or deactivated as of October 2020), eight YouTube channels (dormant as of October 2020, at least three Instagram accounts and at least five accounts on Minds (deleted or dormant as of October 2020).
The accounts regularly followed, interacted with, and amplified each other.7 They tweeted profusely throughout alt-right protests and breaking news events, utilizing hashtags to insert their commentary into trends and mention alt-right and far-right accounts in their tweets.8 They often tweeted exaggerated threats of violence during breaking news, such as when @ScarsdaleAntifa tweeted, “Ending White Privilege starts with ending White People #resist #berkeley” during Berkeley protests in April 2017,9 or when @LagBeachAntifa tweeted, “We will burn the city down if that's what it takes to run the Nazis out of #Charlottesville #UniteTheRight” during the Unite the Right rally in August 2017.
Many of their tweets went viral. For example @BevHillsAntifa tweeted a video on June 10, 2017 with the text “White Antifa Tranny Punches Black Man & Then Loses Fight. ✊”10 When the now deleted tweet was archived on July 4, 2017 it had 2.6K replies, 5.8K retweets and 11K likes.
A March 30 troll tweet from LagBeachAntifa11 got hundreds of likes and RTs and was shared in the Anticom planning discord server for Unite The Right.12 On April 5, lawyer Ron Coleman tweeted a screenshot of the account with the text, “@LagBeachAntifa The #resistance is growing!”13 On April 7, Proud Boys founder14 Gavin McInnes hosted the Eugene Trolls from the fake Boston Antifa on Rebel Media and The Gavin McInnes Show.15
- 1James Woods (@RealJamesWoods), “Obviously satire, but still a howler...,” Twitter, March 30, 2017, https://twitter.com/RealJamesWoods/status/847646617196929026.
- 2Dinesh D’Souza (@DineshDSouza), “Are You Sure the Trumpsters Didn’t Get This Idea from One of Your Own Training Seminars? Https://Twitter.Com/Bevhillsantifa/Status/847591420965691392,” Twitter, March 30, 2017, https://twitter.com/DineshDSouza/status/847644784365682688.
- 3Greg Pollowitz, “These parody antifa Twitter accounts mocking anti-Trump protesters are the FUNNIEST things going right now,” twitchy, March 31, 2017, https://twitchy.com/gregp-3534/2017/03/31/these-parody-antifa-twitter-accounts-mocking-anti-trump-protesters-are-the-funniest-things-going-right-now/.
- 4“Boston Antifa,” BIT Chute, https://www.bitchute.com/bostonantifa/.
- 5“Boston Antifa Exposed,” Patreon, April 23, 2020, https://www.patreon.com/posts/boston-antifa-36337192.
- 6“Boston Antifa,” BIT Chute.
- 7Erin Gallagher, “Fake Antifa Twitter,” Medium, July 18, 2017, https://medium.com/@erin_gallagher/fake-antifa-twitter-be3a05f4d2ca.
- 8The fake @OfficialAntifa was archived dozens of times in 2017, each of which shows it was tagging and interacting with many large verified accounts on the right, using hashtags for trending news stories and getting hundreds of retweets and likes for each tweet.
- 9Scarsdale NY Antifa (@ScarsdaleAntifa), “Ending White Privilege Starts with Ending White People #resist #berkeley,” archive.org, July 17, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170421183423/https://twitter.com/ScarsdaleAntifa/status/854146311444021248.
- 10Beverly Hills Antifa (@BevHillsAntifa), “White Antifa Tranny Punches Black Man & Then Loses Fight. ✊,” archive.org, June 10, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170704140825if_/https://twitter.com/bevhillsantifa/status/873720441117917184.
- 11Laguna Beach Antifa (@LagBeachAntifa), “One of Our Comrades Was Attacked Today on the Beach by a Group of Nazis and Buried in the Sand. Everyone Who Voted for Trump Caused This.,” archive.is, March 30, 2017, https://archive.is/a8gRx.
- 12“Message from 🅱arD in Anticom #general,” Discord Leaks, March 31, 2017, https://discordleaks.unicornriot.ninja/discord/view/110495?q=LagBeachAntifa#msg.
- 13Ron Coleman (@RonColeman), “@LagBeachAntifa The #resistance Is Growing!,” Twitter, March 31, 2017, https://twitter.com/RonColeman/status/849708344336101376.
- 14Alan Feuer, “Proud Boys Founder: How He Went From Brooklyn Hipster to Far-Right Provocateur,” The New York Times, October 16, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/16/nyregion/proud-boys-gavin-mcinnes.html.
- 15Dan Glaun, “Fake Boston Antifa Group, Which Claimed Credit for Anti-Racism Banner at Red Sox Game, Is Actually Run by Right Wing Trolls,” Mass Live, September 14, 2017, https://www.masslive.com/news/2017/09/fake_boston_antifa_group_who_c.html; Gavin McInnes, “Fun with Fake ‘Antifa’ Pranksters! Guests: @AntifaBoston,” The Rebel, April 7, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170415030300/https://www.therebel.media/gavin_mcinnes_april_7_2017; u/thegame310, “The Gavin McInnes Show 326: Show Discussion,” reddit, April 4, 2017, https://www.reddit.com/r/TACN/comments/63dkyb/the_gavin_mcinnes_show_326_show_discussion/.
STAGE 3: Responses by Industry, Activists, Politicians, and Journalists
Many of these fake antifa accounts created media spectacles and baited journalists into covering them.
A Facebook post from May 18 by a fake “Harrisburg Antifa” page spiraled into a real-world event in July.1
Using a screenshot of that fake post, a blog called Harrisburg100 published a story on June 14 claiming antifa was headed to Gettysburg National Battlefield on July 1 to burn confederate flags, desecrate graves, and bring guns.2
On June 18, YouTube channel TheDelawarePatriot uploaded a video titled “Make a stand against Antifa,” which received over 5,000 views and linked to the Harrisburg100 blog.3
The Harrisburg100 blog was posted in /pol/ on June 21 along with an avatar of an antifascist logo and the phrase “Gettysburg is OURS July 1st!!”4
On June 22, Jack Posobiec tweeted,5
“Report that Antifa plans to attack Gettysburg on July 1.” June 23, right-wing group Overpasses for America6
published an article with the headline: “ANTIFA TO BURN FLAGS & DESECRATE GRAVES AT GETTYSBURG BATTLE SITE PARK ON JULY 1ST.”7
Gateway Pundit,8 Breitbart News,9 and HeatSt reported the hoax as though it were real,10 and it was upvoted almost 4,000 times on the /r/The_Donald subreddit.11 A facebook event called Support America and Her History, Rally! If You Hate US, Leave!12 registered 168 people as attended and 336 interested.
On June 30, the BBC published a debunk and a real Central PA chapter of antifascists told multiple news outlets that the event was a hoax.13
Still, on July 1, several hundred people showed up to counter-protest the fake antifa event, including 3 percenters, Sons of Confederate Veterans,14 Billy Snuffer, who, per Huffington Post “identified himself as the Imperial Wizard for the Rebel Brigade of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,”15 armed militia members, and bikers.16 Former Trump delegate and 2018 Senate candidate Andrew Shecktor gave a speech.17 Self-described “patriot” Benjamin Hornberger shot himself in the leg and had to be taken to a local hospital for treatment.18
Harrisburg100 published a write-up on July 4 with interviews from attendees of the counter-protest and on July 4 posted on Facebook that “AntiFA was stopped in Gettysburg. They can also be stopped in Portland.”19 This hoax inspired others in the following months.20
A breakout moment of fame for fake antifa accounts came later that month, in mid-July, when Fox News host Jesse Watters interviewed alt-right troll BG Kumbi, who claimed to be an antifa member, on air.21 Kumbi said an attack against a police horse in Philadelphia was justified because the horse was racist. The interview was promoted on Fox News Insider,22 The Blaze,23 Sarah Palin’s website,24 right wing message board Free Republic,25 white supremacist website Stormfront.26 D’Souza also tweeted it,27 and shared it on Facebook28 as did Diamond and Silk29 and Joe Arapaio,30 and Cassandra Fairbanks wrote about it on Big League Politics.31 It received 1.7 million views on Fox News’s verified Facebook page alone.32
In a 2019 video, one of the Eugene, OR trolls took credit for conning the Fox producer into having BG Kumbi on the show.33 BG Kumbi republished the hoax interview on his own YouTube channel and was celebrated by many other content creators for his successful prank on Fox News.34
Throughout the summer, piggybacking off attention to various breaking news events, active crises, and the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottsville and murder of activist Heather Heyer, fake antifa accounts spread several different hoaxes,35 including a campaign to paint antifa as proponents of domestic violence.36 Some of these hoaxes duped media37 before being outed as fake.
On September 13 a banner was dropped at Fenway park that said “Racism is as American as baseball.”38 Fake Boston Antifa took credit on Twitter,39 and news outlets across the world and the political spectrum reported the parody account’s statement as fact, including Breitbart News,40 Reuters,41 The Los Angeles Times,42 Yahoo Sports,43 NBC Boston,44 News Hub (New Zealand),45 and WEEI sports,46 among many others.
A few news organizations spoke with the actual activists who dropped the banner, but still embedded the Boston Antifa tweet, including boston.com and Mashable.47 NBC Sports initially reported Boston Antifa dropped the banner but later updated their article to correct that the account was a right wing troll.48
Now, the fake Boston Antifa account had momentum. On September 26 it tweeted about the NFL/Take a Knee protests and geotagged the tweet to Vladivostok, Russia.49
The text of the troll tweet read: “More gender inclusivity with NFL fans and gluten free options at stadiums. We're liking the New NFL. #NewNFL #TakeAKnee #TakeTheKnee."
The geotagged tweet set off a viral cascade of responses from liberal accounts, including several experts in Russian propaganda and verified journalists, who tweeted that the Russian troll farm forgot to turn off their location.
BuzzFeed News debunked the “Russian troll tweet” on September 27,50
but by then it had been spread widely by people such as Business Insider editor Josh Barro (who later deleted his tweet), former FBI agent and author of “How to Catch a Russian Spy,” Naveed Jamali, who tweeted a screenshot of the tweet, (Jamali’s tweet is still online),51
New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher (tweet now deleted), AP reporter Nick Riccardi, (tweet is still online),52
and journalist Dan Murphy (tweet is still online).53
In a Senate hearing on “Threats to the Homeland” that same day, September 27, that included the heads of the FBI,54 Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) referenced the fake Boston Antifa tweet while talking about election security, as proof that “the Russians and their troll farms” were “hashtagging out ‘Take a knee’ and also hashtagging out ‘Boycott National Football League.’”55
The mainstream media reported on Senator Lankford’s testimony widely, including NBC News,56 Reuters,57 CBS,58 Fox News,59 The Hill,60 Fortune,61 Talking Points Memo,62 and Breitbart News.63 The Washington Post published an article titled “Russian trolls trying to sow discord in NFL kneeling debate.”64 On September 29, the troll tweet was featured on All In With Chris Hayes.65
On September 30, 2017, MassLive published an article titled “Did a U.S. Senator get trolled into blaming fake Boston Antifa account on Russia?”66
- 1Harrisburg Antifa, “We’re Gonna Be at Gettysburg No Doubt. Biker Nazis Already Talking Shit.,” Facebook, May 18, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170706205343/https://www.facebook.com/HarrisburgAntifa/posts/1340165532736428.
- 2Amy Lynne Thomas, “Antifa to Burn Flag and Desecrate Graves in Gettysburg,” Harrisburg100, June 13, 2017, https://hbg100.com/2017/06/13/antifa-to-burn-flag-and-desecrate-graves-in-gettysburg/.
- 3The video was hosted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fwaF1Sqa7E, but it is no longer available.
- 4Anonymous, “/pol/ - Politically Incorrect » Thread #130853140,” 4chan, June 21, 2017, accessed via 4plebs, https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/thread/130853140/#q130853140.
- 5Ryan Broderick, “A Fake Story Tricked Trump Supporters Into Protesting For No Reason, Then One Of Them Accidentally Shot Himself,” BuzzFeed News, July 4, 2017, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanhatesthis/a-guy-accidentally-shot-himself-after-a-fake-news-story#.bpLMwy9Km.
- 6“Antifa to Burn Flags and Desecrate Graves at Gettysburg Battle Site Pack on July 1st #o4a #news,” Overpasses for America, June 23, 3017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170706214633/https://www.overpassesforamerica.com/?p=51678.
- 7“Antifa to Burn Flags and Desecrate Graves at Gettysburg Battle Site Pack on July 1st #o4a #news.”
- 8Jim Hoft, “Far Left Antifa Thugs Are Planning to Desecrate Graves and Burn Flags at Gettysburg on July 1,” Gateway Pundit, June 26, 2017, https://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2017/06/far-left-antifa-thugs-planning-desecrate-graves-burn-flags-gettysburg-july-1/.
- 9Warner Todd Huston, “Leftists Promising to ‘desecrate Graves’ and Protest during 154th Anniversary of Battle of Gettysburg,” Breitbart, June 27, 2017, https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2017/06/27/leftists-promising-to-desecrate-graves-and-protest-during-154th-anniversary-of-battle-of-gettysburg/.
- 10Emily Zanotti, “Protesters Plan July Fourth Clash Over Confederate Monuments at Gettysburg Battlefield,” HeatSt., June 29, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170704143435/https://heatst.com/culture-wars/protesters-plan-july-fourth-clash-over-confederate-monuments-at-gettysburg-battlefield/.
- 11r/the_donald, “Far Left Antifa Thugs Are Planning to Desecrate Graves and Burn Flags at Gettysburg on July 1,” reddit, June 26, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20171128223317/https://www.reddit.com/r/The_Donald/comments/6jk3n3/far_left_antifa_thugs_are_planning_to_desecrate/.
- 12Ski Bischof and Amy Thomas, “Support America and Her History, Rally! If You Hate US, Leave!,” Facebook, July 1, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20200901201635if_/https://www.facebook.com/events/1694252924210608/.
- 13Hannah Henderson, “The Hoax about Desecration of US Civil War Graves,” BBC News, June 30, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-40444786?fbclid=IwAR1ML8DrKuhmkg5e4ZOgwL0fEn-NzZ7jB-7yStNTDN5-W7lNNqylYXDHZXA; Central PA Antifa, “So We Tell 4 Separate News Outlets That We Have Zero Intentions of Desecrating Graves or a Historical Battlefield...,” Facebook, July 1, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/centralpaantifa/posts/1961562774059292; Dustin B. Levy, “Antifa Calls Gettysburg Protest Rumors ‘a Complete Fabrication,’” Evening Sun, June 30, 2017, https://www.eveningsun.com/story/news/2017/06/30/antifa-calls-gettysburg-protest-rumors-a-complete-fabrication/442878001/.
- 14Barnini Chakraborty, “Gettysburg Anniversary Seeing Few Flare-Ups, despite Rumors of Violence,” Fox News, July 1, 2017, https://www.foxnews.com/us/gettysburg-anniversary-seeing-few-flare-ups-despite-rumors-of-violence.
- 15Christopher Mathias and Andy Campbell, “Guns And KKK Members At Gettysburg Confederate Rally, But No Foes To Fight,” HuffPost, July 2, 2017, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/gettysburg-confederate-rally-kkk-antifa_n_59592bd8e4b05c37bb7f0ca4.
- 16Ski Bischof and Amy Thomas, “Support America and Her History, Rally! If You Hate US, Leave!”
- 17News2Share, "Militia Groups Assemble at Gettysburg, Antifa Doesn’t Show," YouTube, July 1, 2017, https://youtu.be/Dd6L5lq8tVA?t=132.
- 18“Armed ‘patriot’ Accidentally Shoots Self in Leg at Gettysburg Battlefield,” Pennsylvania Real-Time News, July 1, 2017, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/07/patriot_shot_in_leg_gettysburg.html.
- 19“The Faces of American Patriotism,” Harrisburg100, July 4, 2017, https://hbg100.com/2017/07/04/the-faces-of-american-patriotism/; Harrisburg100, “AntiFA Was Stopped in Gettysburg. They Can Also Be Stopped in Portland.,” Facebook, July 4, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/hbg100/posts/2367554236824281.
- 20Craig Malisow, “Houston Chronicle, KPRC Duped by Alt-Right Trolls Over Sam Houston Protest,” Houston Press, July 1, 2017, https://www.houstonpress.com/news/houston-media-pranked-by-alt-right-facebook-trolls-9488700; Craig Hlavaty, “Texas Group Calls for Removal of Iconic Sam Houston Statue from Hermann Park,” Houston Chronicle, June 1, 2017, https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/sam-houston-statue-texas-antifa-hermann-park-11182041.php.
- 21Blake Montgomery, “A Fake Antifa Member Trolled A Fox News Host, And The President May Have Watched It,” Buzzfeed News, July 18, 2017, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/blakemontgomery/a-fake-antifa-member-trolled-a-fox-news-host-and-the.
- 22“WATCH: Watters Spars With Protester from Violent ANTIFA Group,” Fox News, July 16, 2017, https://insider.foxnews.com/2017/07/16/antifa-protester-watters-debate.
- 23Chris Enloe, “Watch: Jesse Watters Uses Facts to School Antifa Member Who Wants to Use Violence against Trump,” The Blaze, July 16, 2017, https://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/07/16/watch-jesse-watters-uses-facts-to-school-antifa-member-who-wants-to-use-violence-against-trump.
- 24Mary Kate Knorr, “Jesse Watters Spars With ANTIFA Group Leader Who Called For Violence Against Trump Admin,” Sarah Palin, July 16, 2017, https://www.sarahpalin.com/2017/07/16/jesse-watters-spars-antifa-group-leader-called-violence-trump-admin/.
- 25Hadean, “Watters Spars With Protester from Violent ANTIFA Group,” Free Republic, July 16, 2017, http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/3569673/posts.
- 26Boy Howdy, “Watters Spars with Protester from Violent Antifa Group (Video),” Stormfront, July 15, 2017, https://www.stormfront.org/forum/t1219248/.
- 27Dinesh D’Souza (@DineshDSouza), “An #Antifa Activist Explains Why the Group Stabbed a Horse — the Horse Is Evidently a Trump Supporter!,” Twitter, July 17, 2017, https://twitter.com/DineshDSouza/status/887044938076004352.
- 28Dinesh D’Souza, “This Antifa Thug Explains Why His Group Stabbed a Horse—the Horse Was Evidently a Trump Supporter!” Facebook, July 17, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/216709768355686/posts/1859796280713685;
- 29Diamond And Silk, “Here We Go....” Facebook, July 18, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/407279909421128/posts/893943564088091.
- 30Joe Arpaio, “Jesse Watters Thought He Had This Guy Trapped...Good Grief,” Facebook, July 18, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/108536052520558/posts/1705350246172456.
- 31Cassandra Fairbanks, “Boston Antifa: Police Horse Stabbing Was Justified Because the Animal Is Racist,” Big League Politics, July 17, 2017, https://bigleaguepolitics.com/boston-antifa-police-horse-stabbing-justified-animal-racist/.
- 32Fox News, “Jesse Watters: 'What about When an ANTIFA Member Stabbed a Police Horse in the Neck with a Knife. Was the Horse a Racist Trump Supporter?'” Facebook, July 16, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/15704546335/posts/10155677303506336.
- 33Old TV, “Goofy It’s Going Down Tweets about Boston Antifa,” YouTube, June 6, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bs5Jc60EL9s&feature=youtu.be&t=843.
- 34BG Kumbi, “BG Kumbi Jesse Watters Interview... My Fox News Debut,” YouTube, July 15, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmlyePmLIVE; wavywebsurf, “The Kid Who Fooled Fox News: The BG Kumbi Story,” YouTube, February 5, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=136f8o71GeY; David Pakman Show, “Fox News’ Jesse Watters Trolled by Fake Antifa Activist,” YouTube, July 19, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XonPV7HV9hc.
- 35@OfficialAntifa, “Official Antifa,” Twitter, April 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20171019022020/twitter.com/OfficialAntifa; Matt Vespa, “ARTICLE RETRACTION: We Fell For A Prank,” Townhall, August 21, 2017, https://townhall.com/tipsheet/mattvespa/2017/08/21/boston-antifa-this-city-has-no-room-for-supporters-of-the-u-s-constitution-n2371142.
- 36Elliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins), “More Examples of 4chan’s Smear Campaign against #antifa Using Fake Images,” Twitter, August 24, 2017, https://twitter.com/EliotHiggins/status/900609797187407872; “Far-Right Smear Campaign against Antifa Exposed by Bellingcat,” BBC News, August 24, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-41036631.
- 37Nat Stein, “Recent Stunts Suggest Anti-”alt-Left” Propaganda Campaign Just Got Local,” Colorado Springs Independent, August 30, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20190223055353/https://www.csindy.com/coloradosprings/recent-stunts-suggest-anti-alt-left-propaganda-campaign-just-got-local/content/?oid=6928639.
- 38Jen McCaffrey (@jcmccaffrey), “A Sign That Read ‘Racism Is American as Baseball’ Was Just Dropped from the Green Monster by a Fan at Fenway.” Twitter, September 13, 2017, https://twitter.com/jcmccaffrey/status/908123862960709632.
- 39Suspended account: @AntifaBoston, “Our Statement on Why We Were at Fenway Tonight...,” Twitter, September 13, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170916114813if_/https://twitter.com/AntifaBoston/status/908178005528334336.
- 40Dylan Gwinn, “Boston Antifa Claims Responsibility for Fenway ‘Racism’ Banner, Drew Inspiration from ESPN Writer,” Breitbart, September 14, 2017, https://www.breitbart.com/sports/2017/09/14/boston-antifa-claims-responsibility-fenway-racism-banner-drew-inspiration-espn-writer/.
- 41Campaigners Unveil Banner Linking Racism and Baseball at Red Sox Game,” Reuters, September 14, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-boston-race/campaigners-unveil-banner-linking-racism-and-baseball-at-red-sox-game-idUSKCN1BP0UZ.
- 42Eduardo Gonzalez, “Protesters Make a Statement to MLB during Red Sox-Athletics Game,” Los Angeles Times, September 14, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/sports/mlb/la-sp-red-sox-athletics-fan-sign-20170913-story.html.
- 43“‘Racism Is as American as Baseball’: Antifa Unfurl Confusing Banner at Red Sox Game,” Yahoo! Sports, September 15, 2017, https://sports.yahoo.com/racism-american-baseball-antifa-unfurl-163002328.html.
- 44“Antifa Claims Responsibility for Fenway Park Racism Banner,” NBC Boston, September 14, 2017, https://www.nbcboston.com/on-air/as-seen-on/web-fenway-racist-sign-day-2_necn/27975/.
- 45“Black Lives Matter Campaigners Evicted over Anti-Racism Banner at Baseball Game,” Newshub, September 15, 2017, https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/world/2017/09/black-lives-matter-campaigners-evicted-over-anti-racism-banner-at-baseball-game.html.
- 46“Boston Antifa Takes Credit for Banner At Fenway Park,” Weei Radio, September 14, 2017, https://weei.radio.com/media/audio-channel/omf-boston-antifa-takes-credit-banner-fenway-park-9-14-17.
- 47Nicole Yang, “Fenway Banner’s Message Sparks Debate over Organizers’ Intent,” Boston News, September 14, 2017, https://www.boston.com/sports/boston-red-sox/2017/09/14/fenway-banners-message-sparks-debate-over-organizers-intent; Nicole Gallucci, “Activists Hang ‘Racism Is as American as Baseball’ Banner at Red Sox Game,” Mashable, September 14, 2017, https://mashable.com/2017/09/14/red-sox-game-anti-racism-banner/.
- 48Craig Calcaterra, “Small Group of Protesters Take Credit for Fenway Banner,” NBC Sports, September 14, 2017, https://mlb.nbcsports.com/2017/09/14/small-group-of-protesters-take-credit-for-fenway-banner/.
- 49Boston Antifa (@BostonAntifa), “More Gender Inclusivity with NFL Fans and Gluten Free Options at Stadiums. We’re Liking the New NFL. #NewNFL #TakeAKnee #TakeTheKnee,” Imgur, September 26, 2017, https://i.imgur.com/fVzvOMM.jpg.
- 50“Was This Banned Fake Antifa Twitter Account Actually Troll Tweeting From Russia?” Buzzfeed News, September 27, 2017, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/blakemontgomery/fake-antifa-account-russia-geotag.
- 51Naveed Jamali (@NaveedAJamali), “Hey @RT_com and @Yaro_RT can you let the monitor at the 'internet research agency' know they have geo-tagging enabled?,” Twitter, September 26, 2017, https://twitter.com/NaveedAJamali/status/912859138341736450.
- 52Nick Riccardi (@NickRiccardi), “H/t @jbarro on Spotting This (Always Look for the Highlighted Text).” Twitter, September 26, 2017, https://twitter.com/NickRiccardi/status/912797056699207680.
- 53Dan Murphy (@bungdan), “Russian Astroturf Acct @AntifaBoston Forgetting to Turn off Location Settings (HT @jbarro ) Reminder How Basic a Lot of Their Propaganda Is.,” Twitter, September 26, 2017, https://twitter.com/bungdan/status/912798350939889664.
- 54United States Senate, “Threats to the Homeland: Hearing Before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs,” U.S. Government Publishing Office, September 27, 2017, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-115shrg29657/html/CHRG-115shrg29657.htm.
- 55“Homeland Security Threats,” C-SPAN, September 27, 2017, https://www.c-span.org/video/?434411-1/senior-officials-testify-homeland-security-threats.
- 56Phil Helsel, “Russian Trolls Using NFL Protests to Sow Discord Online, Republican Senator Says,” NBC News, September 27, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/russian-trolls-using-nfl-protests-sow-discord-online-republican-senator-n805296.
- 57Dustin Volz, “Senator Says Russian Internet Trolls Stoked NFL Debate,” Reuters, September 27, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-congress-cyber-russia/senator-says-russian-internet-trolls-stoked-nfl-debate-idUSKCN1C237J.
- 58“GOP Senator: Russian Trolls Using NFL Controversy to Stir Divisions in U.S.,” CBS News, September 28, 2017, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/gop-senator-russian-trolls-using-nfl-controversy-to-stir-divisions-in-u-s/.
- 59“Russian Trolls Used Social Media to Fuel NFL National Anthem Debate, Senator Says,” Fox News, September 28, 2017, https://www.foxnews.com/politics/russian-trolls-used-social-media-to-fuel-nfl-national-anthem-debate-senator-says.
- 60Mallory Shelbourne, “GOP Senator: Russian Trolls Using NFL Spat to ‘push Divisiveness’ in US,” The Hill, September 27, 2017, https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/352768-gop-senator-russian-trolls-using-nfl-spat-to-push-divisiveness-in-us.
- 61“Senator Claims Russian Internet Trolls Inflamed the NFL Anthem Debate,” Fortune, September 27, 2017, https://fortune.com/2017/09/27/senator-russian-internet-trolls-nfl-anthem-debate/.
- 62Rowan Morrison, “GOP Senator Claims Russian Trolls Are Stoking Controversy About NFL Protests,” Talking Points Memo, September 27, 2017, https://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/gop-senator-james-lankford-blames-russian-trolls-nfl-protest-controversy.
- 63Lucas Nolan, “Senator James Lankford Claims Russian Trolls Are Influencing Outrage Over NFL Debate,” Breitbart, September 28, 2017, https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2017/09/28/senator-claims-russian-trolls-are-influencing-outrage-over-nfl-debate/.
- 64Devlin Barrett, “Lawmaker: Russian trolls trying to sow discord in NFL kneeling debate,” The Washington Post, September 27, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170928013350if_/https://www.washingtonpost.com/web/20170928013350/https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/lawmaker-russian-trolls-trying-to-sow-discord-in-nfl-kneeling-debate/2017/09/27/5f46dce0-a3b0-11e7-ade1-76d061d56efa_story.html?utm_term=.f6c5cdd6531d.
- 65“All In with Chris Hayes, Transcript 9/28/17 Tom Price and His Private Flights,” MSNBC, September 28, 2017, http://www.msnbc.com/transcripts/all-in/2017-09-28.
- 66“Did a U.S. Senator Get Trolled into Blaming Fake Boston Antifa Account on Russia?,” MassLive, September 30, 2017, https://www.masslive.com/news/2017/09/fake_boston_antifa_group_us_se.html.
STAGE 4: Mitigation
Left-wing activists began tracking and flagging the fake Antifa accounts almost immediately.
A Twitter account called “AntifaChecker” was created on April 1, 2017 to track and denounce the fake Antifa accounts,1
and a Tumblr page was created with a submission form to submit tips on potential or suspected fake Antifa accounts.2
A block list was also created for Twitter users to block fake Antifa accounts (blocklist is now a 502 gateway error).3
An Antifa Checker Facebook page was created on September 29 to track fake Antifa Facebook pages.4
A Facebook post made by this page on August 28, 2018 listed 56 fake Antifa Facebook pages, many of which are still online at the time of writing.5
The website It’s Going Down, which was targeted by campaign operators at the very beginning, published two blogs denouncing the fake Antifa accounts, one on March 1,6 denouncing the fake accounts and a second blog on March 30,7 revealing the identities of the two Eugene trolls who were behind the original Boston Antifa troll accounts.8 Media also began reporting on the fake Antifa trend. BuzzFeed News published an article on May 30, titled “Fake Antifa Twitter Accounts Are Trolling People And Spreading Misinformation.”9 The writer of this case study exposed the network of fake antifa accounts in July.10
By late summer, a preponderance of high-profile critical press published debunkings,11 among them a New York Magazine guide on “How to Spot a Fake Antifa Account” from August 21,12 and an August 27 GQ article headlined, “Right Wing Publications Can't Stop Getting Duped By Fake Antifa Accounts.”13
It’s hard to gauge how many fake antifa accounts were suspended in the first year. According to @AntifaChecker, the fake @detroit_antifa was the first account suspended in mid-August 2017, followed by @LagBeachAntifa.14 Twenty other fake antifa Twitter accounts were suspended between August and October 2017. It is unclear if these accounts were suspended for violating terms of service or if they were mass-reported and despite these suspensions many fake antifa accounts remained online and continued to be created.
- 1@AntifaChecker, “Antifa Checker.” Twitter, April 2017, https://twitter.com/AntifaChecker.
- 2Antifa Checker, “Antifa Checker Submission Page,” Tumblr, https://antifachecker.tumblr.com/submit.
- 3Block Together, "502 Bad Gateway," https://blocktogether.org/show-blocks/UQ_ZPDyCHCygI-EUU_6xLY23sewTWFbPA8k7cCdz.
- 4“Antifa Checker,” Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/AntifaChecker/.
- 5AntifaChecker, “Fake Antifa Accounts on Facebook,” Facebook, August 28, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/notes/antifa-checker/fake-antifa-accounts-on-facebook/243392369653829/.
- 6“Alt-Right Trolls Are Posing As Boston Antifa On Facebook And YouTube,” It’s Going Down, March 1, 2017, https://itsgoingdown.org/alt-right-trolls-posing-boston-antifa-facebook-youtube/.
- 7“Eugene, OR Alt-Right Trolls Behind ‘Boston Antifa’ Exposed.” It’s Going Down, March 30, 2017, https://itsgoingdown.org/eugene-alt-right-trolls-behind-boston-antifa-exposed/.
- 8“Eugene, OR Alt-Right Trolls Behind ‘Boston Antifa’ Exposed.”
- 9Craig Silverman, “Fake Antifa Twitter Accounts Are Trolling People And Spreading Misinformation,” BuzzFeed News, May 30, 2017, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/craigsilverman/fake-antifa-twitter-accounts#.axn8dkqPN3.
- 10Erin Gallagher, “Fake Antifa Twitter,” Medium, July 18, 2017, https://medium.com/@erin_gallagher/fake-antifa-twitter-be3a05f4d2ca.
- 11Bryan Menegus, “The Right Is Falling for Its Own Fake Antifa Accounts,” Gizmodo, August 22, 2017, https://gizmodo.com/the-right-is-falling-for-its-own-fake-antifa-accounts-1798287977.
- 12Brian Feldman, “How to Spot a Fake Antifa Account,” New York Magazine, August 21, 2017, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/08/how-to-spot-a-fake-antifa-account.html.
- 13Ethan Chiel, “Right Wing Publications Can’t Stop Getting Duped By Fake Antifa Accounts,” GQ Magazine, August 22, 2017, https://www.gq.com/story/fake-antifa-accounts.
- 14“Props to @detroit_antifa for Being the First Fake Account to Actually Get Suspended,” Twitter, August 22, 2017, https://twitter.com/AntifaChecker/status/899877832054239232.
STAGE 5: Adjustments by Manipulators to New Environment
The original Boston Antifa Twitter parody appeared to be suspended sometime around the end of September 2017,1 and many of the most popular ones from 2017 were also removed. As far as we can find, Twitter never made any public statements in 2017 about suspending the accounts.
New parody accounts continue to be created across multiple platforms, primarily Facebook and Twitter. Often when one fake antifa account would get suspended, a new iteration of the same username would re-spawn shortly after.2
The accounts that were created in 2017 spawned an ecosystem of fake antifa accounts and manipulation campaigns that successfully duped journalists throughout 2018, 2019, and continuing to the present day. The Eugene trolls who created Boston Antifa launched two websites: antifaarmy.com and twitterantifa.com, which now redirect to the new website npcdaily.com (archived 9/9/20). A snapshot of antifaarmy.com via the Internet Archive shows this website previously listed links to many of the original fake Antifa twitter accounts, some of which are still online at the time of writing. The website previously advertised itself as “Fighting the #FakeAntifa smear campaign from #FakeTifs's like @GeoMovments and @AntifaChecker” (both of which were efforts by activists to track the fake Antifa accounts). Those campaigns will be outlined in future reports.
- 1Antifa Checker (@AntifaChecker), “Good Night, Sweet Prince @antifaboston,” Twitter, September 27, 2017, https://twitter.com/AntifaChecker/status/913152226176258049.
- 2For example I found traces of at least seven iterations of Beverly Hills Antifa: BevHillsAntifa, BevHillsAntifa2, BevHillsAntifa5, BevHillsAntifa7, BevHillsAntifa8 and BevHillsAntifa9, 6 iterations of Laguna Beach Antifa, 10 iterations of @AntifaJackson and 3 versions of Wall Street Antifa: walstreetAntifa, wallstretantifa and WallStreetAntfa. And they would sometimes joke when one account was suspended and respawned as captured in 3 tweets above.
Cite this case study
Erin Gallagher, "Butterfly Attack: The Origins of Fake Antifa Social Media Accounts," The Media Manipulation Case Book, July 7, 2021, https://mediamanipulation.org/case-studies/butterfly-attack-origins-fake-antifa-social-media-accounts.