‘Pizzagate’ troll claims another victim as culture war rages on

Michael Cernovich, Sam Seder. (Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: Sandy Huffaker via ZUMA Wire; Sam Seder)

Update 9 a.m. ET on Dec. 7: The Intercept reported that MSNBC reversed its decision to fire Sam Seder as a contributor. “Sometimes you just get one wrong,” said MSNBC president Phil Griffin. “I appreciate MSNBC’s thoughtful reconsideration and willingness to understand the cynical motives of those who intentionally misrepresented my tweet for their own toxic, political purposes,” Seder said.

The decision by MSNBC this week to cut loose a contributor over a bad-faith misinterpretation of an eight-year-old tweet represents a new escalation of the culture wars, inspired by the same alt-right troll who advanced the conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate.

On Monday, The Wrap reported that MSNBC had cut ties with Sam Seder, a left-wing podcast host who also served as a contributor to the network’s opinion programming. The decision appeared to be a response to a coordinated attack on Seder touched off by the internet provocateur Mike Cernovich, who had unearthed a 2009 tweet by Seder about film director Roman Polanski.

Polanski has been a fugitive since 1978, when he fled the country while facing rape charges over what he said was a consensual relationship with a 13-year-old girl. In response to a campaign by Polanski apologists who were pushing for the charges to be dropped, Seder, who has also worked as a satirist, tweeted: “Dont care re Polanski, but i hope if my daughter is ever raped it is by an older truly talented man w/ a great sense of mise en scene.”

While crass, the joke was clearly aimed at Polanski’s supporters, who included many prominent figures in the entertainment world. In a Medium post, Cernovich twisted its meaning to suggest Seder was “endorsing Polanski’s sex crimes” and that the media was covering it up. As Cernovich’s followers began deluging MSNBC with complaints, Seder deleted the tweet, which he later said he regretted, citing other messages that made his views clear.

Seder said he had a relationship with MSNBC for more than a decade and had been a paid contributor for the last two years.

Previously, Cernovich’s main claim to fame was spreading the preposterous conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate — the belief that a Washington, D.C., pizzeria was the front for a pedophilia ring that included Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Coincidentally, the announcement that MSNBC had ties to Seder came on the one-year anniversary of an attack on the Comet Ping Pong  pizzeria and restaurant by a North Carolina man, who fired a rifle inside (no one was hit) the eatery while on a self-appointed mission to investigate the child trafficking he believed was taking place there.

In one of his other journalistic coups, Cernovich claimed to have proven that former Obama official Susan Rice was part of a conspiracy to spy on the Trump campaign by “unmasking” the identities of anonymous figures mentioned in intelligence reports. Donald Trump Jr. suggested he deserved a Pulitzer Prize for that reporting.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Cernovich defended his work. About Seder’s tweet, he said: “Don’t use your own daughter being raped as a subject of satire.”

Cernovich, who describes himself as an author, journalist and documentarian, is one of the most popular alt-right personalities online. He was profiled on “60 Minutes” and was the subject of a New Yorker article that laid out his path to notoriety, in which he said, “I use trolling tactics to build my brand.”

Cernovich’s “trolling” has manifested itself in a variety of ways. He was an early figure in GamerGate, which targeted feminists in the video-game industry. He has likened diversity to “white genocide,” stated that date rape isn’t a real thing and said the Black Lives Matter movement “regularly slaughters the innocent.”

Following the news that Seder’s relationship with MSNBC was ending, Cernovich celebrated in an online video. “Thank you to everybody who emailed MSNBC,” Cernovich said in a video he posted on Twitter. “Thank you to all of you. You’re heroes. You’re heroes because you emailed MSNBC and you let them know about the tweet. You let them know the people will be heard.” Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and GOP Senate candidate David Duke retweeted the news and added, “And another ONE.”

Seder wasn’t the first target of Cernovich and his nearly 400,000 Twitter followers. Last year, he sicced his followers on humorist and video editor Vic Berger, accusing him — with zero evidence — of leading a pedophilia ring. (Cernovich is quick to tie his various opponents to pedophilia.) In March, Cernovich willfully misconstrued a dog pun from New York Times culture reporter Sopan Deb. Deb retweeted a post from the rapper Lil’ Bow Wow that demeaned Trump and suggested he might “pimp his wife,” first lady Melania Trump. Deb didn’t approve of the message in any way, but added the joke, “The outrage from @BreitbarkNews news is going to be through the woof.” (“Breitbark News” is a parody account that posts jokes about dogs, in the style of pro-Trump news site Breitbart.) Cernovich twisted the canine pun to say that Deb was endorsing human trafficking and sex slavery, unleashing his followers on the Times.

People pass Comet Ping Pong on Dec. 5, 2016, in Washington, D.C. A man identified as Edgar Maddison Welch was arrested Dec. 4, 2016, after coming to the restaurant armed. The incident was linked to a series of fake news stories that have been dubbed Pizzagate. (Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Deb kept his job, but the incident was written up in a column by the paper’s then public editor Liz Spayd, who admitted that at least part of the campaign was in bad faith but said it warranted an explanation anyway.

The tactics echo those used in the GamerGate controversy, which attempted to target certain reporters and outlets with coordinated campaigns urging their advertisers to pull funding.

Seder told the Washington Post that he thought MSNBC was “afraid” of those on the right who filed complaints. A network spokesperson did not respond when asked by Yahoo News whether they felt there was legitimacy to the argument that they had been taken advantage of by a group acting in bad faith.

Cernovich said that MSNBC’s decision has emboldened him, and that he has already started going through the tweets of other MSNBC employees.

“The left isn’t going to stop going through our tweets, so we aren’t going to stop going through theirs,” said Cernovich in an interview with CNN. “I wish we would get over people trying to find someone saying a naughty thing. I’ve been saying that for years. And nobody wants to listen. So, fine — we will play by the same rules.”

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