He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.
And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.
Joseph Bernstein, in Buzzfeed, on a guy who went from “Alt-Right Troll To Father Killer“:
… I knew Lane. I knew him as a guy who kicked around some of the pro-Trump, anti–social justice internet communities that I’ve reported on since 2014. Like a lot of people in those volatile spaces, Lane bore grudges, which made him useful as an occasional source. Unlike a lot of people in those spaces, and despite being a fabulist, Lane understood how to weaponize information, which made him even more useful, and a little scary. From early 2016 to summer 2017, we emailed regularly and talked occasionally. As with most sources, Lane had some tips that were good and some that weren’t. But even if nothing he told me ever led to a blockbuster story, he was smart and he understood his world well — talking to him was never a waste of time. I thought I understood him about as well as I needed to.
Last October, a conservative blogger discovered a local news story about Chuck Davis’s killing. He spread the word on Twitter, including another shocking detail: Before stabbing his father to death, Lane had loudly accused his parents of being “leftist pedophiles.”
There’s a whole universe in those two words, one that Americans unfamiliar with the rhetoric of the internet culture wars might not recognize…
Long before a neo-Nazi at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville allegedly killed a counterprotester named Heather Heyer, it had been clear to many observers that the sheer amount of anger and fear fueling the circa 2016 alt-right would eventually lead to physical violence. More than once it occurred to me that one of my sources might be involved. But I never thought it would be Seattle4Truth.
Most of my correspondence with Lane was unremarkable — a tip here, a heads-up there. Once he did me a kindness by letting me know that my doxx (basically a file with my address and contact information that could be used to harass me) was making the rounds. I was vaguely aware that Lane’s output online was unhinged. But was it any more so than, say, certain beet-colored conspiracy barkers whom the president has praised? Over the years I’ve had a handful of sources who were less lucid than Lane. We all perform different versions of ourselves on the internet, and I found the contrast between Lane’s content and the way he communicated with me so strong that I thought his “Seattle” character was mostly shtick.
I began to wonder about the people who spent all day online with Lane. Lane had worked as the political editor for a culture war shock site called the Ralph Retort. It had been a hub for some of the most malignant trolls on the internet — including people who had sent me violent anti-Semitic threats in the past. I hadn’t taken this rhetoric seriously for two reasons: First, there is so much of it that to dwell on it would be paralyzing, and second, the people behind it almost always claim to be trolling, testing boundaries, pushing limits. Now that Lane had killed his father in an apparent spasm of conspiratorial pique, it seemed that what was left of that extremist/troll boundary had started to collapse. I wanted to know how the people who lived on its edges were adjusting…
In February 2016, Lane emailed Milo Yiannopoulos to ask for a job.
“The culture war has been my life for the past year and a half,” he wrote. “Destroying the social-justice ideology and exposing their lies has given me a reason to live. At this point, it defines me. It’s everything I live for and care about, other than having a roof over my head.”
Lane wasn’t exaggerating. Like so many others, he had joined the late-Obama-era culture wars through Gamergate, the often radical online campaign that claimed to be concerned with ethics in gaming journalism. And he was there from the start, actively participating in a chatroom called Burgers and Fries, members of which more or less astroturfed the start of the movement through well-placed hashtags and well-timed confrontations. Here, Lane would have learned how a small group of dedicated people could compel an enormous, participatory audience by wielding an ever-expanding conspiracy theory about liberal influence…
Lane was as gifted at creating new theories as he was at regurgitating old ones. His breakthrough came in the form of a three-hour, 20-minute video titled “#GamerGate: Actually, it’s about…” The May 2015 video, which cuts from talks at tech conferences to journal articles to Twitter screenshots, advances a mind-bogglingly complex theory linking the geopolitics of the late Bush and early Obama years to a plot by elite institutions to take control of the American education system through an open source gaming console called the Ouya.
So did Yiannopoulos, who treated culture war nerve centers like the Ralph Retort as a farm system for cheap — or free — labor. By the end of 2015, Lane had been added to Yiannopoulos’s roiling Slack, Project Milo. In February, Lane invoiced him for work as a speechwriter and ghostwriter on Yiannopoulos’s book. Yiannopoulos encouraged Lane to send him tips, writing jokingly in response to one such email that he was aroused by good dirt: “I have a semi already.” He also got Lane part-time work for the conservative think tank the Capital Research Center, for which Lane produced a report on the political correctness of the MacArthur Foundation. (After the murder, the CRC removed Davis’s byline from the report.) In an email to his contact at the CRC, Yiannopoulos described Lane as “One of my most gifted researchers. Total autodidact…hugely smart.”
Yiannopoulos forwarded Lane’s email to Noah Dulis, his coeditor of the Breitbart Tech vertical, with a note: “Read this. I really fucking want this guy.” There was only one problem. “He’s the guy who said nigger on a live stream one time.” Racist views per se were not the problem; Yiannopoulos at the time was actively coordinating Breitbart coverage with white nationalists. But those views were supposed to be kept just below the surface. Lane didn’t get the job…
… A member of the notorious troll group the Bill Waggoner Crew and a contributor to the Ralph Retort, WildGoose spoke to me on the condition that I not use his real name; he said he recognized in Lane signs of someone with a tenuous hold on reality.
“I talked to Ralph about it but he wasn’t really listening,” WildGoose said. “He told me Lane was writing all these cool articles and bringing in traffic.”
WildGoose never thought Lane’s anger and his conspiratorial flights of fancy were just part of a character — and worse, he thought that Lane getting rewarded for his antisocial behavior was causing him to double down on it. And it wasn’t just in the YouTube comments section. In Ralph’s Slack, Goose said, amused posters goaded Lane into conspiratorial freakouts, giving him more attention as his monologues became more elaborate and intense.
“I started to understand it was part of his personality,” WildGoose told me. “Crazy attracts crazy. And people feed each others’ delusions on the internet.”…