Politics

Pete Buttigieg’s Campaign Says This Wikipedia User Is Not Pete. So Who Is It?

Tracking down the editor who tracks every move the South Bend mayor makes.

Various Pete Buttigieg faces collaged over his Wikipedia page.
Photo illustration by Derreck Johnson. Photos by Win McNamee/Getty Images, Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons, and Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Pete Buttigieg, the young, telegenic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, prides himself on being the only millennial currently vying for the presidency, and his path up to this point has been a fairly deliberate one. He was even named “Most Likely to be U.S. President” his senior year of high school. As any young aspiring politician knows, carefully maintaining your image online is key. And no tool in your early-career arsenal is quite as effective as Wikipedia.

Luckily for Buttigieg, there is at least one person carefully looking out for his needs on Wikipedia—someone who has followed his political career from its very beginning, and whose interests and connections track his own with eerie sympathy. This Wikipedia user was there to post the site’s first mention of Pete Buttigieg’s political career in 2010, and to write the very first iteration of Pete Buttigieg’s Wikipedia page. They go by the username “Streeling.” Streeling is an old Irish word that means “wandering,” the sort of word that might be familiar to the son of a scholar who studied James Joyce. Joyce uses the noun streel, meaning “a disreputable woman,” in Ulysses, which Pete Buttigieg has cited as the book that influenced him the most.

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The Wikipedia user known as Streeling, however, is not Pete Buttigieg, according to the Buttigieg presidential campaign. I reached out to them after trying and failing to dismiss a tip I’d gotten about the account possibly being the mayor’s own. “It’s not his. He’s never had a Wikipedia account,” Buttigieg spokesperson Chris Meagher told me over email. The account has no connection to Pete Buttigieg’s past or present political campaigns, Meagher says, and Pete Buttigieg has no knowledge of who’s responsible for it. “It appears it is an overzealous supporter of the mayor’s,” Meagher said. “He does not know whose it is.”

Streeling has also denied being connected with Pete Buttigieg. “I am not affiliated with this candidate’s campaign,” Streeling wrote after creating the original Pete Buttigieg Wikipedia page just hours after the 2011 South Bend mayoral race had been called in Buttigieg’s favor. The more I looked into Streeling, however, the more the various denials around any affiliation with Buttigieg seemed bizarre and, in a few instances, explicitly untrue. Though why a campaign would try to dissemble about something so completely benign is unclear.

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First, let’s look at what we know for sure.

A Brief History of Streeling

Streeling appears to have first made their account in July of 2010, when they went to the page for Indiana elections and, as they notified other users, “added all the major statewide candidates, and referenced their various campaign sites.” One of those added candidates was Pete Buttigieg, who was running for state treasurer.

Before and after screenshot showing the addition of Pete Buttigieg as a candidate for treasurer.
Wikipedia
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Streeling also took a bit of time that day to do some grammar-related tweaks on the Indiana State Treasurer page, in addition to adding a few citations on various state government pages.

About a month later, still during the campaign for treasurer, Streeling made a few stimulus package–related edits. And another month after that, they updated literary scholar Terry Eagleton’s page to note that he had spent a semester as a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame, in the English department where Buttigieg’s father had been teaching since 1980.

Later, in 2011, Streeling added the musician David Wax to the notable alumni page for Deep Springs College, which Wax attended before enrolling in Harvard, where Pete Buttigieg got his undergraduate degree. Wax, notably, played at Buttigieg’s wedding. On his website, Wax described Buttigieg as “one of my oldest friends.”

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Updating pages about notable alumni appears to be one of Streeling’s passions—especially when they are pages that have failed to recognize Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In 2011, for instance, Streeling added Buttigieg’s name (describing him as “Mayor-elect of South Bend, Indiana”) to the list of notable Rhodes Scholars exactly one day after he’d won his mayoral campaign.

Before and after Wikipedia screenshot showing the addition of Pete Buttigieg's name to the list of notable Rhodes Scholars.
Wikipedia
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Six minutes later, Streeling also went on to create the page for Pete Buttigieg on Wikipedia. Here is that original page in full:

Screenshot of the original Pete Buttigieg Wikipedia page, as created by Streeling.
Wikipedia

In an entirely unrelated aside, while Wikipedia’s rules strictly forbid users from editing pages that present a conflict of interest (pages about themselves, for example, or about their employers), all but the most obvious cases generally rely on the honor system for enforcement.

Back to the matter at hand, in a comment on this new page creation, Streeling wrote that they had “created profile for a notable politician (bio needs developing however, too campaign-y in my opinion).” Another six minutes after that, Streeling took to the Pete Buttigieg Talk page (where Wikipedia editors discuss any issues related to the entry) to expand on the fact that they definitely didn’t endorse the campaign-y tone of the page they had just finished writing:

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I think this is a notable political figure, though I do think his bio needs more outside sources just to avoid any hint of campaigning. I am not affiliated with this candidate’s campaign, and put this up after his election was over.

They also noted that they “just wanted to emphasize that this wasn’t intended as some sort of campaign product.”

Next, Streeling went on to update the notable alumni entry for Buttigieg on the page for St. Joseph High School, changing “Democratic nominee” to “Mayor-elect.” And exactly one day after Buttigieg assumed office in January of 2012, Streeling changed the qualifier to read simply “Mayor.” A few weeks later, Streeling added Mayor Pete to Wikipedia’s page for notable Buttigiegs—between Australian rugby player John Buttigieg and Maltese poet Ray Buttigieg—bringing the total number up to a whopping five notable Buttigiegs.

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In addition to all these, there were a few other minor edits, a brief tussle with another Wikipedia editor over the deletion of the Peter Buttigieg page (Streeling had wanted to create a redirect from “Peter” to “Pete,” but we’ll return to this in a bit), and some tweaks to the Pete Buttigieg entry itself.

In January 2012, Streeling decided to do a little cleanup on the Wikipedia page for Andrei Cherny, a former consultant who had joined the Clinton administration at age 21 as one of the youngest White House speechwriters. Given Streeling’s other interests, it made sense; Cherny’s and Buttigieg’s education and early careers followed a remarkably similar path.

Cherny graduated from Harvard College in 1997 and returned to the university’s John F. Kennedy School of Government as a visiting fellow in 2004, the same year Mayor Pete also graduated from Harvard (both were columnists for the Crimson during their time as students; Buttigieg was an undergraduate leader in the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics). In the year or so prior to his fellowship, Cherny was a speechwriter for John Kerry’s presidential campaign, which Buttigieg also worked on, post-graduation, in his role as research director for the Arizona Democratic Party. Cherny, an assistant attorney general in Arizona from 2006 to 2009, ran for Arizona state treasurer in 2009 only to lose to his Republican opponent. One year later, Buttigieg would run a similarly doomed campaign for state treasurer in Indiana. Perhaps most notably, though, both were intelligence officers in the U.S. Navy Reserve (Cherny from 2003 to 2011, and Buttigieg from 2009 to 2017).

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While Cherny appears to have left politics in recent years, he does seem to be something of a Mayor Pete fan.

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More recently, in February of 2014, Streeling also did some minor upkeep on the Wikipedia page for Skagen Denmark, a Fossil-owned watch company. A few years later, Buttigieg’s then-boyfriend, Chasten Glezman, would propose to him with none other than a Skagen watch. And this year, Buttigieg’s presidential campaign would release what is essentially a Mayor Pete mood board for supporters to design against. That design kit includes, again, a Skagen watch.

Taken together, Streeling’s preoccupations seem to be the sorts of preoccupations that might consume a person like Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg. Indeed, the fact that Streeling’s interest in Buttigiegiana extends so far back makes it hard to believe there could be some wholly independent other person who cared so much about such an obscure political figure.

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Go a bit further back, however, and things get a bit more complicated.

Enter Hanumang06

Before Streeling built the Pete Buttigieg page in 2011, a user named Hanumang06 created a “Peter Buttigieg” page in July of 2010. It was deleted less than a month after its creation because of Buttigieg’s then lack of notability. In the discussion preceding that deletion, one Wikipedia editor noted a comment Hanumang06 had made while uploading a photo of Buttigieg. “This is a biography created by his campaign staff using a picture from his campaign,” Hanumang06 wrote.

Before uploading the photo himself, Hanumang06’s first act on Wikipedia was to make a request on Wikipedia’s “Files for upload” page, which allows unregistered or less experienced users to request that someone else upload a file on their behalf.

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A screenshot in which Hanumang06 asserts that the photograph is being uploaded "at the direct behest of Peter Buttigieg himself."
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Hanumang06 and Streeling share a number of similarities beyond their belief that Pete or Peter Buttigieg deserved Wikipedia enshrinement. While arguing against the deletion of the Peter Buttigieg page, Hanumang06 referenced none other than Andrei Cherny as part of his effort to defend Buttigieg’s notability.

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A Wikipedia comment in which Hanumang06 argues that Buttigieg and Cherny are equally notable.
Wikipedia

And like Streeling, Hanumang06 made a point to distance himself from the subject at hand, writing in the deletion discussion that he is “not Pete Buttigieg by the way.”

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While both the edit logs and the original Peter Buttigieg page itself are hidden from the average Wikipedia user (as is the case with all deleted pages), a Wikipedia admin who requested anonymity to avoid blowback shared that deleted content with Slate.

Screenshot of the deleted page.
Wikipedia
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The text of Hanumang06’s short-lived creation is nearly identical to the text Streeling would use in creating the Pete Buttigieg page over a year later. So who is Hanumang06?

Googling the username will lead you to a college message board where, in 2006, Neehar Garg of South Bend, Indiana, posted his AOL Instant Messenger handle: Hanumang06. I reached out to Garg, who declined to talk on the phone but did confirm that he was Hanumang06 and, several emails later, also claimed ownership of the Streeling account, which was created the day after Hanumang06’s last recorded edit.

Garg has declined to go on the record to discuss any details related to the accounts and their activity, including to what degree he was affiliated with Buttigieg’s treasurer and mayoral campaigns, if at all. When I asked the Buttigieg campaign about Garg’s relationship to past campaigns, Meagher wrote, “I believe he volunteered with the treasurer’s race but never in paid capacity, and was not involved in the mayoral campaign.”

What does it all mean?

When I asked Meagher whether he was saying definitively that the Streeling account had no connection to Buttigieg and that Buttigieg did not know whose it was, Meagher replied, “Right. He does not know whose it is.” And when I asked whether Buttigieg has ever asked staffers to edit Wikipedia on his behalf, or has ever known about any staffers who had done so, Meagher replied simply, “No and no.”

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It seems worth noting here that Pete Buttigieg is one of only seven people currently following Garg on Instagram (both attended St. Joseph High School, though Garg is about six years younger).

A screenshot of Neehar Garg's Instagram page, which shows Pete Buttigieg as a follower.
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Buttigieg’s treasury campaign was also fully aware that at least something on Wikipedia was happening on his behalf. The photo Hanumang06 uploaded, which he claimed was being uploaded “at the direct behest of Pete Buttigieg himself,” now has a permission box beneath it noting that “Wikimedia Foundation has received an e-mail confirming that the copyright holder has approved publication.” While most users can’t view the actual correspondence in which permission was granted, a Wikipedia user with the necessary permissions shared a screenshot of the correspondence with Slate. That email, which was sent from pete@peteforindiana.com, begins with the following line:

I hereby affirm that I, Peter Buttigieg, am the creator and/or sole owner of the exclusive copyright of the photo PeteButtigieg.JPG, a headshot of myself, found on wikipedia at http://en.wikipeida.org/wiki/File:PeteButtigieg.JPG.

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The email is signed, “Peter Buttigieg, Copyright Holder, July 14, 2010.”

The Streeling account also has a direct connection to the Buttigieg campaign, though the evidence of this was very nearly erased entirely. In July of 2012, six months after Pete first became Mayor Pete, Streeling uploaded a photo to the Pete Buttigieg Wikipedia page with the file name Pete_Buttigieg_Mayor_Photograph_2012.jpg. Along with the photo, Streeling wrote that they “re-uploaded official mayoral photo, with permission to be added appropriately shortly.” For whatever reason, Streeling never actually got around to adding the permission to use the photo, and in September of that year, another Wikipedia user deleted the photo, citing “no evidence of permission for more than 7 days.”

While nearly every bit of text that gets deleted on Wikipedia is preserved in some form, photos used without permission are removed entirely, so there’s no way to see the image Streeling uploaded on Wikipedia itself. There are, however, a number of mirror sites that will replicate any Wikipedia content they catch. And fortunately for us, exactly one of those sites managed to grab Pete_Buttigieg_Mayor_Photograph_2012.jpg before its demise. The picture was Buttigieg’s official 2012 portrait:

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Pete Buttigieg smiling in front of an American flag and an Indiana flag in his official 2012 portrait.
Ftpmirror.your.org
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The official mayoral photograph of Pete Buttigieg would seem, at first glance, to be something that anyone could have obtained, through any number of different channels. But because this mirror site grabs the original file itself, the metadata (or data about the file hidden within the file) from the originally uploaded image remains intact. Here is just a small sample of the information hiding in Pete_Buttigieg_Mayor_Photograph_2012.jpg:

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Digital Creation Date     : 2011:12:22

By-line            : Matt Cashore

By-line Title         : Photographer

Country-Primary Location Name : USA

Copyright Notice        : (2011) Matt Cashore

Caption-Abstract        : Pete Buttigieg..Photo by Matt Cashore

Writer-Editor         : mc

Application Record Version   : 4

Exif Byte Order        : Little-endian (Intel, II)

Image Description       : Photo by Matt Cashore

Camera Model Name       : NIKON D3S

Orientation          : Horizontal (normal)

Resolution Unit        : inches

Software            : Photoshelter http://www.photoshelter.com

Modify Date          : 2011:12:23 09:37:10

Artist             : Matt Cashore

Copyright           : (2011) Matt Cashore

Exposure Time         : 1/320

F Number            : 4.5

Exposure Program        : Manual

ISO              : 200

Sensitivity Type        : Unknown

Exif Version          : 0221

Date/Time Original       : 2011:12:22 09:46:11

Create Date          : 2011:12:22 09:46:11

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Most image files you’ll download online have nowhere near this amount of data, but the originals of professional photographs will typically have quite a bit of information about how and when the photos were taken. Some of it can come from the camera itself (like the one used by this particular photographer), and some of it can be added in by the photographer after the fact, essentially as a way of signing the work. And while metadata can easily be altered and forged, it seems highly unlikely that, in 2012, someone would have gone through the trouble of faking more than 150 photo attributes in excruciating detail to quietly fool people into thinking they had the original file of a portrait of the newly elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana (photographed at a distance of exactly 3.98 meters), for no discernible reason.

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Working from the conservative assumption that this was indeed the original file taken by the mayoral photographer, the question follows: How might Streeling have gotten their hands on it?

It’s not clear when the photo was first released, but as late as June of 2012, the official South Bend website was still featuring a portrait of Buttigieg’s predecessor, despite his having been out of office for months.

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A screenshot of the official South Bend website in 2012, with a portrait of the former mayor, not Buttigieg.
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What’s more, I was unable to find a single instance where this full, uncropped version of Buttigieg’s 2012 portrait had been used online prior to Streeling uploading it to Wikipedia. Except, that is, for the photographer’s own website. The portrait, taken by photographer Matt Cashore, is intentionally difficult to extract in any conventional way. Attempting to right-click and save the image leaves you with a completely blank GIF file, and clicking the “download” button prompts you to enter a password. You can, however, go into the page’s source code and extract the image that way, which leaves you with the file seen here.

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The only version of the image one can extract from the site, though, is not the same file as Pete_Buttigieg_Mayor_Photograph_2012.jpg. Not only does the metadata indicate different creation dates (as well as the fact that one was taken directly from a camera while the other was not), but the original file uploaded by Streeling is nearly seven times the size of the one on the photographer’s website.

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In fact, the only place this original file seems to exist at all is on the page that mirrors Streeling’s 2012 upload. So, more likely than not, the only way someone could have come into possession of this image is through the photographer himself—or, put another way, by being Pete Buttigieg or someone working for him. Asked about the photo, Cashore said that the Buttigieg campaign had arranged the portrait and that he had delivered the file directly to the campaign, without ever sending it to anyone else. He did not, he said, upload it to Wikipedia himself.

By that recounting, the photograph must have passed through the hands of the Buttigieg campaign on its way to Streeling and Wikipedia. And in fact, according to a comment from Streeling that was deleted along with the photo but has been shared with Slate, that is precisely what happened.

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Screenshot of the deleted page with text indicating that the image was sent to Streeling personally.
Wikipedia

Under the category for the photo’s source, Streeling wrote that it had been “sent to me personally.”

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So what, exactly, is going on here? The evidence seems overwhelming that, despite the campaign’s repeated denials, Pete Buttigieg has had knowledge of, and at least some active participation in, the maintenance of his Wikipedia presence. This is not a crime. It’s just a deeply weird thing to deny. Two potential scenarios come to mind.

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One possibility is that the two accounts have two different people behind them. Garg, who self-identified to Wikipedia as a campaign staffer, is indeed Hanumang06. But when he proved unable to prevent the Peter Buttigieg page from being deleted, Buttigieg or someone else very close to him took matters into their own hands by registering the Streeling account. Having seen the issues Garg ran into by acknowledging his campaign affiliation, Buttigieg or his new agent would have insisted that Streeling was “not affiliated with this candidate’s campaign.” In the spirit of the cover-up, when asked about the Streeling account, the campaign would have asked Garg to take responsibility for both. This scenario, though entertaining, feels a bit too conspiratorial.

In the other, perhaps more likely case, Garg really is ultimately responsible for both accounts, but worked closely with Buttigieg and/or his campaign to raise the young future mayor’s profile. In this case, Garg would have to be either such good friends with Buttigieg or such a staunch supporter that he would feel compelled to semiregularly tweak Buttigieg’s Wikipedia presence. He would also have to have an interest in the man who played at Pete Buttigieg’s wedding, as well as Buttigieg’s favorite watch brand. This scenario is more honest and almost aboveboard, except for the persistent denials by the Buttigieg camp that he or his campaigns knew anything about any of it. As in the first case, here the campaign would have to be so eager to dispel the notion that Pete Buttigieg would ever use Wikipedia for self-promotion that they’d even lie about Buttigieg having known someone else was editing his page on his behalf.

Either way, unless somebody repeatedly hacked into various Buttigieg campaign computers and used that access to grab photos for Wikipedia and forge a photo permission in Buttigieg’s name, Mayor Pete is, for whatever reason, trying to conceal the truth about his relationship to Wikipedia. If you have any information about Streeling or any other potentially candidate-linked Wikipedia accounts, please email me.

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