One could be forgiven for a bit of skepticism where Pete Buttigieg’s campaign and its supporters are concerned. This is a politician who claimed to have no knowledge of or involvement in the editing of his Wikipedia presence, despite having emailed Wikipedia from his own account to give it permission to use a photograph that was only available through his office. The campaign also previously used a stock photo of a woman in Kenya on a webpage meant to explain his anti-racism plan for the U.S. So when users on Twitter started wondering whether a devout Pete supporter in Nigeria was actually the campaign’s senior communications adviser, Lis Smith, it certainly seemed to fit a pattern.
People first took notice of the account thanks to a tweet by user @FeralHogs420, which called attention to an admittedly bizarre tweet from @easychinedu.
Why would someone who was not Lis Smith tweet “It’s Lis”? The controversy really started picking up steam when Jewish Currents editor David Klion also tweeted out the claim that this account was secretly run by Smith.
Other little details, such as the fact that @easychinedu was claiming to have just woken up when it was actually 5 p.m. in Nigeria seemed only to strengthen the investigators’ belief that Smith had been caught running a fake account.
Slate got in touch with Chinedu, the man behind the (now-deleted) account in question, @easychinedu. After video chatting with Chinedu (who asked us not to use his last name so that he might attempt to salvage some degree of privacy) and asking him some questions about his big day online, Slate feels comfortable saying definitively that, unless Pete’s campaign possesses some incredible CGI technology, this man is not Lis Smith. And he has a plausible account of why he seemed to tweet out that he was. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ashley Feinberg: So, how’s your day been?
Chinedu: It’s very stressful, as you can imagine, I’m responding to emails. It’s almost 10 p.m. here. And my Instagram account is locked and I had to deactivate my Twitter account. And this is all because I just tweet about Pete Buttigieg.
What did you first think when people started accusing you of being Lis Smith?
Yeah, it was kind of funny because, you know, you can clearly hear my voice—I’m not Lis Smith. So I thought it was just a joke because this guy, David Klion, he asked his followers to follow me, because apparently I was a sock puppet account that Smith was apparently controlling, you know. And then they’re going through my tweets, and there were tweets that I made that said, “Hi, I’m Lis,” or something like that. It felt like they were really reaching.
So just to be clear, are you affiliated with the campaign in any way?
No, no, I’m not affiliated with the campaign. It said that on my bio, but I had to deactivate my account. I’m just a supporter of Pete. I like Pete. I think he’s the best candidate running. And that’s all. I just tweet about Pete.
Have you ever spoken to Lis Smith?
No. You mean like, “Yeah, what’s up?” Or Skype or something like this?
Yeah, just any communication with her.
No, no. I did tweet out to her and she said “thanks,” I think once. But I think that’s the most of it.
And about that one tweet where you said “Hey. It’s Lis”—can you just explain what that was?
Yeah. So basically, if you follow the Pete campaign, they have something they call, like, the phases. Phase One is, like, getting Pete known. Phase Two was building the ground organization. And then Phase Three was striking contrast, I think. I’m not 100 percent sure. But that was when Pete started making contrasts with Elizabeth Warren about Medicare. And then Phase Four was pretty much about getting out the vote. That was just before the Iowa caucus.
And essentially what happened was I read a campaign email on Twitter that said: “I’m Lis. You know, this is Phase Four.” And, you know, in the Team Pete community, everybody has been waiting for Phase Four because Phase Three was in October or something. So when this came out, everybody was excited, you know, so I was just having a little fun and joking about it, trying to rally the troops to get out and phone-bank.
So you were just mimicking what was in the email, basically?
Yeah. I mean, I didn’t say much. I just said: “Hi, it’s Lis Smith. It’s time to leave it all out”—you know. The way she phrased it was kind of interesting to me. So I thought it would be funny. And obviously the people that I follow on Twitter know that I’m not Lis Smith. So it was kind of just a joke for other supporters. But then, you can imagine, I just get back to Twitter after a few hours and everyone’s saying I’m Lis Smith or, you know, that Lis Smith is controlling me or it’s a fake Nigerian account. I can assure you that this is Nigeria and I’m supporting Pete.
How come? Why are you such a big Pete fan?
Well, I think he’s very intelligent. He’s very compassionate, I think. I don’t know. I watched one of the town halls he did on YouTube, and I thought it was really great. I just think he’s a really good candidate. There’s no real explanation. The thing is, if you really dig in, you’ll see that there are a bunch of international supporters of Pete. If you check—well, it’s unfortunate I had to deactivate my account—but if you check the people I follow, most of them are international supporters of Pete. People from other parts of Africa, someone from Ireland, someone from Scotland, someone from the Netherlands. So there are people that support Pete. It’s just that I’m very … I guess, vocal, right?
I guess it is kind of strange, and I understand where the controversy comes from, because it’s like, there’s this Nigerian account that’s tweeting about a very specific candidate from in the U.S. But it’s OK. I just hope it dies down.
When did you first start getting into Pete?
Oh, I started following Pete last January, I think, or maybe February, I guess. It was before he launched. I had been using my business Twitter account to tweet, but then I thought it wasn’t professional. So I started using my own. I created an account, I don’t remember when, maybe July or August, or sometime in September. But anyway, the point is, I’ve been following Pete for pretty much a year. It’s just a combination of following someone and, you know, checking out what they are doing and his improbable rise. And it’s just interesting to me to follow that.
I should point out that I used to live in the U.S. So it’s not like I’m just coming at this from nowhere. I went to college in the U.S.
Who’s your second favorite candidate that’s running?
That’s a good question. Well, let’s put it this way. In 2016, I liked Bernie. But I don’t know, I think that after Pete, it’s really tough, you know? It’s really, really tough. I would support any other candidate to beat out Trump. But I don’t know. I think Pete is kind of a unique candidate. It’s hard to say. I still would support whoever gets the nomination.
So who knows, if Biden wins, you could start seeing a bunch of Biden tweets from me, and there could be another scandal.
How come you chose Pete over Bernie this time?
Well, let’s put it this way: Bernie has the right diagnosis of the problems. You know, a lot of my friends struggled with student loan debt. People don’t have health insurance, things like that.
But I think Pete’s way of getting there is a way that unites people and brings in people who might not agree on the solution. Then, it’s also more pragmatic in how it’s likely to get solved. Like, I think Medicare for All Who Want It seems more likely to get passed than “Medicare for All.” I just thought Pete had more pragmatic answers.He was fresh, new on the scene. He had good ideas, pragmatic ideas, common sense ideas.
But I will tell you that supporting Pete wasn’t easy, because a lot of my friends, they follow U.S. politics casually, but they have other candidates they like. They’re not crazy about Pete.
Why don’t they like Pete?
Because they feel like Pete would struggle with his electability. So some of my friends feel like it’s his electability. He’s a small-town mayor. They just felt Biden had more clout. That was early last year.
What about Lis—I know she has some fans on Twitter. Are you a big Lis Smith fan?
I mean, I support Pete and Lis, obviously. And, you know, everybody affiliated with the campaign. But I’m not affiliated with the campaign. I’m just a regular guy who likes Pete. That’s all.
And I know there was another thing people were pointing to, where you said that you had just woken up when it was about 5 p.m. in Nigeria. What was the reason for that?
Yeah. I was trying to explain to people that you could take naps in Nigeria. I guess it’s a controversy to wake up at odd hours. But I was trying to draw attention to the fact that I was just on Twitter after a hiatus, and then suddenly found out I was Lis Smith and I was the center of a controversy. It’s kind of weird. I’m getting so many people trying to pry into my Instagram account and my email information. People are sending me tweets, messages to confirm fake emails, either reporters or just regular people trying to get me to confirm who I am. So I just want my privacy, you know? That’s all I want from this.