On Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump will host a “social media summit” that is ostensibly aimed at addressing the “opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment”—but which will almost certainly just be an occasion for the president to talk about how unfair Silicon Valley is to him and his followers. The administration puzzlingly did not invite Facebook, Twitter, or any other major social media companies, but rather a coterie of critics who say that Big Tech censors conservative content on its platforms. Participants include Trump allies like Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Matt Gaetz and representatives of the Heritage Foundation. From there, the guest list gets … colorful. Here’s a partial look at who’s going to the summit—or at least who claims to be attending.
Mitchell is the host of YourVoice America, an online program that bills itself as “the most uplifting Trump News & Analysis Talk Show in America!” A pundit whom reporter Charlie Warzel once dubbed the “anti–Nate Silver,” Mitchell came to prominence during the 2016 election with vote projections based on indicators like Halloween costume sales. Since then, he’s amplified false rumors that presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg committed sexual assault and has been a vocal proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory, calling on Trump to arrest Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other members of the so-called “deep state.” In various tweets and show segments, Mitchell has also accused social media companies of intentionally pruning his number of followers and generally stifling conservatives.
O’Keefe is a conservative activist who first came to prominence in 2009 for visiting the community activist group ACORN dressed as a pimp and secretly filming his interaction with the staff. The sting led to a criminal investigation of the organization, which shut down a year later as funding dried up. He later agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former ACORN employee for violating a state law banning surreptitious recording of a person’s voice and image. The California attorney general also concluded that the videos reflected a “highly selective editing of reality.”* O’Keefe made headlines two years ago when he sent an operative with his organization Project Veritas to make false accusations about then–Senate candidate Roy Moore to the Washington Post. The Post’s reporters quickly uncovered the plot when they spotted the accuser walking into Project Veritas’ New York offices.
In 2018, O’Keefe also released a series of sting videos in which Project Veritas members visited bars to talk to Twitter employees, who seem to admit to violating users’ privacy and aiding investigations against Trump. However, the context of the conversations is unclear, and Twitter released a statement at the time asserting, “We deplore the deceptive and underhanded tactics by which this footage was obtained and selectively edited to fit a pre-determined narrative.”
Kirk is the founder and director of Turning Point USA, a conservative student organization. He developed close ties with the Trump family by helping with social media outreach for the 2016 campaign, and he’s generally backed the president throughout his term. Kirk, who has come out in support of most everything the president does and thinks, has unsurprisingly called for social media companies to “self-correct” when it comes to their treatment of conservatives.
Alexander is a Republican operative who recently caused a stir when he tweeted during the second night of the Democratic debates that Kamala Harris “is not an American black.” The tweet—which Donald Trump Jr. retweeted, then unretweeted—set off a wave of racist attacks against Harris.
Bozell is the founder and president of the conservative Media Research Center, an organization dedicated to rooting out purported liberal bias in the media. Bozell once told Sean Hannity that he “might want to say that Barack Obama” looks like “a skinny, ghetto crackhead” and called for a “dog muzzle” to silence Whoopi Goldberg. Media Matters notes that Bozell has rallied against social media platforms’ bans on Infowars.
During his freshman year at Campbell University in North Carolina, Fournier and fellow classmate John Lambert co-founded Students for Trump, a group whose growth was fueled by the social media surge for Trump during the 2016 election. The group became notorious for using young women wearing bikinis and MAGA hats in its promotional materials. Trump’s 2020 campaign eventually sent Fournier and Lambert cease-and-desist letters to get them to stop referring to themselves as official representatives, and Lambert was arrested in April for allegedly committing wire fraud and posing as a lawyer.
Johnson initially became famous as a traffic wizard at BuzzFeed, churning out clicky content at an inhuman pace. The outlet then fired him after it found that he had used plagiarized content in 41 of his pieces. Johnson moved on to become the content director of the conservative news site Independent Journal Review, where he was later demoted and then fired for pushing a conspiracy theory, committing plagiarism, and violating the company’s ethics policies. He’s now the chief creative officer for Kirk’s Turning Point USA and has promised to furnish the president with “dank meme ideas” during the summit.
The @mad_liberals Twitter account churns out “original artwork” dedicated to Trump, which largely consists of short clips and images of the president’s face superimposed over scenes from famous movies. One post features Trump as Judd Nelson’s rebellious teen character in The Breakfast Club, while another has the president waving a wand in front of Hogwarts. Over the past week, though, the account has been posting pictures of the interior of the Trump International Hotel in D.C., where @mad_liberals appears to be staying until the summit.
“CarpeDonktum” is the pseudonym of a stay-at-home dad in his mid-30s who has a Twitter account with 123,000 followers dedicated to pro-Trump memes. The president himself has shared some of CarpeDonktum’s creations, including a parody video in which Joe Biden massages himself and another making fun of liberals in Congress listening to the State of the Union speech. Twitter removed the latter video on copyright grounds because it featured R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” but pro-Trump users were convinced the platform just had a vendetta against conservative content. Twitter also suspended the account for eight days over a video that depicted Trump as a cowboy slapping and shooting at CNN’s Jim Acosta. CarpeDonktum reportedly joined @mad_liberals and the president for a private meeting in the Oval Office last week.
Pool, who styles himself an “independent journalist,” wrote on Twitter that he “greatly appreciate[s]” the White House’s invitation. He first came to prominence in 2011 by livestreaming the Occupy Wall Street protests. After stints at Vice and Fusion, Pool struck out on his own. In 2017, Pool took a $2,000 donation from Infowars alum Paul Joseph Watson and visited Sweden to investigate claims of high crime rates wrought by immigrants in supposed “no-go zones.” Pool initially concluded that Chicago’s crime problems were much worse, but then claimed that police had to escort him out of a neighborhood because masked men were following him. (Swedish police disputed Pool’s account.) Nowadays, he regularly updates his YouTube channel with videos like “Leftists Attack Declaration of Independence On 4th Of July Because They Hate America” and “Record Wave Of Africans Migrants Rush To US Border Thinking ‘Now Is There Chance.’ ”
Pool has been especially active in criticizing social media for allegedly suppressing conservative voices, at one point insisting to Twitter executives, including CEO Jack Dorsey, that the company has a liberal bias during an appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast.
Chamberlain is a lawyer and the current publisher of Human Events, a 75-year-old conservative newspaper that he purchased and revamped with a “pro-Trumpism” spin in March, installing Breitbart alum Raheem Kassam as its editor in chief. The outlet now publishes pieces such as “Tucker Carlson is Right: Ilhan Omar is an Ungrateful Immigrant” and “Drag Queen Reading Hour Can Be Stopped.” Chamberlain himself is a fierce defender of Trump on social media and has compared the conservative charge against Big Tech to the civil rights movement. He had not publicly disclosed his invite to the summit until Media Matters reported it earlier this week.
Ben Garrison (uninvited)
Garrison, known for illustrating pro-Trump cartoons that often go viral on social media, had originally been slated to attend the summit. Over the weekend, however, journalist Yashar Ali and others highlighted one of Garrison’s cartoons containing imagery of the Jewish Rothschild family puppeteering Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who is in turn depicted puppeteering former national security adviser H.R. McMaster and former CIA Director David Petraeus. This, of course, plays into the anti-Semitic trope of Jewish people clandestinely controlling the government. A senior administration official then told Politico on Tuesday that Garrison would no longer be attending the event.
Correction, July 11, 2019: This piece originally misstated that a lawsuit against O’Keefe had to do with misrepresentation. It pertained to surreptitious recording.