On Oct. 14, with the presidential election fast approaching, an editor at the New York Post dropped what President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign hoped would be a bombshell about Joe Biden: the first in a series of stories about the Democratic presidential nominee’s son, Hunter Biden, and his business relationships.
The report was sourced to emails and texts of dubious provenance — a Trump-supporting owner of a Delaware laptop repair shop said the younger Biden dropped off a computer and never picked it up. He claimed the FBI later subpoenaed the laptop, which spurred him to turn it over to (for some reason) the lawyer of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. The shop owner’s story about how the laptop was obtained changed repeatedly, as did Giuliani’s.
No matter: Conservative media went hog-wild. Fox News has done hundreds of segments on the story — more than it has done on the coronavirus pandemic — and Trump made Hunter Biden and the unproven allegations of corruption a centerpiece of the final presidential debate.
In September, social media accounts linked to a real estate tycoon named Guo Wengui spread rumors about damaging hard disk material about the Bidens. A billionaire who fled China amid accusations of fraud, bribery, money laundering, kidnapping and rape, Guo has found refuge as a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. He was aboard his superyacht with Trump’s former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon this summer when Bannon was arrested for wire fraud and money laundering related to his alleged involvement in a border wall scheme to fleece millions of dollars from Trump supporters. Bannon and Guo, who also goes by Miles Kwok, have worked together for years on media projects, anti-China money raising schemes and a political group in Australia that has spread COVID-19 misinformation.
Bannon too appeared to have advance knowledge of the Hunter Biden hard drive. He teased the operation on Dutch television at the end of September, more than two weeks before the New York Post’s Emma-Jo Morris published her first stories. “I have the hard drive of Hunter Biden,” Bannon said. “Stand by.”
On Oct. 11, an obscure pro-Guo Twitter account posted pictures of Guo laughing and smoking cigars with Giuliani. “Everything has started!” reads the tweet (translated from Mandarin), which appears to be a Guo slogan. They’d gathered, along with Bannon, in Guo’s luxurious apartment overlooking Central Park, according to The New York Times.
The next day, an account called “Freedom_USA_88” posted an alert on a far-right message board. (White supremacists use the number “88” as a “Heil Hitler” reference. The user name also had 14 characters, which could refer to the white nationalist “14 words” slogan.) HuffPost has no evidence that the account is connected to Bannon, Giuliani or Guo, but the anonymous poster said a “massive” Biden story was set to drop on “Wednesday.” Sure enough, Morris’ initial Biden report ran on Oct. 14, a Wednesday. Bannon and Giuliani went on Bannon’s “War Room” podcast that day to hype it. In the podcast, Giuliani, not for the first time, advanced an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about progressive Jewish billionaire George Soros that is common among far-right extremists.
Taken together, it appears a network of bad actors — many of them tied to Bannon — were involved in the procurement of the hard drive and the promotion of incendiary claims about its alleged contents. Aided by a flourishing ecosystem of far-right propaganda sites that serve to launder extremism into Republican talking points, members of this web have since promoted disgusting allegations about the Bidens ― including claims of child abuse ― that even Fox News and the Post will not touch. The campaign continues right up to Election Day ― Giuliani appeared on Kremlin-controlled television network RT on Tuesday morning to accuse the elder Biden of using his son as a “bag man.”
And Morris, the co-author of that Hunter Biden story and several subsequent New York Post pieces on the hard drives, was connected to this network.
Even her colleagues at the paper were skeptical about the integrity of Morris’ front-page story. Bruce Golding, the reporter who wrote most of the piece, refused to put his name on it. Gabrielle Fonrouge claimed she was barely involved and only discovered her byline on the story after it ran. The smoking-gun “scoop” was as sketchy as they come.
HuffPost tracked Morris’ social media presence and found extensive engagement and overlap with some of the far-right’s most unsavory characters. They include people who have been boosted by the Kremlin and conspired with the international far-right, including on attempts to undermine liberal democracy — and several people close to Trump and his family. Many of these bad actors work directly with Bannon or members of his network. Some are white nationalists or allied with them. On Venmo, Morris is connected, for example, with a former member of the Proud Boys who marched in Charlottesville with neo-Nazis.
When HuffPost asked Morris about her connections to far-right activists linked to Bannon, as well as to Giuliani and Bannon himself, she refused to answer any questions. “While you sound like a laugh a minute, Luke, I’m just too darn busy being all extreme,” she said.
A Strange Career Trajectory
Morris landed a powerful job as the deputy politics editor at the New York Post, the fourth-largest daily newspaper in America, with no print journalism experience. The closest she’d come was during a two-month college internship at The Washington Free Beacon, a right-wing publication in D.C., where she penned about two dozen short blog posts. Before working at the Post, she’d been an associate producer and booker for Fox News entertainer and Trump loyalist Sean Hannity, a job that didn’t require any newspaper reporting or editing skills.
But Morris’ ties to far-right politics go back to at least 2015, when she wrote for “IranTruth,” an anti-Iran site published by the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a conspiratorial anti-Muslim think tank. There, Morris had at least six bylines, all of them on short posts critical of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Frank Gaffney, the executive chairman and founder of CSP, is a former Reagan administration official who has praised prominent white supremacist Jared Taylor and spoken at and moderated Breitbart conferences that featured anti-Muslim extremists and white nationalists. His organization, which spread the lie that Obama is a Muslim, propagates disinformation about a jihadist invasion in America.
CSP has close ties to Trump, who cited its misleading study when he proposed to ban all Muslims from entering the country. In 2018, Fred Fleitz, CSP’s chief executive, held a high-ranking position on Trump’s National Security Council. Fleitz had worked at CSP prior to joining the administration and, before that, at Newsmax Media, an untrustworthy far-right, pro-Trump publication that has been a major booster of the Biden smear operation. Last year, CSP held its annual banquet at Mar-a-Lago. Gaffney recently launched a program to depict the Black Lives Matter movement and racial justice protests as a “color revolution” coup d’etat to take out Trump. This dangerous conspiracy theory is identical to Kremlin disinformation about the protests promoted through outlets such as RT.
And though Morris has long since moved on from Gaffney’s group, they are still marching in an interesting lockstep. Since at least last year, Gaffney and CSP have worked with Bannon and Peter Schweizer, a Breitbart and New York Post contributor and longtime Bannon collaborator, to attack Hunter Biden over a business link to China.
Darren Beattie, a former Trump speechwriter who lost his job after his ties to pro-Russia white nationalists were exposed, has helped Gaffney drive the disinformation. (Beattie also helped promote Bannon’s alleged “We Build the Wall” scam.) Beattie is the founder of Revolver News, a far-right propaganda site. It appears to have been the first outlet to spread child abuse smears against Hunter Biden ― on Oct. 15, the day after Morris’ front-page story.
A Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
Journalists quickly noted that Morris’ Instagram account showed her with Bannon, as well as notorious dirty trickster Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate who in 2016 acted as a back channel for WikiLeaks, which coordinated with Russian military intelligence to release damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Last year, Stone was convicted of seven felony crimes related to his obstruction of a congressional investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in 2016. Morris deleted Instagram photos of herself with Bannon and Stone and, the day after the story, set her account to private.
HuffPost looked at Morris’ “mutuals” on social media ― people she follows and who follow her on Instagram and Twitter ― paying special attention to interactions that suggest a personal connection, as well as her amplification of their content. On her Twitter account, which was created on March 25, 2020, she spread misinformation about the Bidens, downplayed Russian electoral interference and promoted far-right propaganda. For example, she liked a tweet by Malaysian far-right propagandist Ian Miles Cheong about racial justice protests being an “attempt to dismantle all of Western Civilization,” which is a white supremacist trope.
HuffPost found more evidence of Morris’ connections on Venmo, a popular payment service that connects payers and payees through a cellphone app, meaning users have likely communicated by phone. Because the app can automatically populate a payment network from phone contacts, not every Venmo “friend” is necessarily a friend. But it’s clear that Morris’ far-right associates on Venmo and the other platforms are part of a personal network braided into her professional life.
Consider Raheem Kassam, a former Breitbart London editor who wrote a book celebrating racist anti-immigrant British politician Enoch Powell. A Morris mutual on both Instagram and Twitter, Kassam has appeared on Hannity’s podcast and filled in as a guest-host. The pro-Brexit Kassam is closely linked to the anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party and was once a top aide to former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
Now based in Washington, D.C., Kassam co-hosts the “War Room” podcast with Bannon, which has promoted conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and spread pro-Trump disinformation ahead of the election. Kassam and Bannon have had Guo Wengui as a guest. And they have heavily promoted Morris’ Biden reporting as well as numerous smears about the Bidens on their podcast.
The pro-Trump Kassam is close with Milo Yiannopoulos, a British neo-Nazi apologist and former Breitbart provocateur. Morris is Venmo mutuals with Yiannopoulos, who has repeatedly called for journalists to be murdered; in 2017, he resigned from Breitbart after being caught on tape appearing to endorse pedophilia. Two days later, Morris reposted a photo of herself at a Yiannopoulos book party that the Post covered. Morris was posing with Chadwick Moore, another Instagram mutual, who captioned the photo: “Right wing extremists gone wild.” Moore frequently defends the Proud Boys online.
Mike Mahoney, another former Breitbart writer and onetime Yiannopolous flunky, was also at the party. He too was among Morris’ Instagram mutuals. By then, Mahoney identified publicly as “alt-right” and a ”nationalist cult leader.” On his Instagram, he expressed support for accelerationism, a strain of neofascism whose adherents believe Western democracy is doomed and hope to hasten its demise through violent political conflict. In April 2019, Mahoney published an accelerationist novel called “Harassment Architecture” that became popular among members of neo-Nazi terrorist organizations such as The Base, Atomwaffen Division and Bowl Patrol.
In October 2019, Morris, who is Jewish, had a jovial interaction about Jews with Mahoney on Instagram after she celebrated Rosh Hashanah with a photo.
The producer of Bannon’s podcast, Vish Burra, is another mutual of Morris’ on Instagram and Venmo. Burra’s Instagram photos show him socializing with a range of powerful far-right activists and Trump insiders, including Facebook board member Peter Thiel and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Burra is now the vice president of the New York Young Republicans Club, whose board of advisers features Chadwick Moore and Raheem Kassam, along with several other far-right propagandists who work directly with white supremacists and are in Morris’ network. Revolver News’ Darren Beattie, who spread pedophilia smears about Hunter Biden, is also on the board.
The NYYRC president, Gavin Wax, is friends with Morris on Instagram and Twitter. Wax too has used his platform to attack the Bidens, calling Hunter Biden a “crackhead,” traitor” and child trafficker on Twitter, while the site he publishes, The Schpiel, tries to make the case for the Bidens’ corruption. A self-professed fan of McCarthyism, Wax presides over NYYRC events in New York that have attracted a slew of far-right extremists. In 2019, Bannon was a headline speaker at a gala. The former Trump adviser ― out of jail on a $5 million bond ― appeared at another NYYRC event in September.
In July, Wax announced a partnership between the NYYRC and the youth wing of Italy’s far-right Lega Nord party. The announcement came almost exactly a year after Lega Nord was implicated in a scheme to funnel Russian oil money to the party. Wax has also appeared on a podcast for VDARE, an American white nationalist organization.
In 2018, he was involved in an event at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan that featured Gavin McInnes, the Canadian far-right extremist and founder of the violent neofascist gang the Proud Boys ― the same group Trump recently instructed to “stand back and stand by.” At the event, McInnes reenacted the assassination of a Japanese socialist by a far-right extremist, calling it an “inspiring moment.” His gang members then spilled out into the street and attacked anti-fascist protesters. Two Proud Boys were later sentenced to four years in prison for their role in the attack.
On Venmo, Morris is friends with Salvatore Cipolla, one of McInnes’ close friends and a former Proud Boy who claimed to have been booted from the gang in 2017 after he marched with neo-Nazis in the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Lucian Wintrich, a promulgator of racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories used Cipolla as his body-man during a white supremacist speech he delivered at the University of Connecticut at the invitation of the school’s College Republicans chapter. Wintrich follows and is followed by Morris on Venmo and Instagram, and is friends with or has collaborated with many of the Bannonite bad actors in her network. In 2017, he appeared with “Pizzagate” pusher Mike Cernovich and the Proud Boys at an event in Washington, D.C.
Another Morris Instagram pal, Jim Hoft, is a central member of the disinformation campaign. The founder of the far-right Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump propaganda outlet that employed Wintrich as a White House correspondent, Hoft has a history of using his site to target people for harassment and threats. When Morris unlocked her Instagram ― HuffPost first noticed that she had made the account public again on Oct. 26 ― she had removed Hoft from her contacts.
In the past two weeks, Hoft has published a flurry of wild, unsubstantiated accusations about the Bidens, including insinuations of pedophilia meant as a dog whistle to supporters of QAnon, a Kremlin-amplified conspiracy movement that alleges powerful Democrats are involved in a global pedophilia ring. Lauren Witzke, a QAnon fan and the GOP’s Senate nominee in Delaware, has already boosted Hoft’s outrageous claims and was one of the first people to start circulating “child trafficking” rumors about Hunter Biden.
So did Cernovich, a pro-Trump anti-media propagandist and frequent guest on Bannon’s podcast. Cernovich liked Morris’ Rosh Hashanah post. He follows and is followed by Morris on Instagram and has liked numerous other images and comments she published before her time at the New York Post. With over 700,000 followers on Twitter, Cernovich is a ringleader in the domestic disinformation network and a crossover point for far-right extremist ideas into the mainstream. He is close with Kassam, Yiannopoulos, Mahoney and many other Morris mutuals. Cernovich has appeared several times as a “journalist” on state-run Russian television.
In 2016, he helped spearhead Pizzagate, another pro-Trump disinformation campaign. Pizzagate relied on Kremlin-hacked Democratic National Committee emails disseminated through WikiLeaks, which were then distorted and amplified by American far-right extremists ― several of them now active in Bannon’s network ― to smear Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats as pedophiles. The disinformation led to a wave of death threats and an armed attack on a pizza restaurant in D.C.
In 2016, Cernovich was also in regular contact with Donald Trump Jr. over a burner phone, according to Loren Feldman, a filmmaker who co-produced a documentary with Cernovich that year, before the two parted ways acrimoniously.
“I was at Cernovich’s house,” Feldman told HuffPost. “The phone rang. He told me it was his burner phone. He said it was Trump Jr. He said, ‘Yeah, I talk to them all the time. I gotta go outside on the balcony.’ He took great pride in it.”
Feldman said he witnessed Cernovich take calls from a person he claimed was Trump Jr. more than once. When reached for comment over email, Cernovich did not deny Feldman’s statement at first.
“If you ever journey into the spirit world, we will have much to talk about,” Cernovich wrote. (He is a self-professed ayahuasca enthusiast.) “I love you and hope you find peace in this life.”
An hour later, Cernovich added, “If you truly value truth, you’d find out quickly that [Feldman] is lying and I had never spoken to Don Jr in 2016. Or used burner phones to talk to anyone,” Cernovich wrote. “Why would Cernovich use a burner phone when he could use signal?”
Trump Jr. did not respond to a voicemail from HuffPost.
In 2017, the president’s son said Cernovich deserved a Pulitzer Prize.
A Kremlin-Boosted Saboteur
Another node that loomed large in Morris’ far-right disinformation network was Jack Posobiec, a Roger Stone protege. Morris was friends with both Posobiec and his wife, Tanya “Tanya Tay” Gorbach, on Instagram. Posobiec collaborates regularly with authoritarians, white nationalists and accelerationists seeking to undermine Western democracy, which they view as a threat to their far-right agenda. Posobiec has also networked with neofascists and ultranationalists in Poland who engage in anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Donald Trump regularly retweets Posobiec. So does Donald Trump Jr., who is in routine phone contact with the disinformation specialist, according to multiple far-right sources close to Posobiec. Trump Jr. and Posobiec appeared together at a promotional event last year for Bannon’s border wall project, the SPLC reported. Cernovich was there, too, as were Kassam and Beattie. With Posobiec looking on, Trump Jr. was photographed shaking hands with a QAnon devotee who would later promote a conspiracy theory about a Jewish plot to enslave the world.
Morris’ friendly bond with Posobiec existed well before her “October surprise.” Posobiec frequently liked her Instagram posts. She reciprocated on Twitter, his preferred platform. Since Morris’ Twitter account was created, she has retweeted the neo-Nazi collaborator almost 30 times, more than any other non-Post account. She has favorited Posobiec’s content 378 times, far more than content from any other user.
The Kremlin also enjoyed Posobiec’s content. A HuffPost investigation in 2017 revealed that @TEN_GOP, a pro-Trump Twitter account run by the Kremlin’s Internet Research Agency, retweeted Posobiec more than any account in a large data set of significant conservative accounts. More than Hannity. More than Trump. Even more than Cernovich, with whom Posobiec helped orchestrate Pizzagate. In the 2016 election, @TEN_GOP spread copious amounts of disinformation and racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant content. Posobiec’s content was no different. As the “special projects director” for a Roger Stone-connected Trump PAC, he secretly networked with alt-right extremists on behalf of the “Make America Great Again” movement. But his main function was to lie online.
Posobiec put his large Twitter platform to use during a Russian attack on the 2017 French presidential election meant to damage centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and aid nationalist Marine Le Pen. Posobiec was the first real amplifier of forged documents about Macron, according to an investigation by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. He then promoted a cache of Russia-hacked Macron campaign emails. This month, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted six Russian government hackers on criminal charges related to the attack.
On Twitter, Posobiec has repeatedly promoted “Foundations of Geopolitics,” a book by the Russian neofascist Aleksandr Dugin that explains how to undermine American democracy by inflaming racial tension and chaos through political sabotage and disinformation. Dugin’s book is reportedly assigned as a textbook in the Russian military academy. Since the Macron attack, Twitter has allowed Posobiec to increase his follower count by at least 1 million, giving him an immense platform from which to spread disinformation.
Posobiec, who did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him for comment, now works as a correspondent for One America News (OAN), a pro-Trump far-right network that parrots Russian disinformation and employs at least one person who has been on the Kremlin payroll. For over a year, OAN has lent its platform to Rudy Giuliani to broadcast propaganda about Hunter Biden’s involvement in Ukraine. Posobiec has been part of this influence campaign, trying vainly for months to link Democrats to corruption in Ukraine. In the last two weeks, he has helped amplify Morris’ stories and the smears about the Bidens. He has dog-whistled to QAnon adherents on Twitter. On OAN, he has cartoonishly tried to play ethical newsman.
“There are some questions about how exactly Hunter Biden’s laptop came into the possession of Rudy Giuliani,” he intoned in one segment, neglecting to mention that he and his network are in league with Trump’s personal attorney.
For months, Posobiec has been a regular guest on the “War Room” podcast Bannon hosts with Kassam. Since Morris’ initial report in the Post two weeks ago, Posobiec has appeared on “War Room” numerous times, just as Giuliani has. Sometimes, they have appeared on the same show, including one in which Bannon and Posobiec described protesters as insurrectionists connected to the “deep state.” Over the weekend, Posobiec and Kassam released a propaganda film in an effort to portray anti-fascism as the vanguard of a Marxist revolution. Trump promoted the propaganda on Twitter.
A Project Veritas Operative
Posobiec has also partnered with former Breitbart contributor and Bannon protege Matthew Tyrmand. Together with Peter Schweizer, the longtime Bannon collaborator, Tyrmand has for weeks been going through a slew of emails about Hunter Biden that he claims he obtained from a former business partner of the Democratic nominee’s son. He has tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to use them to draw a connection between Joe Biden and Kazakhstan. But he has produced nothing of news value. Posobiec and OAN nevertheless dubbed him an “investigative journalist.”
Tyrmand is not a journalist. He is a board member at Project Veritas, a pro-Trump political espionage and sabotage firm run by James O’Keefe, who has taken money from Trump, Thiel and right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer. Though not directly connected to Morris on social media, Tyrmand has posted photos of himself on Facebook partying with almost all the bad actors with whom she overlaps. Tyrmand, who has American and Polish citizenship, has also served as an unpaid “adviser” to Poland’s nationalist government. He appears friendly with other far-right politicians and Trump insiders. In February, he posed with Fox News host Laura Ingraham at a dinner Bannon and Kassam co-hosted for Nigel Farage and nationalists from other countries. (Ingraham would later bring Tyrmand on her show to talk about the Hunter Biden story.)
Tyrmand is Jewish but has expressed anti-Semitic views and characterized George Soros as an evil mastermind. In 2017, Tyrmand was spotted hanging out in Warsaw with Canadian white nationalist Stefan Molyneux after a far-right march staged by a neofascist movement with a history of promoting Nazism. Tyrmand posted several Facebook photos of himself with Molyneux. In 2018, he stated that he was collaborating with the white nationalist on an unspecified project.
On the day Morris’ front-page Biden story ran, Tyrmand was in Chicago, going through what he said were 26,000 Hunter Biden-related emails. He also spent time with Donald Trump Jr. They did not sound like strangers.
When HuffPost reached Tyrmand on Friday and asked about his relationship with Bannon and Posobiec, Tyrmand refused to provide specific information, calling the line of inquiry a “would-be tyrannical act.” He quickly ended the interview, then expressed concern on Twitter that he would look like a “Russian agent.”
Meanwhile, a Chinese digital video platform operated by a media company that Guo and Bannon co-founded began hosting unauthenticated video and images of a man purported to be Hunter Biden engaging in sexual acts with women and using drugs. A Biden family diary surfaced and prompted more shrieking from the pro-Trump propagandists. But the diary didn’t reveal anything.
The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft continued to sink deeper into the mire, transforming his already debased site into a conspiratorial smut-peddling operation. Hoft’s Washington bureau chief, Cassandra Fairbanks, also pumped out posts on the Bidens. A confidant of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Fairbanks once worked for Sputnik, a state-owned Russian propaganda outlet. In recent months, she has glorified deadly right-wing vigilante violence and appears to have embraced ecofascism. Like many of the bad actors in Morris’ circle ― they are mutuals on Twitter ― she has also had access to Trump administration insiders.
Right-wing activists often complain about guilt-by-association charges, even when they are caught colluding with neofascists and white nationalists. But Giuliani and Bannon ― and their vast network of far-right hatchet men ― have tried for years to slime Joe Biden with the tawdry, tragic personal life of his own son.
And QAnon has seemingly always been the endgame. Bannon made that clear in a “War Room” podcast with Kassam on Oct. 22, when the two former Breitbart men groused about the Biden operation’s lack of mainstream media penetration.
“I think they’re kind of goading us at the moment and saying, ‘If you’ve got something, release it.’ And I don’t think they quite realize how much is there,” Kassam said. “If you thought the New York Post story from last week broke the internet … the stuff that’s left to come out is going to make that look like nothing.”
But it all looked like nothing, especially when Bannon suggested that Hunter Biden is engaged in child sexual exploitation. This wasn’t a dog whistle. It was a foghorn, the same one Donald Trump Jr. sounded earlier that day on “Fox & Friends,” when he brought up “human trafficking and prostitution rings.” Later in the podcast, Tyrmand put in an appearance to rave about all the evidence against the Bidens that has yet to come to light. He offered no specifics.
“You’re a hero,” Bannon told the Project Veritas dirty trickster.
Bannon then issued an ominous proclamation: He and his network weren’t stopping.
“This is going to go on well past Nov. 3, whatever the outcome is,” he said. “Win, lose or draw. And in a draw, where we fight this thing all the way to Inauguration Day, a lot’s going to come out.”