How #GamerGate terrorized schools to silence humorists

This is my story of spending one week associated with #GamerGate, an online hashtag movement about ethics in video games journalism.

I was a global volunteer on 8chan (an imageboard commonly associated with #GamerGate) in December 2014, at the height of the movement. On my first day as a moderator the real name, address, and phone number of an infamous game developer were posted in an abandoned board and received hundreds of reports by users over the next six hours. The budding hashtag movement had been reporting this post en masse to try and appear above that sort of harassment. It was the start of #GamerGate’s public relation efforts, and one that I had to shoot down at the time. In response to the reports, I wrote a post signed with a “capcode” to illustrate my staff position, stating that: although I empathized with their efforts, 8chan does not delete personal information.

My promotion to global volunteer was unique, and I remain the only global volunteer ever promoted without owning a board on 8chan — a breach of the site’s own policies. I had gotten this favoritism from knowing Fredrick (8chan’s proprietor) though the Kiwi Farms, a website I owned that he frequently visited. I was introduced to #GamerGate through my time spent helping moderate his imageboard, and eventually had started seeing drama related to it on my own forum. I had always empathized with #GamerGate and their motives. As someone who has become “alt-right” in recent years, and as someone staunchly anti-censorship, the movement seemed to click perfectly with what kind of a person I was. During my time in silent support of #GamerGate, I saw opponents stretch the truth about #GamerGate’s harassment to financially benefit themselves, profiteering off an exaggerated sense of victimhood. Not once did I think that the hashtag movement was capable of what I’ve experienced first hand.

The Kiwi Farms is a gossip and drama forum centered around Internet culture. We do not consider ourselves “witch hunters”. What the forum represents is entertainment through schadenfreude. We like the feeling of puzzled bemusement we get when a schizophrenic explains the Earth is flat and run by the Jews. We do not enjoy anyone’s suffering. Because of how we operate, there is a limit to what damage can be inflicted on the people we observe. Doing reputational harm in itself is not funny, and humor value is inversely proportional to how much effort is expended. If someone is easily provoked, they’re much more fun than someone who is not. That’s why when people try to troll me or the Kiwi Farms, it’s quite clear how to deal with them.

In the years that I have run my website, I had become accustomed to many forms of attack. The key to “winning” is usually to detach yourself emotionally from Internet drama. People will call me whatever horrible things they please, ranging from child abuser to con artist, and I’ve accepted that being attacked and getting flak is just a part of my position. That’s something I can deal with. I am able to take care of myself regardless of this white noise because at heart I am honest. Attempts to bring down my website fail because I run a tight ship and break no laws. That doesn’t stop detractors from trying, but it usually peters out, and within these three years of hosting my forum I have never seen the seething, unadulterated rage that was presented to me within one week of making fun of #GamerGate.

The #GamerGate subreddit /r/KotakuInAction and other #GamerGate communities that focused on improving their public relations hold contempt my website, even though we often dug up dirt and ran exposés on their opponents. The frequent coincidence of targets caused many #GamerGate critics to equate us one in the same, which proponents resented immensely. In a light-hearted spirit of parody, I decided it would be funny to open a board called “GamerGate”, to change my forum’s logo to be the “GamerGate Farms”, to declare myself the General of the GamerGate Armies and thus the GamerGate Farms as the one true home of #GamerGate. I even offered @gamergate.us email addresses to seal the deal. Less self-important websites, like 8chan’s “/ggrevolt/” board, took these jabs as legitimate criticisms and saw the humor value in what I was trying to do: give /r/KotakuInAction a big grandma hug they didn’t want.

/r/KotakuInAction and Samuel Collingwood Smith, however, did not think this was so funny.

Within hours of the prank starting, any open association with my website was an automatic criterion for a ban on /r/KotakuInAction, which (up until that point), proudly boasted they did not ban trolls. This sort of “unpersoning” directly contradicted their stances against censorship and sparked a flurry of arguments whether or not it was acceptable. This was the sort of thing I was expecting; simple, light-hearted Internet silliness and drama.

Two days after hosting the GamerGate Farms I attracted the attention of Samuel Collingwood Smith, who goes by the pen name “Matthew Hopkins”, styled after the famous witch hunter general – inventor of the “swimming test”, a measure of witchcraft that involved throwing women into water to see if they would float or sink, a test which drowned or condemned to die by fire many innocent people. Sam wrote a long article calling me a child molester on his blog. He insisted my website hosts child pornography and urged readers to contact my service provider as to have my website shut down. When it was pointed out that people should probably contact the police if I host child pornography, he begrudgingly added a link to the FBI tipline in his footnotes.

In this article, Samuel concluded with: “JCM would be well advised to take his site down and turn himself in – after all, some of his less law abiding former associates are also looking to get in touch. They want to show him around a pig farm, apparently.”. This thinly veiled threat outlined his intentions perfectly: shut down my stupid website, the Kiwi Farms.

Three days after hosting the GamerGate Farms, Samuel bragged on his blog that he was the first Google result for my first name, illustrating intent to do financial and reputational damage to me. Keep this in mind as his later threats begin to emerge.

Four days after hosting the GamerGate Farms, Samuel posted on his blog that I owned a bestiality site. He was referring to my gag site animalfetishporn.us, which exists to illustrate a proof of concept for an innocuous Mozilla FireFox bug. It is not home to malware or pornography. Regardless, when Samuel was corrected about the purpose of this site, he added a footnote to the entry that instead insisted that I was a hacker.

On this day, my mother also received an email about an “urgent media inquiry” from Samuel, demanding information as to her involvement in my “pedophilia website”. He claimed that she was “funding” it, and was apparently attempting to scare her. Why this is I do not know, but because of his first article’s footnote on having me retire the Kiwi Farms, I can only assume he was trying to censor my website though my mother.

Five days after hosting the GamerGate Farms, my site was sieged by Denial of Service attacks which interrupted service briefly. Samuel again posted on his website about me, this time saying that my email service had been “hacked”. He assumed this because he had received an email from my free email service claiming to be me. When it was pointed out that he was merely deceived by a spoofed email address, he – again, for the third consecutive time – added a footnote to his blog post saying that he had been deceived and the entire article was incorrect.

It was also during this day that Samuel had emailed my mother two more times on her work address, and contacted the CEO of her entire company, giving him the same schtick and claiming his employee’s son was a pedophile hosting child pornography that she personally funded. Samuel hints at the end of his last blog post that he is going to write an “exposé” on her, claiming she is a child abuser. Combined with the prior article gloating about Google results, it’s very obvious that his desire was to destroy my mother’s fledgling career in real estate for no real reason.

Six days after hosting the GamerGate Farms, Samuel broke his hit-piece streak by remaining silent. Instead I discovered my grandparents had been identified on an anonymous board and that they had received harassing phone calls regarding me. I do not know who did this, but considering the timing I am convinced it was spurred on by Samuel’s call-to-arms against my family.

This is beyond my understanding. While attacks on character are mostly protected by free speech, Samuel’s comments regarding my mother try the boundary of defamation. Depending on the nature of the calls, ringing up my grandmother may also a crime. Still — I find that I’m not taken aback by the legality of such things, rather the motivation. I am 23 years old and have lived more than 9000 miles away from my family for over a year. I am in no way financially or functionally dependent on any of these people being targeted.

My mother is a 40 year old woman who raised me by herself as a nurse. Her joints ache and her back hurts, which is why she is venturing into a new career. Her body is physically unable to deal with her laborious job anymore and needs a way out. During her tentative first steps into the competitive market of real estate, she is slammed by abusive, terrorizing emails from a man she has never met, heard of, or spoken to – simply because she is my mother, and the Witchfinder General, Samuel Collingwood Smith, finds her guilty of that most treacherous of sins: giving birth to me.

Meanwhile, /r/KotakuInAction and Reddit as a whole took no action against Samuel’s Reddit account for continuously “doxing” me and my entire extended family as he posts his tabloids to their board every day. This is despite it being against their rules to link to someone else’s personal information. Samuel has been given free hand to dox me and everyone I know because having me and my website intimidated into silence suits their agenda.

Samuel’s “witch hunting” stretches back for a decade. He served as an elected official on the Welwyn Hatfield’s Borough Council from June 2005 to 2008. He infamously defected from the Labor party to the Conservative party, and sparked tabloid frenzy over comments saying the Liberal Democratic party was a bigger threat to children than a child molester. He was later forced to apologize for that remark. Samuel went on to moderate an Evanescence forum in 2010, only to accuse the band of facilitating child pornograph. This became one of many websites and wikis he has been banned from for his argumentative and defamatory behavior. Despite a complete inability to behave or respect other people, he has enjoyed full amnesty from Reddit and /r/KotakuInAction rules and is widely accepted by #GamerGate as a trustworthy and respectable journalist, whose smear writings erupted in a crisis today.

Last night, on April 21st, an anonymous user hiding in the Tor network registered one of my @gamergate.us email addresses and sent an alarming message to schools throughout a neighboring county that pretended to be me. The message, aimed at staffers and local news outlets, claimed that I would either kidnap a child or commit a mass murder. Police responded promptly and professionally, tracing the emails to my webserver. The resulting conference led to no trails, no charges filed, and dozens of exhausted police officers having to learn what “#GamerGate” and the Kiwi Farms are.

Mere hours after the news broke, Samuel had published a 1,000 word, 4 page article attempting to link me to the threat despite having no charges pressed against me. The size of the article and the screenshots he associated as evidence are suspiciously calculated given the timing in relation to my own announcement of the attack on me. He again props up the ridiculous idea that my mother is funding the Kiwi Farms, and tries to ride the maelstrom of public outrage to blackmail me out of hosting an innocuous web forum about nothing of importance.

#GamerGate, /r/KotakuInAction, and Samuel Collingwood Smith — the Witchfinder General — continuously claim that they are for “ethics in video game journalism”, and I cannot help but wonder if they have completely forgotten about actual journalism. Their obsession with maintaining a clean public reputation only extends to famous opponents like Zoe Quinn, not to nobodies on the sideline like me. It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that #GamerGate’s attention having turned on me is an immediate prelude to these sequential, escalating attacks against me, my family, my reputation, my person, and even my freedom.

I don’t know how to adequately describe this sort of madness. The actions alone speak for themselves. In an effort to punish me, an entire school district of parents and children are terrified, dozens of law enforcement officers spent fourteen hour shifts chasing a boogieman, and thousands of taxpayer dollars have been squandered on a wild goose chase. This is thanks to a vicious prank email written in my name. Samuel and his associates are demonstrably insane and are willing to hurt me, and anyone else close to me, in the name of a hashtag movement about video games.

Joshua “Null” Moon
General of the GamerGate Armies

P.S. After careful consideration, I have decided to keep my ridiculous GamerGate board up in open defiance — you cannot be anti-censorship and pro-terrorism at the same time.