It took roughly four hours for Nathan Bernard to build a direct line to the President.
Bernard, an app developer and self-taught coder, noticed the same handful of pro-Trump Twitter accounts consistently responding first each time Donald sent out one of his grammatically questionable, 140-character-or-less messages in the months leading up to the 2016 election .
“I built a faster bot than those guys,” Bernard says over the phone.
At the time, Twitter’s mobile timeline was chronological, so it only needed to be quicker by a few fractions of a second – but it was. Bernard’s responses to the Republican frontrunner and future president – replies like the infamous “pussy grabbing” quote attached to a photo of young Ivanka in her dad’s lap – suddenly were front and center for anyone scanning the replies to Donald’s tweets. Bernard says it wasn’t long before inner circle members like Dan Scavino, Eric and Don Jr. all blocked him on the social media platform.
“Ivanka didn’t block me,” he grouses, “but yeah, everyone else blocked me.”
Bernard’s steady barrage of tweets caught the attention of a handful of online, viral-savvy comedians like Vic Berger IV, Todd Dracula, and Tim Heidecker of Tim & Eric fame. The group began collaborating and signal boosting each others’ roasting of extreme right Twitter personalities, with the help of Bernard’s response code.
Bernard still occasionally lampoons Trump, but lately it’s the Alt-Right receiving most of his post-election ire and morbid fascination, two men in particular: White-supremacist, serial self-owner Tim Gionet, a.k.a. Baked Alaska, and noted conspiracy theorist, former Men’s Rights activist-turned-pick-up artist, supplement peddler, creator of a life philosophy dubbed the “Gorilla Mindset” and accused rapist, Mike Cernovich. (Cernovich, who has tweeted that “date rape does not exist,” pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of battery. That conviction was later expunged.)
“These are just horrible people,” Bernard says. “Just show the worst stuff they’ve done. It’s all out there already …Let them hang themselves with their own words.”
The small cadre of dedicated friends and fans scoured people like Cernovich’s and Gionet’s hours of livestream footage, sending clips of especially ridiculous or damning segments. A few small video-edits – a looping of a weird facial tic here, an overlay of (potentially self-) pepper sprayed Baked Alaska there – and another video is created for their respective online archives, Cernovich Leaks and Milk Leaks (in reference to Baked Alaska pleading for milk to wash his eyes of the aforementioned pepper spray). Not all their efforts are as clearly satirical, like when Vic asked if anyone wanted to crash Jack Posobiec‘s wedding in November 2017. Posobiec would claim Berger attempted to orchestrate “enraged leftists” to attack him, while Bernard and Berger soon dubbed him “Bumble Jack,” a moniker they coined to make sure no one forgets the married MAGA personality’s recent outing and subsequent removal from the dating app. Posobiec later claimed identity theft led to his Facebook account being linked to the website.
Last fall, Twitter banned Baked Alaska, reportedly for violating its hateful conduct policy, with many in the Alt-Right community – Cernovich included – actively distancing or downplaying their relationships since then. But Cernovich is still very much active, launching multiple counteroffensives including accusing Berger of overseeing his own pedophilia circuit, a drive resultant in a blitz of threats to Bernard, Berger and even Berger’s family.
With an online war threatening to spill into the real world, Bernard could have easily moved on to other targets. Instead, he doubled down. Enter Bernard Media, the latest, and as he explains, perhaps final form of his group’s campaign to rid social media of Cernovich and his ilk. Launched in February, BM – Bernard laughs every time either of us says the acronym – aims below the belt in more ways than one. Framed as a TMZ-meets-InfoWars muckraking outfit of crack “investigative journalists” – read: essentially Bernard, and Bernard alone – BM churns out a deliberately disorientating mix of scandalous rumor, actual reporting, and straight satire – a post-post-truth experiment simultaneously acknowledging and reveling in misinformation. As the vitriol and potential harmful consequences rapidly intensify, Bernard, Berger, and their supporters are still enthusiastically diving into a murky blend of salaciousness and righteous intent to straddle, and often obliterate, the ethical boundaries most others work hard to avoid.
Their goal now is to control the narrative by any means necessary in hopes of undermining any Alt-Right credibility, even if that includes amplifying humiliating content no one would want going viral. BM’s low-rent website design mirrors Cernovich’s, or another frequent, easy target of theirs, InfoWars. Pages are deliberately clunky and rudimentary, sparse while also self-serious, with many articles ending on schmaltzy platitudes from figures like Sun Tzu and Shakespeare.
“There’s a lot of ways to investigate and expose and take down these people. And BM just kind of does that in creative ways, but it still messes with them,” Bernard says. “You know, either satirize these people in some way or expose these people with real truths that again have actual consequences.”
The project didn’t ease into the fray, either. In January, Bernard claims someone passed along word of a potential sex tape featuring Mike Cernovich and fellow anti-Muslim Alt-Righter/ former Project Veritas alum, Laura Loomer. Soon after, Bernard says, an off-the-record source from within the Alt-Right social circle backed up the assertion. Unlike his past stories and Twitter trolling, Bernard is adamant this rumor came from a very real person. To Bernard it encapsulated “who they are so nicely,” giving him the opportunity to break an embarrassing story instead of repurposing his targets’ self-embarrassments. But asserting the existence of a private tape between two people, one of whom is married with a young child, carried with it far more serious consequences than reminding us that Cernovich once flubbed an appearance on Alex Jones’ show, or that time Baked live-streamed for hours from an In-and-Out parking lot after Twitter booted him. Not that it took long for him to make up his mind.
“I mean, I don’t feel any heartbreak, or any moral qualms…” he says, before quickly adding, “There was probably a moment before I published [the sex tape article] where I was, like, ‘Oh, God. Shit. Am I actually going to do this? Am I actually going to – I mean, what’s the goal? Is this going to mess up his marriage? Is this going to mess up his life?”
He pauses before answering with a sudden finality.
“Yeah, for sure. I mean, he’s a bad person…I don’t care if that happens him, frankly. I don’t care at all.”
For Bernard’s first “investigation,” – ”Gorillas Gone Wild: The Mike Cernovich Sex Tape?“ – he took on the role of amateur journalist, reaching out to both Cernovich and Loomer for comment. Cernovich’s lawyer responded for him, first denying the tape’s existence before oddly closing with, “In the event that you are in possession of (or come into the possession of) a sex tape starring Mr. Cernovich, I presume that it would be somewhat old material.”
Loomer also responded to Bernard, saying he was knowingly peddling fake news.
“She just threatened me like crazy. She [accused me of] sexual harassment, soliciting revenge porn, all this nutso stuff,” he says.
Loomer did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, while Cernovich issued a number of lengthy email responses to Rolling Stone’s legal team when asked about the subject. Among other statements, he repeatedly and emphatically denies the tape’s existence, as well as his role in spreading the disproven assertion of a child sex trafficking ring operating out of a D.C. Beltway pizza parlor, citing an NPR article’s correction. (The correction states, “In fact, Cernovich did mention Comet Ping Pong in his videos, and falsely suggested there were illicit activities in the basement.”)
“[The author] is acting as a proxy for Bernard and Berger, and his intent is to incite more death threats against my young daughter,” wrote Cernovich in one email, and, “Bernard is…a hoaxer and liar, and any reliance on him as a source would be reckless disregard for truth and falsity.” He later added, “[The author] is part of a criminal conspiracy.”
Using trolls’ own playbook against them, Bernard and Berger often tag Twitter Security and Safety accounts in threads, hoping to draw attention to people like Cernovich and Posobiec. Earlier this year, Bernard dedicated a substantial amount of time to Ben Shapiro, the young, rising conservative “Facts, Not Feelings” pundit who repeatedly makes clear his deeply held belief that transgender people should not be referred to by their chosen pronouns. A three-year-old video debate between Shapiro and transgender reporter Zoey Tur on Dr. Drew’s show resurfaced, which Berger then overdubbed to sound like Shapiro is pissing his pants. After a report came out that Alexandre Bissonnette, the Quebec mosque mass shooter, was a frequent visitor to Shapiro’s social media, they pushed the story, seeming to suggest that Bissonnette had been exposed to Shapiro’s anti-Islamic tirades. Often, fans of Bernard and Berger will join in, urging Twitter admins to ban or suspend the accounts.
“They lie and do lots of bad things, and that’s no justification for you being able to lie or do something just because they do it,” says Bernard. “They have their little niche carved out so they can push propaganda, and they can do all this misinformation. And all to what end? They’re not pushing any sort of ideology. They’re not making any sort of art in that little space they carved out for themselves.”
For some semblance of clarity, BM is now primarily divided into three sections: “Verified” for ostensibly confirmed, accurate material; “Who Knows” for rumors that are “actively being investigated”; and” Who Cares” for “unsubstantiated claims,” although an article in any given vertical is liable disregard those rules entirely, regardless of label. “Who Cares” includes a video promoting Cernovich’s Gorilla Mindset website, promising to expose his ape assault fetish. Recently, a “verified” piece included a supposed focus group of Redditors declaring alt-right-adjacent YouTube personality Dave Rubin the “Least Funny Person Alive.”
Bernard says he hopes the more ridiculous posts are self-evident satire. ‘[W]e say it like that not just to satirize, but also to protect ourselves…these people are crazy enough that they might do something like reckless libel. The material is sordid enough, and I’m objective enough to see that that maybe something in a crazy world could happen.”
Bernard concedes the obvious when pressed – the potential for something like this to go very, very awry. Lawsuits, harassment, more waves of online trolling and threats from the Alt-Right, perhaps even worse. It’s difficult differentiating fact from fiction on Bernard’s site. An interview video with a self-described “Cernovich super-fan” in a comedically sketchy basement apartment seems too good to be true, and another clip includes a blurry “tipster” strongly resembling Berger recounting clearly outlandish details of the alleged sex tape.
“On the record I can say, because I need to be clear about it – [the basement video] is satire,” he says. “That’s a written sketch.”
In that case, Bernard wanted people aware of the Alt-Right’s attempts to form a larger coalition after learning Cernovich was organizing an event dubbed the “Night for Freedom.”
“That was just a fun thing to make in the first place…but, there probably are people like that going to this thing. ‘Who the hell is going to these things?’ Is what I’m trying to say.”
Bernard Media has since “dumped massive BM scoops“ of various kinds, some more innocuous like additional remixed, embarrassing footage courtesy of Berger, others potentially far more far-reaching, such as follow-up posts on the sex tape. People like Cernovich and Alex Jones remaining even a fraction as influential as they are now is undeniably dangerous, yet the cliché of accidentally becoming the thing you hate comes to mind. A gadfly to the gadflies, pushing sensational material through a mix of amateur sleuthing and satire “with a purpose,” as Bernard phrases it.
He tries summing up why he is so determined to undermine these particular people, even at the potential cost of blurring the lines of both ethics and reality.
“I want to expose them. I want to totally take them down. I want them done with,” he explains. As for collateral damage from all the trolling, including stories based on allegedly legitimate tipoffs like the sex tape, “I think that [Cernovich’s] wife and the kid should just get out, man. I don’t think that’s a healthy environment for someone to be trotting their kid around on Periscope and talking about pedophilia and all this nutso stuff.”
Bernard and Berger are still voraciously active on Twitter – Bernard claims that’s still thanks, in part, to a few of his bot creations – firing off new clips of Alt-Right personalities and their cronies shooting themselves in the foot. It isn’t long, however, before much of Berger’s Twitter archive is scrubbed from the site for safety reasons, says Bernard.
“Vic and I have been getting a serious uptick in death threats lately,” he later texts. “We think its [sic] from all the Shapiro drama last week. Vic is worried about the safety of his family at this time, doesn’t think either of us should be doing interviews or press.”
Bernard also seems to go out of his way noting Cernovich appears “extremely unhinged at the moment,” which is hard to argue with – after Trump approved the April bombing of Syria, Cernovich began pivoting back to one of his earlier favorite subjects, the evolution of humanity’s collective conscience. This past weekend, he mobilized his supporters to boost years-old offensive Twitter jokes about rape and pedophilia from director James Gunn, prompting Disney to fire him from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 the same day.
He explains his worries about Cernovich and his followers, and their now undeniable effects on peoples’ reputations and careers. It’s clear Bernard, Berger, and their supporters believe they need to be stopped as soon as possible, and by pretty much any online means necessary.
“We’re worried he may kill someone,” writes Bernard, although it’s difficult to tell whether or not he’s joking.
Update: This article has been changed to include that Cernovich’s charge of battery was later expunged.