“We don’t hear much about Democrats and leftists being let back on Twitter,” tweeted conspiracy theorist and election denier Dinesh D’Souza in November, a few long weeks after Elon Musk acquired the platform. “Why? Because they were never kicked off in the first place.” Musk himself replied, “Correct.”
Of course, this framing is disingenuous. Twitter has, in years past, purged activist accounts linked to the Occupy movement while supposedly cracking down on bots. And if other left-leaning figures have avoided bans, it could have something to do with not spreading misinformation about Covid-19, undermining democracy, leading harassment campaigns, or making violent threats.
However, two prominent, polarizing liberals thrown off the site in 2019 have returned — an anomaly as distinctive as the pair themselves. Twin brothers Edward and Brian Krassenstein, of Fort Myers, Florida, were once little-known entrepreneurs who ran investment web forums that hosted ads for get-rich-quick ventures including apparent Ponzi schemes, and in 2017 had nearly half a million dollars seized from their homes by federal agents, with prosecutors alleging the money was traceable to proceeds of wire fraud. They claimed they had no knowledge of those deals and avoided criminal charges, then went on to spend the Trump years building a massive #Resistance following with tag-team Twitter feeds — Ed’s was originally a Justin Bieber fan account — that were later banned for allegedly boosting engagement with paid and fake accounts.
By storming into the former president’s replies at every opportunity, relentlessly retweeting themselves (and each other), and launching meaningless calls to impeach or arrest Trump, the Krassensteins became an unavoidable feature of online political discourse. They were reviled not only for their nonstop posting but announcing good news with cringe catchphrases like “KABOOM,” and fanboyish adulation for figures like special counsel Robert Mueller, whom they once rendered as the muscular, shirtless hero of a creepy children’s book. One of Brian’s weirder tweets about the leader of the Russia investigation, since deleted, is a definitive example of their exhausting style:
It was a few months after that Super Bowl that the brothers caught their permanent suspension from Twitter, which said that they had broken rules against operating fake accounts and buying interactions to boost their presence. The pair have denied that charge ever since, and were at one point even considering a defamation suit, which did not come to pass. However, an account purportedly operated by Heidi Krassenstein, Brian’s wife, did materialize — with most observers assuming it was just a sock-puppet for the brothers. Whatever the case, that profile was retired in the wake of Trump’s 2020’s election loss.
“Twitter literally made us sign an NDA after we were banned, making us agree not to speak to anyone, even family members, about our discussions with them,” Ed Krassenstein claimed in a direct message — one made possible because, after more than three years in the wilderness, he and Brian are officially back on the site. Ed says they reached out to someone highly placed at the company after Musk took over, and were soon able to reclaim their accounts. (Brian did not immediately respond to a request for comment, perhaps still believing, as the Krassensteins wrote in a 2020 statement, that journalists contributed most to their ridicule because they “stole attention” from mainstream media.)
But a lot has changed since the boys got the boot. There are no Trump tweets to engage with, and Twitter itself is in upheaval thanks to Musk’s haphazard management. Leftists have been purged as he consorts with far-right trolls and resurrects the accounts of others formerly suspended for hate speech. Apart from allowing them back — and it’s not clear whether he was directly involved in the decision — the Krassensteins sound rather disgruntled with Musk’s recent behavior. Actually, in Tump’s absence, he’s become their primary target.
So far, the brothers have demanded that Musk explain why they’re shadowbanned on the site, blasted him for attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci, mocked his distaste for “wokeness” and accused him of allowing antisemitism and racism to proliferate on Twitter by dissolving its Trust and Safety Council.
In private messages, Ed says he’s “always loved Elon Musk and what he’s done for humanity,” calling him “a super smart guy that has overall good motives.” The praise is bizarrely at odds with the brothers’ latest tweets, which characterize him as incompetent and uncaring. It also suggests flexible loyalties — you can well imagine the Krassensteins, inveterate reply guys, as two more in Musk’s army of bootlickers.
Except, Ed notes, “I think he has become somewhat of a right-wing political personality, even though he claims to be in the center.” Here’s where the old playbook comes out: harvest clout by haranguing Musk daily and try to leverage this into a nebulous liberal “movement.” The brothers don’t dislike him as naturally or viscerally as they did Trump — he’s simply there. And this time, they’ll aim to be taken seriously: Ed promises “fewer BOOMS and KABOOMS.”
In a co-authored thread this week, the brothers rankled at being characterized as “grifters.” One difficulty in shedding that negative image will be their recent foray into crypto assets and NFTs, which many regard as a scam in itself. Last year, the pair co-founded NFTz.me, a social community for buying and trading the digital assets, building on DeSo, a blockchain for decentralized social networks. Ed even bought Tiffany Trump’s first NFT on DeSo via his exchange, and she bought one of his. He appeared to hope that this would upset her father in some way. It looked, instead, like more shallow political opportunism.
In the year since those cursed transactions, NFT trading has almost entirely collapsed along with prices as a “crypto winter” took hold, accelerated by factors like the recent implosion of the FTX exchange and fraud charges brought against its former CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried. The space in which to establish oneself as a successful crypto investor or influencer — let alone the trustworthy sort — is rapidly shrinking. On top of that, the Krassensteins have their own glaring credibility problems.
Yet aside from a few nods to their tech ambitions, and one or two pro-Biden tweets, the Krassensteins’ beef with Musk seems to be taking priority in their first days back on Twitter. Why not? It’s the easiest, most obvious play for engagement. Whether they continue harping on his “free speech” policies or pivot in another direction, Ed and Brian will stay truly focused on just one goal: forcing their way back into the conversation.