On Monday, Samantha Bee and the Full Frontal team tracked down Jestin Coler, the owner of Disinfomedia, a company that owns several fake news websites. NPR recently referred to Coler as the “godfather of the [fake news] industry.”
Coler describes himself as a “diehard liberal.” He voted for Clinton, he said, even though his websites regularly publish smear stories that stoke rage among far-right readers. “Any sort of a gun-grabbing story, pro-abortion, anti-Obama, anti-Hillary, anti-Mexican or immigrant, is kind of this right-wing red meat,” Coler told Full Frontal.
Coler defended his websites, suggesting they were born out of an impulse to confuse and disgrace the Alt-Right. “In 2012, 2013, I became very interested in the Alt-Right,” he explained. “Ultimately we were trying to infiltrate these groups and see if they would fall for the stories we were righting in order to then publicly discredit them.” He did not mention that he also profits from spreading lies: the more readers take his bait, the more money he can make from advertising.
Coler denied that his articles have real-world consequences. When asked about angry online commenters threatening to take violent action after reading a false story headlined “City in Michigan First to Fully Implement Sharia Law,” Coler said, “I don’t believe that that story in particular stirred up Islamophobia.” He maintained that his goal is “to educate consumers of content on how to identify these fake vs. real.”
The fake news epidemic nearly turned deadly on Sunday in an episode now known as “Pizzagate.” A story accusing Hillary Clinton of running a child prostitution ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C. restaurant led a heavily-armed North Carolina man, Edgar M. Welch, to take action. Welch drove to the restaurant and fired several rounds from an AR-15 assault rifle on site. No one was hurt; Welch was arrested and arraigned on Monday.