Gab hack shows QAnon and ‘anti-fa’ conspiracy theories abound in private messages

A photo of a man at a computer hacking a representation of the Gab social media site that was recently hacked.

A little over two weeks ago non-profit and data archivist group Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoS) revealed what they’ve termed GabLeaks. According to the group, hackers managed to gain access to the database of social media site Gab. The site, which has become a haven for various groups in recent times — such as conspiracy theorists and far-right extremists — was seen as an alternative to Twitter. Since the latter banned Donald Trump from its platform and the downing of Parler by activists, Gab became one of the go-to social media sites for those on the right.

But JaXpArO and My Little Anonymous Revival Project, having gained access to the site’s backend, downloaded roughly 70 GB of data, including private messages, user profiles, and passwords.

“Anti-fa infiltration”

DDoS granted The Beacon limited access to the dataset of the hack. 

In private messages Gab users discussed the attempted insurrection at the Capitol in January as well as the supposed the role of “anti-fa” in fomenting the violence at the Capitol.

Even in the lead-up to the insurrection users were already pushing the theory that “anti-fa” would attempted to infiltrate the planned demonstration. One user wrote that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was the main target of “anti-fa” and that it would try to “get close enough to kill Alex”. On top of this, the same group would “try to hurt or kill as many” as possible.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt the “anti-fa” conspiracy gathered pace. A user in Germany wrote that they saw “Antifa and BLM leading the riots at the capitol [sic]”. Along similar lines others wrote that “Antifa infiltrated this mass protest to cause problems” or that “Antifa infiltrated MAGA” and the woman killed by Capitol security was actually “a paid actor”.

Others insisted they had inside information from FBI agents in the area of the Capitol on the day of the insurrection, writing that “at least 1 ‘bus load’ of Antifa thugs” were brought in. Again this was part of an attempt to infiltrate “peaceful Trump demonstrators”. An even more unbelievable claim was that a facial recognition company had also identified “anti-fa” at the attempted coup. User FreedomOverTyranny wrote that they had “a lot of footage from the Capitol of Antifa vandelizing [sic] the windows and Patriots taking him down”. 

The idea that the attempted insurrection was a so-called false flag event was also a topic of conversation. Writing to Trump’s Gab account, one user argued that everyone knows he “won the election and that the chaos in the Capitol Hill was actually a well planned [sic] tactic to disgrace you so that everyone will condemn you and keep a distance from you”. The violence, they wrote, was planned in order to distract people from the allegations of voter fraud. 

Andrew Torba, CEO of Gab, also got in on the action. Writing on 9 January he claimed that a “PSYOP” was started on his website in December. Torba said that new accounts began to appear which made threats of violence or encouraged it. He insisted that the attempted insurrection was proof of this conspiracy as the so-called “PSYOP” was started to “take down alt-tech platforms and frame them” for the violence at the Capitol. 

Of course the allegations of voter fraud, the involvement of “anti-fa infiltrators” , as well as a governmental conspiracy to frame Trump have been proven false.  

The QAnon script

Users also talked about the predictions made by Q and whether or not to trust the so-called “plan”. The latter refers to the QAnon belief that Trump was in the process of gathering evidence on various political figures with the intention of eventually arresting them. The insurrection and the associated violence at the Capitol was “all part of the plan” according to one poster. And when Twitter would eventually ban Trump from its platform the arrests would begin to happen.

Across Gab users agreed that some variation of this “plan” was coming to fruition. Q had revealed the code over the previous three years and now “the Plan is unfolding”, with the result being that “Trump will be your President for another 4 years following the military tribunals”. 

As is the case with QAnon advocates, interpretations of events varied from person to person on Gab. In keeping with the Hollywoodesque appeal of an all engrossing conspiracy theory, some went to the trouble of comparing QAnon and “the plan” to the original Star Wars Trilogy. Trump took on the Luke Skywalker character in offering A New Hope

Following this The Empire Strikes Back in which “villains” begin to undo Trump’s work. This would involve “enacting massive free speech censorship, confiscating firearms, rounding up Pro-Trumpers, Covid microchips, putting white kids in re-education camps, killing first borns, etc”. But as things seem at their lowest point “a new hero emerges” who “arrests all the Traitors and holds tribunals, and the Republic is saved”.

The QAnon version of The Return of the Jedi, the poster declared, stars Trump who will begin his second term as president.

An international network

This is just a sample of the thousands of private messages sent by users to each other on Gab. They run the gamut from the mundane to the type discussed above. But conspiracy theories of various kinds are a common theme. And these conspiracy theories, if not spread by far-right actors, play into the far-right handbook and create recruitment opportunities for it by exploiting people’s fears.

A report the UN published in January warned of the threat posed by far-right extremists using the Internet for just this purpose. 

Although the report noted that such individuals and groups are “ideologically and organizationally fragmented”, there’s “increasing evidence of their transnational dimensions”. One aspect of this is the use of the Internet for communication, “mutual inspiration”, fundraising, and recruitment. And the report points to an “ecosystem of social media platforms” that foster such tactics.

Links between Irish extremists and those overseas has been noted in the past by The Beacon and Europol. 

Further evidence of this can be seen in the use of Gab by some of our more well-known far-right zealots. Rowan Croft (AKA Grand Torino), National Party leader Justin Barrett, and Gemma O’Doherty all have accounts on the platform. And all three have promoted ideas popular amongst extremists based abroad, especially conspiracy theories related to “anti-fa” as well as regurgitating elements of QAnon.

With the pandemic continuing to extract a harsh toll on all of our lives, the role of the Internet, especially social media companies, in fostering such hatred must be examined more closely. Companies like Gab as well as Facebook and Twitter place profits above the safety of those targeted by their users. And if the Gab leaks show us anything it’s that there’s a large and deeply committed community of people dedicated to spreading conspiracy theories and converting people to extremism.

It’s difficult to predict Gab’s future. But the fate of Parler is likely playing on the mind of Gab’s CEO Andrew Torba. For now though, it hobbles on. 

Featured image via Piqsels


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