Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Ali Alexander, a right-winger with Alabama ties, is among extremists who have exploited Twitter's "libertarian" bent to gain attention and influence

Ali Alexander (center) and Alex Jones

Twitter has enabled the rise of right-wing extremists, including Alabama-connected Ali (Akbar) Alexander, according to an analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Alexander, whose attorney is Baron Coleman of Montgomery, reportedly has been in hiding since organizing the "Stop the Steal" rally that morphed into a deadly ransacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Writes Michael Edison Hayden, under the headline "'We Make Mistakes': Twitter's Embrace of the Extreme Far Right":

Twitter gave far-right extremists the platform they needed to plan an attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and the website, if it maintains its current approach, will likely enable politically motivated violence again in the future.

The following analysis lays out an introduction to observations the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has made about Twitter’s longstanding relationship with the far right. The analysis features samples of SPLC’s correspondence with Twitter about extreme far-right figures, as well as an insider’s revelations about the company’s struggles with moderation, and critical assessments of researchers from outside our organization. Tim Pool, a pro-Trump social media personality who has claimed to correspond with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in private, also told us when we reached out to him about the billionaire social media executive that he “seems very adamant that far-right figures be given unrestrained platforms.”

Twitter’s willingness to amplify extreme far-right voices has been a significant part of the company’s history. Now, those voices are one of the defining characteristics of the platform. The company created rules to prevent their users from spreading hateful content, employing automation or “bots” to boost tweets, and misleading the public about elections. Twitter does not enforce these rules with any discernible consistency. Dorsey and his staff have in fact enabled some repeat offenders, who post at a high volume on the site and have built up big followings to spread hate and disinformation. Many of these disinformation superspreaders have never faced any meaningful consequences for violating Twitter’s terms of service.

One of the loudest extreme voices belongs to Ali Alexander. Writes  Hayden:

Ali Alexander, the far-right operator who galvanized the “Stop the Steal” protests after Trump’s electoral defeat, has for years touted a personal relationship with Dorsey. Alexander told The Epoch Times, an outlet that some have criticized for proliferating reactionary propaganda, in December 2020 that he “used [his] relationships with Twitter” to promote Stop the Steal events after the company initially took steps to limit him from doing so.

Twitter originally banned our [Stop the Steal] link,” Alexander told The Epoch Times, referring to a website used to organize those anti-democratic protests. “I used my relationships with Twitter to get that reversed.”

Dorsey praised Alexander in a 2019 HuffPost story, saying that the notorious disinformation peddler made “interesting points.” Dorsey also acknowledged that he consulted with Alexander about whether to suspend the account of Infowars’ Alex Jones. (Twitter was the last major company to suspend Jones. They did it in September 2018, a full month after a cluster of companies, including YouTube, Facebook, Spotify and Apple, had already publicly cut ties with him.) Two years after Dorsey complimented Alexander’s point of view, the Stop the Steal leader used Twitter to call for revolution.

“If they do this, everyone can guess what me and 500,000 others will do to that [Capitol] building. 1776 is always an option,” Alexander’s tweet read. He was responding to a comment hate group-linked congressperson and Twitter celebrity Marjorie Taylor Greene made about politicians taking steps to ensure that Electoral College votes would be certified on Jan. 6. (Insurrectionists yelled “1776” while storming the Capitol building that day.) On the day of the insurrection, Alexander proclaimed that he did not disavow the violence that erupted.

Twitter has done little to rein in Alexander's wildest and potentially most destructive tendencies:

Before Alexander led the political movement that eventually grew into the insurrection attempt on the U.S. Capitol, Dorsey and his team did not stop him from spreading disinformation. Ahead of the 2020 election, Alexander repeatedly promoted to his hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers a campaign called #JoeBidenIsSick, which proclaimed that Joe Biden, then the Democratic nominee for president, suffered from a degenerative illness he did not actually have. Dorsey and Twitter also permitted Alexander to promote a website that sold merchandise celebrating the lies about Biden’s health.

In his last broadcast on Twitter’s livestreaming app, Periscope, Alexander threatened revenge against his perceived political opponents, saying he would “unleash a legion of angels to bring hell to our enemies.” Alexander made those comments on Jan. 10, at a time when government officials had boosted security across the country out of fears that extremists would hurt more people. Twitter finally removed him from the platform soon after.

Twitter's hands-off policy regarding extreme rhetoric is well established. Writes Hayden:

Hatewatch, the publishing arm of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, has been in dialogue with Twitter about far-right accounts for years, often as it relates to reaching out for comment on stories. During that time, Twitter has suspended individual accounts and Hatewatch has repeatedly watched the personalities who operate them return to the site under new handles. Twitter has also shown little indication that it seeks to limit the proliferation of hate or disinformation on its platform in any systemic way. On the contrary, the Twitter business model appears to hinge on instilling feelings of resentment in people and, to at least some degree, exacerbating mental illness and anxiety. Extremists who terrorize other users and exploit the site to sow chaos keep the billion-dollar corporation’s business model humming.

People have learned [that Twitter] is not going to do anything,” James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., told Hatewatch in a phone conversation in February. Far-right personalities targeted Alefantis and his employees with harassment for more than four years, after Twitter enabled them to spread disinformation in the form of the infamous #Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Twitter has allowed some of the most infamous promoters of #Pizzagate to continue to push lies and hate on its platform years later, rewarding them with growing audiences. “The message ‘There’s nothing you can do [about Twitter]’ has been fully integrated into the American brain.”

Lack of meaningful moderation is part of the problem at Twitter:

Twitter’s userbase has made CEO Jack Dorsey into one of the richest men on earth. He’s worth over $10 billion, thanks to his social media site, his financial services company Square and other projects. In addition to Twitter and Square, Dorsey also publicly supports the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, which he did in a series of tweets published on Jan. 13. That thread drifted through different topics, including Twitter’s decision to suspend former President Trump’s handle, @realDonaldTrump, following the Capitol violence his company helped enable.

Dorsey tweeted in January: “Yes, we all need to look critically at inconsistencies of our policy and enforcement. Yes, we need to look at how our service might incentivize distraction and harm. Yes, we need more transparency in our moderation operations.” But, Dorsey concluded in the same tweet thread, “All this can’t erode a free and open global internet.”

Dorsey’s vision of “a free and open global internet” appears to leave room for disinformation specialists to use Twitter’s traffic to destabilize democracy in the U.S. and attempt to push the country in a more illiberal direction. A source who is familiar with the inner workings of Twitter’s moderation told Hatewatch that Dorsey and some of the upper-level employees in his organization approach their work with an “activist, libertarian” ideology that drives them to allow people to push lies and hatred on the website. (Hatewatch is not naming its source to protect them from potential retaliation.)

The same source said many Twitter employees are “well-meaning,” and do not necessarily subscribe to the same libertarian ideology as the company’s leadership does. But the source also told Hatewatch that Twitter’s moderators “are powerless” and bound to decisions made by an ideologically driven leadership team. The moderators “feel pressure to follow [guidelines and instructions] to a T,” the source told Hatewatch. High-level decision-making about moderation policy comes from a different team, which tells moderators how to handle accounts. But the two teams are siloed, the source said, and rarely interact directly. Managers of Twitter’s moderators base the performance reviews of their staff on “how quickly they can clear their queues [of reported tweets and accounts] and how many [complaints] they can process in a day.”

 What drives Twitter's "activist libertarian" ideology?

More ideologically driven managers at Twitter who decide who gets to operate on the platform, the source told Hatewatch, “view themselves as being the last line of protection from America becoming China.” It’s the kind of absolutist worldview the fringe conspiracy theorists at Infowars sometimes voice.

Jack Dorsey himself “follows” or has followed on Twitter extreme far right and reactionary figures, as Hatewatch will detail later in this analysis. Though Dorsey follows nearly 5,000 accounts of varying political alignment, his connections to these far-right accounts show he cannot in good faith claim ignorance about the extremists who exploited their site in the runup up to the Jan. 6 attack. Not only did Twitter “verify” many of these personalities, but their CEO also publicly interacted with some of them. Beyond the people detailed here, Dorsey also once followed Stefan Molyneux, a social-media personality Twitter permanently suspended from the platform in 2020. Molyneux argued on Twitter that white men were genetically predisposed to be more intelligent than women and non-white people at the time Dorsey followed his account, Hatewatch found. (Molyneux has denied being a white supremacist, despite repeatedly remarking that non-white people are predisposed to be less intelligent than white people.)

Becca Lewis is a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University who studies the way social media fosters and incentivizes far-right movements and enables them to spread propaganda. Lewis told Hatewatch that the source’s evaluation of Twitter’s apparent rightward ideological bent does not surprise her. Lewis noted to Hatewatch that major tech companies such as Twitter were founded on a libertarian ethos that today they disguise as being ideologically neutral.

“[Twitter] has an individualist view of speech,” Lewis said, referring to the belief that speech serves the will of the individual, rather than society. “It still deeply influences the way all of these social media companies do content moderation.”

Twitter aims to keep readers clicking, much the way casinos want to keep people gambling:

The analytics company Similar Web lists Twitter as the sixth most trafficked website in the U.S., just behind Facebook, Amazon and Yahoo. Twitter, like all other major social media companies, designs its product to keep people tethered to it, hoping the screen time will result in people clicking. The company gamifies discourse to achieve that effect, targeting human psychology in much the same way casinos make choices in design to keep people gambling. Critics of Twitter, including SPLC, underscore the degree to which the traffic-hungry design produces the side effect of driving right-leaning users toward increasingly inflammatory content. A person may come to the site seeking to follow a conservative politician, then eventually be directed by Twitter’s algorithm to follow an account pushing white nationalist talking points.

“Even if the algorithm were removed, Twitter is filled with horrible content,” Megan Squire, a professor of computer science at Elon University and a Senior Fellow with Southern Poverty Law Center, told Hatewatch for this analysis. “Even if they removed the algorithm, the problem is what Twitter allows on its site. Inventing algorithms to promote that content is adding fuel on the fire.”

Twitter's "who to follow" feature often leads to the accounts of extremists:

One example of how Twitter’s algorithm drags people to find what Squire calls “horrible content” is the degree to which the site regularly recommends users to follow white supremacists and other far-right extremists. Hatewatch found dozens of examples of Twitter recommending that people follow extremists, sometimes in a slate of three accounts at one time. In one example, Twitter recommended in a “Who to follow” section the white nationalist talk show Red Ice, as well as one of its hosts, Henrik Palmgren, and white nationalist Scott Greer. YouTube banned Red Ice TV in 2019, as did Facebook, and Palmgren and his cohost moved their talk show to a separate, independently operated video hosting site. By advertising this harder-to-find location on Twitter, Red Ice retained much of the mainstream visibility they should have lost at that time.

As for Greer, The Daily Caller fired him in 2018 in response to pressure over his ties to the white supremacist movement. According to archives, Twitter verified Greer’s account in 2015, when he still worked for The Daily Caller, and then did not remove his verification badge after the firing. In 2015, Greer had under 2,000 followers. He jammed the site with content, tweeting close to 45,000 times in under nine years, not including the possibility of deleted posts, and now boasts over 80,000 followers. Greer runs one of the many extant accounts on Twitter that promoted lies about the 2020 election, tweeting “fake news” after CNN projected Joe Biden as the winner.

Greer’s Twitter display name also “trended” on Jan. 13, a week after the insurrection, when he disparaged Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., along racial lines. The “Trending on Twitter” section displays the subjects or concepts that are being tweeted about in high volume on the site. People who provoke outrage on Twitter are commonly rewarded with increased visibility in the Trending section after site users react negatively to their comments.

In essence, Twitter is a game, and extremists have learned to exploit it:

Another way extremists exploit Twitter’s Trending section is to deliberately attach trending keywords to lies in order to gain unwarranted attention or to change people’s perceptions of an event as it is happening. Joan Donovan, the Research Director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, told Hatewatch that one recent example of far-right Twitter posters manipulating the Trending section during a breaking news event happened on Jan. 6. Far-right posters used the feature to falsely suggest that antifa demonstrators attacked the Capitol, a lie that was repeated on the House floor later that day.

“When a breaking news event happens, there is this run towards whatever hashtag people [are coalescing around] in that moment. And it’s ripe for planting misinformation,” Donovan said in a video chat. “Nowhere was that more consequential than the Jan. 6 insurrection, because they were able to get that narrative to circulate very quickly that antifa was behind the Capitol [violence]. And now we are still reckoning with the consequences. Many people believe that it wasn’t Trump supporters at those gates.”


Anonymous said...

So Twitter has a libertarian philosophy on speech? Isn't Rand Paul a libertarian, and he's been spouting all kinds of nonsense about vaccine. Not too comforting to think Twitter, as powerful as it has become, is run by a bunch of libertarians.

legalschnauzer said...

Rand Paul has an M.D. degree from Duke, so I'm no sure he has an excuse for the nutty things he's been saying on health-related issues. His problem might be that he's a bit warped in the head, as opposed to being libertarian.

legalschnauzer said...

What's the old joke: That a libertarian is just a conservative who likes weed? Maybe there is something to that.

Anonymous said...

Where in the hell is Ali Alexander and why can't the FBI find him? Something strange is going on with that.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is an important question: Is Ali Alexander a dangerous guys, and if so, how dangerous is he?

That question hits close to home, and we will explain why in a moment. For now, let's consider this from today's post:

In his last broadcast on Twitter’s livestreaming app, Periscope, Alexander threatened revenge against his perceived political opponents, saying he would “unleash a legion of angels to bring hell to our enemies.” Alexander made those comments on Jan. 10, at a time when government officials had boosted security across the country out of fears that extremists would hurt more people. Twitter finally removed him from the platform soon after.

legalschnauzer said...

Let's keep two things in mind: (1) Ali Alexander's rise to prominence in right-wing circles came partly because his National Bloggers Club received funding from Wyoming billionaire Foster Fries.

(2) Note Alexander's vow to seek revenge against those he perceives as political enemies? How far will Alexander's desire for revenge go, and did he hone his craft in Alabama? There is a fair amount of circumstantial evidence suggesting his threats should be taken seriously, and Alabama has been somewhat of a training ground.

Consider this from an LS post dated 8/23/18:

How has Friess possibly contributed to corruption in Alabama? That would be through the National Bloggers Club (NBC), an umbrella group for mostly obscure right-wing bloggers. Ali Akbar, a felon who went on a six-year spree of crime and fraud, somehow became head of the NBC -- and that largely explains Friess' unsavory impact on Alabama's already toxic political and legal environment.

How did Akbar, with multiple criminal convictions and a documented taste for seeking gay sex via the Grindr geosocial networking app, come to represent those hallowed GOP family values? Perhaps Foster Friess asks himself that question from time to time, as he counts his billions. (Note: Akbar seems to be in the process of changing his name to Ali (Akbar) Alexander. That might be a wise move for a convicted felon and Grinder devotee, who has expressed a desire to run for public office.)

For now, our interest is in Akbar's apparent connections to two attacks on Alabama progressives:

1) My kidnapping and five-month incarceration in 2013-14 for the "crime" of blogging about mostly GOP-related corruption in Alabama's legal and political arenas;

(2) False allegations of misconduct (related mostly to a serious neck injury) against whistle blower, opposition researcher, and retired attorney Dana Jill Simpson, which caused her to be placed on inactive/disability status with the Alabama State Bar.


legalschnauzer said...

Ali Alexander (cont.)

What makes Akbar (and perhaps the NBC) a suspect in these two instances. We are still researching the specifics, but we know this much:

(1) Akbar threatened Simpson, bragging online that he was going to come to Alabama, "dine with the Governor and then spend the afternoon cashing in favors with Alabama lawyers."

(2) Akbar was pissed at Simpson because she had written a letter to Obama campaign counsel Robert Bauer, in which she revealed Akbar's homosexual relationship with GOP guru Karl Rove.

(3) Akbar was pissed at me for reporting on the Simpson letter, and threatened a baseless lawsuit, via a Montgomery attorney and radio host named Baron Coleman.

(4) Akbar's statement about "cashing in favors with Alabama lawyers" appears to be a reference to the Alabama State Bar. (What better way to seek favors from lawyers than through the state bar?) It suggests Akbar has the pull to get the Alabama State Bar to improperly target certain individuals -- such as Jill Simpson and me. How could that be, how could Akbar have such ties?

(5) As already noted, Akbar has used the legal services of Baron Coleman. Tripp Vickers, assistant general counsel with the State Bar, once worked with Coleman at the Montgomery law firm of Sasser, Sefton, and Brown.

(6) Vickers directed the dubious process that brought Simpson's legal career to a halt. As for me (and my wife, Carol), evidence we've collected so far indicates Vickers was involved in interfering with at least one of our pending federal lawsuits, per a statement from Fultondale attorney Greg Morris.

We still are gathering facts on all of this, which could lead to a RICO lawsuit. This much seems clear: Foster Friess might never become g
overnor of Wyoming, but he soon could have reason for concern about events in Alabama. It seems someone has used Friess' financial resources to conduct some seriously underhanded business.


legalschnauzer said...

Ali Alexander (cont.)

Does Ali Alexander have a sketchy past? Yes, very. From our earlier LS post:

How did Ali Akbar rise to a prominent role in the Republican media galaxy, despite his criminal record? That also is hard to figure, given the GOP's stance as the supposed "law and order" party.

According to a report at the progressive Web site Breitbart Unmasked, (BU) Akbar was convicted in 2007 of theft of property and in 2008 of credit-card abuse. Both charges, in Texas, were felonies.

Borrowing from public records, BU describes the theft case as follows:

Five MP3 Players, Twenty CD’s, Three Camcorders, Two DVD Players, One Back Massager (How ghetto is this thief?) One Clock, Four Shirts, Two Belts (WTF?) and a Piece of Luggage, which had the value of over 1500.00 USD but less than 20,000.00 USD. This theft was obtained pursuant to one scheme or a continuing course of criminal conduct which began on or about November 1st 2006, and continued until on or about November 29th 2006. In other words, he was stealing from this person more than once, and over a course of time that lasted almost a full month before it came to an end.

That's quite a crime spree--and the ugliness doesn't end there. BU reports that Akbar also was charged with burglary of a vehicle, but that charge was dropped in a plea bargain that resolved his theft and credit-card cases.

How many other unattractive qualities does Ali Akbar possess? Well, let's consider that he likes to brag about his ties to the Alabama political/legal communities and issue thinly veiled threats based on his access to powerful friends. That's exactly what he did to Jill Simpson, in apparent retaliation for her letter to Robert Bauer. (By the way, how did Akbar develop such contacts in Alabama? Perhaps from Karl Rove, who is known to make his Alabama home base at the Montgomery law firm of Capell Howard?)

In a post dated October 24, 2013 (one day after my arrest), right-wing blogger Stacy McCain referenced the Simpson/Bauer letter and its allegations regarding a homosexual relationship between Ali Akbar and Karl Rove. Akbar piped up in the comments section and stated the following:

There's no alleged affair. It's made up an (sic) irresponsible to print. I'm a human fucking being and Jill Simpson should lawyer up buddy. Tell her not to worry about coming to Texas. I can come to Alabama. I'll dine with the Governor and then spend the afternoon cashing in favors with Alabama lawyers.

Since current Governor Robert Bentley almost certainly would want nothing to do with Ali Akbar, the reference must be to former Governor Bob Riley, who owes his two terms in office largely to the Karl Rove and Jack Abramoff political machines. (By the way, that hints that Akbar is chummy with Riley's son, Rob Riley, who just happened to file the dubious defamation lawsuit that led to my incarceration.)(Note: Given what we've learned about Bentley in recent years, he might have been quite interested in meeting with Akbar/lexander.)

What kind of favors would Akbar be "cashing in" with Alabama lawyers? What did he do for certain lawyers in order to earn favors? If Akbar had a valid claim against Jill Simpson, why didn't he file it and why would he need favors to move forward with it? Does it mean Akbar had some form of "extra legal" remedies in mind for Simpson?

And who are these lawyers who owe favors to Ali Akbar? Could they be from Capell Howard, Karl Rove's favorite Alabama law firm?

Public records show that Ali Akbar has a history as a thief, a burglar, and a credit-card abuser. His comment regarding Jill Simpson strongly suggests that he's not above abusing the Alabama legal system.


legalschnauzer said...

More on Ali Alexander:

What form can Ali Alexander's revenge take? Jill Simpson, former whistle blower, lawyer, and current political activist has thoughts on that, including Alexander's ties to the National Bloggrs Club (NBC). From an LS post dated 11/1/18:

Simpson's interactions with the right-wing crazies go back several years, to the beginnings of the Don Siegelman case:

The NBC, as we call them, came to my attention when they harassed and told false stories about Siegelman activists. The NBC is a vicious group. What is such a hoot is that is how I first learned about crazy Steve Bannon's bunch. I started getting a master's degree in philosophy and religion, and the nuts in the National Bloggers Club started following me around in D.C. and California. The idiots were making a film for Andrew Breitbart and were trying to falsely claim I was a ring leader in Anonymous, as they were friends of mine, and that I was dating a guy who they believed was in Anonymous. The dimwits offered me all kinds of things to say I was part of it, through him.

Simpson knows these creepy wingers can get both scary and personal. She also says they are behind -- at least in part -- some of the abuse (false arrest and imprisonment, theft of house) that has been directed at my wife, Carol, and me. They also likely played a role in the allegations against Roy Moore that led to Doug Jones' victory in Alabama's special election for the U.S. Senate. Says Simpson:

Even as late as 2013 they were threatening me and called my boyfriend (now husband) trying to advise him not to marry me, telling him I was going to jail. The GOP National Blogger bunch in 2014, due to me having a neck injury, worked with their Alabama State Bar buddy, Tripp Vickers and his former law partner, Baron Coleman and a federal judge to try to set me up -- when in all likelihood it was them who set my office yard on fire and burned up my car and my shed with all my files in it. They spent months trying to frame me with all kinds of things. They were not successful. I might add, in my opinion, they were responsible for what happened to Shuler as well -- as some of their members bragged about it at their Web sites and were working with Rob Riley who first used a #MeToo deal in the Doug Jones-Roy Moore race. Now this group of dimwits, it appears, has gone after Mueller, with another couple of guys in their thug network (Burkman and Wohl). It is out of that GOP blogger and press group that all these wacko lies come from -- and Bannon is in the middle of it.


legalschnauzer said...

Ali Alexander (cont.)

If the FBI gets on the trail, Simpson says, it likely will lead to Steve Bannon -- not to mention Jeff Sessions and Alabama:

If Mueller pulls the thread, I suspect he will find it leads to Bannon and the NBC, which Bannon inherited from Breitbart. . . . This NBC group and their associates target folks in false campaigns. Around 2011 is when they started a blogger war with left-wing progressive bloggers and writers. I know, as I was a target of theirs. They try to destroy people.

In winter of 2016, I went to the FBI as I had proof of what they had done to me and was told the bureau was not interested. I said, "Look, you have no idea how dangerous they are," and now they have targeted Mueller. What a hoot. The Alabama FBI should have listened but I guess they are too far up Jeff Sessions' butt. Sessions works with the NBC and Bannon to target Sessions' enemies.

That is when I figured out if the FBI won't do anything, I am still going to start daily writing about these folks, and as you know, Jim and I outed their Project Alamo election- theft operation in December 2016.

This bunch is closely tied to Jeff Sessions, as Bannon is an operative who adores Sessions; we found that out in our bloggers war. Now the FBI is investigating the NBC-connected folks we wrote about, as progressives demanded it, and now they are getting their own taste of what we have been dealing with, as the same bunch of thugs tried to set up former FBI chief Mueller.

Bottom line: Jill Simpson points to evidence that Ali Alexander and/or his associates have been involved in setting fires to offices, cars, and a shed (arson?); having a journalist falsely arrested and imcarcerated . . . on top of Alexander's own personal crime spree that happened before he became politically known.

If the FBI ever finally apprehends Alexander, they need to ask him some hard-nosed questions -- and they should not be limited to the events of Jan. 6.

Anonymous said...

He's been making videos from his home with the same print of Michelangelo's Creation of Man painting behind him that can be seen in his older videos. Not sure why no one can find him.

legalschnauzer said...

@12:58 -- Thanks for the update. If you can share a link to the recent videos, I would be very interested in taking a look. It might be best to send the links via email to Thank you.