The hack – waged to target Emmanuel Macron, then a candidate for president, and benefit his opponent, the far-right politician Marine Le Pen – spawned a series of criminal charges in 2020. On Oct. 19, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI charged six Russian military intelligence hackers from GRU with cybercrimes including “spearphishing campaigns and related hack-and-leak efforts targeting French President Macron [and his political party] … prior to the 2017 French elections.”
Posobiec’s contribution to the effort to spread the hacked material through Twitter follows a pattern of behavior by the influential far-right activist. It bears superficial similarities to two other online campaigns he promoted. The first is 2016’s #Pizzagate, which manipulated the GRU-hacked emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair to create disinformation falsely linking Democratic Party officials to pedophilia. The other is a coordinated social media campaign targeting the personal life and business relationships of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, that he promoted in October 2020. This campaign happened around the time authorities issued charges related to the hacking of Macron and his allies and before Hunter Biden announced that the DOJ is investigating his taxes. The following analysis lays out what Hatewatch knows about Posobiec’s role in amplifying the May 2017 hack-and-leak campaign, which he dubbed “#MacronLeaks,” and his associations with other extremists at the time he did it.
Hatewatch reached out to the DOJ about Posobiec and other American far-right extremists who pushed the GRU-hacked material on Twitter, but the agency declined to respond. Hatewatch also reached out to Posobiec for this story via email, but he did not respond. When Hatewatch launched a series of stories on Posobiec in July 2020, he responded to a request for comment by claiming to call the FBI – falsely suggesting the reporting constituted an attempt to kill his family.
Posobiec’s use of Twitter has become notorious, and even more so in light of recent news events. Posobiec for years used Twitter to promote the so-called Stop the Steal movement. That protest movement, based in part on the effort to discredit votes cast in multiracial urban areas, helped inspire the violent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Posobiec appears to have deleted his “#StoptheSteal” posts from Twitter but Hatewatch archived them.) On Jan. 27, the Department of Justice also charged white nationalist Twitter personality Douglass Mackey with an election interference-related offense, which allegedly took place during the runup to Trump’s victory in 2016. Hatewatch found fragments of conversations on Twitter from 2016 that included both Mackey and Posobiec’s handles, suggesting they were connected on the site. One of the co-conspirators named in Mackey’s indictment belonged to a pseudonymous, pro-Hitler disinformation poster known only as “Microchip.” Microchip told Hatewatch in 2020 that Posobiec was his “buddy.” Posobiec interviewed Microchip on television in 2018 without offering the audience any context about his views.
U.S. white supremacists and Russia target France
Posobiec amplified the allegedly Russian-backed operation to discredit Macron’s campaign alongside other far-right extremists from the U.S., the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab explained in a 2019 postmortem report. Chuck Johnson, publisher of the now-defunct junk news website GotNews, neo-Nazi Andrew “weev” Auernheimer of The Daily Stormer and Nathan Damigo of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa all pushed #MacronLeaks online alongside Posobiec.
According to Jean-Yves Camus, a French political scientist who specializes in nationalist movements, Americans had a unique advantage in pushing the hacked material targeting Macron’s campaign. Camus noted to Hatewatch that the election was held on Sunday, May 7, 2017. French laws dictated that as of Friday May 5, 2017, at midnight, French citizens were forbidden from spreading propaganda on behalf of either Le Pen or Macron. American far-right extremists, unburdened by such a restriction, were free to push the contents of the hack online from abroad. That is exactly what Posobiec and others did.
“In my opinion, this was a Russian attempt to sway the election,” Camus told Hatewatch of #MacronLeaks. “It was not a wise move. The media was not able to report on the emails [due to French laws]. There was no way that any fake news could sway the election. Had they done that two or three days earlier it might have had an impact, but this was simply too late. Those emails did not find anything that was so harmful.”
Bot use allegations and ‘smiling’ ancestors
Posobiec coined the term “#MacronLeaks” to describe the May 2017 social media operation to spread the contents of the hack, and bots likely boosted the visibility of his tweets, the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab reported.
“Posobiec brought ‘#MacronLeaks’ to Twitter and was instrumental in its virality,” DFRLab’s chief of staff Nicholas Yap told Hatewatch in an email on Aug. 19. “His posts received immediate, frequent, and concentrated engagement, indicating bot activity. In addition to that activity, many of the top posters joining Posobiec included fellow alt-right figures and known amplifiers of Russian state propaganda outlets in France.”
Posobiec explained his involvement in the #MacronLeaks affair by tying his efforts to his white, Christian, European heritage in a series of tweets published on May 8, 2017. Posobiec compared his effort to push the hacked materials to 17th-century Polish fighters standing up to “the Islamic invasion of Europe.” Posobiec is of Polish descent and is connected to neofascists and other far-right extremists in Poland, as Hatewatch previously reported.
“My ancestors are smiling at me. Can you say the same?” Posobiec wrote in one of those posts, while sharing a screenshot of his own face taken during an appearance on the far-right conspiracy website Infowars.
Posobiec promoted neo-fascist Russian author during #MacronLeaks era
Around the time Posobiec carried out #MacronLeaks on Twitter, he also promoted a 1997 book by Aleksandr Dugin, a neo-fascist Russian author. Dugin had been reaching out to the U.S. for years in the leadup to the Trump era, and he found a following within the American white nationalist movement. In “Foundations of Geopolitics,” a Dugin book that is said to have an influence on the Russian military, he argued that Russia should promote sectarian racial tensions in the U.S. to foment chaos and cause American society to collapse.
“It is especially important to introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S.,” Dugin wrote in the book Posobiec promoted to his followers, as translated by John Dunlop of the Hoover Institution.
Posobiec tweeted about “Foundations of Geopolitics” seven times in just under one hour on April 23, 2017, according to archives. “Putin has all Russian officers read this book by Dugin – the Foundations of Geopolitics,” Posobiec wrote in one of the posts.
Hours after rattling off tweets about Dugin’s book, Posobiec promoted LePen’s candidacy in a YouTube video he shot for The Rebel Media. Not only was LePen a far-right, anti-immigrant politician, but she also had demonstrable ties to Russia at that time. LePen met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow one month before Posobiec recorded that segment with The Rebel Media. Her National Front party also sought a loan from Russia and later denied that it was given out as a reward for backing Putin’s agenda.
“They’re really seeing a new nationalism, this rebirth of patriotism for France that I really think is going to be interesting,” Posobiec said of the National Front in the April 24, 2017, YouTube video he recorded for The Rebel Media.
Posobiec promoted Dugin’s book again to his followers on June 13, 2017, when he published a picture of it and wrote, “Summer campaign reading.” He tagged his geolocation as CIA headquarters in that post.
Posobiec coordinated with banned Twitter user Chuck Johnson to promote propaganda on that website
Posobiec publicly shared the email of GotNews’s Chuck Johnson to Twitter during #MacronLeaks to solicit findings from the leak from his followers to build what he described as a search engine. Posobiec’s connection to the far-right activist goes back to at least 2015. Then, Johnson embedded a racist tweet from Posobiec’s first known Twitter handle, @AngryGOTFan, as Hatewatch previously reported.
Johnson denies that he is a white nationalist and an antisemite but has a history of expressing bigoted and fascist-sympathetic beliefs. He said in the past he believes that the Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz, Poland, were not real. He appeared on the white nationalist podcast “Fash the Nation” in 2016 and claimed to have a long-standing interest in “race realism,” which is a euphemism white supremacists sometimes use to describe the belief that Black people are predisposed to be less intelligent. Hatewatch reached out to Johnson for a comment on this story, but he declined to respond.
“Chuck Johnson has developed a search engine for #MacronLeaks. Contact editor@ gotnews.com for access,” Posobiec tweeted on May 6, 2017.
Twitter permanently banned accounts belonging to Johnson and his website GotNews in 2015 after he solicited donations for the purpose of “taking out” celebrity Black Lives Matter supporter Deray Mckesson. Posobiec’s verified handle, which had over 100,000 followers at the time the men pushed #MacronLeaks, would have given Johnson reach on social media he could not otherwise obtain.
Beyond #MacronLeaks, Posobiec was in phone contact with Johnson and his GotNews staffers around the time they promoted the GRU hack, based upon private messages leaked to Hatewatch by former GotNews and Breitbart News editor Katie McHugh. The June 14 messages, sent via Twitter’s direct message service, appear to show Posobiec coordinating with Johnson to tweet things out.
“Tyler [Bass] and Mark [Jukic] texted and Chuck [Johnson] called too,” Posobiec wrote to McHugh in a message exchange on Twitter roughly a month after #MacronLeaks. “Can’t stop the signal. Feel free to DM any time you want a tweet shared too.”
Tyler Bass and Marko Jukic worked for GotNews with McHugh in 2017, she told Hatewatch. Both men are also business associates of Johnson’s. Venmo, a money-sharing app that has been criticized by privacy advocates because of the degree to which it automatically adds people with whom a user has been in touch via phone into a public-facing database of potential contacts, corroborates McHugh’s claim. Posobiec’s public-facing Venmo account lists Bass of GotNews as a contact. Posobiec and McHugh, formerly of GotNews, also had a discussion about Donald Trump Jr. promoting a GotNews article in July 2017, as Hatewatch previously reported.
Posobiec also interacted at that time with a Twitter account going by the handle @RedPillDropper that used the neo-Nazi Sonnenrad symbol, or Black Sun, in its avatar. Posobiec and @RedPillDropper retweeted one another’s posts related to #MacronLeaks. In addition to celebrating Nazism and posting hateful comments denigrating Jewish people, @RedPillDropper posted about using “facial recognition software” to monitor American left-wing activists. Johnson, Jukic and Bass all worked together at the controversial facial-recognition software firm Clearview AI, as HuffPost reported in April 2020, although it is unclear whether or not they had any affiliation with the pseudonymous @RedPillDropper account.
Johnson knew weev before #MacronLeaks
On Wednesday, May 3, 2017, an anonymous poster on the white supremacist-friendly imageboard forum 4chan, using a Latvian IP address, foreshadowed the hack by posting a series of fake documents. These forgeries purported to show Macron storing money in offshore bank accounts, DFRLab reported. The same user later told 4chan users to return to the site for more information about Macron. Posobiec has claimed in public that these posts were how he became involved in spreading #MacronLeaks.
“I did what seemed logical. I stayed tuned and waited for a new post on [4chan’s] pol,” Posobiec explained about those initial posts in a video he produced for The Rebel Media.
The same source with a Latvian IP address that Posobiec followed closely for information also told readers to follow a website called “nouveaumartel.com,” which Auernheimer operated, DFRLab found.
The Arkansas-born Auernheimer, who is believed to live in Eastern Europe, handled technical matters for the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, helping to keep the hate speech website online. Known best by his nickname, weev, he has called for a “global empire run by whites” and floated the idea of slaughtering Jewish children in retaliation for his website being taken offline.
Johnson and Auernheimer knew one another before #MacronLeaks happened. The pair teamed up to release secretly recorded sting videos targeting Planned Parenthood in October 2015. Previously private emails former GotNews staffer Katie McHugh leaked to Hatewatch also show the two men mocking Jewish people together in July of 2015, while Auernheimer indulges in racist conspiracy theories.
Auernheimer, July. 13, 2015, 6:43 p.m. ET: “If I go full skinhead to embrace the stereotype all that will be left is the gingerness of my beard.”
Johnson, July 13, 2015, 6:44 p.m. ET: Oh, Weev. You must learn: seduction is more powerful than rebellion. Better to be a philosemite than an anti-semite. They are the chosen people, after all. Your Arkansas is showing.
Auernheimer, July 13, 2015, 6:49 p.m. ET: I want no friendship with the temples that have flooded Western media with Marxist race-mixing propaganda, opened up our borders, and turned our financial and government institutions into casinos and brothels. The wages required of sinners will be rended from the assets of their families before I am done.
Johnson acknowledged his relationship with Auernheimer in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session hosted on r/The_Donald in May 2016, one year before they helped stage #MacronLeaks together.
“Weev and I work together on occasion in defense of truth, justice, and making America great again,” Johnson wrote, an archive of that conversation shows.
Posobiec’s mentor Roger Stone Jr. and Wikileaks
The anti-secrecy non-profit Wikileaks also buoyed #MacronLeaks. Wikileaks disseminated GRU hacked materials during the runup to the 2016 U.S. election, and #MacronLeaks served as a less successful replay of the same type of operation.
Posobiec publicized a boast about his involvement in the #MacronLeaks campaign through the Twitter account of his friend Cassandra Fairbanks, an ally of Wikileaks. Fairbanks, who once worked for Sputnik, a state-funded news agency with ties to the Kremlin, posted a photograph to Twitter on May 6, 2017, of Posobiec raising a beverage next to his wife. The timestamp precedes the start of the vote in France by a matter of hours.
“I just raped Marcon [sic] worse than when he was 15,” Fairbanks quoted Posobiec as saying in the tweet.
Fairbanks told Hatewatch over text that she took the photo at a party in Miami hosted by far-right extremist Milo Yiannopoulos. She wrote to Hatewatch that she did not pay attention to #MacronLeaks “other than maybe [retweeting] Jack [Posobiec].”
“Just thought it was a funny line,” Fairbanks told Hatewatch of Posobiec’s “rape” quip on Sept. 17, weeks before the DOJ and FBI filed charges on the GRU hackers.
Fairbanks deleted hundreds of thousands of her old tweets about one week after Hatewatch reached out for comment, archives show. Hatewatch followed up with Fairbanks again on Oct. 27.
“Blocking you,” Fairbanks replied. “Texting at 10PM [is] highly inappropriate and unprofessional.”
Archives show Roger Stone Jr. also appears to have attended the Yiannopoulos party. Posobiec allegedly referred to himself as “Roger Stone’s man” in a conversation with white nationalist Richard Spencer in 2016 and viewed Stone as a mentor figure. Stone, who was convicted in federal court of seven felonies stemming from the Mueller investigation, and who communicated with both Russian hackers and Wikileaks while promoting Trump, also worked with George Lombardi’s 501(c)(4) organization Citizens for Trump. Hatewatch found an archive of Posobiec tweeting out a photo of LePen meeting with Lombardi at Trump Tower in New York City on Jan. 12, 2017, roughly four months before he and others staged #MacronLeaks.
Ali Alexander, another Stone associate, also attended Milo’s event with Posobiec, based upon archived tweets. Alexander is the self-described leader of the Stop the Steal movement that pushed lies about the 2020 election in its aftermath. Alexander helped bring together a collection of far-right extremists, including Posobiec, who appeared at Stop the Steal events in the runup to the violence on Jan. 6.
Posobiec worked for Canada’s Ezra Levant during #MacronLeaks
Posobiec promoted #MacronLeaks around the time he collaborated with two neo-Nazis, Jeffrey and Edward Clark, in filming a documentary related to Democratic National Convention staffer Seth Rich for The Rebel Media, as Hatewatch previously reported.
Ezra Levant, the co-founder of Rebel Media, which has since rebranded as Rebel News, told Hatewatch in an email asking about the charges against the GRU hackers: “No law enforcement have contacted us and none will, because we are a law-abiding company and we have no involvement with hacking or other crimes. We are a news organization that reported on publicly available information once it was public – analogous to news organizations that reported on Wikileaks information.”
Levant’s company has served as a platform for a number of far-right extremists beyond Posobiec.
“It’s important that you not imply, even through innuendo, that we are in any way involved in a criminal act,” Levant warned Hatewatch in response to the request for comment.
Levant did not reply to follow up questions asking about what level of contact he had with his employee Posobiec in the first week of May 2017, while he disseminated #MacronLeaks online or why his company ultimately separated from Posobiec weeks later.
Posobiec promoted #MacronLeaks less than a year before OANN hired him
Hatewatch also reached out to Posobiec’s current employer, One America News Network (OANN), for a comment on this story but did not receive a response. Posobiec first started listing his role as a correspondent with OANN in his Twitter bio in early 2018, according to archives, which means he amplified the hack of Macron and other politicians less than a year before the low-standard, pro-Trump network hired him to his current position.
Posobiec repeatedly boasted about his involvement in disseminating #MacronLeaks after OANN hired him. His last post boasting about it was published on June 5, 2020. Hatewatch found no evidence of Posobiec addressing #MacronLeaks publicly since the DOJ and FBI announced criminal charges against the six GRU hackers. Critics of OANN have accused the station of publishing propaganda with a “pro-Kremlin slant.”
Twitter’s role in facilitating #MacronLeaks and allegations of platform manipulation
Multiple studies have linked Posobiec’s tweets to potential automated amplification through bot networks. Twitter has rules against the use of bots, and Posobiec has publicly mocked suggestions that he used them. Twitter also has rules against disseminating hacked materials and hate speech. Twitter told Hatewatch they investigated Posobiec’s account but could not take action against it because he deleted tweets and they could not work with archived posts – despite the fact that internet archiving has been deemed admissible in a U.S. court of law. Hatewatch reached out to Twitter twice to ask if law enforcement had ever inquired about what took place on their website during #MacronLeaks, but the company did not respond. Hatewatch also asked Twitter if they investigated whether automation boosted Posobiec’s posts, but the company did not answer.
Posobiec’s tweets stand out on the platform for their virality. On Oct. 22, for example, he posted six consecutive tweets related to the 2020 election in a span of under an hour that produced over 36,500 retweets in total, or an average of over 6,000 per tweet. Posobiec was also instrumental in hyping a campaign targeting the personal life and apparent business dealings of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, throughout October 2020. He published scores of tweets about Hunter Biden, including at least one that was shared over 30,000 times.
Fifty-one former intelligence officials signed onto a letter on Oct. 19 describing the material Posobiec and others helped to promote regarding Hunter Biden as having “the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation,” but that has not been proven. No one has definitively determined Russian involvement in procuring the material appearing in the campaign targeting Hunter Biden, and Posobiec has scoffed at the notion. He suggested after news broke on Dec. 10 that the Justice Department was investigating Hunter Biden’s taxes that his critics were on the “wrong side of history.”
Posobiec has used Twitter to push unsubstantiated stories about Hunter Biden’s involvement in Joe Biden’s White House. He tweeted on Jan. 24: “BREAKING: Hunter Biden advised his father to not have a strong respond [sic] to China’s breaches of Taiwan air defense zone, per WH official. ‘Don’t take the bait, Dad.”
Hatewatch was unable to determine what White House official, if any, might be providing tips to a far-right extremist who collaborates with neo-Nazis, and the office did not respond to a request for comment about the post. Posobiec’s tweet about Hunter Biden and China was retweeted just shy of 12,000 times.
Posobiec’s military status during #MacronLeaks
Posobiec served as a reserve U.S. naval intelligence officer while promoting the GRU-led hacking effort in Macron’s campaign in May 2017. The Navy revoked Posobiec’s security clearance in August 2017.
Darren Wolff, a Kentucky-based lawyer who specializes in military law, examined Posobiec’s record for Hatewatch. He wrote in an email:
[Military reservists] are technically only on active duty when ‘on orders.’ For example, a reservist who drills with his military unit one weekend a month and two weeks a year is called to active duty by written orders for that one weekend a month and two weeks a year. So, while ‘on orders’ that person is subject to The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). However, while not on orders … they are not subject to the UCMJ because they are not performing military duties at that time.”
Hatewatch reached out to the Navy for a comment about Posobiec’s involvement in #MacronLeaks, given the charges issued to the six GRU hackers, but they did not respond. Hatewatch also sought further clarification of whether Posobiec was ever on active duty at any point in early May of 2017, when #MacronLeaks spread online. A former active-duty Naval intelligence officer previously described Posobiec to Hatewatch as being “infamous and hated” among his peers due to such stunts as #MacronLeaks.
Photo illustration by SPLC