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What We Know About 'Microchip,' the FBI’s Far-Right Judas

Eight years after he repeatedly hijacked Twitter’s algorithm to hustle disinformation in service of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the pseudonymous radical-right poster known as “Microchip” has emerged as a key source for the FBI.

The government deployed Microchip as a witness in the trial of Douglass Mackey, aka “Ricky Vaughn,” part of the mostly online “alt-right” coalition that helped boost Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016. Following four tense days of deliberation, a jury convicted Mackey of election interference on March 31, increasing the probability that Microchip might provide information for future federal prosecutions of a similar nature.

During the trial, the court granted Microchip the ability to keep his real identity secret, which is relatively rare, and sometimes not granted to witnesses even in cases involving mobsters or members of drug cartels. The trial established that Microchip is working for the FBI on multiple cases and has been a source for them for five years, going back to the time around the 2018 midterm elections.

July 2018 Microchip post on Gab
A 2018 post from Microchip's "Pro" Gab account.

Microchip has deep connections to the pro-Trump radical right, and his cooperation with unknown FBI investigations could have profound implications for his allies. He testified at trial in March that he pleaded guilty to “a conspiracy against rights,” which is a charge along the lines of what Mackey faced. The public admission of Microchip’s crime marked the end of an online persona based around being untouchable.

“I can’t believe I’ve gotten away with what I’m doing for so long,” Microchip wrote in a direct message in October 2016, according to testimony in the Mackey trial. “We have a million-dollar campaign in Hillary and they have no idea how I spread like cancer.”

Here is what Hatewatch knows about Microchip and his work as a federal informant:

Who is Microchip, really?

Although Microchip’s identity remains secret, he showed up in court on March 22 unmasked. Everyone in court that day, including Douglass Mackey, Mackey’s family, the jury and the reporters present, saw Microchip’s face. Online, Microchip favored an avatar featuring an impish young man wearing a MAGA hat and raising an ice cream cone. The real Microchip is a middle-aged man.

Microchip entered court wearing a hoodie, and carried himself with a vague swagger that matched his reputation as an online troll. That trolling attitude crept into his testimony, like when he defined the hateful and pro-fascist imageboard website 4chan to the jury as “a place where ‘internet intellectuals’ get together to discuss current events.”

March 2016 Microchip tweet
Microchip's Twitter account in March 2016 sharing fake news about senator and then-presidential candidate Ted Cruz.

On the stand, Microchip described himself as a mobile app developer. He said he is presently self-employed. He previously told Buzzfeed he lives in Utah. He told the jury he first joined Twitter in 2015, where he shuffled through numerous accounts as moderators struggled to keep up with his stream of hate-inflected disinformation.

Microchip also posted on the white supremacist-friendly social media platform Gab, where he used a verified account. Unlike Twitter, Gab did not repeatedly suspend him, making it easier for researchers of the radical right to find his numerous posts in one place.

When not trafficking in disinformation and hate, Microchip liked to post about cryptocurrency, namely Bitcoin, and so-called “altcoins” such as Ripple. He expressed an interest in “day trading” crypto, which means buying and selling the currency in a speculative, short-term manner.

Microchip claimed during testimony that a loathing for Hillary Clinton – and a desire to undermine her ambitions – motivated him to publish disinformation more than any admiration he might have held for Trump. Other statements he has made about his ideology through the years are inconsistent, but lean into fringe, far-right and conspiratorial ways of seeing. He has praised Adolf Hitler, as well as the terroristic neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division.

Doing drugs and posting while ‘crazy’

Mackey’s attorney Andrew Frisch grilled Microchip on the stand about his past drug use, which the FBI documented. Microchip confessed to using hallucinogens such as psychedelic mushrooms, and harder, more addictive drugs like heroin, primarily in the early 2000s.

Frisch also brought out several comments Microchip made about Adderall, a legally prescribed stimulant used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as part of a string of questions about his mental health. He confessed to using Adderall more recently than the other drugs.

Frisch: Did you say in this tweet: I'm now 36 hours into my Adderall and ChatGPT marathon. Did you say that?

Microchip: I did.

Frisch: Do you know what ChatGPT is?

Microchip: I do.

Frisch: What is it?

Microchip: It’s a generative AI; a generative artificial intelligence using a language model.

Microchip Twitter bio in February
Microchip's updated, nonsensical Twitter bio from February 2023.

Frisch highlighted a nonsensical recent Twitter bio Microchip published and posted under in February:

Frisch: Do you recognize this one?

Microchip: I do.

Frisch: Did you tweet this one?

Microchip: I didn’t tweet that. That’s my profile.

Frisch: That’s your profile.

Microchip: That’s right.

Frisch: It says: “I drink Black Rifle coffee, wear a fishnet trucker hat, have a Jesus tattoo, and inject testosterone. George Santos and John Kirby Stan account. Pro-balloon.” Did you write that?

Microchip: I did.

Frisch: By the way, “Stan” is a modern slang word for being a fan of. Is that fair?

Microchip: Big fan of those two, yeah.

George Santos is a New York congressman who has been accused of fraud and of fabricating many elements of his life story. John Kirby is a spokesperson for the Department of Defense who has helped craft messaging about America’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Frisch also highlighted a post in which Microchip wrote, “I have the crazy,” which the defense attorney successfully fought to have entered into evidence. Frisch also quoted another over-the-top tweet Microchip wrote about his mental health.

Frisch: This one is February 13, 2023. You say: “3,109 crazy tweets over two weeks. What can I say, I’m insane, on pills, don’t shower, can barely take care of myself, hear voices, talk to the walls, and can predict the future.” Did you say that?

Microchip: I did.

What crime did Microchip commit prior to working for the FBI?

Microchip offered the jury a summary of why he chose to plead guilty to participating in a conspiracy against rights. He described the part he played in group direct messages on Twitter that were littered with different pseudonymous extremists who collaborated to deceive the public. Microchip himself ran, or headlined by name, direct message groups where people crafted politically charged disinformation.

Direct messages function like group text messages, and radical-right activists used them to coordinate public-facing campaigns designed for Twitter, like choosing what disinformation would be most impactful in shaping the outcome of the 2016 election.

“Yeah. So, I was in a group. … I was in many group DMs, and in one of those group DMs we crafted memes, and one of the memes that was crafted there dealt with voting the incorrect way. Voting by text or hashtag. And then I intentionally spread those memes to defraud voters of their right to vote,” Microchip said of his own criminal case.

Microchip used bots to gain influence on Twitter

Microchip also testified to the government that he employed “bots” to inflate his online profile. Microchip told the court he paid services both to boost his content and encourage authentic users to boost him organically. Assistant U.S. Attorney William Gulotta questioned him on behalf of the team prosecuting Mackey.

Gulotta: At the height of your following, how many followers did you have?

Microchip: On this account, 134,000. On other accounts, 80,000, 30,000. Probably comes out to millions over time.

Gulotta: How did you build up your following?

Microchip: The first phase of building up the following would be through bots. The first step –

Gulotta: Let me stop you there. Sorry. What’s a bot?

Microchip: Yeah, it’s basically – well, it’s a Twitter account that is created either by human or through an automated process and that account is then used to, you know, retweet, like, reply, to people on Twitter.

Gulotta: Okay. Were there specific services that you used to build your following?

Microchip: Oh, yeah.

Gulotta: Can you describe those?

Microchip: Yeah, so one of the first services to kind of seed the followers was a service called Add Me Fast, and that service is kind of like a peer networking service where I would insert the tweet into that service, somebody else would insert a tweet and then, we would retweet each other’s information, right? And you could gain points doing that and, if you accumulate points, you can then expend those on likes, followers, retweets. So that service, I would spend sometimes $300 a month on it. That would give you around a thousand to three thousand retweets, likes, or follows.

Gulotta: And, so, this is a system in which other actual human beings log in, and they will see a tweet that another member has posted, and they will either follow it, follow the person, or retweet the tweet?

Microchip: That’s right.

Gulotta: And then you would do the same thing for other members.

Microchip: And you can get points and then you can expend those, also. The $300 is, you’re basically buying points to have people do that or you can sit there and retweet their stuff to get points, so you can do that. That was the first step. Another step is using Fast Followerz … with a Z at the end. And that service, you spend like, a monthly fee of, you know, a hundred to two hundred, sometimes three hundred bucks a month. And they have control of all the bots, so you don’t actually retweet anything, but you put in your Twitter handle or you put in a tweet that you want to get retweeted, and the service that I would use would be 50 to a hundred followers, something like that, a day, and then those followers would also retweet or “like” my tweets anywhere from three to five times.

Gulotta: Did you build your following organically, too, without the use of bots?

Microchip: Oh, yeah. The bots were there only to accumulate anywhere from a thousand to 5,000 followers, at which point people would see that account and then say, oh, maybe this person has something interesting to say, he has a lot of followers, and so then it would organically take off from there.

Gulotta: Okay. So, the bot sort of kick-starts the account and it goes from there.

Microchip: Yeah.

Gulotta: Why is it important to have followers?

Microchip: Because there’s that human inclination that when you see somebody as being followed by a lot of people, that they might have something interesting to say, so it’s a – it's basically taking advantage of that – of that human trait.

How Microchip hijacked Twitter’s algorithm to sow disinformation

Microchip made it clear that he and other radical-right posters viewed Twitter as a highly trafficked, but loosely regulated, public square they could hijack in service of their political goals. He noted that Twitter’s appeal to journalists made it an ideal place for such tactics, because they could multiply their reach by getting people to write stories about their antics.

In May 2018, Data and Society published an influential report called “The Oxygen of Amplification,” which highlighted the role that media figures played in buoying the visibility of hate and disinformation. As a leader among the radical-right figures who posted to Twitter during the 2016 election cycle, Microchip seemed to understand that principle better than the media did at that time. During the Mackey trial, Microchip said he “wanted to infect everything” through Twitter in 2016, adopting rhetoric like the “contagion” metaphor found in Data and Society’s analysis.

Gulotta: What does it mean, as far as you understand, to push a hashtag?

Microchip: Yes, so that’s when you have an agenda of some sort, and you see that there’s a hashtag that’s already out there or you develop your own hashtag, and what you do is you basically have the group of people that you’re with make new tweets with those hashtags so that you have thousands of tweets that are attached to at that hashtag.

Gulotta: And why would you do that?

Microchip: To register ourselves on trending lists.

Gulotta: What’s a trending list?

Microchip: It’s a list on Twitter. Back then it was like, on the right-hand side of the homepage. I think there was an explore feature on there as well at one point, and it would show, you know, global trends. There would be USA trends, sometimes they had local trends, but yeah, those would be keywords from hashtags mostly back then, yeah.

Gulotta: And that sort of measures the popularity of a particular hashtag?

Microchip: It does, yeah.

Gulotta: So if a bunch of people are pushing a particular hashtag, the hope is it gets on the list?

Microchip: That’s right.

Gulotta: And why would you want it to be on a trending list?

Microchip: Because I wanted our message to move from Twitter into regular society and part of that would be – well, it’s based on the idea that, you know, back then maybe, I don’t know, 10 to 30 % of the US population was on Twitter, but I wanted everybody to see it, so I had figured out that back then, news agencies, other journalists would look at that trending list and then develop stories based on it.

Gulotta: What does it mean to hijack a hashtag?

Microchip: So, I guess I can give you an example, is the easiest way. It’s like if you have a hashtag. Back then like a Hillary Clinton hashtag called “I’m with her.” Then what that would be is I would say, okay, let’s take “I’m with her” hashtag, because that’s what Hillary Clinton voters are going to be looking at, because that’s their hashtag. And then I would tweet out thousands of tweets of, well, for example, old videos of Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton talking about, you know, immigration policy for back in the ‘90s where they said: “You know, we should shut down borders, kick out people from the USA.” Anything that was disparaging of Hillary Clinton would be injected into those tweets with that hashtag. So that would overflow to her voters, and they’d see it and be shocked by it.

Gulotta: Is it safe to say that most of your followers were Trump supporters?

Microchip: Oh, yeah.

Gulotta: And so by hijacking, in the example you just gave a Hillary Clinton hashtag, “I’m with her,” you’re getting your message out of your silo and in front of other people who might not ordinarily see it if you just posted the tweet?

Microchip: Yeah, I wanted to infect everything.

Gulotta: Was there a certain time of day that you believed tweeting would have a maximum impact?

Microchip: Yeah, so I had figured out that early morning eastern time that … well, it first started out with The New York Times. I would see that they would … they would publish stories in the morning, so the people could catch that when they woke up. And some of the stories were absolutely ridiculous – sorry. Some of the stories were absolutely ridiculous that they would post … that, you know, had really no relevance to what was going on in the world, but they would still end up on trending hashtags, right? And so, I thought about that and thought, you know, is there a way that I could do the same thing? And so what I would do is before The New York Times would publish their, their information, I would spend the very early morning or evening seeding information into random hashtags, or a hashtag we created, so that by the time the morning came around, we had already had thousands of tweets in that tag that people would see because there wasn't much activity on Twitter, so you could easily create a hashtag that would end up on the trending list by the time morning came around.

Why Microchip’s knowledge is valuable

Mackey represents one of dozens of radical-right figures Microchip associated with during the three-year period between when he started using his pseudonym and when he first started cooperating with the FBI. Those three years, 2015-18, mark a busy period for the hard right, one in which disinformation and foreign influence campaigns sometimes monopolized attention on social media. Microchip’s layered involvement in the online Trump movement, connecting neo-Nazis to more mainstream figures, and his willingness to talk, makes him an ideal source for detailing how that world operated, using methods both lawful and unlawful.

  • Buzzfeed documented in 2017 that Microchip posted in the same circles as male supremacist Mike Cernovich, who buoyed multiple high-profile disinformation campaigns during the election cycle, including #Pizzagate and lies about Hillary Clinton’s medical condition. Cernovich also hosted white supremacists at an event outside of the 2016 Republican National Convention, as Hatewatch previously reported.
  • Microchip also crossed paths online with Timothy “Baked Alaska” Gionet, whose exploits as a white nationalist influencer overlapped both the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and the attack on the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.
  • Microchip has also collaborated with extremist political operative Jack Posobiec, who has created or buoyed numerous disinformation campaigns on Twitter. Posobiec invited Microchip onto One America News Network (OANN) in 2018, when he still worked there, as a way of performatively “debunking” QAnon, which Microchip falsely claimed to have created.
  • Microchip and Posobiec have publicly called each other friends, as Hatewatch previously reported. Posobiec is among the most high-profile disinformation peddlers of the Trump and post-Trump era. In addition to campaigns like #Pizzagate, and disinformation about the murder of Seth Rich, Posobiec has boosted to Twitter multiple influence campaigns backed by Russian military intelligence.
  • Microchip’s use of Gab is notable. When he frequented that site as a verified user, he would have crossed online paths with major figures in the white supremacist movement, like former Wisconsin congressional candidate Paul Nehlen, aka “Uncle Paul,” Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer, Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, who has worked with Anglin and contributed to the distribution of Russian intelligence-backed influence campaigns and “the crying Nazi” Christopher Cantwell.
  • During Microchip’s years active on the platform, Gab also hosted many white power accelerationists, including Rinaldo Nazzarro of The Base, as well as people who planned or executed terror attacks. Even if Microchip never interacted with such people on Gab, he would have interacted with Andrew Torba, the site’s proprietor. Few people used the site as avidly in 2017 and 2018 as Microchip did, and the pseudonymous extremist could have gained useful knowledge of how it functioned.
  • Microchip’s avid use of 4chan is notable, too. He personally pushed to Twitter political influence campaigns ranging from John Podesta’s leaked emails, to #Pizzagate, to disinformation about the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. He also buoyed surreal 4chan stunts like a campaign to portray gun-safety activist David Hogg as a woman. Anonymous 4chan posters participated in multiple Russian intelligence-backed influence campaigns during Microchip’s time in the movement.

During the Mackey trial, the judge said maintaining Microchip’s anonymity was partially based on the possibility that exposing his name “could endanger ongoing cases.”

Photo illustration by SPLC

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