The failed gubernatorial campaign of Republican Paul Mango, a current Trump administration official, had a profile on a social media network that’s come under intense scrutiny in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.
Mango, who lost the May primary for governor to Scott Wagner, appears to be the only Pennsylvania candidate whose campaign used Gab, trumpeted by founder Andrew Torba as a bastion of free speech.
Since its launch in 2016, Gab has attracted members of the alt-right and white nationalists. On the day of the Tree of Life tragedy, it suspended a hate-filled account connected with a person named Robert Bowers. Bowers, 46, pleaded not guilty to a 44-count grand jury indictment charging him in the shooting.
Though law enforcement officials have not confirmed that account belongs to the suspected gunman, Gab was effectively de-platformed as other internet companies distanced themselves because of the possible connection.
Without hosting or an active domain registration, the site went offline in the days following the Oct. 27 shooting. It returned on Sunday.
The ‘/ourguys/’ dog whistle
Mango’s campaign page on Gab primarily featured messages that wouldn’t have been out of place on his official Facebook or Twitter accounts, referred to on Mango’s Gab page as “normie social media.”
But the profile also contained posts with language that would have been unfamiliar to a mainstream audience.
“This account will be used by Paul himself and his media team,” a message on the campaign page read. “All staffers managing this page are long-time /ourguys/ and Great Meme War Veterans.”
Repeated requests for comment from Mango and his former campaign team were not returned, including a request to a “new media director” who appears to have authored some of the posts on the Gab page.
The “Meme War” referenced on Mango’s campaign page is described by Politico as the “decentralized efforts of a swarm of anonymous internet nerds to harass Trump’s detractors and flood the Web with pro-Trump, anti-Hillary Clinton propaganda.”
The term “/ourguy/” is commonly used on the controversial site 4chan, including in recent days to describe the alleged synagogue shooter. According to Know Your Meme, “On the /pol/ (politics) board, it is used when questioning if someone secretly holds alt-right or ‘red-pilled’ political beliefs.”
It was also used in an image that featured Mango shared by his Gab campaign page, which made direct pleas to the site’s users including:
Gab members, not just the Gab Team, can be the thought leaders and real life leaders in civil liberty and national engagement.
Whether you agree with every one of my policies or not, I need you to be get involved, get engaged, and tell your friends they need to be engaged.
Mango and Gab founder Torba met last year in September, according to their social media accounts.
“Met with one of America’s hottest new entrepreneurs today: Andrew Torba, CEO of Gab.ai,” a tweet from Mango’s campaign read. “He is advancing with great success the imperative of bringing free, yet responsible, speech back to the internet.” Mango’s campaign Twitter and Facebook accounts have since been rebranded to promote his Restore the Dream political action committee.
After their meeting, Torba, a Pennsylvania native, announced on his page that Mango was joining the site. Gab was at one point based in Philadelphia.
‘Much higher’ prevalence of hate speech
Gab is not the only social media network whose users express anti-Semitic, racist, and white nationalist views. Twitter’s struggle to balance free speech while protecting its users from harassment and threats is well-documented. Even Instagram, which most associate with food and vacation photos, has become a “surprising refuge for far-right figures,” the Daily Beast reported.
But the “prevalence of hate speech” on Gab is “much higher than Twitter,” according to research by several institutions including the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science. The site “attracts alt-right users, conspiracy theorists, and other trolls.”
After the shooting, Gab went offline.
It returned Nov. 4 with hosting and domain name registration provided by Epik, a Seattle-based company that calls itself “The Swiss Bank of Domains.”