“Hacker X”-the American who built a pro-Trump fake news empire-unveiled itself

Read Time:4 Minute, 38 Second


A shady figure is holding Donald Trump's mask.

Aurich Lawson | Getty Images

This is the story of the planner behind one of the largest “fake news” operations in the United States.

For two years, he has run websites and Facebook groups to spread false stories, conspiracy theories and propaganda. Under his leadership is a dedicated team of writers and editors who spend money to produce deceptive content—from outright pranks to political propaganda—with the highest goal of pushing the 2016 election to Donald Trump.

Through a lot of hard work, he built a secret network of self-reinforcing websites from the ground up. He devised a strategy for prominent figures including Trump to forward misleading statements to their followers. He also deceived careless American citizens, including the hacker’s own father, to make them pay more attention to fake news than the mainstream media.

He said that when the entire system that manipulates people’s perception and psychology is designed and operated within the United States, experts and the government may give Russia too much trust.

“Russia’s role is so minor that they didn’t even notice it,” the hacker told me recently. “However, this is normal for politicians… If you lie enough times, everyone will believe it.”

Formerly known as “Hacker X”, he is now ready to reveal who he is-and how he did it.

warrior

Now the fake news manager who has decided to break the silence is “ethical hacker” Robert Willis.

Today, some people in the information security community may know “Rob” because he is an active member speaking at the conference and working with the Sakura Samurai ethical hacker organization. (Sakura Samurai has repeatedly and responsibly disclosed vulnerabilities in government and private entities’ computer systems. When I had questions about Sakura Samurai’s vulnerability reports, I had interacted with Rob at least twice before.)

But as early as 2015, Willis was just another hacker looking for an IT job. He has received a job offer-but still arranged an interview at the last company.

“I’m considering not participating in the interview,” he told me. “After all, I am just working on another company.”

The last company is opaque-it will not reveal its name or actual job responsibilities until Willis appears in person. But opacity itself is interesting. Willis decided to accept an interview.

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Willis wrote for the now closed conservative country website in 2017.

Robert Willis

“I showed up at the location of a large company building. I was instructed to wait downstairs until I was collected. The secret is interesting. It may discourage some people, but I like to take risks. I haven’t been to any information except work. , They are all very excited because it is very rare to find someone like me-I have worked in smaller private companies for many years and have a lot of random, overlapping, highly technical skills.”

Even before Sakura Samurai engaged in ethical hacking, Willis had acquired a wide range of technical skills in networking, web applications, hacking, security, search engine optimization (SEO), graphic design, entrepreneurship, and management. He knows how to use search engine algorithms. He said that once, he brought a random phrase to number one on an engine within 24 hours. “A lot of people will say this is/impossible, but I have a receipt,” he said, “other credible people have it too.”

At the interview site, a man came down to pick him up, and they took the elevator to the floor of an almost empty office. Inside, there was a woman waiting beside three chairs. They are all sitting. His host finally revealed the name of their company: Koala Media. At that moment it felt like a well-planned revelation.

“I’m not afraid, but excited about how crazy this has become [to be],” Willis told me. “I listened. Someone told me that my office has big plans and they have hired the original writers and editors for the new business. “

The company’s interviewer told Willis, “Everything is built with safety in mind — at an extreme level.”

If he gets the job, his main responsibility will be to rapidly expand a single popular website already owned by Koala Media. To do this, they need someone with the diverse skills of Willis.

Then there was a political shift in the interview. “They told me that they opposed big companies and big governments because they are basically the same thing,” Willis said. They say they have readers on the right and left. They say they are about “freedom”. This sounds good to Willis, who describes himself as a social liberal and fiscal conservative—”very punk rock, fringe anarchist.”

Then the interviewer told him, “If you work for us, you can help stop Hillary Clinton.”

Willis said: “I hate the establishment, Republicans and Democrats, and Hillary is the target because she is the establishment and the only candidate who can almost guarantee to run in the 2016 cycle.” “If I chose a lesser evil then, there is no doubt that it would be the Republican Party, because I moved to a new city, because the Democratic Party actually destroyed my previous hometown. It feels like good revenge.”

Willis said he has no indication that the company that is about to hire him is extreme, or that it will become extreme in the future. In his view, the company is only conducting an “investigation” on its journalism.

When Koala offered him the job, he accepted it.

What is the content farm like? This is not glamorous. This is Koala's office.
enlarge / What is the content farm like? This is not glamorous. This is Koala’s office.

Robert Willis

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