A site beloved by white nationalists invited me to Trump Tower for a romantic Sunday
A spokesman for Gab, a social network popular among racist, "alt-right" Twitter trolls and immigrant-bashing white nationalists, invited me to Trump Tower on Sunday for a "breaking announcement," then abruptly canceled on me.
It's a shame. The event sounded oddly romantic. Over a few emails on Friday, Utsav Sanduja, Gab's chief communications officer, described it in the following ways as I asked what on earth he was inviting me to:
— "Something huge and positive happening to a member of the exec."
— "Might be a feel-good story, the type to make people say 'awww.'"
— "How happy do you feel today, Mr. Sanduja?" he said about himself. "How will this affect your outlook toward life? Is this woman truly the love of your dreams?"
He also asked me to dress "gorgeous and radiant, like the sun. Like how this woman makes me feel."
I guessed it was some sort of proposal or wedding, a grand romantic gesture involving a Gab team member. I agreed to go.
Who was "this woman"? A Gab executive's girlfriend, wife or partner? Could she be our shut-in first lady, Melania Trump (where has she been?), who must need to get some fresh air at the Trump Tower rooftop garden once in a while? Torba worships Trump — he wore a Make America Great Again hat and an unlicensed Trump shirt in his most recent Periscope rant.
Alas, no. It appears there was never a woman involved, unless "this woman" was meant to be me. Sanduja had, after all, called me "beautiful" in an earlier email exchange.
So why did they pick me? And what was really going on?
Gab is trying — supposedly — to court millennials
Gab is currently in the midst of a ludicrous but outwardly serious campaign to appeal to a more diverse audience — but it requires some mental gymnastics to comprehend why marginalized communities might want to permeate a platform with top posts that look like this:
On Friday evening, I published an interview with Sanduja and Gab CEO Andrew Torba and questioned whether their whole inclusivity campaign was a publicity stunt. The next morning, someone on the Gab Twitter account started railing against my "hit piece." They published a recording of our interview and broadcast a Periscope rant about it.
Afterward, I emailed Sanduja and asked — again — for more details about Sunday's Trump Tower event. I also asked who was running Gab's Twitter and Periscope accounts. Was it Torba, the CEO?
"I respectfully understand your cancellation for tomorrow," he responded, copying Torba on the email. (I hadn't canceled.)
"It is standard practice to be transparent here on Gab by releasing our interviews in full," he added.
Ten minutes later: "Tomorrow's event presser for noon is canceled."
So what was Gab's big event? Was the bait-and-switch yet another publicity stunt?
After all this — the attempted enticement, the deception, the furious tweetstorm and the ghosting — what did Gab have planned?
A premium, ad-free version of the platform.
"Our event tomorrow was to discuss Gab Pro, our efforts in curbing violent NeoNazi [sic] activity and addressing concerns on hate speech here on Gab," Sanduja said Saturday. On Monday night, Gab officially announced the Pro feature.
I had about a million remaining questions for Gab, starting with the "woman" in his emails. Was the special guest, in fact, Torba? I asked on Saturday.
"At this time we are not answering any more questions," Sanduja said.
So if this was just a simple product launch, why were they being so shifty? Why was I the only reporter in the cancellation email, and why was Torba the only other person on the thread?
It would be one thing to disinvite Mic from the presser over critical coverage, but to cancel it altogether when I asked for detail? Something doesn't add up.
Gab's campaign appears to be a little more complex than a product rollout. I suspect it also involves trolling journalists with a ridiculous invitation and attempting to lure them to the president's apartment building under false pretenses.
Perhaps it goes deeper still. Maybe the whole point is to look victimized by the "lying press" — a prevalent right-wing narrative — over coverage Torba and Sanduja don't like.
Gab doesn't handle rejection well. One tweet defended Sanduja calling me beautiful — "a compliment" — and called me a scumbag blogger instead. I'm not the only writer who criticized Gab's supposed revamp and got a lashing from the official account on Twitter. And on Tuesday, the CEO released another angry Periscope video because his iOS app was rejected from the App Store for "defamatory or mean-spirited content." Ironically, Torba and Sanduja think of themselves as true martyrs for free speech, oppressed by social-justice warriors and the hammer of political correctness — as they made clear in our interview.
So if you want to know what kind of social network jokingly invites female journalists to a product announcement masquerading as a private romantic event, it's the one whose CEO was booted from his startup accelerator for harassing a Latino startup founder, who describes himself as "not a cuck" and whose spokesman rejects the idea of policing racist and sexist abuse.