How U.S. white nationalists organized a conference in plain view on Twitter and Telegram

Throwaway Twitter accounts spread ticket links

How U.S. white nationalists organized a conference in plain view on Twitter and Telegram

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Throwaway Twitter accounts spread ticket links and propaganda, while event logistics were coordinated on Telegram

AFPAC promotional material distributed on Twitter. (Source: Twitter/archive)

White nationalist youth movement activists in the United States promoted, coordinated, and retailed tickets for a February 26 conference using Twitter and the messaging app Telegram almost exclusively. After a surprise appearance from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), the conference drew additional attention for its speakers’ extremist rhetoric.

Spearheaded by anti-Semitic and racist online broadcaster Nicholas Fuentes, the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) was the first major gathering of the country’s leading white nationalist youth movement since the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The “America First” conference featured speeches from far-right political and media figures who were either present in Washington, D.C., during the riot or have spread falsehoods alleging that the 2020 election was rigged to give President Joe Biden an illegitimate victory. The DFRLab noted before the conference that organizers were using a small handful of social media accounts to distribute stylized propaganda ahead of the conference and to direct users toward a website selling tickets that ranged from $100 to $10,000 in price.

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, former Rep. Steve King of Iowa, white nationalist online broadcaster Nicholas Fuentes, columnist Michelle Malkin, former BlazeTV host Jon Miller, and video producer Vincent James Foxx pose for a group photo at the America First Political Action Conference on February 26 at the Hilton Orlando hotel in Orlando, Florida. The conference was the first major gathering of white nationalist youth activists since the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Source: Twitter)

A closer examination of the digital activity preceding the conference found that organizers relied almost exclusively on Twitter, as well as Telegram, a messaging app that has gained popularity among far-right internet communities, to distribute promotional material and communicate with ticketholders. Private information, like the event location, was distributed via email.

The DFRLab used a combination of social media analytical tools and manual reviews of social media activity to assess online activity during a one-month window preceding the conference, spanning from January 26 to February 26, 2021. Except for Fuentes’ own live-broadcasted podcast and a handful of threads on forum boards with pro-Trump bents, activity on other social platforms was practically nonexistent.

Individuals helping organize AFPAC appeared to create throwaway Twitter accounts to distribute content related to the event and to share links to websites that sold tickets and hosted live video of the conference. The DFRLab identified three key accounts in this effort: @AfpacOfficial, @AmFirstfilms, and @AgentSmithG.

The trio of accounts were created in January and February 2021, less than a month before the conference, and were used to distribute content that almost exclusively comprised of videos, graphics, and materials hyping the event and its headline speaker, Fuentes. As of a count on March 1, the three accounts had collectively posted only 115 times since their creation, and the @AgentSmithG account posted 94 of the posts counted. Content uploaded to the trio of Twitter accounts was shared by larger accounts, like that owned by Fuentes, often in lieu of self-authored posts containing links or videos.

Tweets from one of the accounts promoting the event that were later retweeted by Nicholas Fuentes. (Source: Twitter/archive)

The @AgentSmithG account appears to belong to an individual in Fuentes’ inner circle who was responsible for coordinating conference details and whose identity is not readily apparent. Content posted by the account indicates that the user played a key role, often posting instructions for would-be attendees and sharing behind-the-scenes photos and video before and after the event.

The accounts appear to have been working in coordination, albeit organically, to share content that would have otherwise appeared on Fuentes’ own timeline. The use of seemingly disposable Twitter accounts to share materials related to AFPAC appears to have functioned as a hedge against potential moderation actions on the site, effectively shielding more established event organizers from having content removed from their own accounts and whatever penalties or suspensions may follow from such removals.

A manual review of Fuentes’ verified Twitter feed on March 1 found that Fuentes had only authored just 25 percent of AFPAC-related posts on his profile before the conference despite being the event’s primary figurehead. (The conference and its corresponding movement are named after the title of Fuentes’ podcast.)

Nicholas Fuentes, the leading figure behind AFPAC, chose to recycle content about the conference from apparent throwaway Twitter accounts rather than his own verified accounts in 75 percent of posts he shared about the event, the DFRLab found in a manual review on March 1. (Source: @jaredlholt/DFRLab via Meltwater Explore)

As Fuentes and other organizers shared propaganda videos and links to the event’s website on Twitter, granular logistical conversations about the event were occurring on Telegram channels affiliated with the America First movement. One such channel, titled “America First Updates,” was created on January 22 and served as the primary vehicle for communicating granular details to event attendees and viewers. Since its creation, its owner(s) posted 36 links to the event ticketing site and 55 links to the streaming site that broadcasted the event. Posts about the event were often shared from the America First Updates channel into Fuentes’ own Telegram channel, where they reached a larger audience.

The Telegram channel cannot be neatly separated from the event’s promotion on Twitter. The operator of the channel solicited feedback on a streaming platform that would be used to later carry AFPAC live video hours before the event, directing user feedback to a hashtag on Twitter: “#AFPACFeedback.” (Meltwater Analytics detected 145 uses of the hashtag on Twitter.) The channel also repeatedly posted links to content hosted on Twitter, including on the @agentsmithg, @afpacofficial and @nickjfuentes accounts.

A February 26 post in the “America First Updates” Telegram channel solicits followers to provide feedback on a live video feed used to broadcast AFPAC via a Twitter hashtag. (Source: Telegram)

Twitter and Telegram appear to be the only social platforms where significant organizing happened prior to the event. CrowdTangle detected only 12 posts on public pages and groups containing the name of the event or links to its affiliated websites between January 26 and February 26. Only five of the posts detected by CrowdTangle were supportive of the event; others were negative, and one result was a false-positive. The most impactful supportive post about the event received less than 50 interactions total.

A manual review of YouTube on March 1 found just seven videos mentioning the event’s title were uploaded to the platform prior to February 26, none of which obtained a large number of views. A site search of Parler for conversations about the event prior to February 26 produced almost no results. Attempts to search Gab for such content failed, due to the site’s abysmal functionality.

The DFRLab used Meltwater Explore to search the broader web for mentions of the conference, in both its full and abbreviated name, in the month preceding AFPAC. The data procured from Meltwater sought verbatim mentions of the event’s title, and did not differentiate between positive, neutral, and negative framing of the event. Content mentioning the event’s name was detected by Meltwater primarily on Twitter and forums; the most prominent of the latter was 4Chan.

Meltwater social media analytics for text mentions of “AFPAC” and “America First Political Action Conference” across the web from January 26 to February 26 found that discussion of the event primarily took place on Twitter and on forums like 4chan. This data does not differentiate between positive, neutral, and negative discussions. (Source: @jaredlholt/DFRLab via Meltwater Explore)

At the event featuring a current U.S. Congressman, Fuentes told the crowd that if America “loses its White demographic core” then the country “is not America anymore.” Fuentes also glorified the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol that left several participants and members of law enforcement dead.

“I saw hundreds of thousands of patriots surrounding the U.S. Capitol building, and I saw the police retreating, and we heard that the politicians voting on the fraudulent election had scurried to their underground tunnels away from the Capitol,” Fuentes told the crowd at AFPAC. “I said to myself: ‘This is awesome!’”

“To see that Capitol under siege, to see the people of this country rise up and mobilize to D.C. with the pitchforks and the torches,” Fuentes said at the event. “We need a little bit more of that energy in the future.”

Several America First followers were arrested for participating in the January 6 riot.

Jared Holt is a Research Fellow with the Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Follow along for more in-depth analysis from our #DigitalSherlocks.