A former Gawker editor suing The Daily Beast is getting help from a set of right-wing trolls, including a Trumpy conspiracy site, white nationalist sympathizer Michelle Malkin, and a company tied to far-right agitator Charles Johnson.
In 2019, The Daily Beast published a story about how the relaunch of Gawker collapsed after two full-time writers resigned in protest for what they claimed were offensive comments made by then-editorial director Carson Griffith. After Splinter published a story that included Griffith’s old tweets using gay slurs and racial stereotypes about Asians, the two writers, Maya Kosoff and Anna Breslaw, went to Bustle Digital Group human resources with complaints about Griffith, which they said included remarks about poor people as well as sharing an email remarking on the penis size of a well-known businessman. When they felt HR did not respond properly, the duo resigned and said that they couldn’t “continue to work under someone who is antithetical to our sensibility and journalistic ethics, or for an employer [CEO Bryan Goldberg] who refuses to listen to the women who work for him when it’s inconvenient.”
Griffith filed a lawsuit against The Daily Beast earlier this year, alleging that reporter Maxwell Tani was motivated by his personal agenda (Tani was friends with one of the Gawker writers, which he acknowledged in the 2019 piece). Now, Griffith appears to be getting help from a company started by one of the original Gawker’s chief antagonists.
In June, far-right conspiracy outlet The Gateway Pundit announced that Griffith had launched the website suefakenews.com with the goal of crowdfunding her legal battle against The Daily Beast. The Gateway Pundit story didn’t reveal who was operating the fundraiser for Griffith.
A certificate of formation filed with the Office of the Secretary of State of Texas and dated April 16, 2020 lists Charles Johnson along with Benjamin Allen as the managing members of Starboard Movements, LLC. The address listed for Johnson on the LLC paperwork matches the address used by Chuck Johnson’s since-closed news outlet, GOT News, in previous court paperwork.
Johnson, a former Breitbart reporter, has become notorious for fringe right-wing antics that often approach right-wing extremism. Johnson once operated crowdfunding website, WeSearchr, that was used by white-supremacist groups, including neo-Nazi blog The Daily Stormer. Johnson was banned from Twitter in 2015 after tweeting that he wanted to raise money to “take out” activist DeRay McKesson.
In 2017, Johnson said on Reddit that “I do not and never have believed” that six million people died in the Holocaust and said he agreed with an idea promoted by a Holocaust denier of “Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real,” prompting the Anti-Defamation League to label Johnson a Holocaust denier. Johnson later claimed he didn’t actually dispute the Holocaust’s death toll, saying he was only trying to test Reddit’s policies on free speech.
Despite his background, Johnson has been able to make inroads with Republican lawmakers. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) invited Johnson to the State of the Union address in 2018, and he met with Reps. Andy Harris (R-MD) and Phil Roe (R-TN) in 2019.
In an email to The Daily Beast, Griffith denied knowing Johnson, but refused to explain what role, if any, she has in the fundraiser.
“I do not know Charles Johnson,” Griffith wrote. “If you print that, I will further litigate against The Daily Beast for printing false information in an attempt to smear me.”
In text messages with The Daily Beast, Johnson said Starboard Movements is “not my company.” Johnson declined to comment further unless The Daily Beast agreed to publish a statement from him in full, without seeing it in advance. The offer was declined.
Griffith promoted her fundraising effort Monday on an internet video show hosted by Malkin, a conservative columnist who’s become alienated from many of her former allies on the right for her associations with white nationalists. Griffith said the crowdfunding effort was set up by “a very young, nice guy who wants to be a writer,” but didn’t name the person.
Johnson having any role, however tangential, in helping Carson would be something of a 180-degree shift for the right-wing provocateur. He repeatedly sued the older iteration of Gawker for defamation in the years leading up to the site’s demise following a legal battle with Hulk Hogan secretly bankrolled by tech billionaire Peter Thiel. Gawker Media—which owned Gawker.com, Deadspin, Gizmodo, and a number of other properties— subsequently went into bankruptcy and was sold to Univision in 2017. Johnson settled the case with the website’s estate in 2018 for an undisclosed sum.
In a series of emails to Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Noah Shachtman in 2019, Johnson complained about The Daily Beast describing him as a Holocaust denier, a label used by the Anti-Defamation League to describe Johnson’s public doubts about the severity of the Holocaust. The far-right troll said he would “slay the Daily Beast,” saying that he would sue the publication with the money he received from his 2018 settlement with Gawker’s estate.
“Remember this email chain when I gave you a chance to surrender with dignity,” he said.
Following the departure of the writers, current Gawker parent company Bustle attempted to continue to staff up for the relaunch, hiring an editor in chief and announcing other top staff writers and editors. But the company put the project on pause last year, laying off the writers and saying that the company was “focusing company resources and efforts on our most recent acquisitions, Mic, The Outline, Nylon and Inverse.”
As for Griffith, she has been representing herself to date, but tells The Daily Beast that she will soon have legal representation.
—with additional reporting by Adam Rawnsley