The Medicare For All activists knew something was amiss when a man joined a Zoom meeting posing as an organizer who was already on the conference call. Their suspicions were only heightened when the interloper started talking about licking balls.
It was Sunday, and the activists—who are trying to organize a nationwide Medicare For All event—were already on edge. Earlier that day, they’d come under fire for accidentally announcing a notorious neo-Nazi (as well as, unrelatedly, “Garfield” cartoonist Jim Davis) as keynote speakers.
Now the group says it’s being attacked by infiltrators, including trolls and an unsanctioned chapter of the Green Party. Messages from the group’s Slack channel obtained by The Daily Beast reveal activists urging the organization to get its cybersecurity act together before its July 24 rally with former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson.
March For Medicare For All (M4M4A) is a new organization, assembled from left-leaning activists around the country and a handful of local political groups like Portland, Oregon’s Democratic Socialists of America chapter and Washington state’s Green Party. The coalition plans to host pro-Medicare For All rallies in cities across the country next month.
But M4M4A drew unwanted attention this weekend when it announced an event in Muncie, Indiana, featuring a speaker named “Matt H. Bach.”
As other activists were quick to note on Twitter, the bespectacled man in the event flyer appeared to actually be Matthew Heimbach, a former leader of multiple neo-Nazi groups. Heimbach became one of the country’s most recognizable faces on the far right after he participated in 2017’s deadly Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has more recently appeared in the news for assaulting a relative during an intra-familial love quadrangle. (M4M4A also announced a far more innocuous character, Jim Davis, the creator of the “Garfield” comics, as the Muncie event’s master of ceremonies.)
To activists who noted Heimbach’s picture on the M4M4A flyers, his presence at a left-leaning event was not impossible to believe. In 2018, Heimbach reportedly tried making inroads with Tennessee Democrats, without disclosing his white supremacist activities.
After hours of furor, M4M4A released a Twitter statement condemning Heimbach and white nationalism. The group pinned the blame on people “who acted independently and purposely tried to derail and infiltrate our movement.” The organization said it had voted to shut down the Muncie march.
Reached for comment, Heimbach told The Daily Beast he had never been invited to the rally. Davis could not be reached for comment. There is no evidence either individual was party to the group’s internal chaos.
Messages from M4M4A’s Slack channel suggest the group was catfished. In one conversation, provided to The Daily Beast by a person with access to the channel, M4M4A’s graphic designer was contacted by a person with the username “Ethan Rae Steele.” Steele sent the graphic designer pictures of “speakers” for the Muncie march, presumably including Heimbach and Davis, though Steele later deleted his account, wiping his messages. Steele also appeared to request access to M4M4A’s social media accounts.
It is unclear if Steele or other poseurs obtained the group’s social media logins. M4M4A did not return repeated requests for comment. With or without the logins, however, the trolls’ Nazi-promoting graphics hit M4M4A’s Instagram this weekend, alongside headshots of more earnest activists who were scheduled to speak.
When the blowback began, not all M4M4A organizers were convinced they’d been duped. “How sure are we that it’s not Matt Bach from Monmouth Cardiology,” one activist asked in the M4M4A Slack, suggesting that Muncie organizers had accidentally downloaded the wrong photo from Google. And while some seized on the situation’s urgency (“the post needs to be removed NOW,” one wrote), others also took issue with their Twitter critics. One leader suggested the group look into the apparent catfishing effort, but also suggested that a prominent anti-fascist who’d called attention to Heimbach’s picture was secretly working with the CIA.
A Zoom call to discuss the infiltration only underscored the group’s concerns.
“A young male voice with a Midwestern accent kept joining the Zoom call we set up to discuss this,” Nick Iannone, an activist with M4M4A, told The Daily Beast. “He pretended to be the lead organizer, asked for credentials, and then asked about ‘ligma’ as a joke. We knew he was a troll because the person he was impersonating was in the call already." (“Ligma” is a gotcha joke where someone tries to trick people into a conversation about “ligma [lick my] balls,” etc.)
Later, on Slack, activists sounded off about what they said was M4M4A’s iffy cybersecurity.
“I’m actually VERY concerned now,” wrote the graphic designer who’d apparently been tricked into making the Muncie flyers. (The graphic designer could not be reached for comment because they only used a common first name in Slack conversations.) “I recall this person who submitted the photos also expressed interest in access to the social media accounts. I’m not sure anyone gave them out, but it is something to escalate.”
“We need a new slack that is invite only,” suggested another.
“Honestly,” an organizer responded, “we don’t have time for all of that. But if that is what people want to do I guess I am fine with it.”
More publicly, on Twitter, M4M4A took a hardline stance against infiltrators.
On Monday the group posted a link to a now-deleted Twitter for the Las Vegas Green Party. “Infiltration is everywhere,” M4M4A tweeted. “This is not an official Green Party account. This person tried to infiltrate our movement. This is one that was caught. Spread the word.”
Nevada’s Green Party issued a similar statement, announcing that the Las Vegas Green Party and its leader were “not affiliated with the Nevada Green Party or the “M4M4ALL” (March for Medicare for All) event in any way, shape or form. Furthermore, the Nevada Green Party does not have a Las Vegas nor a Clark County chapter. Any representations otherwise are fraudulent. Unfortunately, infiltration of political organizations and parties is widespread.”
Alex Williams, the regional director of the would-be Vegas Green Party, refuted allegations that he’d infiltrated the group. He claimed the fight was spillover from an older feud he’d had with M4M4A organizers when they’d all tried working together on “Force The Vote,” an ultimately doomed attempt to force Congress to hold a Medicare For All vote earlier this year.
“I was only regional director for about a week. I was actually the one who connected the Nevada Green Party to the March For Medicare For All people,” Williams told The Daily Beast. He said that he had understood himself to be a Nevada Green Party member-at-large, allowing him to establish his own local party branch and start fundraising on its behalf, and on behalf of M4M4A.
Emails between Williams and the Nevada Green Party suggest that the group parted ways with him in recent days amid conversations about M4M4A organizing, clarifying that his actual title had been that of an intern (Williams said that was the first he’d heard of the title), and that his fundraising efforts appeared to go beyond his remit.
“I would like to let you know, setting up a donation account under the guise that you are working with/ for the green party is illegal,” a Nevada Green Party leader emailed him.
Williams denied any misconduct.
“It’s actually not illegal for me to create a fundraising page as a local Nevada Green Party chapter, since there’s not a local Nevada Green Party chapter already,” Williams told The Daily Beast, adding that he hadn’t actually raised any funds. A Nevada Green Party spokesperson reaffirmed to The Daily Beast that the Vegas group was illegitimate.
The social media commotion has estranged at least one group of Medicare For All advocates from M4M4A: Activists in Fort Lauderdale, who had independently planned a July 24 march that was promoted by M4M4A, now plan to hold a different event, a local activist told The Daily Beast.
Still, much of the group is soldiering on. Iannone, the activist who participated in the Zoom-bombed Sunday call, said the Medicare For All fight was personal for him. Though he lives with severe ADD, he lost access to his medication for eight years, after an insurance cut caused him to lose his coverage. Other people, he noted, struggle to afford even more critical care.
“Behind each stat is a family or loved ones who miss them. These are human lives,” he said. “We spend so much time worrying about cost and who owes what to whom, that we've allowed the ‘death panels’ the Republicans have feared become real, in the form of debtor’s prisons that medical debt has become.”
In its Twitter statement, M4M4A said it was investigating the circumstances that led to its infiltration.
“Our Rules & Ethics committee will be holding a meeting to investigate, discuss security procedures, and put forth a strict vetting process so we can ensure this will never happen again,” the group wrote.