When Donald Trump threw a press conference on Sunday night flanked by women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and harassment and Hillary Clinton of mocking a rape victim, he had some help putting the event together from Charles C. Johnson, the Twitter-banned provocateur who Gawker once dubbed “the web’s worst journalist.”
Johnson’s most notable claim to infamy came when he wrongly identified a photo of a woman whom he believed to be the centerpiece of a Rolling Stone article about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia.
On Monday, Johnson claimed his website raised thousands of dollars to send one of those accusers to the “front row” of the debate two weeks before Sunday night’s hastily planned pre-debate press conference.
The publicity stunt took place directly before the start of his second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, as the Republican nominee’s campaign frantically sought to change the subject from a recently leaked tape of Trump bragging about sexual assault to allegations against the Clintons, particularly sexual-assault claims leveled against the former president.
At the press conference, which was streamed live on his Facebook page, Trump sat at a table with several of Bill Clinton’s accusers. One of those in attendance was Kathy Shelton, an Arkansas native who says she was raped at age 12 in 1975 by Thomas Alfred Taylor—a man whom Hillary Clinton represented as a public defender.
“Hillary Clinton took me through hell,” Shelton told The Daily Beast in 2014, accusing Clinton of going to extraordinary lengths to discredit evidence of her rape, and later laughing about the alleged child rapist’s guilt on audio recordings.
“At 12 years old, Hillary put me through something that you would never put a 12-year-old through and she said she’s for women and children,” she said at Sunday’s presser, where she said she was in attendance to support Trump.
“You went through a lot,” Trump told her.
The event was reportedly masterminded by Trump campaign “CEO” and former Breitbart CEO Stephen K. Bannon, along with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. But Team Trump reportedly owed Shelton’s presence to none other than Chuck Johnson, the notoriously mean-spirited, Trump-loving owner of the right-wing website GotNews, who now is trying to directly lend his efforts to the presidential campaign.
“So, I’ll be at the #debate today... BIG thnx to @WeSearchr for flying me out!” Shelton tweeted on Sunday.
WeSearchr is a crowdfunding site founded by Johnson and Pax Dickinson, a “brogrammer” and Business Insider’s fired CTO who had a penchant for racist and sexist tweets. Since late September, WeSearchr has been raising money to “fly Hillary's rape victim… to the next debate” in order to “say Hi.” The $10,000 “bounty,” as the website calls it, was met—and even exceeded by $100, according to the site—on Oct. 5, two days before the release of Trump’s 2005 conversation with Billy Bush.
Johnson was quick to claim victory for making Shelton part of Trump’s stunt, writing in a Facebook post on Monday night that “Trump won the debate because WeSearchr brought Kathy Shelton and helped bring the other women.”
As Johnson tells it, the funds raised for Shelton’s appearance at debate-night forced the Trump campaign’s hand to hold the event as a whole.
“Wesearchr flew Kathy Shelton and her lawyer Candice Jackson to the debates,” Johnson said in a Facebook message to The Daily Beast. “An ally of mine took care of the tickets and brought the rest of the women. The Trump campaign didn’t want to do [the press conference] until Saturday night when they had no choice.”
Johnson would not disclose who this “ally” was when pressed.
As for the rest of the women in attendance (or the Trump camp’s supposed reticence), the details and logistics remain unclear.
After the debate, Juanita Broaddrick, one of the women in attendance, said that the website Breitbart had paid for her travel to the event. This was quickly disputed by the Trump campaign itself, which claimed the money came from them. (Bannon, of course, has served as both the head of Breitbart and Trump’s campaign.)
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, told The Daily Beast in an email that she had not spoken to Johnson. She has not responded to further questions about whether any member of the team was in talks with him, and a Trump campaign spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment regarding Johnson’s exact involvement.
Johnson’s newfound association with the Trump campaign is a big get for Charles, a conservative online presence who has been repeatedly banned from Twitter and no longer writes for the mainstream conservative outlets that once published him. (He used to write often for Bannon’s Breitbart.)
Johnson is a relentless supporter of Team Trump, and in May asserted that “Donald Trump is running the Chuck C Johnson campaign & he will win.” But Johnson is more widely known as a prolific internet troll and wannabe alt-right provocateur with bigoted and overtly racist tendencies.
Among many other low points, he falsely identified a young woman as “Jackie” (the character at the center of the University of Virginia Rolling Stone firestorm), prompting her to announce she would pursue legal action against him. Johnson also published the addresses of New York Times reporters after he falsely claimed that the newspaper had released the address of Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Johnson has previously mused about how President Barack Obama is a covert homosexual. He enthusiastically tried to use his “journalism” to smear both Tamir Rice, the unarmed 12-year-old black child who was gunned down by a Cleveland police officer, and Rice’s grieving mother. He relishes hanging out with Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman, who Johnson said was “among the finest men I have ever met.”
In April, Johnson wrote that he wouldn’t mind joining anti-communist African dictators for dinner to “eat watermelons or fried chicken or whatever,” and also that “among the CIA’s best accomplishments was working to jail that communist Nelson Mandela.”
Nowadays, Johnson is doing whatever he can to assist in Trump’s home-stretch, scorched-earth campaign. And he has only one month left to pitch in.