Construction worker and avowed Leninist Archie Carter has plenty of gripes with the Democratic Socialists of America, the left-wing group that’s enjoyed a new wave of popularity during the Trump era.
In an essay published Thursday on the conservative op-ed website Quillette, Carter declared that DSA had been overrun with overeducated, oversensitive college graduates, blinding itself to the true needs of the working class.
“DSA is doomed,” Carter wrote.
Carter’s piece seemed like exactly the kind of argument that’s turned Quillette, a self-described “platform for free thought,” into a hotbed for the right-wing online “Intellectual Dark Web” movement. Carter had impeccable blue-collar bona fides, with his Quillette bio describing him as a committed union member who’s always “watching the Mets blow a lead.”
But there’s one problem with Carter’s story: He doesn’t exist.
DSA members started picking holes in Carter’s story almost as soon it went live on Quillette. New York City’s DSA local couldn’t find any record of a member, current or former, named Archie Carter. And while Carter claimed to have participated in sit-in protests as part of his DSA work, the group hadn’t organized sit-ins in New York in years.
By Thursday evening, Quillette had retracted Carter’s essay, saying Carter had failed to “supply answers to our follow-up questions in timely fashion.”
As it turns out, “Carter” was the creation of an anonymous troll who says he set out to humiliate Quillette, convincing the site to publish a story riddled with factual errors.
“I tricked Quillette,” the hoaxer told The Daily Beast. “I’m not actually a construction worker.”
The Carter debacle is an embarrassment for Quillette, which has rocketed to prominence among conservative thinkers since being founded four years ago by editor-in-chief Claire Lehmann by running critiques of political correctness, identity politics, and liberal excesses. Asked for comment on what fact-checking process Carter’s opinion piece went through, Lehmann referred The Daily Beast to the retraction notice.
The prankster, who declined to give his name, describes himself as a “left populist” Illinois resident in his 20s who listens to popular socialist podcast Chapo Trap House.
The hoaxer said he was inspired to trick Quillette by 2018’s “Sokal Squared” hoax, in which academics placed fake, obviously ridiculous research papers in journals in an attempt to prove that the humanities had been overrun by identity politics. The hoax had been well-received at Quillette, with Lehmann declaring that the Sokal Squared hoax was proof that the fooled academic disciplines aren’t legitimate fields.
“The fact that untrained outsiders can get hoax papers published should tell you something: they’re not real disciplines,” Lehmann tweeted last year.
The writer who posed as the blue-collar New York construction worker said he wanted to turn the Sokal Squared hoax back on Quillette.
“I wanted to prove the point of the Sokal experiment, which is that they’re ideological actors finding a conclusion regardless of the evidence,” he said. “Because if they actually looked at the evidence, they would’ve rejected what I was fucking saying. So they burned themselves, you know?”
The hoaxer pitched Quillette on the essay on July 31, according to emails he shared with The Daily Beast. He claimed his real name was Archie Carter but asked to use the alias “Steven Randolph,” telling Quillette later that he was scared of backlash from “DSA/Antifa types.”
The pitch, like the essay, was filled with cultural reference points that contrasted the blue-collar Carter with his hipster foes in DSA. The hoaxer said he included those “flourishes” to make the essay look even more ridiculous.
“I don't wear beanies or sip lattes like the typical stereotypes would have you believe—Maxwell House drip coffee is just fine by me,” he wrote in the pitch.
Quillette senior editor Jamie Palmer encouraged the hoaxer to expand on his essay, telling him at one point to mention clips from the DSA convention that had gone viral in right-wing media. At one point, Palmer asked the writer for identification to prove his identity, prompting the hoaxer to declare he wanted to ditch the Randolph alias and go by his “real” name, Archie Carter.
“I'm tired of biting my tongue, and they can’t do anything about it,” he wrote back to Palmer. “I need it off my chest, and I’ll be damned if I care what they think about me.”
It’s not clear if Quillette made any other attempt to fact-check the essay. Palmer didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Quillette should have had other reasons to suspect the hoax. The one DSA meeting Carter described had already been written about in New York magazine, suggesting that Carter had just cribbed the scene from that article. In his essay, the ostensibly Marxist-Leninist Carter praised community organizer Saul Alinsky—who never embraced communism but who has become a sinister figure for Fox News viewers.
“That Alinsky stuff was bullshit,” the hoaxer told The Daily Beast. “I’ve never read Alinsky, I thought it would be a nice hook. I fucking heard it how many times from my dumbass family? I figured it’d work.”
Soon after the essay ran, though, Palmer grew nervous about its veracity.
“Some journalists on social media are saying the article is a hoax,” Palmer wrote to the hoaxer. “My managing editor is getting a little anxious. Can you send me some confirmation of your employment/identity to set his mind at ease?”
Hours later, Quillette pulled the story.
This isn’t the first time Quillette’s editing process has been called into question. In May, the site ran a “study” from a notorious right-wing troll that attempted to link journalists to left-wing antifascists, then refused to answer questions about its vetting process for stories.
The hoaxer had planned to create a persona that he could use to pitch essays other right-wing websites, intending to expose them for falling for his trick. But he created a Twitter account for the Carter persona that soon began blasting out in-jokes popular on left-wing Twitter, giving the game away.
“I think I fucked up, I shouldn’t have created the Twitter account,” he said. “I should’ve been silent, then I could’ve made this into a second piece.”
Still, the hoaxer said he’s happy with how the prank turned out.
“Ultimately, what I wanted to prove is that the entire right-wing ecosystem is one giant Sokal experiment,” he said.