In the world of #Resistance Twitter, @GuardianRover was a hero. As a former intelligence operative and Delta Force soldier, the person behind the account used a cartoon secret agent avatar and the alias “Mr. Smith” to share the kind of national security expertise that anxious Democrats crave in the tumultuous Trump era.
When he wasn’t meeting with Chinese freedom fighters, chatting up Ukrainian intel sources or working diplomatic security details, Smith tweeted wild claims on Twitter about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Maybe, he posited, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page had a tape of Trump promising to lift Russian sanctions in exchange for help with the 2016 election.
Smith regularly urged his followers to “buckle up,” hinting at some kind of momentous developments in the Russia investigation just over the horizon. He also frequently claimed it would be various Trump allies’ “time in the barrel,” promising what he called “barrel time” for the likes of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner or former Trump confidant Roger Stone (who before the election famously tweeted: “it will soon [be] the Podesta's time in the barrel”).
“Christmas clue: one person in the barrel was on the Apprentice,” Smith tweeted in December 2017.
Smith’s tantalizing tweets and the promise that he had access to the inner workings of the intelligence community helped him amass nearly 30,000 followers on Twitter, and earned him Twitter attention from the likes of CNN analyst Asha Rangappa, citizen investigator Claude Taylor, CIA veteran John Sipher, and Resistance “game theory” theorist Eric Garland.
Smith even caught the attention of Louise Mensch, a former member of the British parliament who has restyled herself as a leader of anti-Trump conspiracy theorists and once claimed that former White House strategist Steve Bannon could face the death penalty for espionage. Despite their shared antipathy for Trump, Mensch and Smith were soon at odds, with Mensch claiming that that Smith was actually a former CIA station chief acting as a nefarious “black hat.”
“A bad dude,” Mensch tweeted on Thursday.
As it turned out, though, Smith was neither a former Delta Force soldier or a malevolent CIA operative. In fact, evidence suggests that the Twitter account beloved by Trump haters was in fact operated by Justin Hendrix, a Seattle gamer who regularly made pro-Trump comments online. (Hendrix didn’t respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment. He's not the same person as NYC Media Lab executive director Justin Hendrix, another prominent figure in anti-Trump Twitter).
The @GuardianRover Twitter account was deleted in early August, after one Twitter user hinted that they were closing in on the identity of the person behind the account. Despite the success of Smith’s Twitter account, cracks regularly appeared in his supposed national security bona fides. He regularly referred to the White House as “Whiskey Hotel,” an official-sounding codename that doesn’t appear to have actually existed before it was coined for a 2009 Call of Duty video game. Smith also promoted the debunked idea that ISIS terrorists used digital bullet holes in Call of Duty to communicate with each other.
Ultimately, Smith’s gaming habit would be his undoing. In late July, he posted a link to his account on the video game live-streaming site Twitch, urging his Resistance Twitter fans to come watch him play popular shooting game Fortnite “because we are nerds.”
That caught the eye of Twitter user “Fraude,” who investigates amateur Russia sleuths like Smith. Fraude, who had long had his eye on Smith, had already collected a couple facts about Smith he suspected would play out in the real life of the person behind the account. For example, Smith had portrayed himself as fan of Seattle sports teams in his late 30s or early 40s. Smith also regularly mentioned hanging out with his nephews.
Fraude declined to be interviewed, but explained in a lengthy Twitter thread how they then followed Smith’s Twitch handle, ”BigOlUncleCletus,” to a Reddit account called “BigOleUncleCletus.”
That Reddit user described himself as a 38-year-old Seattle man who often took care of his nephews. And, in a surprise for fans of Smith’s anti-Trump tweets, the Reddit user was a big fan of Trump. At one point, he wrote that he was once a “Never-Trumper” who was now “firmly on the Trump train.”
“HEY HEY — HO HO — DONALD TRUMP WILL NEVER GO,” the Reddit user posted in another comment, adding the hashtag #GodEmperor.
Smith’s Twitch account had previously been called “BigOleUncleLeroy,” which led Fraude to Bigoleuncleleroy.com. While that website is now defunct, a DomainTools search shows that it was once registered to Hendrix, a Seattle man in his late 30s. Hendrix’s LinkedIn page doesn’t list any intelligence or national security-related work in his background.
The “BigOleUncleLeroy” screen name held one more clue. A search for the profile on the Playstation Network shows that its owner frequently plays Call of Duty—the series Smith often seemed to use as a source for his national security knowledge.