Andrew Auernheimer isn’t the kind of internet troll who hides behind a screen name. A notorious computer hacker whose anti-Semitic rhetoric matches the swastika tattooed on his chest, the 31-year-old views online trolling campaigns as a modern form of an age-old political tactic.
“Being offensive is a political act,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “If something pushes up against polite civilization, it’s for a purpose.”
Trolling is a calling card of the “alt-right” — an amorphous fringe movement that uses internet memes, message boards and social media to spread a hodgepodge of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and xenophobia. And few far-right trolls can match the chops or experience of Auernheimer, known online as “weev.”
Auernheimer has served as a technical consultant for The Daily Stormer and written posts for the popular neo-Nazi website, which often orchestrates trolling campaigns carried out by readers. Targets of The Daily Stormer’s “Troll Army” have included prominent journalists, a British Parliament member and Alex Jones, a radio host and conspiracy theorist whom website founder Andrew Anglin derided as a “Zionist Millionaire.”
Anglin called it the “greatest troll in history” last year when Auernheimer sent Daily Stormer flyers adorned with swastikas to internet-connected fax machines on college campuses across the country.
Keegan Hankes, a research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Anglin and Auernheimer are among the “primary innovators” in how trolling has become a tool for far-right extremists.
“When he did the printer hack, there really hadn’t been anything like that before,” Hankes said.
Auernheimer said he trolls for the “lulz,” a slang term he defines as “the joy that you get in your heart from seeing people suffer ironic punishments.” He scoffs at the notion that anyone can be harmed by “mean words on the internet.”
“The reality is internet trolling is entertaining. People love to watch it. It’s become a national sport,” Auernheimer said. “It’s something that anyone can jump into.”
In 2014, Auernheimer wrote a post for The Daily Stormer about his time in prison. A federal jury convicted him of identity theft and conspiracy charges in 2013 for his role in developing a program that exploited an AT&T security flaw to collect 114,000 email addresses of iPad users.
A judge sentenced him to 41 months in prison. But he was released in 2014 after an appeals court panel overturned his convictions, ruling the government improperly charged him in New Jersey when all of his conduct occurred while he was living in Arkansas.
A white-collar conviction in a computer hacking case turned Andrew Auernheimer into a cause célèbre and a symbol of prosecutorial overreaching. Tor Ekeland, one of the attorneys who defended Auernheimer in the case that sent him to prison for more than a year, describes him as intelligent and charismatic.
Ekeland saw signs of his client’s anti-Semitism before his conviction, but he believes prison hardened Auernheimer’s extremist views.
“I definitely saw a big change there. The treatment of him in prison, I think, was very traumatic,” Ekeland said. “I think you are seeing the effects of the penal system on him.”
Auernheimer moved to Europe after his release from prison and said he has been living in Moldova.
Twitter suspended his account in December, possibly as part of the social media company’s effort to crack down on hate and abuse.
“They’re only interested in curbing abusive behavior of people whose political ideology they disagree with,” he said.
In a post published last Friday by The Daily Stormer, Auernheimer accused prominent Jewish people of trying to “frame” him for the recent wave of bomb threats to Jewish community centers. The primary suspect in the threats — a 19-year-old Jewish man — was arrested in Israel last Thursday.
Auernheimer ended his post with this plea: “Please, Donald Trump, kill the Jews, down to the last woman and child. Leave nothing left of the Jewish menace. It is all on you, my glorious leader.”