We helped shut this Nazi down

Robert Sterkeson unfurled a Nazi flag at a Bernie Sanders rally. Soon after that, his YouTube channel and website were taken offline.

Hi, and welcome to The Informant, a publication covering hate and extremism in America, written and edited by me, Nick R. Martin.

I want to give a warm welcome to all of my new subscribers. Many of you found my newsletter last week thanks to my tweets about neo-Nazi Robert Sterkeson, so it’s fitting that today’s issue is all about him and the campaigns to get his social media accounts and website taken down.

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We helped shut this Nazi down

A neo-Nazi named Robert Sterkeson unfurled a swastika flag at a Bernie Sanders campaign rally on Thursday in Arizona. Less than 24 hours later, his YouTube channel was gone from the internet and his long-running website, Bomb Islam, was temporarily kicked offline.

The swift consequences were the result of the work of journalists, activists, anti-fascists, and researchers. Each played a role in identifying Sterkeson, exposing the big tech companies that were supporting his neo-Nazi propaganda, or campaigning to get his web presence shut down.

I had a hand in that process, too, so I’d like to explain how it went down. As a warning, there are racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic slurs mentioned below.

The incident

The first thing to understand is what happened on Thursday night. Sanders held a rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix as part of his campaign that would make him the nation’s first Jewish president. While he was speaking, a man in the crowd stood up and unfurled a large swastika flag.

Video posted to Twitter showed the man, wearing a white shirt, hold up the flag for a few seconds before someone in the crowd pulled it away from him. The man then threw up a Nazi salute.

A short time later, reporter Nicole Grigg with Phoenix television station KNXV spotted a man in a white shirt outside of the coliseum shouting the N-word at a black Sanders supporter. Grigg posted video of the encounter to Twitter.

Both videos began to go viral, and that’s where I got involved.

The identification

I saw the videos on Twitter that same night and was pretty sure I knew who the man was, but I wasn’t ready to post anything until I could get some kind of confirmation.

Meanwhile, Imraan Siddiqi, the executive director of CAIR-AZ, was pretty sure he knew, too. He had good reason to suspect the man was Robert Sterkeson, a neo-Nazi from the Phoenix area who was well known to the local Muslim community for disrupting multiple events over the years. Sterkeson would often show up at public gatherings for local Muslims and do things like tear apart a Quran or yell slurs at the attendees.

Siddiqi’s hunch was strong enough that he decided to tweet about it. He included a screengrab of a tweet that I’d posted about Sterkeson last year. “I have a 75% feeling it’s this guy,” Siddiqi wrote.

That same night, anti-fascist researchers on Twitter worked to confirm the identification. One of them, the anonymous account @discord__panic, even put out a $200 bounty for the man’s name.

Before long, @discord__panic managed to confirm Sterkeson was the same man at the rally by comparing rally images with videos Sterkeson had posted to social media over the years. A short time later, the researchers also came across a posting on YouTube where Sterkeson confirmed it, too.

A little background

Sterkeson first came across my radar in 2018 when I was working as an investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Since at least 2006, he has owned the domain name bombislam[dot]com, where he has long posted vile anti-Muslim propaganda and where at one time he sold T-shirts with his slogan, “Islam is the cancer. Nukes are the answer.”

Some years before I joined the SPLC, the organization designated Bomb Islam as a hate group, in part because of the website.

Sterkeson ran the site anonymously for years. But that changed a few years ago when researcher Stephen Piggott, who at the time worked for the SPLC, found Sterkeson’s real name thanks, in part, to a website called Dating Complaints, which is basically what it sounds like.

Piggott, who is now an independent researcher, recalled last week on Twitter that the website “was the first I found that had both his name and photo.”

The complaint for Sterkeson, posted on the dating site in 2016, described him this way: “Wannabe Ninja virgin loser [who] acts crazy and loves to jerkoff to presidential candidate Donald J Trump 24/7!”

In recent years, Sterkeson has taken to using his real name online, and he made it clear his hatred was no longer limited to Muslims. He began outright declaring himself to be a “Nazi” and expressed hatred for Jews, blacks, and immigrants, too. He also purchased the domain name bombisrael[dot]com.

In addition, he pushed his actions into the real world, beginning with harassing mosques and Muslim events but eventually targeting other groups as well, all of which added to the SPLC’s reasons to designate Bomb Islam a hate group.

One of the more disturbing incidents came on October 27, 2018 — the same day a white nationalist killed multiple people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Sterkeson, who interacted with the shooter online via the Nazi-friendly social media site Gab, decided he, too, was going to take action that day. He walked into a Jewish conference that was being held in the Phoenix area and unfurled a swastika flag inside the lobby.

The flag was very similar to the one seen at the Sanders rally last week in Phoenix.

His rhetoric and actions were so problematic, it led to him being kicked off multiple major social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, as well as smaller “alt” platforms, including Gab and Minds, which are usually more tolerant of white supremacists.

The day after the rally

On Friday, I decided to put some key details about Sterkeson into a Twitter thread. I particularly wanted to highlight the big tech companies that were giving him a platform to spew his hateful rhetoric.

As I mentioned in the thread, Sterkeson’s domain name, bombislam[dot]com, was registered through GoDaddy, and it pointed to his YouTube account, where he had a video calling on viewers to “join a right-wing death squad and kill a bunch of politicians, journalists and judges.”

Sleeping Giants quickly picked up on the thread. The group helps shine a light on racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and other types of bigoted propaganda, and this fell squarely in its wheelhouse. Sleeping Giants used my tweets to put pressure on YouTube and GoDaddy to explain why they hosted Sterkeson’s content.

Alex Kaplan and Noor Al-Sibai at Media Matters for America also published an article pointing out that YouTube was hosting Sterkeson’s perverted propaganda:

Sterkeson has used his YouTube account to push white nationalist rhetoric: In 2018, he posted a video on his channel in which he said, “I hate Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, and n*ggers” and said that he was a Nazi. He also spouted the white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory, saying, “The traitors that we call politicians are now forcing us to subsidize our own demographic replacement through an insane welfare and immigration system.” The video since then has received over 37,000 views and was promoted as recently as December on 4chan’s “/pol/” message board, a haven for white nationalists.

Finally, Jared Holt of Right Wing Watch reached out to Google for comment about why its subsidiary, YouTube, was hosting Sterkeson’s content.

A short time later, YouTube shut the account down.

At almost the same time, Sterkeson’s domain name, bombislam[dot]com, went blank and was unreachable all weekend. It appeared that GoDaddy had taken action against Sterkeson. I reached out to GoDaddy for comment but did not hear back.

By Monday, however, records showed the domain name had been moved to a different company — Namecheap. Both bombislam[dot]com and bombisrael[dot]com were now registered through the company and both were pointing to Sterkeson’s page on Bitchute, the tiny YouTube knockoff.

It was like a game of whack-a-mole, as is often the case with chasing racists around the internet.

I noted Sterkeson’s move to Namecheap in a pair of tweets on Monday afternoon, and I reached out to the company for comment. A short time later, both domain names went blank.

I later confirmed with Namecheap that both Bomb Islam and Bomb Israel were suspended for violating the company’s terms and conditions.

It’s possible that Sterkeson will find another company to register his bigoted domain names with. But as of this publication, both are down.

I will try to keep you updated if that changes.

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