The Baked Alaska Story

Ben Smith writes in his new book, Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral:

* “The internet is ours,” Benny [Johnson] had said, and he had a point. Jonah and Nick and their editors—Peggy and Anna and Jessica and AJ and I—thought we were inventing digital media, along with all the journalists and writers and techies around us. And yet the figures who would create the new American Far Right had been flickering around the edges of that picture from the start. There, at BuzzFeed’s office in Chinatown, sat Chris Poole, better known as moot—the creator of 4chan. There, hanging out late into the Brooklyn nights with Jezebel’s Tracie Egan, was Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, who went on to start the pro-Trump militia known as the Proud Boys. There was Andrew Breitbart, mentor to Ben Shapiro and a generation of right-wing online figures, co-founding The Huffington Post . There was Steve Bannon paying us a visit. There was Benny in BuzzFeed’s West Twenty-First Street office, making lists. We’d seen them as the marginal characters in our story; by the time my editor and I were talking this book over in 2022, that picture looked exactly wrong: we seemed to be, he mused, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in their tragedy.

* Gionet [Baked Alaska] had been subject to the evils that had been denounced at Trump’s social media summit. He’d been deplatformed—thrown off Twitter and Twitch—and had his YouTube videos demonetized. So he was streaming to DLive, a blockchain-based service, when he entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021. He strode around like he owned the place. “America First is inevitable! Fuck globalists, let’s go!” he yelled. At one point he advised other rioters not to damage anything; at another he yelled at a police officer that he was a “fucking oathbreaker, you piece of shit.”
Gionet’s excitement grew as he watched the number of viewers to his livestream rise. It was easy to relate to—it reminded me of that afternoon in April of 2016 when a couple of my colleagues had transfixed the world by putting rubber bands around a watermelon, watching the view count grow above eight hundred thousand, until the fruit exploded. “We’ve got over ten thousand people live, watching, let’s go!” he said excitedly, standing in the trashed office of a senator from Oregon, Jeff Merkley. “Hit that follow button—I appreciate you guys.” His followers excitedly replied, cheering him on to “hang all the congressmen.”
At one point, someone off camera warned that President Trump “would be very upset” with the antics of the rioters. “No, he’ll be happy,” Mr. Gionet responded. “We’re fighting for Trump.”
Later, when it became clear that Trump would not, or could not, protect the rioters, Gionet went briefly underground, posting frantically from short-lived Twitter accounts that he was in hiding. The FBI caught up to him in Houston nine days later, on January 15. The federal court in Washington, DC, didn’t have much sympathy for the rioters, whose actions, the circuit’s chief judge said, had been “reprehensible as offenses against morality, civic virtue, and the rule of law.” Then they fitted him with an ankle monitor and sent him back to Scottsdale. He was not, it turned out, chastened.
On March 31, the ankle bracelet was off and Gionet, awaiting trial, was streaming again. In one video, he films as police arrive to inform him that there have been complaints that he’s harassing people. In another, he picks a fight with a friend, and when the friend slaps the camera out of his hand, Gionet himself calls the police. He leers at an attractive female cop, and does his best to provoke others. And in a video that appears on an unlisted Twitter account, he complains that the federal agents on his case are “fat faggots and dykes,” a piece of information he says he’s learned from the Nazi publication the Daily Stormer. He says he’s been watching a lot of documentaries about violent standoffs between Far Right figures and federal agents at places like Waco and Ruby Ridge.
On June 4, 2021, the federal officer monitoring him before trial dragged him back in front of a federal judge, via videoconference, to demand that he be barred from streaming videos. It was clear from the videos, his pretrial release officer told the court, that he was trying “specifically to agitate, anger, and offend and provoke a violent response to the video during livestream for people to continue to comment.” Then Gionet piped up to clarify. “Calling the cops—that’s a prank,” he explained, before his lawyer cut him off. The judge said he found the videos “inane,” but that Gionet had stayed just on this side of the line and hadn’t violated the conditions of his release. What’s more, Gionet and his lawyer had made a compelling case that streaming on social media was the defendant’s job, and had been ever since he started at BuzzFeed six years earlier.
The court couldn’t take away a man’s ability to feed himself. As Gionet told the judge, “That’s my income.”
Gionet kept streaming, kept playing cat-and-mouse with social media platforms and courts alike, all through the next year. In January of 2022, a Scottsdale judge sentenced him to thirty days in jail for the attack on the bouncer, after prosecutors called him “lost” and a “danger to society.” On May 11, he appeared in federal court to plead guilty on a single misdemeanor charge connected to the attack on the Capitol. But when Gionet told the judge that he was pleading guilty on his lawyers’ advice despite believing “I’m innocent,” the judge rejected his plea. Finally, Gionet relented and pleaded guilty, and, in January of 2023, a federal judge sentenced him to two months in jail. He had “made a mockery of democracy,” Judge Trevor McFadden told the thirty-five-year-old defendant, who had been convicted on the evidence of his own live stream. The judge marveled at how brazen his crimes had been: “You did everything you could to publicize your misconduct.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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