When Covington Catholic High School students found themselves the focus of a national media firestorm on Saturday and the target of social media fury, an unknown media outlet was at the center of the conservative pushback, calling on people to #StandWithCovington and report journalists who’d tweeted about the story.
The group of teenage boys, many wearing Make America Great Again hats, were labeled racists and white supremacists after a viral video clip showed them in a face-to-face encounter with Omaha tribe elder Nathan Phillips at a political protest near the Lincoln Memorial.
Condemnation of their behavior spread quickly online, and media platforms picked up the story.
That’s when new conservative media startup Culttture, touted as a “TMZ-of-sorts for the pro-Trump crowd” by its allies on the right, began fighting back. It started a petition and asked the public to help build a crowdsourced database of those who had criticized or aggressively threatened the boys online.
The crowdsource campaign quickly took hold under the hashtag #VerifiedBullies, taking aim at high-profile influencers or journalists on Twitter who it said had encouraged doxing or “defamed” the students.
Within 24 hours of launching, the campaign said it had archived over 1,800 tweets.
We’re getting new submissions every 30 seconds. Every member of the media who defamed, slandered, and doxxed the #CovingtonBoys on Twitter will be served.— CJ Pearson (@thecjpearson) January 20, 2019
Each and every tweet will be archived and turned over to the students’ legal counsel. pic.twitter.com/nk4DkQ7AmK
#VerifiedBullies has been accused of using Gamergate-style tactics to suppress disagreement about the Covington kids, and a fledgling new organization suddenly had thousands of emails it could use to push out content. Culttture, and the right-wing personalities connected to it, served as the engine in not only pushing back on the mainstream perspective of the incident but in rallying conservatives to participate in fighting back.
So, is Culttture just another right-wing media outlet? Or an entirely new vehicle for narrative-shifting conservative activism?
What is Culttture?
The new media outlet made it big for the first time last week after it received a rush of promotion from high-profile conservative internet pundits. Culttture had obtained and published “exclusive” footage of a guerrilla art protest targeting a billboard advertisement for liberal comedian Bill Maher’s Real Time talk show.
A collective of anonymous conservative artists, who work under the name the Faction, claimed responsibility for the protest—replacing Maher’s face with a grey non-playable character (NPC) image, a right-wing meme used to dismiss “liberal automatons” who repeat partisan talking points.
Street artists @TheFaction1776 hit a billboard in West Hollywood last night covering his face with an NPC meme.— Culttture (@culttture) January 14, 2019
“@BillMaher is a cheerleader for the wind-up opposition- that spews rumors and supposition as fact, to an audience ready, willing, and able repeat them as gospel.” pic.twitter.com/ZCXqp2UdjB
The Faction previously made headlines for deploying dozens of fake President Donald Trump stars along Hollywood’s Walk of Fame to protest the real star’s repeated defacement by left-wing vandals.
Social media personality Mike Cernovich gave Culttture a boost, directing followers to the then relatively obscure project.
Really impressed with the direction @culttture is taking.— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) January 14, 2019
But buzz around Culttture, however, started around mid-December on Twitter. Conservative commentator and activist Ali Alexander announced Dec. 23 that Culttture was “the next big thing” in right-wing media. On Dec 25, right-wing pundit Jack Posobiec, too, gave “Culture Plus” a boost.
Follow Culture Plus! @culttture— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) December 25, 2018
At that time there wasn’t much activity. Social media posts mostly related to conservative youth organization Turning Point USA’s 2018 Student Action Summit from mid-December.
Even now, though, in terms of online presence, culttture.com consists of a holding page which redirects visitors to Twitter and Instagram profiles, where most of Culttture’s content has been posted to date. The outlet does have a YouTube channel, where it published its first bulletin-style “Week in Review” on Jan. 13.
Social media profile headers promote an outlet set to cover what it describes as the “counterculture movement of free thinkers” and a quick scroll through the content reveals the project’s distinctively conservative slant and embrace of the NPC meme.
Probably clear to many from the description alone, the header is a nod to the idea first pushed by InfoWars’ editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson that “conservatism is the new counterculture.”
The partisan slant is articulated most clearly by YouTuber and Culttture presenter Ellysa Maye Leuthold, who introduced the project to her Twitter followers as a “movement of culture shifting individuals” who are both “pro free thought” and “pro Trump 2020.”
Alexander, who works as consultant for the project, started Culttture with conservative creative Jesse Eisenman and folk musician Josh Hanson. The main creative forces at the helm of the project, directly under Alexander and leading a team of 27 people, are photographer Peter Duke and Eisenman, assisted by fellow founding members writer Andrew Meyer and meme-making creator Carpe Donktum.
What’s perhaps most interesting about those involved in Culttture is the extent to which it is exclusively tied with the far-right.
On its Instagram page, videos come from some of the most provocative members of the movement: Scott Adams, Candace Owens, Posobiec, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Stefan Molyneux, and Will Chamberlain. And they’ve gone after mainstream conservatives already, attempting perhaps to differentiate themselves.
The project has a particular distaste for prominent conservative pundit Ben Shapiro.
.@BenShapiro alleges that the worst, most “insane” Twitter suspension to date is… you guessed it: his financial business partner.— Culttture (@culttture) January 3, 2019
Censorship or hyperventilating? pic.twitter.com/KaH0vuQGCC
Though he told the Daily Dot Culttture is “a bunch of other people,” the founders all run through a nexus of Cernovich. Hanson, who hadn’t released music in four years, produced a track last year about fake news for Cernovich’s documentary Hoaxed: Everything They Told Us Was a Lie.
He released the new song under Grand Wonder, a label for artists set up with Alexander as his business partner.
Meyer, meanwhile, a former editor-in-chief at independent media outlet We Are Change, has worked closely with Cernovich News. As well as hosting his own show, American Revolution, Meyer worked until last year as a political writer for Cernovich.com. It appears many of Meyer’s articles were wiped from the website in a mass purge around March last year, around the same time Cernovich announced he’d be pivoting away from politics.
Carpe Donktum may not have worked directly with Cernovich in the past, he did publicly thank the conservative for promoting his work in a Twitter thread two months ago.
And Cultture kicked off its official Instagram account with a video of Cernovich, alongside Posobiec.
None of the members of Culttture responded to requests for comment about their involvement with the project.
In terms of content, the project’s appeal for conservatives might lie in its experimentation with a memetic storytelling format and edgy social media strategy, making news content engaging and easily shareable. The team often uses short clips taken from interviews or debates and simply adds its own branding and commentary.
A video of the Rock talking gets splayed with the Culttture logo and posted.
It does delve outside of politics, sharing dating tips for the modern man by both Laura Loomer and Paul Joseph Watson.
Dating advice with Paul Joseph Watson @PrisonPlanet pic.twitter.com/61r1WP3RYV— Culttture (@culttture) December 24, 2018
The style is reminiscent of that produced elsewhere by liberal outlet NowThis News and Al Jazeera’s AJ+, just done up to reflect the fringe right.
Beyond the video cuts, Culttture regularly shares articles from outlets like Breitbart and the Gateway Pundit via Twitter. More than commentary and narrative, however, a large part of the mission is amplifying cause and springboarding effective activism.
If #VerifiedBullies is anything to go by, Cultture and its broader associated network could be a force to be reckoned with. Some of the journalists and celebrities who made the most inflammatory criticisms and statements on the Covington Catholic students have been walking back on their positions, deleting their tweets, and at least one individual has been fired.
When BuzzFeed News journalist Charlie Warzel identified the social media campaign led by Culttture and others as “coordinated” and part of “an information war,” right-wing influencer Posobiec shot back an unapologetic acknowledgment.
someone had to debunk the misinfo spread about these children— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) January 22, 2019
Who better than information warfare experts?
In a Periscope stream on Monday, Alexander talked about how he and Posobiec envisioned the campaign plan for #StandWithCovington would progress to a town hall event. Central to that plan was making access to the event exclusive to “alternative media partners” like Culttture and Posobiec’s employer, right-wing One America News Network, both of which were tagged in a relevant tweet.
The move, he suggested, would be the beginning of “reinventing the distribution of information”—a bid to throw off dependency on the media establishment perceived by many conservatives as corrupt and hostile.
In previous promotion of Culttture, Alexander described the outlet as part of a grander project to “federate” right-wing media outlets and influence engines as a reaction to deplatforming. If this is the case, Culttture might just be considered one node in an emergent digital ecosystem of partnering alternative media platforms.
The direction appears across conservative circles. Recently, for example, conservative pundit Dave Rubin and psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson both abandoned funding platform Patreon, after several well-known conservatives had their accounts banned. The pair announced plans to launch their own alternative.
In an online world where conservatives also feel increasingly under siege by traditional media outlets, disruptive activist-media projects like Culttture are being seen as a new path forward to not only shifting national conversation but in taking the culture war to the next level.
This article was updated to include more information about the individuals involved.