Jack Teixeira and the kids who aren't alright.
If you play video games online—Xbox, Playstation, PC, pick one—starting in 2015/16, you might’ve noticed that a number of players began using MAGA or Trump in their gamer handles. In my experience, these users often seemed on a mission to not only win their matches, but to piss off their opponents as much as possible in the process. Oftentimes this was accomplished by users abusing the game mechanics. Every game has flaws, and these flaws can be exploited for maximum benefit if you know how to use them to your advantage. To be clear, this is not a new phenomenon. There are always people who play fair and win some of the time, and there are those who abuse the cheat codes to increase their odds of winning. Most people who don’t cheat online would if they knew how or were better at it because most people want to get ahead. When I was a kid, this meant buying the $14.99 magazines at GameStop with the literal cheat codes. These days, it means following the “Meta” as laid out by YouTubers who abuse game mechanics for a living. I don’t really blame them. It’s the nature of the beast, and it’s the content their audience wants, so they go chase it.
As I started writing this story, I remembered how long ago 2015 was. It’s been eight years since Trump came down the escalator and began his presidential run. Jack Teixeira—the Air National Guardsman who leaked classified U.S. intelligence documents—was about thirteen years old at the time. From all reports and his use of Discord, Teixeira was a gamer who loved guns, Catholicism and racist memes. It’s not hard for me to imagine the teenage Teixeira using Trump or MAGA in his gamer handles over the years. Why? Because it was considered cool. Because it singled you out as edgy and not some cringe shitlib. When you realize Teixeira posted images of the documents on the Discord server because he wanted his friends on the internet to think he was cool, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to imagine him triggering libs on Xbox or posting fake news memes on anonymous social media accounts lost in time. Even if Teixeira never did those things directly, he came of age in the era of Trumpism. The “2016 energy” the right is trying to recreate for 2024 was part of his childhood. It shaped his worldview and reality. He grew up at a time when the president of the United States made calling the press FAKE NEWS seem cool. Distrusting the government was BASED. Thinking Russia is a better place to live as a white man went from a fringe far-right theory to a widely accepted view in right-wing America. Even repealing the 19th Amendment—thus revoking a woman’s right to vote—has become a position Republicans are openly discussing. Even if Teixeira was never interested in politics, he was part of Trumpism’s racist subculture, and it led him down the path to extremism and a decision to destroy his life for nothing.
The classified documents were leaked for clout.
Jack Teixeira is not a whistleblower, and anyone who says otherwise is confused or intending to deceive. As an Air National Guardsman with access to classified materials, Teixeira swore an oath, and he violated that oath not out of a sense of patriotic duty but because he wanted his friends on the internet to think he was cool. As leader of the “Thug Shaker Central” Discord server, Teixeira was known as “OG”. TheWashington Post reported:
OG was the undisputed leader. The member described him as “strict.” He enforced a “pecking order” and expected the others to read closely the classified information he had shared. When their attention waned, he got angry.
Late last year, a peeved OG fired off a message to all the members of the server. He had spent nearly an hour every day writing up “these long and drawn-out posts in which he’d often add annotations and explanations for stuff that we normal citizens would not understand,” the member said. His would-be pupils were more interested in YouTube videos about battle gear.
“He got upset, and he said on multiple occasions, if you guys aren’t going to interact with them, I’m going to stop sending them.”
That’s when OG changed tactics. Rather than spend his time copying documents by keyboard, he took photographs of the genuine articles and dropped them in the server. These were more vivid and arresting documents than the plain text renderings. Some featured detailed charts of battlefield conditions in Ukraine and highly classified satellite images of the aftermath of Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian electrical facilities. Others sketched the potential trajectory of North Korean ballistic nuclear missiles that could reach the United States. Another featured photographs of the Chinese spy balloon that floated across the country in February, snapped from eye-level, probably by a U-2 spy plane, along with a diagram of the balloon and the surveillance technology attached to it.
OG shared several documents a week, beginning late last year. Posting pictures to the server took less time. But it also exposed OG to greater risk. In the background of some images, they could see items and furniture that they recognized from the room where OG spoke to them via video on the Discord channel — the kind of clues that could prove useful for federal investigators.
The dramatic and yet nonchalant presentation also reminded the group that OG could lay his hands on some of the most closely guarded intelligence in the U.S. government. “If you had classified documents, you’d want to flex at least a little bit, like hey, I’m the big guy,” the member said. “There is a little bit of showing off to friends, but as well as wanting to keep us informed.”
In a sense, OG had created a virtual mirror image of the secretive facility where he spent his working hours. Inside the Discord server, he was the ultimate arbiter of secrecy, and he allowed his companions to read truths that “normal citizens” could not.
That Teixeira as “OG” believed these documents—shared with anonymous friends on the internet—would not be leaked to the outside world shows a degree of naiveté that’s unique to youth. According to the Wall Street Journal, the ultimate leaker of the documents outside the Discord server was a California teenager named Lucca Swinson who, like other members of the private chat, supported the Russian invasion in its war of choice in Ukraine.
On Feb. 3, a post on a Twitter account associated with Mr. Swinson, which has now been deleted, requested to buy combat patches of Wagner, the Russian paramilitary force notorious for extrajudicial executions, from a British YouTuber who had just returned from Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine.
The next day, a post from the Twitter account showed a screenshot from a video that had been released by Wagner-affiliated social media showing the execution of Ukrainian soldiers.
Last month, another post added that he only likes Russia more than Ukraine because of its superior music. His SoundCloud account, viewed by the Journal, includes songs of the Russian proxy militia in the Donbas.
The story continues:
The original Discord channel inside Thug Shaker Central where Airman Teixeira allegedly leaked hundreds of classified documents was called “Bears vs Pigs,” a name that echoes Russian memes that depict Ukrainians as hapless pigs mauled by the mighty Russian bear.
Airman Teixeira appears to have scrubbed his social media clean in the anticipation of his arrest.
The affinity for Mr. Putin, displayed by members of Airman Teixeira’s community, echoes the sympathies for Russia sometimes found in the populist strain of American conservatism, where Mr. Teixeira is now being viewed with sympathy.
For all their talk of “no collusion” with the Russian government, the collusion between MAGA and the Kremlin was always in plain sight. Their talking points, once only occasionally aligned, began to overlap more and more during Trump’s four years in office. After Trump lost in 2020 and especially after Putin’s invasion in 2022, their few differences have seemingly melted away. It’s no longer news to see pro-Trump accounts pushing Kremlin propaganda. The talking points are baked in. They’re one in the same. For many young people, it’s natural to follow the Kremlin line. Ukraine is aligned with Biden and the Democrats are all Soros-funded “globalists”. The MAGA influencers defending Teixeira online like Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Tucker Carlson, Jack Posobiec and a host of others who have made it clear they want to end aid to Ukraine with the ultimate goal of Putin winning the war.
The mainstream media reports have repeatedly written that Teixeira had no clear political beliefs, but he was and is a far-right extremist. As Josh Marshall correctly noted over at Talking Points Memo, “Had [Oklahoma City bomber] Tim McVeigh lived, he could be Teixeira’s literal as well as spiritual and figurative father.” Gaming didn’t turn Teixeira into this, and neither did Donald Trump or MAGA directly. But Teixeira grew up in a time when the liberals, the boomers, the lamestream media opposed people who shared his particular personal beliefs, and the cool memes and the funny jokes ultimately ending up helping Donald Trump. For the last eight years, these kids have laughed at those of us who warned about threats to the free press or liberal democracy. What do they care? Imagine how lame a talk about long-term consequences and potential threats of violence would’ve sounded to you in high school. The same is true now. The cool kids were not up late at night posting pro-Democracy memes.
We’re dealing with the fallout of Trumpism
There’s lot of rumor flying around but those in the know, like journalist Ali Winston, have pointed out that Teixeira was running a TradCath Discord server.
I’ve written about Trad Caths and their significance to the MAGA movement before.
The significance that Teixeira places on Catholicism was noted in reporting by the Washington Post. The original leaker of the documents outside of the “Thug Shaker” channel, Lucca Swinson, in a post on what appears to be his now-deleted Reddit account mentioned that he doesn’t believe in watching porn. This doesn’t prove anything, but the “involuntarily celibate” or incel community is very much intertwined with the Trad Cath movement. It’s epitomized by guys like Nick Fuentes who are big supporters of Putin and the Russian war effort more generally. Fuentes urges his supporters to not watch porn and avoid masturbation as well.
I can’t prove that Teixeira or Swinson were incels. They may not be. I don’t know if they watched Nick Fuentes’s America First show, but I can tell you that they and other members of Teixeira’s Discord server said the kind of things that guys who do listen to him often say.
Fuentes started his media career as a teenager, but he’s twenty-four now. His audience has always been young, but they’re not all kids anymore. They’re entering the real world, getting real jobs and sometimes even ending up with security clearances. They’ve become part of the organs of society which they mistrust and sometimes even hate. What else will they do in their positions of power? What problems might arise next? None of us can really say, but this threat is going to loom.
Still, I don’t believe the future is hopeless. I think we’ll see more lone wolf style attacks or anti-government actions, but there are likely to be more isolated incidents than coordinated activity. The flip side of this coin are the young people who thoroughly reject forms of right-wing extremism, and they are in the majority. After all, young voters (aged 18-29) have favored Democrats nearly 2:1 in the last three election cycles. They’re marching in the streets in support of stricter gun control. They’re making their voices heard on social media. They understand the information war, and they just might win it. The GOP isn’t reaching them and hasn’t figured out how to change that. That’s a good sign for the future. The young people may yet save us, and by God I hope they pull it off. Let that be the ultimate legacy of Trumpism.
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