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Galt let its community decide what was most important to them. This is what they chose.
Last updated on September 11, 2020, at 10:54 a.m. ET
Posted on September 10, 2020, at 6:15 p.m. ET
A members-only social media network founded in 2013 by former representative Jason Lewis, the current Republican nominee for Senate in Minnesota, hosted message boards that promoted a pro-Hitler documentary, called for migrants to be put in camps, and raised money for an ad campaign that paid Lewis and his business partners.
In 2014, Lewis sat down with Fox Business host John Stossel to promote the network, which he called Galt.io, after the hero of an Ayn Rand novel. Lewis, still a talk radio host, explained that Galt.io would be a closed community whose members could invest using a digital currency earned with their participation or bought with real money. The Galtcoins functioned like Reddit upvotes, signaling which topics people cared the most about as they invested into “causes” or “missions.”
“We’re not going to tell people what causes are going to win,” Lewis told Stossel. “That’s going to be a function of the marketplace. So once that cause is out there, what people are interested in is going to be determined on Galt.io.”
According to archives and screenshots, what people on Galt were interested in was doubting climate change, scapegoating immigrants, and promoting a pro-Hitler documentary that denied the Holocaust. Lewis stepped away from the site in 2015 and Galt.io went offline in the summer of 2020.
Lewis left his talk radio job in 2014 to devote himself to the site, which he cofounded with financial strategist Kurt Lieberman and entrepreneur Alex Huff. In the code of conduct, they compared it to “a secret society” and evoked the movie Fight Club saying, “First Rule of Galt.io: Do not talk about what goes on in Galt!”
Lewis claimed to have raised $590,000 for Galt, a number that could not be verified. Records filed with the House of Representatives in 2016 show he defaulted on a $25,000 loan to the company and transferred ownership of the site to undisclosed parties.
During his time running it, Lewis touted the site’s popularity, saying in a post on Galt.io that it received 12.8 million pageviews in 2014. That number couldn’t be independently verified, but the Facebook page for Galt.io has just over 1,000 likes and little activity. Despite the lack of clarity, a review of Galt.io’s archive and screenshots revealed deeply troubling material.
“Blaming Jason Lewis for comments made by others on a public website is akin to blaming Mark Zuckerberg for everything that’s said on Facebook, even less so when you consider Jason Lewis has had no involvement with this website for nearly six years,” Christine Snell, communications director for the Lewis campaign, told BuzzFeed News.
She added, “the Minnesota Senate race has been ranked a toss-up and Jason Lewis is statistically tied in numerous polls, so right on cue, Democrat-aligned Buzzfeed trots out a boring and pathetic hit job in an attempt to distract from Tina Smith’s full-on embrace of radical positions like her affinity for the defund the police movement.”
Lewis has a history of controversial comments and views of his own, including comparing gay people to rapists and suggesting that children could be harmed by having gay parents. But the content that his site hosted was even more extreme.
Among the causes people on Galt.io promoted was a six-hour pro-Hitler documentary, which BuzzFeed News is choosing not to name, that denies the Holocaust. BuzzFeed News could not determine when this post was made.
“To understand the dangers in the world at this time, just watch this film,” the poster said. “One can see the facts, indisputable facts, of what happened before, during, and after WWII.”
But another discussion topic certainly did. A group called De-Migrantize Zone was started in 2018 after President Donald Trump seized on news of people from South America traveling to the US border. On Galt.io, people condemned those migrants, with one person saying they should be placed in camps.
“When the DMZ base camp has been secured at location, move to mobilize and capture as many of the invaders as possible by encircling them into an internment facility for processing to their future destinations,” wrote a person with the username Scarecrow.
The anti-migrant post was made after Lewis gave up ownership of the site. But he seemed to know the person who created the post. In an earlier comment to members about a real-life meetup at a Minnesota pizza shop while he was active, Lewis thanked Scarecrow and a few other members “for doing the legwork.”
In another post, Lewis started a topic called Save Our Streets, where he criticized the anti-NRA stance of the relatives of a victim of the Isla Vista massacre, in which Elliot Rodger killed six people.
“What is the complete and accurate history of the suspect’s use of psychotropic drugs,” Lewis wrote. “Are anti-depressants doing more harm than good? I don’t profess to know, but they seem to be omnipresent in a modern era marked by these bizarre and dangerous outbursts. Should we reconsider their use?”
While on the site, Lewis used it to promote his audiobook, organize a letter-writing campaign against “mainstream media,” and raise money for ads opposing a state gas tax, which he funneled to himself and his business partners. That campaign appears to be the only one of the site’s fundraisers that successfully received money.
Lewis raised just over $6,000, promising the money would go toward an advertising campaign. Although the ads were produced, documents show Lewis moved the funds to himself and his associates to carry them out.
Galt.io had its own PAC, which purchased the ads, including two billboards, a radio ad, and a TV ad. The Galt.io PAC was created by a firm run by Dan Backer, a DC lawyer. But those donations ran through a complex structure: Rather than donors giving directly to the PAC, the money came from Loximity, a company started by Huff, one of the Galt cofounders, possibly to shield the identity of the donors.
Most of the PAC’s expenditures were tied back to entities connected to Lewis. The largest cut, $2,000, went to Lewis’s former employer, Clear Channel. A smaller portion, $1,500, went to Jon Foss Productions. Foss runs a YouTube channel that hosts promotional videos for Lewis and Galt. The Jason Lewis Show also received $500, records show. The hike did not pass.
Lewis departed the company soon after, winning a seat in the House in the 2016 election, which he lost two years later.
“For the last couple of years with you in Galt, I was amazed with the ideas, activity, and community that is developing,” Lewis wrote in a farewell note published on the site. “Although there’s no shortage of uninformed critics, we have created something amazing together, mostly under the radar. It is my sincere belief that the network will be a force for liberty going forward.”
That force stayed in motion. Since he departed, members of the site have called anti-fascist activists “rats,” railed against the “deep state,” and opposed vaccinations.
In discussions, the site’s participants mixed racism and conspiracy theories about “Nazi Pelosi,” and “delusional bitch” Hillary Clinton, with Lewis’s attempts at self-promotion. One post read “Is ISIS good for the jews.” Another warned of a “sharia invasion” and the “Muslims that our Globalist handlers are allowing into our country.”
Another post complained about the movie Black Panther, writing, “I find it interesting that this movie is gushed about as a triumph of diversity when the premise of the movie is an ethnostate that wants to protect its borders from other ‘cultures’ in order to preserve their own. Gee, that doesn’t sound diverse. In fact richard spencer talks about the same thing and yet he is called racist and supremacist, but in this movie they are lauded. Hypocrisy, thy name is liberal!”
“The audience for the golf tournament was probably conservative,” one member posted under the “I love golf” cause. “I doubt if there are any illegals watching and the normal lib probably can’t figure it out, with all the different numbers.”
Jane Lytvynenko is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada. PGP fingerprint: A088 89E6 2500 AD3C 8081 BAFB 23BA 21F3 81E0 101C.
News – GOP Senate Nominee Jason Lewis Founded A Social Network That Promoted A Pro-Hitler Documentary