POLITICS
18/12/2018 4:15 PM IST | Updated 18/12/2018 11:50 PM IST

The Bible-Thumping Tech CEO Who’s Proud Of Keeping Neo-Nazis Online

Rob Monster claims he helped resurrect Gab because of his commitment to free speech. He also has a lot to say about Jews.

Most tech CEOs who provide safe spaces for neo-Nazis to organize, propagandize, and terrorize do so as quietly as possible. Pressed for an explanation, they’ll offer a few words on the importance of free speech and content neutrality. But Rob Monster, the founder and CEO of the domain registrar Epik, loves talking about how he helped Gab, a social media site popular among white supremacists, get back online after a crisis.

Monster registered Gab’s domain in November, after several internet service providers abandoned the platform in response to one of its users allegedly killing 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Since then, Monster, a Bible-quoting Christian, has defended Gab’s violent neo-Nazis, smeared critics who call for more regulation on the site, and made baseless claims that the racists on Gab are actually fake accounts created by liberals who want to make Gab look bad. 

Nicolas Ortega for HuffPost

Monster insists his only goal is to move toward a world filled with “#Peace,” “#LoveNotHate,” “#Truth” and “#FreeSpeech.” He claims he is motivated by a commitment to free speech and a belief that he was put on this planet to bring people together through rational dialogue. He denies being an anti-Semite or a white supremacist. “I have many Jewish friends, and have been called ​‘​Mensch​’​ many times​,” he wrote on Epik’s blog last month.

But Monster’s ideology and rhetoric can at times be almost indistinguishable from those of the neo-Nazis he’s defended on Gab. And his actions have a broader significance:Gab’s re-emergence marked a major setback for the growing activist-led movement to deplatform racists into irrelevance. The ease with which Monster, a tiny player in the tech community, was able to revive a gathering space for extremists illustrates the main limitation of deplatforming efforts: They require universal agreement. As long as one person, somewhere, is willing to host the hate, deplatforming doesn’t work.

Rob Monster is willing to be that guy.

‘The Swiss Bank Of Domains’

Monster, who is 51 and Dutch-American, was raised in Philadelphia, where he attended a Quaker school. After completing his MBA at Cornell, he got a job with Procter & Gamble that involved years-long stints in Germany and Japan. He went on to start his own market research company. Its board pushed him out in 2007.

That was the year that Monster found Jesus. “I came to the deeply-researched conclusion that the God of the Bible is in fact the Creator of the Universe, and that the decision to accept the free gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ is the path to eternal life,” he said in a 2016 interview. (Monster did not respond to a list of nearly two dozen questions from HuffPost, including a question about his 2007 departure from his company.)

Monster founded Epik in 2009 and described it as “the Swiss Bank of Domains,” a neutral company that would take money from anybody — even Nazis. He promised exceptional customer service, and often appeared on internet message boards to personally respond to users.

Monster launched his public defense of Gab in late October. A Gab user who’d used the site to spew hate now stood accused of massacring Jewish worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, and internet service providers were fleeing the site. Gab had gone offline after its registrar, GoDaddy, threatened to pull the domain.

Monster has said he wasn’t familiar with Gab before the Pittsburgh massacre. The day after the shooting, he claimed in post on NamePros, an online forum about domain names, that he’d looked at an archived version of Gab and didn’t see much troubling content there. He thought GoDaddy’s response was “heavy-handed,” he wrote.

Another member of the forum told Monster that GoDaddy was simply enforcing its terms of service against encouraging violence. Monster countered by suggesting the Pittsburgh shooting was a “false flag” attack. When a third person on the forum accused Monster of trying to benefit from the Gab controversy and provide a breeding ground for extremists, Monster responded: “I am a Bible-believing Christian. Some people think that means that I am crazy. Some people think that means I promote hate speech. Well, I am not crazy and I love everyone.”

Monster decided it was up to him to save Gab. He met with the site’s founder Andrew Torba — who has actively recruited white nationalists to his platform — and concluded that Torba was a “young, and once brash, CEO who is courageously doing something that looks useful.”

Gab was back online about a week after it was shut down.

Monster Gets On Gab

After getting Gab back up and running, Monster created his own account and urged the site’s users to be responsible “stewards and partners.”

But he was soon sounding a lot more like the site’s most extreme users than a neutral tech CEO. Despite his diverse circle of friends, Monster appears at ease with the anti-Semitic slurs and racist fearmongering that are rampant on the site. Earlier this month, he approvingly shared a video by Faith Goldy, a Canadian white nationalist, that characterized migrants as the bearers of “rape epidemics, sharia law, and the spectacle of terror.”

He also shared his own opinions. “Are there a lot of ‘Jewish’ people who are in a position of power or influence and favor other ‘Jewish’ people, Ashkenazi, or otherwise? Sure. Do I think God is impressed by that? No, I do not,” Monster posted on Gab inNovember. Monster doesn’t wish Jewish people any harm, he said — “God will deal with them and in His time and His way regardless of hoaxes and conspiracies along the way.”

That same month, when one Gab user accused Monster of talking like a “RAT KIKE,” he responded that he is “not a ‘kike’ nor governed by one. :-)” When another person on Gab said he was pleased to know the site was hosted by a guy who wouldn’t “kowtow to globalists” — a term commonly used as an anti-Semitic dog whistle — Monster responded, “Indeed.” Monster assured another Gab user who was worried about Epik having two Jewish board members that “having a Jewish person on Epik’s board may be somewhat helping with keeping certain forces at bay.”

Tal Moore, one of the Jewish board members, stepped down from the board earlier this month because of Epik’s involvement with Gab, he told HuffPost. The other, Braden Pollock ― who is married to the famous civil rights lawyer Lisa Bloom — did not respond to a request for comment.

Monster The Conspiracist

Monster’s embrace of Gab’s tone and tenor goes beyond cozying up to racists and anti-Semites. Like many who frequent Gab, he’s also quick to cling to disinformation and conspiracy theories.

“Did it ever cross anyone’s mind that the story about the missionary disappearing after going on a mission work is Psyop?” he posted last month, linking to a CNN story about an American missionary who traveled to North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal in an effort to convert its residents to Christianity. “What better way to dissuade Christians from fulfilling the Great Commission than to convince that the Lord is not actually with them.”

Earlier this month, Monster theorized that a new swastika-ridden Gab account was really a “fake Liberal account” created by a faculty member in the psychology department at the State University of New York at Geneseo. He claimed that the phone number listed on the account’s registration form matched the phone number on an outdated-looking website for the faculty member.

The accused professor hasn’t taught at the university in decades and the website Monster referenced was from 1997, Monique Patenaude, the school’s director of media relations, told HuffPost. The phone number Monster cited is out of service. The area code of that phone number is no longer used in Geneseo; it became a Buffalo area code in 2001, Patenaude said.

HuffPost presented this information to Monster, who declined to comment on the record.

Monster The Mediator

Monster tells people who complain to him about Gab that he is not a Gab administrator. He tends to refer them to Torba, who has long ignored abusive behavior on the platform. But in one telling instance, Monster inserted himself as a mediator between some of the the platform’s most notorious white supremacists and their critics — and came down on the side of the neo-Nazis.

Days after Gab re-emerged online, Hilary Sargent, a writer who has been outspoken about white supremacy on Gab, tweeted that one Gab user, notable crying Nazi Chris Cantwell, was using the site to promote a video game called “Angry Goy 2.” Cantwell said the game would allow users to “hunt down and mercilessly kill as many trannies, faggots, niggers, kikes, and cucks as they possibly can.”

Cantwell went after Sargent next. “Somebody should develop a video game where the player rapes and strangles New York Times reporters while screaming anti-Semitic epithets at her,” he wrote on Gab. Sargent, who has written for the Times but doesn’t work there, reported Cantwell’s post to Gab and posted a screenshot of it on Twitter.

Monster responded by smearing Sargent.

“If I were the @nytimes, I would not invite you back either,” Monster tweeted. “Your standard for journalism does not even measure up to the standard of the most dishonest grocery store tabloid. You play fast and loose with people’s reputations, probably because you have nothing to lose. Sad.”

Apparently encouraged by Monster’s response, Cantwell proposed a third version of “Angry Goy” in which Sargent contracts a disease from transgender migrants and the player gains infinite lives by shooting her.

Cantwell’s posts stayed up for days.WhenMonster finally heeded Sargent’s requests and asked Cantwell to remove the posts, he cited his public relations problems — rather than any higher principle — as the reason. “It is causing grief that nobody needs,” Monster wrote Cantwell in a private message on Gab. Cantwell complied.

Monster later boasted about his intervention with Cantwell to Sargent. The neo-Nazi “had a bit of a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment,” Monster told Sargent in a private message on Twitter.

Cantwell disputes Monster’s characterization of their conversation. He told HuffPost he doesn’t mind removing the occasional Gab post if it makes Monster’s life easier, because he sees the tech CEO as being on his side. But he “didn’t have a religious awakening,” Cantwell said. “It wasn’t like Rob called me up and I had a come-to-Jesus moment.”

The neo-Nazi and the tech CEO continue to defend each other. Cantwell vouched for Monster to the conspiratorial racists on Gab who suspected him of being a Jewish infiltrator:

And Monster described Cantwell as “rational” and someone “who I actually quite like, in spite of the F-bomb theatrics.”

Sargent continued to send along evidence of white nationalist organizing on Gab. Monster claims he muted her. But he invited Patrick Little, one of the few white supremacists to get kicked off of Gab, to get in touch with him.

“Rob Monster is — without question — making it easier for white supremacists and Nazis to spread hate,” Sargent told HuffPost. “And he has every right to do that, but he should own it.”

Picking A Side

It’s impossible to know how much of Monster’s behavior is sincere. His Gab theatrics have certainly won him some new business. Radio Aryan, a neo-Nazi site, and incels.is, a forum for misogynists who accuse women of depriving them of sex, both started working with Epik after Monster picked up Gab. “One of the two co-founders of this community is a mild-mannered Afro-American,” Epik tweeted last month, referring to incels.is.

But even the white supremacists whose favored social network Monster is backstopping don’t buy everything he’s saying to defend Gab. Last month, he shared an image on Twitter claiming that 99 percent of neo-Nazis on Gab are actually liberals looking to “give enemies of freedom an excuse.”  

Cantwell, one of those neo-Nazis, quickly corrected him.

“We’re not liberals, nor are the people trying to get us censored. The people trying to censor Gab are (((communists))), and the Nazis are the only ones willing to take them on,” Cantwell posted, using triple parentheses to indicate he was referring to Jewish people. “Eventually,” he said, “everyone will have to pick a side.”