Since I published my interview with Anonymous I’ve received dozens of questions and even some accusations. Yes, I interviewed Anonymous posing as Antifa. And then I interviewed Anonymous as Anonymous. And yes, I knew prior to the June 10th protest at the Sam Houston Monument that Texas Antifa was an elaborate hoax. I have written this article to clarify my involvement and explain how I got myself into this fascinating situation.
For me, it all started on June 1st. The Houston Press published an unusually unprofessional article claiming that Texas Antifa was a front for Alt-Right hecklers. I realized that the article would either irritate or entertain whoever was behind Texas Antifa, and surmised that they might be ripe to vent.
I sent them a message.
Honestly, I was expecting to be completely ignored. Best case scenario, I thought I might get an irate quote cussing out Houston Press. I had been planning to write an article about the importance of preserving historical monuments, and I figured some eccentric blatherings would serve as colorful context. To my surprise, I landed a much more extensive and strange interview than the Houston Press, Houston Chronicle, Channel 2 News, or BuzzFeed had managed.
Initially, my contact came off like a misfit millennial with meandering thoughts, messy grammar, and an incendiary passion for fighting white supremacists. It turns out, that’s exactly what I was meant to believe.
Well played Sam. Well played.
However, I realized early on that I wasn’t talking to garden variety Antifa. I didn’t think I was talking to a gun-toting Alt-Right prankster either. The story they spun was far too elaborate. The forethought invested into planning the protest seemed excessive for a mere joke. If this person was pretending to be Antifa, they were going to weird lengths. Something was up. This seemed much bigger than a club of black-clad college guys fighting imaginary Nazis, or Confederate crusaders still miffed that their great-great-pawpaws lost the Civil War.
My contact claimed to be against violence and rioting. While I was hopeful that Antifa had sprouted a peace-loving branch, I was skeptical. I fully expected the Sam Houston protest to be an incendiary parade of socialism, black hoodies, and juvenile angst. I worried it might escalate into violence.
For some reason, I began to play with the idea of, “What if I’m actually talking to Anonymous?” Once my interview with Texas Antifa was published, I even tweeted the link to an official Anonymous Twitter account.
— Jennifer Grassman (@JGrassman) June 1, 2017
In the days following, my contact’s tone and manner of speaking gradually changed. They seemed less irritable, more well spoken, and even playfully corrected me on a typo. At first I speculated that I might be talking to more than one person. However, as the conversation progressed on a daily basis, we developed a friendly rapport.
My contact was polite and intelligent. He didn’t even cuss. In fact, he was surprisingly considerate for a stranger without a face or a name. When he finally told me what was really going on, he expressed concern that I’d be angry.
In my experience, conscientiousness isn’t the forte of social justice warriors.
I don’t know why Anonymous picked me to write their story. Why didn’t they choose a big network like FOX or a prestigious local paper such as Houston Chronicle? Don’t get me wrong, I love The Pink Armadillo and I am extremely proud of my writing. However, I’m also well aware of what my website is; a boutique publication with a cute girlie logo and a healthy dose of humor and sentimentality. It’s definitely not a platform I’d have expected vigilante hackers from the dark underbelly of 4chan to take a shining to. Personally, I find the fact that they chose The Pink Armadillo as their podium to be hilarious.
Perhaps it was my odd sense of humor that drew the pranksters in. After all, I did recently pen a list of covfefe wine pairing recommendations and an interview with a hamburger. And then there was that cow incident. But by and large my writing has a core of seriousness and a tendency to be cause-oriented, all while maintaining an attitude that’s lighthearted.
When asked, my contact explained that they didn’t trust the mainstream media to accurately report their story.
“Before trusting you,” he said, “I did full research and background on you. People distrust unfair media. We reviewed your prior articles and saw fair reporting. The big guys edit and cut for ratings, not truth.”
While flattering, that explanation didn’t entirely satisfy me. Although I am 100% certain that they (and even most people) don’t trust mainstream media, I also theorize that talking to a self-employed, work-from-home-mom, freelance journalist in yoga pants is Anonymous’ way of sticking it to local and national news outlets. They’re poking MSM, and I’m the stick. An honored stick.
It was Wednesday afternoon when Texas Antifa revealed to me via private message that they were really Anonymous. They did so by sending me a video declaration, produced by “Strollmaster” AKA “Spoof Troll / Stoller.” I spent the rest of the day see-sawing between elation at my giant scoop, and concern that I was getting in way over my head.
I mean, what did I really know for certain? I knew my contact seemed friendly. I knew that he was intelligent and methodical. I also knew that he’d expressed concern that I’d be angry over the revelation; angry that I’d been lied to. I wasn’t angry though. Not at all. As someone who specializes in marketing and communications, I felt like I’d just been looped into the biggest PR stunt of my career.
It was around this time that I decided my contact needed a nickname. “Antifa” definitely no longer fit. “Anonymous” was disconcertingly impersonal. “My contact” sounded like something Horatio Caine would say. While he’d dubbed himself “Strollmaster,” something else struck a chord with me. I decided to call him “Sam.”
After all, he and his team of Anonymous cohorts were coordinating to protect the Sam Houston statue, and all other historical monuments in Texas. Just as the original Sam Houston had gone against the grain and sacrificed his career as Texas governor for a then-taboo ideal, my contact was fighting to preserve what many foolishly consider taboo in a manner that defies societal norms and denies him any personal credit. Both Sams are mavericks. Both are unconventional. But history will continue to remember Sam Houston, in part due to the efforts of someone it will likely never recognize. At least, not for this achievement.
I want to take a few paragraphs to impress upon you the genius of what was unfolding. Sam – and maybe his friends too, but mostly Sam – had come up with the mother of all PR stunts. In order to rally Texans against Antifa and raise awareness for House Bill 1359 (which most “normies” were ignorant of) Sam decided to put a fire under the complacent posteriors of Texan voters.
He set up a hoax Antifa Facebook page, and regularly populated it with posts and photos that looked legitimately like Antifa. Because it was Antifa. He talked up their protests. He praised their riots. He shared photos of them dressed all in black like ISIS. Those posts alone drew the ire of conservatives and liberals alike. But then, when Sam announced his Antifa Protest to tear down the Sam Houston Monument, just as Take ‘Em Down NOLA had done in Louisiana, panic ensued.
Then the Right did exactly what Sam knew the Right would do. They organized a mind-blowing counter-protest, guns toted, flags unfurled. Remember, Sam never invited anyone to his party. He never paid for any ads, secured event licenses from the city, or reserved security or ambulances. Sam pulled a few social media strings and the entire state of Texas danced. Over 5,000 people from Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and beyond RSVPed on the counter-protest’s Facebook event page. An astounding 15,655 people were invited. Still more posted their support, prayed, donated money, and called Texas legislators daily by the hundreds demanding that HB 1359 pass into law.
Media outlets (including myself) were fooled into covering the faux-Antifa event as if it were a real thing. Even Houston’s own Democrat Mayor, Sylvester Turner came out publicly to announce that removal of the Sam Houston monument was, “Not even on my agenda.”
I have sat around many boardroom tables at marketing firms and PR agencies. Never have I heard a more clever ploy. This hoax – it was brilliance.
Sam had known all along that even the Left, save for a small group of fringe extremists, would stand with the Right and oppose removal of the statue. That’s why he picked that particular statue on that particular day. He knew it would never be in real danger.
Oh. And if you’re wondering why The Pink Armadillo logo is in Anonymous’ reveal video, it’s because Sam is ever the considerate gentleman. He and his team didn’t want MSM embedding the video and failing to cite me or give me any credit. They put my brand at the beginning and the end, so that no one could avoid mentioning the freelance mom-journalist who broke their story in the first place.
Nevertheless, despite everything I knew up to this point, I was still largely in the dark. Whether I was talking to Anonymous, or Antifa pretending to be Anonymous pretending to be Antifa (let that sink in), or some bored Alt-Right heckler as the Houston Press claimed, I was talking to a faceless, nameless person who I knew next to nothing about.
I spent all day Thursday interviewing Sam. He answered all my questions in detail, and discussed Antifa, politics, and Texas legislature with familiarity and candor. He never seemed threatening, but I can’t deny I was afraid to step outside of his instructions. He is, after all, Anonymous. I was asked to keep what I knew about their planned hoax secret, and not publish my interview until 5:00 PM on June 10th, after the event was over. I agreed, but I wanted to make sure I presented a well rounded story.
So, on Friday, I decided to interview the counter-protesters, This Is Texas. Once again I reached out to them through Facebook, and within maybe an hour was talking to Brandon Burkhart, one of the lead coordinators, on the phone.
I decided not to tell Brandon about Anonymous for several reasons. First, I was determined to honor the trust of Anonymous. Even more importantly though, the counter-protest was taking place in less than 24 hours. For all I knew, Antifa, BLM, Black Panthers, and an assortment of other riffraff were fully intending to show up (and I now know that they did, but were escorted off by HPD).
I also knew that Brandon and his team were running largely on adrenaline by this point. They’d been working like mad for three solid weeks and had sacrificed time, money, sleep, and talent at a level that deserves some kind of award. Who was I to kill their steam with information that arguably had no bearing on the legitimacy of their cause? What would be the point? The truth would have only added extra stress to their plate.
I interviewed Brandon, but I never lied to him. After all, Antifa is not a hoax. Take ‘Em Down NOLA is not a hoax. Violent protests and riots against supposed “white supremacy” and “fascism” have been taking place all across Texas and the US in recent months. Thus, it was not difficult to interview Brandon without violating my conscience. I wanted to get his story, and share his message. I gave him the same platform I’d offered Anonymous.
And then my Facebook account was hacked.
Shortly after my interview with This Is Texas, Sam stopped responding to my messages. I started to feel worried. “What if this was all another hoax? If so, what’s the agenda?” And then it struck me, “What if Anonymous thinks I leaked the hoax to This Is Texas, and I’m being shut down?”
With a very bad feeling growing in my stomach, I checked my Facebook security settings. To my horror I saw that all week long someone had been logging into my Facebook account from a mobile device in Dallas. Obviously, I am not in Dallas. My first thought was, “I’ve been hacked by Anonymous.”
But then, even more disturbing thoughts crept into my head. “What if it’s not Anonymous spying on me at all, but Antifa, or BLM, or Alt-Righters, or God knows who else? And what if they’re planning to retaliate somehow because they think I’m in league with Anonymous?”
The first thing I did was to change all my passwords everywhere. Then I called my friend, Felicia Winfree Cravens, who graciously took my call while on vacation. Felicia was the founder of the Houston Tea Party, and has had her fair share of run-ins with whackadoodles as well as collaborations with law enforcement. She’s also very familiar with the political landscape both locally and nationally, and up to date on pretty much anybody who is anybody. Felicia was able to help me think through what was happening logically. As soon as I told her Anonymous was behind Texas Antifa, Felicia said, “Oh! That actually makes sense now.”
Then I called Houston FBI.
To be clear, I did not contact law enforcement for the purpose of reporting Sam, or Anonymous, or thwarting their plans. You can’t report someone with no name, no face, and no location for not committing a crime or planning one. Rather, I contacted law enforcement out of concern that someone – possibly even a terrorist – knew I was using Facebook to communicate with Anonymous, and had hacked my profile to spy on me. Anonymous has some pretty freakish enemies, including ISIS.
I was also worried that, should violence occur during the June 10th event, and it was later found that I’d been in contact with Texas Antifa all along, there might be questions. I wanted to protect myself from any possible misunderstanding or culpability. Not to mention, if the event did go to Hell, I’d feel horrible had I’d not made sure the police understood what they were dealing with ahead of time.
I got ahold of some gal in the FBI’s anti-terrorism division, but all she did was ask generic questions and take notes. She didn’t even seem to know who Antifa was, which was rather disconcerting. I asked her to have someone call me back, because I was worried I’d been hacked by a terrorist group. To this day, nobody has ever called me back.
After that I called Sargent Mark Shoffner in the Criminal Intelligence division of HPD. Sgt. Shoffner was very familiar with Antifa and the This Is Texas June 10th protests. I started breathing a little easier.
When I told him that “someone” claiming to be Anonymous was planning to claim responsibility for Texas Antifa as a hoax group, he didn’t betray any additional information. I did however get the impression that it filled in some blank spaces for him. He encouraged me to change all my passwords, lay low, and avoid the June 10th event. It was possible someone was stalking me, hoping to confront me at Hermann Park. It was also possible that Sam was not Anonymous at all, but a 4chan heckler out for a good laugh. Technically, the latter is still possible, though I personally trust that Sam is Anonymous.
Meanwhile, I messaged Sam and told him that I had been hacked. I told him I was worried that someone else had seen our conversations.
There was still no response.
If the story was leaked, I didn’t want Anonymous mistakenly thinking I’d blown their cover. Yet, I also considered Anonymous to be my most probable hacker. It’s generally a good rule of thumb that when you’re hacked while interviewing a hacker the most likely hacker is probably the hacker you’re interviewing. I also considered that, “If Anonymous hacked me to spy on me, I probably wouldn’t know it.”
I also talked to my friend, Tony Gonzales. Tony is an Iraq War vet who has survived three roadside bombs and fought ISIS in person. I figured if anybody knew how to keep a cool head under pressure, it was Tony. And if things got really crazy, I knew he’d be at our house in a heartbeat.
Then, in what I can only describe as a God-twist, a friend of mine from church contacted me to ask if I’d like to attend the protest with them. Her husband, Joe Touchette, just happens to be an ex-anarchist-turned-Presbyterian who is very familiar with 4chan and Anonymous.
Seriously, what are the odds?
With still no word from Sam, tension building, time running out, and no one else to turn to, I decided to trust Joe. I told him what was going on, and even sent him my as-yet-unpublished interview with Anonymous.
Joe was flabbergasted.
“I know that 4chan and Anonymous declared war on Antifa,” Joe said. “This looks like them, and they are telling you they are giving you an exclusive. I would believe them. This hoax took a lot of time to set up, which is very like 4chan and Anonymous.”
Finally, just after I’d completely given up on Sam ever speaking to me again, he wrote back. I cannot tell you what a relief it was. So many doubts and concerns were instantly squelched. I had my source again. I had confirmation that the hoax was moving forward. I had a date and time to break my story.
Sam assured me that Anonymous had not hacked me. Any hacker worth their salt would have used software such as Tor, which randomizes or otherwise falsifies the IP address and location of the hacker. If Anonymous had been spying on me, I wouldn’t just see logins from Dallas, but from all over the world.
I also told Sam that I’d spoken with law enforcement. He understood, and he was not upset. I expect that since Anonymous is already on the FBI’s radar, me tipping them off didn’t make a lick of difference.
Our conversation reconvened.
On Saturday morning, June 10th, I was up at 4:30 AM editing, re-editing, and formatting my article. I knew this was huge. I knew high profile journalists, law enforcement agencies, and powerful politicians would be reading it.
It had to be perfect.
I had been advised by law enforcement to stay away from Hermann Park. Attending an event where I was possibly anticipated by Antifa, BLM, 4chan, and who knows what other shadowy characters, was too risky.
It was my turn to be invisible.
Joe and his wife Abbey attended in my stead, and sent me updates and photos every few minutes. They were my eyes and ears, even interviewing with the press and never once letting it slip what they knew.
A few hours later, everything was over. A deluge of trolls attacked the This Is Texas Facebook page slandering the event coordinators and mocking them brutally. Some even began to accuse Brandon and his team of creating Texas Antifa page as a scam. Sam and I both agreed there was no reason to let the lies and berating continue unchecked. It was time for Anonymous to claim credit. We published the story at 2:40 PM, about two hours earlier than we’d originally planned. As I mentioned before, Sam is considerate.
Some, including Houston Press, still claim that no protesters – only counter-protesters – showed up at the event. However, I have it on good authority that a small clutch of Antifa were escorted out of the park by HPD before they could cause a scene or stir up trouble. This Is Texas event organizers also witnessed this or received similar information.
At some point, a tipster called HPD and falsely reported several buses full of Antifa en route to the park. Rumor has it, the tipster was another Anonymous operative yanking Sam’s chain. So yes, there were layers upon layers of pranks ensuing. Even Sam got pranked. He and other Anonymous activists attended the event, mingling unmasked among the counter-protesters. For all I know, non-uniformed Antifa were mingling as well, trying to determine who was trolling them.
Humorously, Houston Press was still insisting that Texas Antifa was a front for Alt-Right trolls as late as June 10 at 4:45 PM, despite the fact that they could not possibly have had any proof, and never cited any sources. By June 12, they had softened their tone, but still don’t seem to have caught on to the real story here. Let’s give them a few more days, shall we? After all, it is kind of a mind-bender, and they were really set on believing Trumpsters were behind it. Sorry, HP. Y’all got trolled alongside those cray gun-toters.
I do not know if I’ll ever hear from Sam again, or as he calls himself, Strollmaster.
The hoax is complete. The game is played. Awareness for HB 1359 has been raised and continues to gain traction. Anonymous is still working behind the scenes though, to ensure that the bill is passed, and that Antifa and BLM are banished into obscurity.
Something tells me I will hear from Sam again though. When you’re trolling at this level, your trolling is your art, and few artists create but one masterpiece.
If you would like to join Anonymous and This Is Texas in pushing for the passage of HB 1359, please call your representatives below. HB 1359 would ensure that anyone removing or vandalizing a historic Texas monument or memorial would face fines up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.
TX Gov. Greg Abbott
Rep. Wayne Faircloth
House District 23
Rep. Charles (Doc) Anderson
House District 56