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December 8, 2021 29 mins

The Capitol insurrection was a content creation exercise on an epic scale. Robert Evans tells the story of a far right influencer addicted to online engagement, who surfed the social media algorithms, cruising through music and politics before finally breaching the Capitol with an outrageous plan in mind. 

The Assault on America is produced by Cool Zone Media, iHeartRadio, and Novel.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Before we get into it, be advised that this series
contains bad language and references to violence. January six, among
the thronging crowds of MAGA supporters, a short man with
dark hair and bright blue sunglasses approaches the US Capital.

He's holding his smartphone out in front of him, talking
to it as he walks. What's up, everyone, Let's flip
and go. It is cold as motherfucker out here. How's
it going? Happy Happy day. The guy is a well
known live streamer. He goes by the name Baked Alaska.

Like all streamers, he makes his living by winning subscriptions
and tips from his online audience, whose comments cascade down
the screen of his phone as he walks. You can
hear him hauling out his fans at the start, like
every streamer does. Yo, what's up, brilliant genius, Jimmy Salami,
Nicholas Sic Droeper, I'm good, I'm good, come on in.

But Baked Alaska isn't just another streamer. He's a far
right prankster and agitator who's been arrested many, many times
for the things he's done on stream. In fact, as
he comes into the Capital, he's on parole from macing
someone in the eyes just last month December. Simply by
being in d C. He's breaking the terms of his release,

But he doesn't care. For a far right streamer like
Baked Alaska, the stop the Steel Rally is too lucrative
an opportunity to miss. In the next half an hour,
Baked Alaska will be inside the US capital streaming the
siege in real time. Forgot over ten thousand people lives.

Let's go first. He's giddy with excitement. Those ten thousand
viewers are hitting the light button, sending cash and buying
monthly subs. Thank you for the monthly sub Hell yeah.
In return, Baked Alaska provides the content they crave. We

had a fraudulent election, and we are all here. Everyone
Here's a patriot and a hero for their attention and
their money. Baked Alaska will do whatever they want. If
they ask him to get in the face of a
cop and full riot gear and cause a scene, He'll
do it. Fucking Odieza, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you

you Cresa Sht. Wh'll go on a rampage, bursting into
a senator's office and picking up the phone. Hey, let's
call Trump, Let's call Trump. Yes, an other rioter thinks
it's a bad idea, but Baked Alaska is made of
stronger stuff. No, just say we love him. We love you, bro, No,

he'll be happy. What do you mean we're fighting for Trump?
I guess Trump wasn't home, so Baked Alaska makes do
with a pretend call to the Senate. He U, Yes,
we have a fraudulent election. I would like to report.
His screen lights up with approving comments and tips from
his fans eagerly watching at home. Yeah, we need to
get our boy Donald J. Trump into office. Yeah yeah,

can we do that real quick? Oh yeah, oh, thank you,
thank you. Let's go. Let's go for Baked Alaska and
streamers like him. The Capitol riot on January six wasn't
just an ideological crusade. It was a cash cow. The
A d L claims he made two thousand dollars just

from entering those congressional offices. Yea, thank you for the host.
Thank you for all the new followers. Let's get that
follow bum. I appreciate you guys. Thank you for being here.
I love you. The assault on the US Capitol is

probably the best documented mass crime and history. Every second
of the day was filmed and photographed from a dozen angles,
by police body cams, by media cruise look at this Nex,
protesters Heart inside Statue Ory Hall, and by streamers like
Baked Alaska. We got over ten tho people watching. Let's

go at first glance, a fringe online personality like Baked
Alaska doesn't seem like he's worth much attention. He's kind
of a political clown, a grifter, chasing clicks, willing to
debase himself in any way for the love of strangers.
Let's go and drop yes. But it pains me to
tell you Baked Alaska matters. His assent to far right

stardom was a flashing light on the cultural dashboard, but
it was a warning that most people, including myself, chose
to ignore. So I'm going to look back at a
time when characters like Baked Alaska started to emerge online,
because if we'd paid attention to Yahoo's like him five
years ago, then maybe, just maybe, things would have turned

out differently. From the teams A Cool Zone, Media, I
Heart Radio, and novel This is the Assault on America

Episode four, The Canary in the Coal Line. Baked Alaska

was born Anthem Gionet on November sixteenth nineteen seven. His
parents were devout pillars of the community type Christians who
still do a ton of charity work in poor parts
of Russia. In fact, five of young Anthem's siblings were
adopted by his parents on their trips abroad. After a
sheltered upbringing in rural Alaska, Janet moved to Los Angeles

in the two thousands to study film and marketing. He
got involved in the music business and seems to have
decided that the name Anthem didn't fit anymore. He rebranded
himself Baked Alaska, presumably because he was a guy from
Alaska who liked to get baked. Maybe there was something
about taking a new identity in a new city hundreds
of miles away from his devout upbringing that unlocked a

wildness in Anthem. Whatever the reason, he soon got a
reputation as a live wire character, always ready to pull
stuff for the lolls. The thing to say was do
it for the vine, and he had sort of come
to prominence as like somebody who would do anything for
the vine. That's Ben Smith. Ben was the editor in
chief of the website BuzzFeed back in the two thousand tens.

Back then, BuzzFeed was just starting out and growing like mad.
Ben hired Baked Alaska for his viral video skills, which
he honed on his incredibly dumb Vine account. I'm sorry, mom,
I never would to school, but guess what I got?
Four point three g p A. You remember Vine or
maybe you don't. It was a short form video platform

that was big for a year or two and like
two thousand fourteen. The thing people used to say back
then was do it for the Vine. Whatever it was,
Gionette would do it. One of the things he'd like
to do for the Vine was to go into like
a m like a convenience store and buy a gallon

of milk and pour it over his head. Damn Thursty.
This was exactly the kind of zany and harmless content
that made BuzzFeed such a powerhouse in the two thousand tens.
Baked was a natural fit at the company. It was
sort of a team full of people who had kind

of a lot of them had kind of misfits in
whatever media or environment they'd been in, you know, very
diverse group. His closest friends were like a trans guy
and a black woman and who sometimes I think talked
among themselves about their sense of feeling like they were
really different from other people in the media business. At
the time, BuzzFeed was essentially a platform hacking outfit. Their

whole game was figuring out how to grab people's attention
on platforms like Facebook and Twitter using listicles, click bait headlines,
and infectiously share able videos. Baked fit right in. He
had a front row seat to Buzzfeeds rise, learning from
the methods they pioneered. His job was pretty straightforward. He
wasn't so much making content as he was repackaging videos

for Twitter in particular, in other platforms, sort of re
editing stuff. And you know, these are often kind of sweet, silly,
fun videos, you know, along the lines of like Americans
try Mexican snacks for the first time. Mexican chips ten
times better than American chips. Mexicans try American snacks, it
smells like a little bit. Things like that. You might

remember that video where two people put rubber bands around
a watermelon and they keep doing it until the thing explodes.
That was a viral BuzzFeed video. There's a sort of
a genre video. Easy to produce. Its fun and silly
did well on YouTube, which was our bread and Better
then Baked. Alaska was someone with a natural sense of

what people would watch and what they'd share soon. He
wasn't just editing the videos, he was starring in them.
We'll up fifteen minutes ago. I'm hungover. Let's get my
ears pierced. Here's one called guys get their ears pierced.
For the first time. I kind of feel like there's
two kinds of people in the world. He sounds soft spoken,

almost shy, a million miles from the tough guy swearing
at cops on January six. I think it can look
really good on some people, and then other people just
look like douche bags. So I don't know how it's
going to turn out for me. You know, as folks
remember him, he was sensitive, He took offense. He was
kind of like worried about his image, worried about what

people saw about him, kind of like full of machismo
but also kind of touchy. And they were kind of
odd things once they were online to see. I think
it was the prices right at that sort of company
retreat or like you know, outing, they all want to
go see the prices, right, and so of somebody who
was helping organize the event, came up through the line
to take everybody's identification and write down their names, and
he just sort of ghosted, like he just sort of

vanished because he didn't want to give his real name,
which struck people as of eccentric. Another eccentric side to
Baked Alaska was his music. Remember before he started at BuzzFeed,
he was making waves in the l A music scene.

He styled himself as a kind of Alaskan hillbilly white rapper.
I was just like, Okay, this guy's cool as hell.
That's to Mario SB, a musician and artist based in
l A. De Mario first heard about Baked back in
the two thousand tens. Some of De Mario's music buddies
told him about a viral video guy who was doing

music and then shooting and editing his own videos. De
Mario was impressed. This kid was in machineo like there
was no beating him. At that point, De Mario and
Baked met through common friends and started writing together. He
started playing Mario Kart pretty much hit it off. What's

that happened? Competition was just growing, man, So I was like,
all right, let's hang out, bro Let's hang out. Here's
one of Bate's songs from the time. It's called loose Trapping,
Got another one, Knuckle Doesn't Move, Trapping Me Doesn't and

What's Happening. It's definitely different singing in the rain. Now.
Baked even had some success. He got into a beef
with a rapper called Riff Raff, who was well known
at the time because James Franco stole his look for
a film called spring Breakers, right Bright, it's all pretty

weird spring Break Forever. Yeah, for a while things seem
to be going well, but Baked had a problem hold
up that sense of tive y that Ben Smith had
noticed about him at BuzzFeed. Well, that was a lot
harder for Baked to deal with in the rap game.

The way to Mario describes it, Baked was a sweet
guy who couldn't handle negative comments under his videos. People
would either hates you, you know, put in the comments
like your waging stuff and like he would actually take
that ship to heart. He just wasn't the type of
person to have like super tough skin. He would just

let people just ravish his emotions. You know, it really suck.
De Mario says there were times he had to talk
Baked out of quitting music, even out of suicide. It
was as if Baked just had to be liked and
his audience as a rapper wasn't giving him what he needed.
So in two thousand fifteen, Anthem Gionette a k a.

Baked Alaska found a community who would show love to
almost anyone, unbelievable, as long as you showed them love first.
We are going to make our country grade again, and
we are going through. Yeah, we are going to He
jumped on the Maga train. Honestly, he wasn't really talking

about much politics before the whole Trump thing. I don't
really hear much. But after that he just started being
a whole different animal. Got t feed, Faked Alaska, gave
up his Bernie bro libertarian persona, and threw himself into

Trump World. He began a new career as a streamer,
building on all the skills he'd learned at BuzzFeed. He
kept up the music, it just changed a bit. He
now made tracks like Maga, Anthem America and ironically enough,

we love our Cops. We love our cops a lot, buntsman,
we love a military. You're none of This endeared him
to the l a rap scene, and De Mario and
Baked Alaska drifted apart. When they had their last contact

in two thousand sixteen, Baked had already built a sizeable
audience of subscribers. He brought me in one time and
he was doing a live on YouTube, and after a
while being there, kind of like took it as like, Damn,
are you here to make fun of me now? Because
most of it, most of his audience, like predominantly were
either Trump supporters or just racist motherfucker's that were making

like memes of me and on his reddit. And he
actually just had me coming here and just play the
monkey with the banana, you know what I mean. And
I was like, Damn, so this is the crowd that
you have now and you're laughing about it? Holy sh
it right for sure? Man. I see when Baked Alaska,
through his close friend a black man, to the racist

online mobs watching his stream, it was a statement he
was going all in with the far right influencer gig,
no matter the personal cost. I was done. After that,
I was like, I'm not even gonna say anything to you, bro,
but I can't sit there and support it. It's basically
called him out a race the n where with the

hard arm. You know what I mean? I can't do that.
Ship Man to Mario was out, I can't do it. Meanwhile,
Baked Alaska's Twitter output was getting so extreme that he
was booted off the platform. The final offense was posting
a picture of a Jewish conservative commentator photoshopped inside a
gas chamber. Judging by his reaction in this nine hour stream,

the band stung. How How am I going to get
my account back? How am I gonna get my freaking
account back? My account, two hundred thousand followers was just
partminently suspended for no freaking reason. Freaking too true to form.
Baked soon released his Feelings as a new song. I

guess Mark Zuckerberg didn't want Baked to write a song
about him being super gay. Because Baked maintained his presence
on Facebook. He would pull stunts like the old days
at BuzzFeed, but his new tricks weren't so innocent. They
might involve harassing people on the street. We got to
preserve the white reds brown abusing clerks and stores and restaurants.

You need some more calories, don't you look at those roles?
Holy fuck? How about fuck you? Out or spraying Mason
to somebody's eyes if his subscribers demanded it. The sensitive

guy who was so spun out by negative feedback online
that he considered taking his own life had now become
an I r L bully and menace simply because his
online audience loved it. To give him some credit, Baked
Alaska was a pioneer. He successfully married far right ideology

with the zany viral stunts he learned at BuzzFeed, where
he used to work for Ben Smith. When you look
at what he's going on to do, since what do
you think what skills I guess do you think he
took away from his time at BuzzFeed? I mean, I
think the reason we hired him and what he sort
of perfected at BuzzFeed was this sense of what's gonna work,

what's gonna go viral, what's what? What do people want?
And how do you sort of feed it back to them?
And I do think that we're in this environment where
you really have no compass at all, You can get
pulled just more toward essentially kind of optimizing yourself into
being a Nazi. The Nazis are basically pacificists compared to us,
As baked online presence became more dangerous, he started attending

alleys and hanging out with the type of guys who
throw Hitler salutes instead of fist bumps. You will not
replace us. In August two thousand seventeen, he attended the
notorious Unite the Right rally in Charlotte's Belle. Here he
is chanting at that rally white We're proud to be
white victory. This was just hours after a white supremacist

terrorist attack that killed Heather Higher, a thirty one year
old anti fascist protester. Baked's former friend Da Mario sp
was dumbfounded. This is Baked the last that I met before, Like,
damn bikes. Don't you have black friends? Like is it

for the cloud? Which we're all thinking, you know what
I mean, like all these old buddies, like says says myself, Like, dude,
you just went nuts and you just basically want to
get famous by this. We'll never know what's an anthem, Gionna.
It's heart whether his path from shy media guide to
snarling neo nazi was a bid for fame or a
reflection of his true beliefs. Sometimes it's hard to tell

how committed any of these people are to the views
that they express because there's a lot of money slashing
around in this space. We met Luke O'Brien an episode two.
He's an investigative reporter who focuses on bad actors on
the right. If you gain, you know, a big enough
following on social media, and the way to do that

is often to say extremely outrageous and inflammatory things, well
then money is going to come your way back. In
our second episode, Luke was talking about Ali Alexander, the
man behind the Stop to Steal disinformation campaign. Baked Alaska
has none of Alexander's strategic sense or his organizing experience,
but they were both willing to say the unsayable and

to keep pushing and pushing into anti democratic territory. I've
had many conversations with with far extremists who have told me, hey,
it's all just a troll, it's just a big game, right.
But once you have been spending oh, twelve to fourteen
hours a day larking as an extreme MR and neo

Nazi online and you've done that for you know, many years,
well that's just what you are at that point. And
so I think that's what we've seen with a lot
of these guys, is that, Hey, I'm I I see
an angle here I can play. There's a bit of
a grift that's going on, and they start pushing it
and pushing it further and further, and it has to

get more extreme by nature, and eventually you are basically
advocating for violent insurrection in the United States to overthrow
our democracy. But you're making money off of it. So hey,
why would you stop? Thank you? Thank you for all
the new followers. Get that follow up, and I appreciate
you guys, Thank you for being baked. Alaska never did stop.

He followed the likes in the online engagement wherever they
took him from hillbilly rapper trip to racist maga streamer.
We got to preserve the white rasbro. In January, he
rode the algorithm right into the US Capital, unleashed the cracking.
Let's go has the cracking Ben unleashed? Yeah? I think

so Ben Smith was watching that day unfold, just like
the rest of us. So Ben, how much of his
live stream during the attack did you watch? I watched
a lot of it. What's going through your head while
you're watching this? You know? Having more of a connection
or at least a different connection to this guy than

a lot of people who might just be dipping in.
You know, just made me think back through this whole
era in which social media, you know, demolished the gatekeepers,
and we were very much part of that. And I
think I think people overrated the gatekeepers. I think, you know,
I basically think this did a lot of good, But
I also had a pretty utopian point of view on
and dismissed people like him, makes these little like mistakes

and errors and marginal screw ups around the edges, not
as anything that was really central or important. And I
think you look back and you think, oh, maybe that
maybe he was the most important person, Like maybe this
was the real thing that was happening, and the fun, celebratory,
diverse videos were not the things that wound up, you know,
driving people to storm the capitol. It was this guy.

Would you say, people like Baked Alaska, are you leaning
more towards these people are kind of like oddball political
Charlatan's marginalized figures, or that they're kind of a canary
in the coal mine. Culturally, I in retrospect think that
these folks were the canary in the coal mine, when
at the time we thought they were just kind of
marginal weirdos who were going to be swept aside by history.

By the time of the Capital Riot, Baked Alaska had
been deep platformed by YouTube, PayPal, Twitter, and Venmo, among others.
Almost every other platform followed suit. After his live stream
on January six, the guy who craved online engagement, who
had optimized his entire life for clicks, was booted offline.

Then the FBI came for him. On Saturday, January sixte
Baked Alaska was arrested at his home in Houston, largely
thanks to the evidence from his own live stream. It's
hard to say what must have been worse for him,
losing his accounts or losing his freedom. Whatever the case,
Anthem Jeanette a k a. Baked Alaska went dark, but

not for long. In early May, a gaming platform called
trovoh let Baked Alaska back into his streaming account. For
someone who online as Baked Alaska, four months had been
a long time, it's safe to say he was happy
to be back. Yaw yaw, yeah, sure enough. He right

back to his old ways. We're live, we're live out here,
and we're gonna have We're gonna have fun. Straight minutes
after beginning his first stream back what are you guys
doing out here, he accosted three middle aged Hispanic women
waiting at a bus stop. Who are you? Who are you?
Are you illegal immigrants? Not long after that, he gets

in the face of a black bouncer outside of members
only club. Can I tell you a joke? Okay, yeah,
let me tell you a joke. Black lives don't matter?
And so it goes. But after all this, at the

end of the road, Baked Alaska's old buddy to Mario
SB is still trying to make sense of what happened
to the man he called a friend, Like, what drove
you to do this? Bro? Like Trump's not in office
anymore now, now what you're stuck looking like an idiot?
You lost people thout actually going the bath for you, dude?
You know that's it. So here's where I make a

little confession. Baked Alaska and I came up as creators
and almost the same place at the same time. While
he was making viral videos for BuzzFeed, I was creating
viral listicles for cracked dot com, the website that helped
pioneer that particular form of content. I was never as
much on the video side of things, but during the

George Floyd protests in Portland, I was briefly the most
popular live streamer in the city. In my case, I
never took donations, and I stopped streaming once it became
clear that law enforcement was using live stream footage for
intelligence to help crack down on the demonstration. I was
also afraid of winding up in the same situation Baked

Alaska found himself in deliberately manipulating events for the sake
of content. That's not a position any good journalist wants
to be in. Over the last few years, I found
myself in the dual positions of being a content creator,
someone who consciously develops and builds a fan base through

new media, and also being a researcher who analyzes how
creators like Baked Alaska influence and radicalize their fans. It's
become clear to me that this sort of radicalization is
not a one way street. Baked Alaska used his talent
in making viral videos to push fringe ideas about white
genocide and Jewish conspiracies, but the fawning reactions of his

most hardcore fans also pushed him to create more extreme content,
which pushed him even further down the rabbit hole. I
don't like influencer as a job title, but those of
us who make podcasts and YouTube videos and livestream content
do have a profound influence on the people who consume
our stuff. Our society is an increasingly isolated one. In

Americans said they had ten or more close friends. Today
only thirteen percent say the same. This gaping law of
loneliness at the center of American culture has opened millions
of people up to being influenced in profoundly disturbing ways.
When anthem Geonette marched on the Capitol, he wasn't just

offering his fans a chance to watch him. He was
giving them the opportunity to influence history and his own life,
and in those ways, to feel more connected to the
world themselves. At least ten thousand people took him up
on the offer and cheered on his assault on democracy itself,

And who knows, maybe they'll get the chance to do
it all again sometime soon. In the next episode, the
virus enters the main frame. The Big Lie is ushered
into the Senate Chamber by a ruthlessly ambitious young senator,

one will do anything to get ahead, even at the
cost of democracy itself. I have heard from people like
I've never heard before, and somebody has got to take
their concerns seriously and speak up. And that's what I'm
gonna do. Join me in episode five, The Inside Man
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