WASHINGTON - The creator of a gruesome video that showed a fake President Donald Trump killing journalists and political opponents and that was played at a meeting of a pro-Trump group over the weekend is part of a loose network of right-wing provocateurs with a direct line to the White House.
The unidentified creator of the video operates under the name "The GeekzTeam" and has proclaimed on Twitter to be a "red blooded American with ZERO tolerance for the liberal agenda." Like many such amateur agitators, the GeekzTeam specializes in creating pro-Trump internet content, often by remixing the president's image into clips from popular movies and television shows.
Another of the provocateurs, Logan Cook, who often has posted videos on MemeWorld, his website, participated in a social media summit at the White House in July and took his children to meet the president in the Oval Office, accompanied by Dan Scavino, the White House social media director.
The connections underscore how the president's escalating war on what he calls the "fake news" media has elevated people from the far-right fringe into presidential allies who defend him with extreme language and images.
The president did not mention the video Monday in the blizzard of tweets he sent out wishing a former press secretary good luck on "Dancing with the Stars," defending his recent decisions on Syria and attacking Democrats for their impeachment inquiry.
But Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said Trump condemned the video. It was shown at a meeting of American Priority, a pro-Trump organization, celebrating "free speech, free association and American culture" for hundreds of attendees at Trump National Doral Miami, a golf resort that he owns.
Three headliners of the event - Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Donald Trump Jr., the president's son - said they did not condone the violence portrayed and were not aware that the video had played on a loop in a conference room next to the resort's Donald J. Trump Ballroom. Two small television screens were set up in the conference room, where people filtered in and out. The video was projected against a wall, according to one person who attended and shared a photo.
The online community that makes and shares grisly videos like this one uses what it calls "spicy memes" to fire up the president's base, stir outrage among his opponents and provoke coverage by the mainstream media, which often helps amplify the messages.
Some of these meme-makers profit by soliciting donations or running ads on YouTube. (Data from SocialBlade, a website that tracks social media statistics, estimates that the GeekzTeam has earned less than $2,000 from the channel over the past year.) Others do it purely for the notoriety - or, best of all, an approving retweet from the president.
The GeekzTeam has been a prolific meme-maker for several years, posting videos with titles like "Captain MAGA" and "Trump: The Punisher" to YouTube and to r/the_donald, a large pro-Trump forum on Reddit. The video shown at the American Priority meeting was first posted on YouTube in July 2018.
Earlier this year, the account began contributing to MemeWorld, a centralized meme repository organized by Cook, who goes by the name "Carpe Donktum" online.
Cook's website acts as a clearinghouse for offensive memes and videos, allowing users to post homemade videos that often depict Trump as a crusader or superhero who uses violence to suppress news outlets, individual journalists and political opponents.
On Monday, Cook's site posted a statement disavowing political violence while defending The GeekzTeam, saying that the video showing Trump shooting, stabbing and punching his foes was "clearly satirical."
Cook's own videos, as well as his one-stop shop of a website, have become a go-to resource for Scavino, who often shares items with Trump. In April, Cook landed in the center of a controversy over a doctored version of a video in which former Vice President Joe Biden addressed his interactions with women.
In the doctored video, a cartoon version of Biden appears to be nuzzling the back of his own head. Trump shared the video with his 60 million followers on Twitter at the time.
"Trolls in the White House," Cook wrote in a photo on his Instagram account July 11, describing his family greeting Trump in the Oval Office.
At the White House social media meeting, which honored pro-Trump meme-makers and other members of the far-right ecosystem, Trump praised a room full of content creators as people who had worked with Scavino on ideas that ultimately saved him money on advertising.
"He'll come up with ideas, and you'll come up with ideas," Trump said of Scavino and the attendees. "And he'll run into my office. He said, 'You got to see this.'"
Trump added, "Some of you are extraordinary. I can't say everybody, but some of you are extraordinary. The crap you think of is unbelievable."
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about why Cook was invited to the White House social media meeting in the first place.
Tracing the origins of the video shown over the weekend illustrates the often-complicated origins of modern political messaging. The graphic doctored footage was taken from the 2014 movie "Kingsman: The Secret Service," and showed actor Colin Firth in a massacre at a fundamentalist church.
In an earlier online iteration the target was one news organization: CNN. Trump's head was superimposed on Firth's body but all the people punched, shot, and stabbed had CNN logos covering their faces.
"You are fake news," Trump said as he pointed a gun at a woman with the logo for a face.
The creator of that original video, Andres Hughes, said online that he submitted it to a meme contest run by right-wing website Infowars three years ago, hoping to win a $20,000 prize.
But in July 2018, the doctored film clip was further altered to include new targets. News organizations like PBS, NPR, Politico and The Washington Post were added to the mix.
Trump was also depicted killing and maiming political enemies like Rep. Maxine Waters of California; Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who died last year; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, as well as Hillary Clinton and others.
The video, which had fewer than 1,000 views on YouTube as of Sunday night, had clocked nearly 200,000 by midday Monday but was removed from the site a few hours later because of a copyright complaint. On Sunday, the GeekzTeam appeared to celebrate the video's success, posting a new one on Twitter that showed CNN's logo exploding after coming into contact with the phrase "Trump memes."
An email to an address listed on the creator's YouTube channel was not immediately returned. American Priority denounced the video shown at its event as not "approved, seen or sanctioned" by the organizers and condemned violence of any kind. But the group's founder, Alex Phillips, has his own long-standing relationship with Cook and has supported his work online.
In a video posted to Facebook in June, Phillips and Cook played down the idea that such content can foment hate and violence. "Hate speech is a made-up word," Cook says in the video. "You can't cause violence with words."
Phillips said he agreed. "The truth hurts sometimes," he responds. "Deal with it."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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