A new report in Forbes claims notorious troll Chuck Johnson has the ear of the Trump transition and is helping vet candidates for positions in the new administration. According to the article, by Ryan Mac and Matt Drange, Johnson, the ultra-right-wing journalist mostly known for harassing people on Twitter before being permanently banned for harassment in 2015, is using his connections with right-wing bigwigs like Peter Thiel and Steve Bannon to exert some influence over the process.
The authors write:
“Whether I am listened to or not remains to be seen,” Johnson wrote in an email to FORBES in December. “I am by and large pretty happy with the government selected thus far, though I am sorry to say that a lot of the candidates that I favor have not been selected.”
If you’re at all familiar with Johnson, who claims that President Obama is gay, and who at one point incorrectly identified someone whom he believed to be the source at the center of Rolling Stone’s infamous UVA rape-culture story, the story is pretty horrifying. But it’s worth approaching it with a bit of skepticism. The only two named sources are Johnson — who said in an online radio show last month that he was “doing a lot of vetting” for the incoming president but declined to comment for the article — and his fellow-traveler-troll Mike Cernovich, who describes Johnson, vaguely, as “influential” in a “mind-blowing” way.
That’s not to say that the story is out of the realm of possibility. There are signals that Johnson is peddling some small amount of influence, or, at the very least, has the right email addresses. On election night, he was seen in the VIP section of Trump’s party. No matter how toxic Johnson might be, he has previously worked for Trump adviser Steve Bannon at Breitbart, and has a bitter legal history with Gawker, just as Bannon’s fellow adviser Peter Thiel does. (Gawker published rumors that, in college, Johnson had defecated on a dormitory floor.) Mac and Drange, who broke the story that Thiel was funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, are extremely well-sourced with Thiel’s people.
But this afternoon, Johnson told Gideon Resnick, a reporter for the Daily Beast, that “most of the Forbes story is false.” Even by Trump standards, Johnson’s history is pretty toxic. As mentioned before, he was also Twitter’s first high-profile permanent ban, a dubious honor he earned for soliciting people to “take out” Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson.
On top of that, Johnson’s choices for administration positions are either unknown or very obvious. He supports Ajit Pai, a conservative FCC commissioner, to head the FCC, a pick that’s practically a foregone conclusion. What seems as likely as anything — reading between the lines of the Forbes story — is that Johnson is in very remote touch with someone on the transition team, has likely sent several emails, and may or may not have been used as a sounding board for certain names. Which is, on the one hand, reassuring — and on the other, not at all.