#ZachAttack: How I Faked My Identity To Unmask Harassers In The Progressive Gaming Community
The following article is an expanded excerpt from my interview with TGG, which I have republished here in the interest of clarifying how the ZachAttack was planned and carried out.
A Short Introduction
I am an anonymous netizen that frequents online message boards like futaba, 2ch, 4chan and 8chan. I have participated in these communities for a long time.
In real life, I am a mom who works as a medical research translator while finishing up my post-grad education. I live in Tokyo with my husband, our two daughters and our cat. I like to spend what little free time I have arguing about video games online, and have made this a habitual practice for over a decade.
In late 2014, “GamerGate”, an ideological and cultural conflict within the gaming community, made 4chan inhospitable. I migrated to 8chan and started to take interest in the events surrounding GamerGate. Shortly after that, I made an account on Twitter and added my voice to the discussion. Inevitably, some of the “anti-GamerGate” people who disagreed with my opinions made a habit of attacking my character.
Without getting into the arguments and claims of each side of the GamerGate feud: anti-GamerGate is a loose confederation of progressive internet activists, pundits and writers who have made it their mission to discredit the GamerGate movement and its “pro-GamerGate” participants as racist, sexist and homophobic.
Both sides of the GamerGate feud possess their fair share of vile internet trolls. However, the gaming media, which is tied to anti-GamerGate, has supported the story of GamerGate as told by anti-GamerGate. Consequently, pro-GamerGate has been labeled as monsters who will stop at nothing to chase women out the gaming community. Key to my story, pro-GamerGate was often accused of “doxing”, or exposing someone’s personal identity, in order to terrorize these women.
Meanwhile, my anecdotal experience ran contrary to the gaming media’s depiction of GamerGate. I became the target of frequent attacks by male anti-GamerGate activists who sought to discredit my arguments by labeling me as a “fake woman”. This behavior worsened over the months, until several of my attackers began to claim that they knew my real identity.
I was never alarmed by these character attacks, but I found them to be hypocritical; anti-GamerGate had always been presented as the victim of harassment by pro-GamerGate, and the journalists connected with key anti-GamerGate participants continued to propagate this version of events.
The Events of ZachAttack
In April of 2016 I was approached on Twitter by an anonymous pro-GamerGate participant called Rudderhouse. He suggested to me that he could compel key people in anti-GamerGate to incriminate themselves by acting as a double-agent, feeding my attackers false information about my identity, and recording their attempt to dox me.
Rudderhouse said that all he would have to do is gain anti-GamerGate’s trust and then provide them with the false information about me, and anti-GamerGate would do the rest by building a dockett of blackmail with which they would attempt to intimidate me off of social media. I agreed.
In the following days, I played along with Rudderhouse by pretending to argue with him on social media. Sometimes our act got very heated, and both Rudderhouse and I did our best to act like we truly hated each-other. After a few days of back-and-forth, Rudderhouse blocked me, which I gleefully announced to my followers. Both GamerGate and anti-GamerGate bought the act. Rudderhouse was in.
Over the next four months, Rudderhouse and I worked together quietly. Rudderhouse built up a fake identity which we named “Zachary Miller”. He was given a face, a place of birth, address (of a burned down building), employer, and social media accounts. I provided details and embellishments, drawing upon my knowledge as a Japanese. Most of all, Zachary was imbued with traits which we knew that anti-GamerGate would love to hate: we made Zachary a rich, white, heterosexual anime fan who cosplayed as Naruto at age 32 and posted fetish hentai porn on his social media accounts. In almost every doctored screenshot of Zachary’s Facebook posts, Rudderhouse inserted a subliminal clue which implicated that Zachary was my true identity.
As we worked on creating Zachary, Rudderhouse was busy socially engineering a handful of anti-GamerGate trolls who we considered to be the dumbest, most gullible and most vindictive of the lot. Rudderhouse fed each one a story via private messages. He imparted to my would-be harassers that he had ridden in an elevator with another white man at a Tokyo comic-book convention in December of 2015 and overheard a conversation about experiencing a “gender crisis” over Twitter shenanigans. Rudderhouse lied, telling them that he had taken a curious look at the man’s phone and seen that the man was tweeting from the mombot account. Every troll who Rudderhouse contacted had an axe to grind with me, so they all readily believed this story and couldn’t wait to call “mombot” out for the pathetic anime-loving white man that they believed me to be. But Rudderhouse implored them to wait; there wasn’t enough evidence and he needed to “scour the comic-book convention’s hashtags on Twitter for further clues” —this was another lie meant to buy time until Rudderhouse and I had finished building my fake identity. Nearly every troll, thinking that they possessed exclusive information, waited for Rudderhouse to come through with further confirmation.
Our preparations were finally nearing completion in the beginning of August when another unrelated incident focused many angry eyes on me: Robert Marmolejo, a volunteer aid worker for the Feminist Frequency-sponsored internet harassment prevention organization Crash Override Network, was accused by dozens of women of having exploited his position to solicit sex from female victims of online harassment. However, after this story broke, members of Crash Override Network quickly denied Marmolejo’s involvement in their operation.
Hours later, an anonymous source entrusted me with leaked chatlogs of Crash Override Network’s Skype group, the contents of which corresponded with claims being made against Marmolejo: that he was active in the Crash Override Network’s Skype group and was delegated with the task of counseling harassment victims. I gathered these findings together into an article and published them here.
My article aggravated anti-GamerGate very badly. The next day was accompanied by much combativeness and trolling. Many Twitter accounts that I had never seen before came out of the woodwork to question my race and gender — as if it had anything to do with my opinions. It was then that I realized that the wave that I was waiting to ride had come. Anti-GamerGate wanted to discredit me by any means possible, and I could use that overzealousness to trick them. I contacted Rudderhouse and we began our sting operation on Tuesday afternoon, August 9th Japan-time.
As is recorded in the log here, Rudderhouse gathered the anti-GamerGate trolls he had tricked into a chatroom and told them that there had been a development: months of scouring social media for pictures of Zachary had proven fruitless, but “a real-life friend who had listened to Rudderhouse’s description of Zachary” was, by sheer luck, a mutual friend with Zachary on Facebook. This lie was convenient, because it aided the trolls in the chat to rationalize why Rudderhouse’s only evidence was a link to a private Facebook account and amateurish screenshots of its content. Anti-GamerGate bought the story hook, line and sinker and immediately went to work trying to find more details about Zachary online. The trolls even went so far as to get in touch with a “contact” at the California State Department of Motor Vehicles and comb through PACER (the Public Access to Court Electronic Records) to see if Zachary had any court records. Thrilled with the idea that they were finally going to “bag mombot”, they started to crack jokes and make memes about the Zachary persona. The trolls renamed the chatroom to “ZachAttack!”
As time went on, more accounts joined the chatroom. Izzy Galvez, another Crash Override Network volunteer and a self-titled “internet abuse specialist” eagerly joined the chatroom after Rudderhouse, in a private message, informed Izzy that my doxing was underway. Rudderhouse took advantage of Izzy’s well-established egotism by tempting him with a chance to be the hero of the mombot dox operation: He presented Izzy with a tweet on my account, the context and content of which perfectly matched one of the Zachary Facebook screenshots. A smoking gun. Izzy couldn’t contain himself. “I’ll be in the DM group lol”. From that point on, in the main dox chatroom, Izzy claimed that it was he who had discovered the matching Tweets, to which all present raucously congratulated him. Rudderhouse, for his part, silently surrendered all credit of the discovery to Izzy.
Also present in the chatroom at this point was Ubisoft Creative Director Palle Hoffstein. This was surprising to me, but not unprecedented. I had humiliated Hoffstein in the past by forcing him to publicly apologize when he mocked the physical appearance of a wheelchair-bound GamerGate supporter.
As evidence mounted through Rudderhouse’s story-telling and the trolls’ own detective-work, which “uncovered” further evidence that they were intended to find, the anti-GamerGate trolls began to feel certain that I was Zachary’s alter-ego. The would-be doxers couldn’t contain themselves anymore and began to send me tweets and private messages with “ZachAttack!” memes, shadowy allusions to my true identity and — most damning of all — the Facebook pictures which revealed my face and full name — Zachary Miller. Just according to plan.
I immediately made a few panic-stricken tweets, deleted them once I confirmed with Rudderhouse that the doxers had archived them, protected my account, and went radio silent. On my signal, Rudderhouse deactivated Zachary’s Facebook account. If the bait was already in anti-GamerGate’s mouth, this was the setting of the hook. I was Zachary.
Over the next 12 hours, I did not Tweet at all. My private messages were a sea of worried well-wishes, but also many anti-GamerGaters mocking my apparent downfall. I resisted the urge to reply. Instead, Rudderhouse and I — along with several other anonymous friends — meticulously archived the bedlam that was occurring in my mentions. Dozens and dozens of tweets from anti-GamerGate accounts, all celebrating that I had been doxed. Izzy Galvez blatantly lied and tweeted “I don’t know why mombot is locked down, but considering all the abuse they are responsible for, I am OK w/ this”.
Rudderhouse and I decided that 12 hours was a good window for the sting because we estimated that by that time the anti-GamerGate trolls would have figured out that the dox were fake, but it would be too late and they would have already made a fool out of themselves by celebrating, sending me threats, and generally ceding all semblance of the high ground which they had claimed to hold since the beginning of GamerGate.
However, not everything went according to plan. It was not, in fact, the anti-GamerGaters which discovered that the dox were fake. They had completely bought into the narrative Rudderhouse had fed them. They wanted the dox to be real. Instead, it was pro-GamerGaters who — approximately 7 hours into the 12-hour window — analyzed the Japanese lettering in one of the Zachary photos. This led to the true source: a stock photo for a traveler’s WiFi advertisement. Zachary was a lie. Either Anti-GamerGate hadn’t thought to perform a search based on the Japanese words in the advertisement, or no one present in the dox chatroom could read Japanese. Ultimately, it was average, everyday GamerGaters that beat anti-GamerGate’s dox team to the punch and discovered Zachary’s true identity first. Ironic!
The news of the discovery threw the dox chatroom into confusion. Had mombot stolen this man’s identity? Was the stock photo model pretending to be Zachary, who was pretending to be mombot? Was this all a giant ruse? Some of the doxers started to express suspicion, but even then they refused to give up the lie. My behavior had been too suspicious. My behavior had been ‘precisely what one should not do when one is doxed’. They kept digging, and eventually managed to find various accounts and websites belonging to the stock footage model.
It was at this point that Rudderhouse and I decided that the ruse wouldn’t keep until 12 hours had elapsed. Instead, we decided to drop the curtain after 9 hours. The anti-GamerGate dox chatroom, for their part, did not put the pieces together in time, and remained certain to the very end that they had doxed me until they were shown that Rudderhouse was a mole and that they and all of their friends had been duped by an incredibly long con.
The reveal, and the immediate fallout, can be viewed here.
In the days following the ZachAttack, many of the trolls caught in my trap sent angry tweets at journalists for writing several articles about it. Ubisoft’s Palle Hoffstein, indicted in my attempting doxing, changed his Twitter handle several times before fleeing Twitter completely. Crash Override Network disowned Izzy Galvez, and former Crash Override associate Randi Harper threw him under the bus. Best of all, Twitter made some incredible memes. All in all, a great success.
Thanks for reading!