Gionet kept the camera trained on Chaggot, and, as seen on the livestreamed video, Chaggot began throwing jabs to knock the phone away.
The driver, another streamer named Woozuh, can be taking his eyes off the road as he turns to observe the scuffle.
“We had to pull over because he was hitting me and we were about to crash the car,” Gionet told a police officer who met the trio to respond to the streamer’s call to report an assault. The three men eventually came to an agreement that Gionet would not press charges, and Chaggot, who was intoxicated, would ride back to his house.
Incredibly, the scene repeated itself a second time, with Chaggot again assaulting Gionet inside the vehicle as they traveled the roadway.
“He’s upset that me and my friend, Woozuh, are filming,” Gionet explained to another officer. “He’s like, ‘Stop filming, stop filming. But we’re YouTubers, and this is our job, and this is what we’re doing, so….”
The dangerous altercation between the two streamers played out while Gionet is facing federal charges for streaming himself with a mob that stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6. Gionet can be seen in his Jan. 6 livestream picking up an office phone and pantomiming a call and later sitting on a couch while propping his feet on a table, according to a government filing. At the conclusion of a June 4 hearing on the recent altercation, Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey granted the government’s request requiring that Gionet report all encounters with law enforcement and surrender his firearms, but turned down the request for pre-trial detention and to ban him from streaming while he awaits trial.
Underscoring the surreal overlay of contrived drama created by a man facing federal charges for illegally entering the Capitol building and engaging in violent and disorderly conduct while allegedly remarking, “1776 will commence again,” Gionet’s lawyer suggested that the court not take the content on his client’s stream at face value, noting that it’s a source of revenue.
“Often what is streamed is scripted and much like comedy, the creative content cannot be taken as real life in every instance,” Gionet’s lawyer wrote in the filing on the eve of the hearing. Similarly, the federal prosecutor at the hearing noted that in filming the altercation with his fellow streamer, Gionet had reduced “unwitting law enforcement officers” to “extras” in a cinematic production.
Thanks in large part to his participation in the 2017 Unite the Right rally, the 33-year-old Gionet is the most notorious figure in the world of IRL — which stands for “in real life” — streaming. By the time of Unite the Right, Gionet had already made a name for himself as a comedian; he had also worked briefly as a streamer for Buzzfeed News. But his hard-right turn during Donald Trump’s ascendancy made him one of the most visible celebrities of the alt-right. Confirming his commitment to white nationalism, Gionet shook hands with former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke at Unite the Right, saying, “I love you, Dr. Duke.” In the wake of the Christchurch massacre, in which a neo-Nazi livestreamed his slaughter of 51 Muslim worshipers, Gionet claimed that he had “left the alt-right.” But finding that few took him at his word, Gionet returned to previous form in a streaming career that has baked misogyny and anti-lockdown trolling into a kind of bro-adventures narrative featuring a floating cast of like-minded streamers.
The streamers in Gionet’s orbit are almost exclusively male, and few, if any, women have been admitted to the club. Corrine Cliford, one of the most well-known women streamers, is treated as a pariah by many male streamers, including Gionet. Most of the male streamers are white, but not all: Two Black streamers, Dope District (Shawn Guthrie) and Flat Earth Boxer, were invited to join an RV tour with Gionet last fall. At the outset of the RV trip, on Oct. 16, Guthrie signaled his conservative orientation by displaying a Trump flag and declaring, “Y’all ready for this shit? We’re about to get this on the side of the RV. Trump 2020, baby.” Flat Earth Boxer, whose name alludes to his affinity for esoteric theories, can be seen in one video berating diners through a bullhorn by yelling incongruously: “The Earth is flat and face-hairy. God is coming back soon to judge this earth. It’s all the New World Order.”
While the streaming universe makes space for men of color like Guthrie and Flat Earth Boxer, the streams revolving around Gionet and his YouTuber friends also project a soft version of white nationalism.
In one video, reportedly recorded at Gionet’s home in Mesa on May 14, Woozuh makes a reference to “White Boy Summer,” a catchphrase created by the son of actor Tom Hanks that was quickly embraced by neo-Nazis.
“Find a white girl and turn it into white baby winter,” Woozuh says, in what appears to be a subtle nod to the white supremacist preoccupation with white birthrates.
In another scene from the same night, Gionet can yelling, “White boy summer — let’s go!” as Woozah and two other white men cheer while seated around him in a hot tub.
IRL streamers, including Gionet and others linked to him, have been involved in multiple assaults and other alleged offenses over the past nine months. Beyond the charges related to the breach of the Capitol, Gionet was arrested for macing a bouncer in Scottsdale, Ariz. on Dec. 10.
In Las Vegas, near the end of the tour in mid-November, Guthrie was charged with battery for dragging another streamer — Aldo Rivas aka Aldi1K — down the steps of the RV by his ankles and causing him to “hit the side of his face on every step,” according to a police report. The livestream showed Rivas — described by witnesses as “extremely intoxicated” — “stand up and attempt to push another man before Guthrie punched him in the face, according to a story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The newspaper reported that Rivas was taken to the hospital and placed on a ventilator.
Another streamer, 19-year-old Malik Sanchez, became the subject of an investigation by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City in February. Sanchez was arrested on April 14 after an FBI special agent reviewed a livestream made on Feb. 13, in which the YouTuber streamed himself walking through an outdoor dining area in the Flatiron district saying, “Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Bomb detonation in two, two minutes. I take you with me and I kill all you. I kill all you right now. And I kill you for Allah. Fuck, fuck that shit. I’m gonna Allah. I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna fucking do it for Allah. I’m gonna do it, for, Allah, Allah, Allahu Akbar. Come on. I do it, bomb now, bomb now.”
According to an affidavit filed by Special Agent Ryan Symons, at least six people in the enclosed outdoor seating area grabbed their belongings and fled.
“Yo, all of them scattered,” Sanchez told his followers walking away from the restaurant. “Holy shit. Holy shit, boys. That was fucking five starts. That was five stars. Holy shit, huh?”
A grand jury indicted Sanchez for felony false information and hoaxes on April 22.
Sanchez was a contender to participate in the RV tour. One of his videos from last October shows Gionet proposing a contest between Sanchez and a more experienced streamer to see which could attract the highest number of viewers and earn a spot on the RV. Earlier in the same stream, Sanchez and Gionet watched a Starbucks store being looted during a Los Angeles Lakers victory celebration. Gionet can be heard telling Sanchez: “Run in there real quick. Don’t grab anything.”
Sanchez’s stream shows him following Gionet’s suggestion to go inside the looted store as Gionet waits outside. Responding to someone saying, “The most expensive thing in here is the coffee maker,” Sanchez says, “Break it.” Shortly after, he can be heard saying, “Flip it over,” and green patio umbrella topples to the floor in front of him.
Heightening the government’s concern, Sanchez has professed an affinity for the incel movement and admiration for its unofficial founder, Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured 14 others in Santa Barbara, Calif. in 2014. Short for “involuntary celibate,” incel refers to a mostly online movement of young men who believe they have been unjustly denied romantic and sexual attention and who direct anger at women they perceive as withholding it and men whom they view as being more sexually successful. Including the Rodger murders, the US government attributes 28 deaths in the United States and Canada through five separate incel attacks since May 2014.
In a letter to the court seeking Sanchez’s continued detention, US Attorney Audrey Strauss cited three separate references Sanchez made to his affinity with the incel movement during his streams.
On Feb. 7, Strauss wrote that Sanchez followed two women down the street in Manhattan and yelled, “Fuck you, you bitch. It’s ’cause of you, it’s ’cause of you that I’m a virgin — I have incel rage.” He also reportedly told them that Rodger was a “good guy” and that his victims “deserved to be run over and hit by a truck” and “slaughtered.”
Again, according to Strauss, on March 20, Sanchez harassed people in an outdoor dining area by mimicking pointing a gun with his fingers and saying, “Elliott fucking Rodgers, baby. I pull out the Glocks, baby. I, I, I do it all day. I really pull out the Glocks and I — I bust that shit.”
In another stream, on March 24, Sanchez reportedly spoke directly to his followers, strengthening the government’s belief that his stated affinity for the incel movement is sincere.
“I am an incel,” Sanchez said in the video. “I’m an incel. But, I guess streaming kind of helps me therapeutically in a sense, that it keeps me out of, like, my incel, the mindset.”
While most IRL streamers are not as extreme as Sanchez, the community is broadly organized around a shared antifeminist stance.
“They’re generically subversive,” said Megan Squire, a computer scientist at Elon University who monitors far-right extremists. “They tend to be right wing. I wouldn’t say there’s an ideology It’s kind of a potpourri. I see a lot of libertarianism. I see a lot of gaming culture. It’s anti-authority in a weird way.”
The community is overwhelmingly male, Squire said.
“It’s anti-woman — that’s the internet, right?” she said. “They dislike women and authority more than they dislike people of other races. I’ve seen numerous streams of multiracial streamers in which they all pile on media channels or some news story or some ‘e-thot’ — some woman — that they don’t like. Some of that comes out of the gamer culture of teenage boys.”
Most of the assaults by IRL streamers involve Mace. Storylines involving streamers antagonizing bystanders and provoking conflict that escalates into violence are so ubiquitous that a search of the term “maced” on YouTube brings up almost a dozen titles featuring streamer protagonists, including some familiar names. The first video that comes up, entitled “Pepper Spray Compilation Part 2, features an image of one of Gionet’s victims. Others include “IRL Streamer (Baked Alaska) Causes Trouble & Pepper sprays man + Dope District Attacked! (FULL),” “Baked Alaska Content Sprays Bouncer in Scottsdale, AZ (Dec 10, 2020),” “Live-Streamer ‘Baked Alaska’ Pressed + Pepper Sprays man who did not want to be filmed ~ 2020-10-27,” “Smooth Sanchez irl,ends up getting tackled by store owner for macing him,” “Baked Alaska maced a homeless cholo in LA,” “Baked Alaska Content Sprays Black Guy in Austin (Nov 1 2020),” “Smooth Sanchez VS NYC ‘SJW MACED'” and “Baked Alaska & Dope District New Orleans Macing Incident 10 30 2020.”
Prosecutors working on Sanchez’s bomb threat have taken note of the streams.
“The government is aware of videos of the defendant macing approximately five people in the last six months; and despite repeated law enforcement intervention, he has remained entirely undeterred.” Assistant US Attorney Kaylan E. Lasky told Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang during an April 14 hearing, according to a transcript filed with the court.
The government’s May 5 letter to the court reflects that Sanchez deployed homophobic and antisemitic invective in one of the macing attacks. According to the government, Sanchez walked up to man in the Flatiron on Dec. 6, 2020 and asked: “What is Santa getting you this, this uh Christmas?” When the man responded, “Getting you away from me,” Sanchez reportedly said, “Why do you sound like a faggot? Are you Jewish? Are you Jewish? What’s wrong with you?” The man responded by walking up to Sanchez, who then sprayed him in the face.
In another incident, last October, Sanchez reportedly climbed the Queensboro Bridge. Federal prosecutors say that during that incident he sprayed pepper spray at people on the pedestrian path below.
In a statement provided to Raw Story, an FBI spokesman did not specifically address a question about whether the agency was focusing on dangerous and assaultive potentially incentivized by a need for audience engagement and donations.
“The FBI’s concern is not about anyone’s ideology but in whether a person is engaged in violence,” a spokesperson told Raw Story. “Our concern is always to prevent violence and protect our communities.”
Specific to Sanchez, Lasky told Judge Wang that the incel movement is a focus of law enforcement attention. Responding to a question from Wang during the April 14 hearing about whether violence committed by incel adherents is “treated as domestic terrorism acts,” Lasky said, “I would say that this is one of the — incels are one of the domestic extremist groups that, you know, law enforcement is currently focused on.”
Sanchez’s lawyer, Clay Kaminky, sought to downplay his client’s misconduct by shifting responsibility to the fans who provide encouragement through chat comments and donations. His client’s videos are “more obnoxious than anything,” Kaminksi told Judge Wang during the April 14 hearing.
“They read as a young person, an immature, young person thinking that this is funny, and he’s being egged on — you can see the comments scrolling — and he’s being egged on by these people across the internet who are trying to get him to do things and donating money so that he does them,” Kaminsky said. “And, you know, they’re offensive, but they are — he thinks they’re playing.”
IRL streaming evolved out of game-streaming, a culture that emerged around 2011. The social media platform Twitch launched a services that allows game players to live-streamed their play while fans comment. The streams were monetized, with donations typically eliciting acknowledgement and appreciation from the player-streamer, creating a feedback loop. Paul Denino aka Ice Poseidon is an important innovator in the format. He started playing the online game fantasy role-playing game RuneScape, but moved outside as a streamer in July 2016 when Nintendo released Pokémon Go. In December 2016, according to a New Yorker profile, Denino announced that he was moving to Los Angeles, and he began streaming his life. The result was something both transparent and contrived — a real-time video-streaming analogue to reality TV populated by self-employed content producers.
A related genre also utilizing chats and monetization has been embraced by white nationalist Nick Fuentes, a friend of Gionet who also attended Unite the Right, and Ethan Ralph, a key player in the Gamergate controversy. Fuentes and Ralph favor a studio setting with an anchor chair and video displays, mimicking Fox News or CNN, but also utilizing the interactive chat function pioneered through game-streaming.
The synergy between the streamer and fans is apparent from the way chats erupt when the streamer says or does something that generates excitement or approval. But academic researchers have only begun to look at how the feedback loop from chats influences the content — and, by extension, speech and conduct — produced by streamers.
“To take Nick Fuentes, we can see it when we watch a video,” said Squire, the computer scientist at Elon University. “You can see the comments start flowing in. You can see the lemons start popping up; they’re an icon to represent donations. They call it a ‘lemon party.’ Sometimes the chats are coming in so fast you can’t read them. What causes them to do that? Is it the streamer? Is it like applause with money? I want to measure that.
“If you can be controlled by your audience, it’s worth knowing about,” Squire continued. “Right now, it’s like looking through this tiny, dirty window. The platforms have the data, but they’re not sharing it.”
The impact of fans on the behavior of streamers is clear in one incident in which Gionet streamed himself spraying mace at a man in a gas-station parking lot during the fall 2020 RV tour. The video, which appears to have been filmed somewhere in the Southwest in mid-October, shows Gionet chatting with a man and woman who appear to be Latinx in the gas-station parking lot. Suddenly, Gionet’s phone starts playing a recording of another streamer named Keemstar saying the N-word in a repeat sequence that suggests the sonic insistence of a fire alarm. The fans are well aware of the “Keemstar” donation function because one says in the chats: “Keem check.” Another says, “Get ready.” Predictably, the two bystanders do not respond well to having the N-word blare out of Gionet’s phone.
“Turn that shit off,” the man says.
“I’m not playing that,” Gionet responds. “People are donating. I can’t control what they play.” Gionet ignores the protests and goes into the store.
When he leaves the store, a woman stands in the doorway and tells him: “It’s as simple as turning it off and saying, ‘I’m sorry, it’s out of my control.'” Gionet ignores her and walks back out into the parking lot and the N-word recording resumes. The man he had encountered earlier advances toward Gionet.
“Get the fuck away,” Gionet says, and begins spraying mace at the man.
Even when streamer violence is directed at other streamers, as often as not it’s a byproduct of trolling cultural others.
When Chaggot pummeled Gionet from the back of the moving vehicle in Mesa, Ariz. in late May, the dispute arose because he felt that he had become the butt of a joke that was supposed to be directed at two women the streamers pegged as “feminists.”
“Can you believe he doesn’t want women to vote though?” Gionet asks a woman seated at a café table during the stream. “He got embarrassed because I called him out. He literally wants to repeal the 19th Amendment.”
“Do you agree with him?” the woman asks.
“No,” Gionet says. “I don’t. I think women should get double the vote, honestly.”
Chaggot had angrily stalked off, and when Gionet caught up with him, Chaggot confronted him.
“Hey, what was that dude?” Chaggot asks.
“It’s called a bit. It’s a skit,” Gionet says.
“I’m being real,” he adds. “I’m not saying stuff for the stream. I was just joking, dude.”
Chaggot was disturbed that the woman and her friend didn’t realize Gionet was joking.
“No, but that’s the point,” Gionet responded with exasperation. “I wanted one person to be on their side so they would feel comfortable saying their real views, and we could expose how stupid their views are.”
Chaggot was becoming increasingly angry.
“You made it look like I’m the only one that had these views,” he said. “You literally said it. You said I’m a ‘right-wing nutjob.’
“I believe in wingman shit,” Chaggot continued. “I believe that we already have enough against us as men that we shouldn’t throw each other under the bus. Was that being a good wingman?”