The site’s generally far-right political discussion can range from memes to baseless conspiracy theories (one typical example reads, “What if it can be proven the storming of the Capitol was a Soros-funded operation of Antifa infiltrators who coordinated with corrupt police and politicians?”) to taunts (such as one from a user named Catturd reading, “I bet Nancy Pelosi’s breath smells like vodka, moth balls, and satan”).
Though the platform has existed as an alternative to mainstream social media sites since 2016, it has reported an significant increase in users during the past few days. (The Washington Post has reached out to analytics firms to see if it can confirm the claim.) This reported rise comes as various social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, have suspended the president and other prominent conservatives following pro-Trump rioters’ invasion of the Capitol on Wednesday.
Gab is the brainchild of Andrew Torba, a Scranton, Pa., native who worked in Silicon Valley but reportedly found it too liberal. He created Gab after reading a Gizmodo report that Facebook’s trending topics could be biased against conservatives, a report Facebook disputes.
“I didn’t set out to build a ‘conservative social network’ by any means. But I felt that it was time for a conservative leader to step up and to provide a forum where anybody can come and speak freely without fear of censorship,” Torba told The Post in 2016. “Every major communication outlet, every major social network, is run, owned, controlled and operated by progressive leaders, progressive workers in Silicon Valley.”
When a Post reporter reached out to Torba for comment on new developments on Gab over the weekend, he responded with an insult and declined to comment.
The platform made headlines in October 2018 after a gunman opened fire in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue and killed 11 worshipers. Robert Bowers, who is accused of the crime, spent years posting anti-Semitic rhetoric on Gab. His final post before the shooting read, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
After the shooting, Gab said in a statement that it took down Bowers’s account and contacted the FBI. Nonetheless, PayPal banned the network from its platform, and GoDaddy stopped hosting the site.
Gab went dark for slightly more than a week, during which it migrated to the Epik, a domain registrar and web hosting company that hosts the neo-Nazi message board the Daily Stormer and the imageboard 8chan, where QAnon originated.
Gab seems to be taking advantage of the current moment. On Monday, Ron Paul (R-Texas) tweeted that Facebook blocked the former congressman from managing his page “with no explanation other than ‘repeatedly going against our community standards.' ” Within 40 minutes, Gab responded with “Gab.com,” an apparent invitation to join the site.
Since its inception, Gab has welcomed deplatformed social media users, generally attracting those on the far right. When Twitter suspended a number of alt-right accounts just after the 2016 election — including white nationalist Richard Spencer’s — Gab welcomed them with open arms.
In early October, when Facebook purged a number of accounts connected to QAnon, Torba published a blog post welcoming them to the site. “Gab is happy to announce that we will be welcoming all QAnon accounts across our social network, news, and encrypted chat platforms,” Torba wrote. He added, “Members of the QAnon community have been active on Gab for several years. We have never seen any calls for violence, threats, or any other illegal activity from this group of people.”
Torba seems to expect its sudden spike in popularity to come with some backlash from the media. In one of Gab’s posts from the past 24 hours, he wrote, “In the coming weeks the press will dig up old tweets and Gab posts of mine. So I’ll just say this in advance: I apologize for absolutely nothing and regret none of it. I own it all and this is the right response when these demons do digging. Who I was years ago made me who I am today. I’ve learned, loved, and grown. I won’t apologize for that.”
The post was met with digital cheers. One of the top comments included a meme showing Trump’s head photoshopped on an image of Jeffrey Dean Morgan from the zombie drama “The Walking Dead.” He’s holding a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat. At the bottom of the photo are the words, “We are all Donald!”
Tony Romm contributed to this report.