Far-right activists are targeting a USA Today intern following her investigation into fundraising tactics used by defendants charged with storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The USA Today investigative piece titled “Insurrection fundraiser: Capitol riot extremists, Trump supporters raise money for lawyer bills online” was co-written by Brenna Smith, Jessica Guynn, and Will Carless and featured in-depth reporting on the use of crowdfunding platforms by far-right entities and their members charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection—platforms such as GiveSendGo, the Christian crowdfunding site used by the far-right Proud Boys hate group, as well as other fundraising platforms including CashApp, AllFundIt, GoGetFunding, Our Freedom Funding, and Bitcoin. The article, which was published on March 28, has since caused an uproar among trolls, critics, and far-right activists, many of whom focused their anger at Smith.
Smith, who previously worked as a news editor with The Daily Californian, the independent student newspaper at University of California Berkeley, and as an open-source researcher with the Human Rights Center at the U.C. Berkeley Law School, is currently an investigations intern at USA Today. The insurrectionist fundraiser investigation was her first piece for the internationally distributed newspaper , yielding Smith (and mostly Smith alone) a torrent of vitriol and targeted harassment against her on social media.
“Brenna is an evil person,” read one of the comments on Twitter.
Much of the hate directed at Smith was spurred on by far-right activists and conservative trolls such as Jack Posobiec, Dinesh D’Souza, James O’Keefe and Kurt Schlichter. Apart from the far right, Smith was also criticized by the opinion writer Glenn Greenwald, who referred to the alleged insurrectionists collecting donations through crowdfunding sites as “impoverished criminal defendants,” accusing “mainstream journalists” of “internet censorship.”
“Congratulations on using your new journalistic platform to try to pressure tech companies to terminate the ability of impoverished criminal defendants to raise money for their legal defense from online donations,” Greenwald said while retweeting the USA Today article to his 1.5 million Twitter followers Sunday. “You’re well on your way upward in this industry for sure.”
Greenwald’s tweet was retweeted more than 1,800 times to date and was amplified by far-right figures like Posobiec and D’Souza. It is worth noting that Greenwald opted to target Smith, an intern with her first byline at USA Today, and not the other two (more senior) journalists involved in the story.
Greenwald, who resigned from The Intercept (an outlet which he co-founded) following a disagreement over the role of editors and alleged censorship on the website in 2020, has since written a blog post on Substack on Monday afternoon about the USA Today article and the fallout, claiming that “powerful media figures now invoke sexist and racist tropes to cast themselves as so fragile and marginalized that critiques of their work constitute bullying and assault.”
“This USA Today article is thus yet another example of journalists at major media outlets abusing their platforms to attack and expose anything other than the real power centers which compose the ruling class and govern the U.S.: the CIA, the FBI, security state agencies, Wall Street, Silicon Valley oligarchs,” Greenwald wrote
Despite Greenwald’s attempt to tarnish Smith’s article and reputation, the USA Today intern has also received support for her investigative report, including from prominent journalists, such as NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny
“Expect we’re going to see a lot more good work from this byline,” Zadrozny wrote on Twitter. “Sorry that this beat comes with constant harassment, but glad bright young reporters like her aren’t scared off by the craven men who make a living from trending on this stupid website.”