Joshua Goldberg: Worst Troll Ever?
I stand before you today, Dear Reader, with my hat in my hands. I am humbled. I have made a terrible mistake.
“But you do that every time you post!” Oh, Dear Reader, you’re incorrigible. While that’s undeniably true, this mistake is even more egregious than most. For you see, the other day I assumed that suspected terrorist Joshua Goldberg was a run-of-the-mill radical Islamic convert, or at least an ISIS sympathizer. But he’s something much, much worse:
He’s a troll.
Goldberg, a 20-year-old Florida man living with his parents, was arrested last week for plotting online to bomb a 9/11 memorial in Kansas City. Unfortunately for him, his collaborator was actually working with the FBI. But even more strangely, Goldberg seemed to think he was doing some sort of online performance piece. It turns out he’s an idiot savant in the art of trolling.
Goldberg became very adept at creating various online personae, setting them up against each other, and getting people to take sides. He’d find a polarizing topic, he’d take extreme but seemingly sincere positions on both sides using different names, and then he’d sit back with his bag of Cheetos and watch the chaos unfold. He set Jews and Muslims against each other, feminists vs. videogame nerds, Nazis vs. everybody. It was all like a game, until suddenly it wasn’t.
When Joshua Goldberg wasn’t posing as an Islamic radical, he was pretending to be a white supremacist—and is accused of impersonating a Jewish lawyer.
Goldberg had several online personas: an Islamic radical who was popular in ISIS social media; a white supremacist on hate site Daily Stormer; a feminist on Daily Kos; a radical free-speech advocate on Q&A site Ask.fm, and a sympathizer with GamerGate. Goldberg is also accused of being behind a Times of Israel blog post that called Palestinians “subhuman.”
Goldberg’s trolling turned serious when he was arrested Thursday by the FBI on the grounds that he told a would-be terrorist how to build a bomb meant for a 9/11 attacks anniversary event in Kansas City, Missouri.
The 20-year-old, who lived at home with his parents and was described as a recluse by neighbors, was a prolific tweeter through accounts with various permutations of the name @auswitness. Goldberg was so successful at his game that he was even retweeted by one of the pro-ISIS gunmen who attacked a “Draw Muhammad” event in Garland, Texas, last May, according to the FBI.
Goldberg had several Twitter personae, which he used to start various flamewars on various topics. For example, the @AusWitness variant accounts were for his “Islamic fanatic” persona. He used @xTanyaCohenx to post crazy ultra-feminist stuff, which I remember seeing earlier this year and assuming was real. And @MoonMetropolis seemed to be his main alt, which he used to point at his other personae and say, “Can you believe this stuff, folks?” Those are the only three I’ve heard about so far, but I’m assuming he had more of them. He did the same thing all over the Internet. Hell, he had at least a dozen different Reddit accounts to push various hot-hot-hot buttons. He’s been described as a “one-man flamewar.”
In other words, Joshua Goldberg is basically me, if I had even more free time and even fewer worthwhile things to do with it. And if I plotted a terrorist attack. But I’m way too tired and lazy for all that. Besides, if I can be said to have a good color, it sure as hell ain’t orange.
From what Goldberg told the FBI, he genuinely believed he was providing valuable information to a radical Islamist who was planning an actual terror attack. I guess he was escalating? Getting people riled up on the Internet wasn’t enough anymore, so he decided to cause some real problems? He couldn’t distinguish between the online world and the real world anymore, assuming he ever recognized any difference in the first place?
I don’t know. I’m having a hard time putting myself into the head of somebody who was only 6 years old on 9/11/01, who has never lived in a world without the Internet, and who seems to think that hurting innocent people is some sort of game.
One thing’s for sure, though: Nobody online is as anonymous as they think they are. What goes around comes around. And you can take that from your old, old pal, Sean Medlock.