So claims a May 26 law enforcement bulletin leaked, along with 269GB of files from over 200 police departments, in late June by hackers and published by Distributed Denial of Secrets, a journalist organization specializing in the publication of leaked documents. The bulletin, designated as “For Official Use Only” and created by the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange Fusion Center, provides valuable insight into how law enforcement follows extremists around the web as their preferred communication platforms change with the times.
At issue is Gab Chat, an encrypted Discord alternative released in beta earlier this year. Unlike the perhaps more widely known Gab, which claimed to provide a “free speech” alternative to Twitter, but was in practice often overrun with antisemitism, Gab Chat is not an attempt to replace more traditional forms of social media.
“[Gab Chat is an] encrypted chat messaging service with public & private chat rooms,” explains the site. “All messages in private rooms are encrypted on the user’s device and cannot be read by Gab. Messages are deleted after 30 days.”
The leaked Fusion Center document speculates that the privacy offered by Gab Chat’s encryption and private rooms will entice “White Racially Motivated Violent Extremists (WRMVEs)” away from Discord.
Anti-fascists, notes the bulletin, had become adept at infiltrating white supremacists’ Discord groups and dumping chat logs — leading to the participants’ doxxing.
Gab Chat has been promoted as an encrypted alternative to Discord. Discord is a free communication app designed primarily for gamers. However, WRMVEs have used it extensively to establish their own custom servers which have been compromised on numerous occasions over the last couple of years. In 2018, Telegram was promoted as an alternative to Discord and WRMVEs were encouraged to stop using Discord due to frequent infiltration by anti-fascists networks who would release chat logs for the groups, enabling the identification of WRMVE users.
Indeed, leaked Discord screenshots and chat logs have caused headaches for white supremacists in the past. In 2018, the non-profit Unicorn Riot reported on scores of such documents from the neo-nazi Traditionalist Worker Party.
“With Gab’s continued popularity with WRMVEs and the persistent infiltration of their chat groups on Discord, Gab Chat could become a viable alternative,” warns the Fusion Center document.
When reached for comment on the possibility of Gab Chat being used by explicitly violent white extremists, Gab CEO Andrew Torba wrote via email that simply because a service is encrypted does not mean it is opaque to law enforcement.
“Encryption does not render law enforcement totally blind,” wrote Torba. “Encryption doesn’t cause a user to simply disappear. It doesn’t prevent a service provider from seeing who is using its service or when that person is using the service.”
Without specifically responding to our question about violent white extremists potentially flocking to Gab Chat, Torba instead argued law enforcement should turn its attention elsewhere.
“Widespread, unsupervised access to the internet, and the immoral distribution of pornography to young people by internet smut peddlers along with a plague of child exploitation on big tech messaging platforms are the larger issues here that law enforcement should be focused on.”
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that encryption is a vital tool that provides privacy and security to racists and non-racists alike. The encrypted messaging app Signal, for example, is used by journalists and human-rights advocates across the globe. Encryption alone does not make an app or service inherently problematic. In fact, much the opposite; a messaging service that does not work to protect the security of its users is far more worrisome than one which does.
As the leaked law enforcement documents show, however, authorities think violent white extremists may finally be waking up to that fact.