Far-Right Extremists Use GameStop Chaos to Radicalize and Recruit on Telegram

Private investors and politicians were outraged on Thursday when popular trading app Robinhood and others began stopping buyers from purchasing stock in GameStop, a struggling video game retailer at the heart of an online revolt against hedge funds that has left Wall Street reeling.

Robinhood and other platforms stepped in after GameStop shares jumped 135 percent, driven by private investors led by Reddit users on the popular subreddit r/wallstreetbets.

These investors noticed that hedge funds were short-selling GameStop stock—i.e. betting the struggling company's value would fall further. Small buyers then began investing in large numbers, sending the stock price soaring, making enormous potential profits, and leaving hedge funds facing crippling losses.

Robinhood said its intervention was a "risk management decision," made in fear that instability could spread. The platform said its decision was to adhere to SEC regulations, rather than Wall Street demands.

But investors, backed by lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum, were none the less furious. Small groups of investors demonstrated outside the New York Stock Exchange and Robinhood headquarters in Menlo Park, California, The New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, far-right activists and conspiracy theorists on the Telegram messaging service jumped on the chaos as validation of their ideologies and a potential recruiting event for disaffected users. Several tied the trading platform's actions to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and blamed wealthy Jewish people for the decision.

One channel affiliating itself with the anti-government Boogaloo movement—whose heavily armed members often stand out at anti-government rallies thanks to their colorful Hawaiian shirts—was explicit in tying its anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to the GameStop saga.

"Only jews can manipulate markets! Not normal citizens!" the account—which has almost 10,000 followers—wrote on Thursday. The post set off a discussion in the comments, some users posting more anti-Semitic propaganda while others condemned the account owner for hate speech.

Other posts by the account included a photo of GameStop news coverage with a caption declaring: "Get f***** k****," the last word a commonly used racist slur against Jewish people.

Some commenters on that post urged fellow users to stock up on weapons and ammunition, while others again condemned the account for using hate speech and suggested "the cabal" running the country wished to stoke racial tensions.

An account affiliating itself with the white supremacist Proud Boys street fighting group also tied the GameStop news into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, posting hate speech to its more than 40,000 followers.

The account posted a screenshot of an old CNBC interview with hedge fund billionaire Leon Cooperman. Cooperman made headlines Thursday for framing the GameStop investment drive as "attacking wealthy people."

The account noted Cooperman's long-time financial backing for Jewish cultural programs including Birthright Israel, which pays for young Jewish people to spend time in Israel. "In other words, this was a direct hit," the account said.

The post was forwarded from an openly white supremacist, anti-immigration account with more than 10,000 subscribers. That account gloated that "jewish hedge funds" had lost billions, crediting "a bunch of White supremacist reddit day traders" with the price movement. "Now the jewish bankers have to pay up the difference causing hedgefunds to go bankrupt," it added.

The Proud Boys affiliated account also tied the Robinhood shutdown to election conspiracy theories. "Call me crazy, but I bet the people that can shut down multiple Wall Street stocks in the middle of a trading day are the same people that can shut down vote counting in the middle of the night," the account said. "The same people who control our political system also control Wall Street and big business."

QAnon accounts, meanwhile, linked the GameStop event to their conspiracy theory, followers of which believe that former President Donald Trump is locked in battle with a cabal of devil-worshipping pedophile cannibals, and that his eventual victory will be marked by mass arrests and executions of prominent figures in politics, the media and big business.

"This goes out to all you Anons," said one account with nearly 50,000 followers. "YOU hold the power. WE hold the power. You did it. We did it. We made grown billionaires cry on national television today. We beat them at their own game. Now they're having conniptions. The tables have turned."

"This is Good vs Evil," the account added. "The Great Awakening is here. Evil can no longer hide behind the shadows. The Storm is upon us. Victory is near, HOLD THE LINE."

Another QAnon-promoting account with more than 40,000 followers predicted that the GameStop incident would be the beginning of a mass move away from Wall Street and institutional wealth.

"Once people realize that the financial markets are a rigged game against the people to transfer wealth from the small guy to the elitists... there will be a mass exodus from #WallStreet," the account said. "Unlike 2007 we have a place now that we control to put our money...The singularity is coming."

This account also tied the GameStop event to electoral conspiracy theories and the QAnon cornerstone of failed democracy and the desire for authoritarianism. "Anyone who still thinks America is free or believes in the 'free market' after what we've seen over the past few months is an idiot," the account wrote in a separate post. "There is no free market. Democracy is cringe. Elections are rigged and always have been. The stock market is rigged and always has been."

Telegram, on which messages are encrypted, has grown in popularity amid privacy concerns by users of other messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Its user base has swelled over recent months by the shutdown of the right-wing Parler social media site and the cull of right-leaning accounts by major platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Telegram is facing calls to do more to stop hate speech on the platform, especially after the Capitol riot and subsequent security concerns around President Joe Biden's inauguration. Its founders—Russian-born brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov—have always pushed back against any suggestion the Dubai-based platform will be censored.

"Telegram has never yielded to pressure from officials who wanted us to perform political censorship," Pavel Durov wrote in an online statement several years ago.

Free speech and privacy advocates have defended Telegram, praising the platform for refusing to monetize user data or censor messages. Supporters have also lauded Telegram's value to people living under authoritarian rule, noting it allows them to communicate with one another and the outside world without fear of persecution.

GameStop store pictured in Brooklyn New York
This file photo shows people walking by a GameStop store in Brooklyn on January 28, 2021 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images/Getty