White nationalist publisher’s data exposed in


A data leak from the website of a white nationalist publisher has revealed recordings, published and unpublished documents, and hitherto-private interview recordings that shed light on the way in which the organization promotes its ideology online.

The internal data from Counter-Currents, a publishing house co-founded and run by notoriously secretive far-right ideologue Greg Johnson, was exposed in an Amazon cloud storage container that was left unlocked on the open internet.

Heidi Beirich, chief strategy officer and co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, told the Guardian in a telephone conversation on Friday: “Counter-Currents has been one of the premier white nationalist publishing houses and websites for a long time in the US.”

According to web traffic measures at Similarweb, the Counter-Currents website attracted over half a million unique visitors in the last month.

Beirich added that Johnson had forged strong connections with international far right movements, and Counter-Currents was “one of the places where you first started seeing reprinted works from far-right publishing houses in Europe,”, and “pre-pandemic, Greg Johnson was on the circuit, speaking at white nationalist events across Europe”.

In November 2019, Johnson was arrested on arrival in Norway and deported from that country on his way to speak at the far-right Scandza Forum in Oslo.

Much of the leaked trove consists of archives, plugins and configuration files for the Counter-Currents website. Many of the material in the cache matches images, audio files, and documents currently published on the Counter-Currents website. Matching files include audio files of Counter-Currents Radio podcasts, PDF documents of far-right books the organization has shared with readers and image files.

The Guardian emailed Counter-Currents for comment from Johnson but received no response.

Some of the material in the cache, however, has never been published.

One such file is a recording of a 2017 interview between an American journalist and Counter-Currents co-founder, Michael Polignano, who was billed in the site’s early days as “managing editor and webmaster” of Counter-Currents, and who has lived in the Hungarian capital of Budapest since 2014.

In the interview, Polignano discusses having been “a member of the National Alliance and a follower of William Pierce”, and as “part of this whole anti-Semitic right that’s where you see Jews as this alien race … as less than human and just kind of different creatures from humanity”.

Pierce founded the neo-Nazi National Alliance in 1974 and led it until his death in 2002. He also wrote the novel of race war, The Turner Diaries, which inspired murderous groups including the Order and the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who describes him as the neo-Nazi movemenet’s “fiercest antisemitic ideologue”.

On 15 August 2022, Polignano posted on Facebook a photo of himself visiting Pierce in 2000 at his home in Hillsboro, West Virginia, with the caption: “Hard to believe it was 22 years ago.” In other recent posts, Polignano shared pictures of himself in Budapest with far-right figures including Jason Kessler, organizer of the deadly “Unite the Right: rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. He also recently attended a show by the neo-Nazi band Skrewdriver.

Despite his long-term involvement in antisemitic politics, Polignano made detailed claims in the 2017 recording about a sexual relationship he had before leaving the United States with a woman who was “a leftwing secular, atheist Jew” and herself in a “polyamorous relationship” with her husband.

The Guardian cross-referenced metadata on the 2017 recording and contextual clues in the recording to identify the journalist Polignano spoke with as freelance journalist Carol Schaeffer.

Since 2017, Schaeffer, who is based between New York and Berlin, has published journalism tracking and monitoring the European far right. She confirmed in a telephone conversation that the conversation had taken place in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, on 2 January 2017.

Schaeffer told the Guardian that she “didn’t end up using anything” from “multiple interviews” with Polignano as she came to think that his answers were in part a performance.

“He wanted to present himself as a complex character and I think he wanted to present his antisemitism as something that was emotionally earned, or that he had thought deeply about it,” she said.

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She said that she shared a recording with Polignano as a courtesy but did not know how it had arrived on the Counter-Currents site. Metadata indicates it was uploaded in December 2019.

Requests for comment to Polignano’s previously listed emails bounced, including one sent to a previously listed address at the Counter-Currents domain. The Guardian asked Counter-Currents for Polignano’s current contact details but received no response.

On Polignano’s ongoing residence in Hungary, and the far-right milieu in Hungary at that time, Beirich, the extremism expert, said that in 2017, “Hungary was already providing a sympathetic home for people with white nationalist ideas,” and that “the Orban regime itself, because it’s anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-refugee, and authoritarian, is extremely appealing to white nationalists.”

Now, she added, “the Orban regime is directly connected to powerhouse, far right actors in multiple countries, including the United States,” including “connections among the Trump people with the Orban people”.

“In a way, all these connections you’re talking about in Budapest from that time period presage phenomena like CPAC Hungary,” Beirich concluded, referring to the now-annual conferences held by the US rightwing Conservative Political Action Committee in Budapest.

Other unpublished materials on the site include what appear to be manuscripts for published works, including a Microsoft Office manuscript for an anthology, The Alternative Right, that Counter-Currents published in 2018.

The files also include recordings of speeches to the Northwest Forum, an invitation-only far-right gathering that Johnson convened from 2016 in Seattle, which featured prominent white nationalists as speakers, and subjected new attendees to rigorous vetting. The website for that event has been offline since 2020, according to Internet Archive records.

The Guardian reviewed the leaked data in a copy hosted on the Grayhat Warfare website, which collects and preserves the content of so-called buckets uploaded by website administrators to cloud storage providers including Amazon, Google, Microsoft Azure and Digital Ocean.

The Guardian emailed Grayhat Warfare administrators for comment on the data but received no immediate response.

Jim Salter is a system administrator, consultant, and co-host of the 2.5 Admins podcast. In a video call, Salter told the Guardian that the data was “most likely a backup of the web service directory of a WordPress site”, noting that sensitive php files were missing, and that “the absence of the content of written posts means that third-party web scraping seems unlikely”.

He added that tech media attention to the problem of open storage buckets meant that “Amazon added a dashboard warning indicator whenever you had an open S3 bucket in 2017”, but that leaving buckets open was still common.

“People are idiots about security,” Salter said.

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