It started with Reddit user HanA--holeSolo posting a meme – something done thousands of times per day on the site – and now journalists have been threatened, CNN has identified the user’s real name and many are accusing the network of blackmailing him.
President Donald Trump tweeted a gif Sunday of him beating a wrestler with CNN’s logo imposed on the wrestler’s face. The White House has not said where Trump found the gif, but insists it wasn’t Reddit.
HanA--holeSolo shared the gif to Reddit last Wednesday, on a subreddit for ardent supporters of Trump. And he took credit for Trump’s post on Sunday.
“Holy s---!! I wake up and have my morning coffee and who retweets my s---post but the MAGA EMPORER himself!!! I am honored!!” he wrote on Reddit. MAGA stands for “Make America Great Again,” Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign slogan.
But his tone soon changed. Multiple journalists and other groups started looking into the user’s former posts and found “an 18-month record of vile comments and memes against Muslims, African-Americans, Jews and others,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. He had multiple posts using the n-word, advocating for eradicating Muslims and using anti-Semitic language.
CNN’s KFile, an investigative team headed by Andrew Kaczynski, started using HanA--holeSolo’s past posts to identify his real name. KFile said they contacted the user on Monday, but he did not respond, and on Tuesday HanA--holeSolo posted a lengthy apology on Reddit and deleted his other posts, saying he was simply trolling and calling it an addiction. As of Wednesday morning, he has deleted his Reddit account.
“First of all, I would like to apologize to the members of the Reddit community for getting this site and this sub embroiled in a controversy that should never have happened,” he wrote, according to CNN. “I would also like to apologize for the posts made that were racist, bigoted, and anti-semitic. I am in no way this kind of person, I love and accept people of all walks of life and have done so for my entire life. I am not the person that the media portrays me to be in real life, I was trolling and posting things to get a reaction from the subs on reddit and never meant any of the hateful things I said in those posts. I would never support any kind of violence or actions against others simply for what they believe in, their religion, or the lifestyle they choose to have. Nor would I carry out any violence against anyone based upon that or support anyone who did.”
“The meme was created purely as satire, it was not meant to be a call to violence against CNN or any other news affiliation,” he continued. “I had no idea anyone would take it and put sound to it and then have it put up on the President’s Twitter feed. It was a prank, nothing more. What the President’s feed showed was not the original post that was posted here, but loaded up somewhere else and sound added to it then sent out on Twitter. I thought it was the original post that was made and that is why I took credit for it. I have the highest respect for the journalist community and they put their lives on the line every day with the jobs that they do in reporting the news.”
Kaczynski said after posting the apology – which was soon removed by the pro-Trump subreddit – HanA--holeSolo called him to confirm his identity, but asked the reporter not to release it “out of fear for his personal safety and for the public embarrassment it would bring to him and his family.”
Kaczynski wrote that he would not release the name at this time because the user was a private citizen, had apologized, taken down his offensive posts and said he would not repeat the behavior. But then he qualified that statement by saying, “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
That qualifier produced polarizing opinions, with some defending CNN’s right to name a confirmed source if they choose and others interpreting the statement to mean the major news network was blackmailing a private citizen into staying quiet.
Some said HanA--holeSolo is a teenager, but Kaczynski denies that and said the user is a “middle-aged man,” and accused some of intentionally spreading that false rumor. Kaczynski also said his line was “misinterpreted” and simply meant to communicate that they had made no agreement with the man that would prevent CNN from naming him.
Other journalists, meanwhile, have gotten death threats over their coverage of HanA--holeSolo’s posts. Jared Yates Sexton, a New York Times contributor, showed HuffPo threatening messages sent to him that warned of a looming “journocaust” — presumably a holocaust for journalists – and “a civil war coming.”