WalkAway campaign

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#WalkAway campaign
FormationMay 26, 2018; 3 years ago (2018-05-26)
FounderBrandon Straka
PurposeEncouraging liberals to leave the Democratic Party[1]
Location
  • United States, Canada
Websitewww.walkawaycampaign.com

The #WalkAway campaign is a social-media campaign that was launched ahead of the United States 2018 mid-term elections with the stated purpose of encouraging liberals to leave the Democratic Party.[2][3] The campaign has been organizing events in support of Donald Trump. It was noted and criticized for using astroturfing methods of gathering support, by counterfeiting a popular movement of people who have left the party.

In 2021, the group's founder, Brandon Straka, a hairstylist from New York City,[2] was charged with and convicted[4] of participating in the 2021 United States Capitol attack. Following this, the group's Facebook page, which had more than half a million followers, was closed for violations of the site's terms of service.[5]

Organization[edit]

U.S. Representative Don Bacon speaking at a WalkAway rally in Omaha, Nebraska, in October 2020

The campaign is set up as a foundation and a political action committee:

  • The #WalkAway Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) organization defined as an Alliance/Advocacy Organizations within the Public, Society Benefit - Multipurpose and Other category. The IRS ruling year for tax exemption was 2019.[6] While no IRS annual return is on file for 2019, the 2018 filing shows contributions of $97,950 with officers reported as Brandon Straka, chairman; Maria Albanese, director, and Tracy Diaz, director.[7] As of October 28, 2020, the foundation was involved in an online fundraising campaign through classy.org which had raised nearly $125,000.[8]
  • The PAC is set up as #Walkaway Campaign PAC and shows receipts of $29,000 through the 2020 cycle. The FEC registration is C00718197 and the treasurer of the PAC is indicated as Dan Backer.[9]

Methods and fundraising[edit]

Observers and commentators have raised doubts as to what extent #WalkAway Campaign is an example of astroturfing rather than a genuine grassroots movement. Straka has stated that WalkAway does not receive major donations and that "everything is grassroots support from Americans who send us $5 or $100."[10] As of May 2020, OpenSecrets reported that of the $20,104 donated to WalkAway in 2020, $7,521 were contributed by nine large ($200 or more) donors, of which Straka is one.[11][better source needed] Soon after its founding in 2018, WalkAway received a $10,000 donation from Alex Jones and InfoWars.[12][2][13]

Activities[edit]

In the runup to the 2020 United States presidential election, the WalkAway campaign held rallies and marches in various cities, an effort to get people to vote for President Donald Trump. In August 2020, the WalkAway campaign held a rally in West Hollywood, California. Nearly 300 demonstrators attended, including YouTuber Joy Villa. Many held flags and signs supportive of Trump and critical of the Democratic Party.[14] On September 5, the campaign held a rally in Dallas, Texas, during which a Black Lives Matter counter-protester was arrested on at least ten outstanding warrants and given two misdemeanor citations for assault.[15] On October 3, 2020, Straka held a rally in Washington, D.C.[16]

Straka in the 2021 Capitol attack[edit]

Straka attended the 2021 United States Capitol attack and spoke to crowds on January 5 where he referred to the audience as "patriots" and referred repeatedly to a "revolution." He also told the attendees to "fight back" and added, "We are sending a message to the Democrats, we are not going away, you've got a problem!"[17][18]

The next day, he urged protestors to take away a police officer's shield, shouting "Take it away from him" and "Take it! Take it!" Later, as others tried to charge through the entrance to the Capitol, he shouted, "Go! Go!"[18]

On January 8, Facebook closed the #WalkAway page, which had more than half a million followers at the time. The page was replaced with a message from Facebook saying the page had violated its terms of use.[5] The shutdown came in the wake of the Capitol attack, when Facebook and other social media platforms increased their enforcement of terms of service that ban the incitement of violence.[19] Facebook said the page violated a policy on content that was, "hateful, threatening, or obscene".[20]

On January 25, Straka was arrested in Nebraska by the FBI for "impeding law enforcement officers during civil disorder" and unlawful entry into a restricted building, as well as disorderly conduct in relation to his role in the violent disturbance.[18][21] He pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge in October 2021, which could be punishable by up to six months in prison, and agreed to provide private social media and other evidence to investigators.[22] Prosecutors postponed Straka's December 2021 sentencing for thirty days to evaluate evidence he had provided.[23] Straka was later sentenced to three years probation for his role in the Capitol riot.[24]

Reactions[edit]

David A. Love of CNN condemned the campaign as "pure propaganda [and] a psychological operation."[25] The website Hamilton 68, which tracks Russia's interference on U.S. elections, reported that #WalkAway was "connected to Kremlin-linked Russian bots to manipulate voters into thinking the movement was more popular and active than it actually was."[10]

Abby Ohlheiser of The Washington Post claimed that "[t]here’s little actual evidence to suggest that #WalkAway represents a mass conversion of millions – or even thousands – of Democrats" and contrasted the broad appeal of true viral videos with the "Conservative Internet viral" nature of the WalkAway video.[26] ThinkProgress characterized the campaign as "a grifting operation," noting efforts by the organizers to sell dinner packages priced in the hundreds of dollars to march attendees.[27]

Slate journalist Mark Joseph Stern accused Straka of presenting royalty-free stock images from Shutterstock and claiming they were of people who had left the Democratic Party,[28] though Straka has denied that any such material originated from the WalkAway campaign. Fact-checking website Snopes stated that it could not determine whether this use of stock images had originated from campaign organizers.[29]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "About". #WalkAway Campaign. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c FitSimons, Tim (August 21, 2018). "Meet Brandon Straka, a gay former liberal encouraging others to #WalkAway from Democrats". NBC News. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  3. ^ Richardson, Davis (September 13, 2018). "#WalkAway Founder Is Latest to Spread 'Facebook Ban' Disinformation". observer.com. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  4. ^ Cooper, Alex (December 20, 2021). "Convicted Gay Trump Ally Brandon Straka Cooperating With Authorities". www.gaycitynews.com. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  5. ^ a b Osborne, Duncan. "Social Media Platforms Run Away from #WalkAway Campaign – Gay City News". www.gaycitynews.com. Retrieved April 19, 2021.
  6. ^ "Walkaway Foundation". Retrieved October 28, 2020.
  7. ^ "Walkaway Foundation - NYS Attorney General - Charities". Retrieved October 28, 2020.
  8. ^ "Walkaway Foundation- Donate Now". Archived from the original on November 1, 2020. Retrieved October 28, 2020.
  9. ^ "Walkaway Campaign PAC - OpenSecrets". Retrieved October 28, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Suggs, Ernie (September 17, 2019). "#Walkaway movement to hold Atlanta event amid questions about support". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  11. ^ "Walkaway Campaign PAC Summary | OpenSecrets". www.opensecrets.org. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  12. ^ Isaacs, Deanna (July 10, 2019). "A dramatic confrontation between the right-wing political group #WalkAway and Theater Wit ends up on YouTube". The Chicago Reader.
  13. ^ "Hi everyone, I'm Brandon Straka, founder of #WalkAway Campaign, a true grassroots movement..." August 7, 2018. Retrieved August 20, 2020.
  14. ^ Scott, Henry E. (August 8, 2020). "Nearly 300 #WalkAway Demonstrators Rally in West Hollywood to Support Trump". WEHOville. Retrieved January 3, 2021.
  15. ^ "Activist Dominique Alexander, others detained following incident at Dallas WalkAway Campaign rally". WFAA. September 5, 2020.
  16. ^ Satterfield, Kolbie (October 3, 2020). "Political protests and rallies fill DC streets 1 month before election". WUSA9.
  17. ^ "MAGA influencer Brandon Straka arrested in connection with Capitol assault". NBC News. Retrieved April 19, 2021.
  18. ^ a b c Gerstein, Josh (January 25, 2021). "Stop the Steal organizer charged in Capitol riot". Politico. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  19. ^ Fischer, Ashley Gold, Sara (January 8, 2021). "Facebook, Twitter and the long march toward banning Trump". Axios. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  20. ^ "Anti-Democrat WalkAway Campaign banished from Facebook". Fox News.
  21. ^ "MAGA influencer Brandon Straka arrested in connection with Capitol assault". NBC News. Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  22. ^ Hsu, Spencer (October 6, 2021). "Pro-Trump social media influencer and speaker at Jan. 5 rally pleads guilty to disorderly conduct in Capitol riot". The Washington Post.
  23. ^ Kyle, Cheney (December 17, 2021). "Trump ally Straka has provided potentially significant information". Politico.
  24. ^ "Pro-Trump influencer sentenced to three years of probation for his participation in the Capitol riot".
  25. ^ Love, David A. "Russian bots are using #WalkAway to try to wound Dems in midterms". CNN. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  26. ^ Ohlheiser, Abby (July 2, 2018). "Analysis | The #WalkAway meme is what happens when everything is viral and nothing matters". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  27. ^ Michel, Casey (October 16, 2018). "Pro-Trump #WalkAway March has all the signs of a grifting operation". ThinkProgress.
  28. ^ "These people who "walked away from the Democrats" are stock-photo models". Fast Company. July 24, 2018. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  29. ^ "FACT CHECK: Did the #WalkAway Campaign Use Stock Photographs for People It Claimed Left the Democratic Party?". Snopes.com. Retrieved November 3, 2018.