A year ago, Mike Cernovich was a fringe blogger posting a blend of pro-Trump memes and self-help tips from his home base in Southern California. Today, he's beating the mainstream media to some of the Trump era's biggest news stories.
While still far from a household name, Cernovich was first to ID Susan Rice as the key official in the "unmasking" controversy -- and accurately predicted President Trump's strikes in Syria last week, shortly before they were launched.
The scoops don't mean he's gone mainstream. Cernovich remains a divisive figure, derided by some media outlets as a cog of the alt-right and a white nationalist, labels he rejects. But his recent reporting is attracting growing attention, including from Trump's inner circle.
“I view myself as having an adversarial approach to the media,” he told Fox News. “I want to do journalism on journalists. I want to do the stories on stories that aren’t being told.”
Cernovich describes himself as a “lawyer, author, free speech activist, and documentary filmmaker.” Before he was on the Trump train, he started out as a self-help guru for men, via his blog Danger & Play which offered style and fitness tips, and encouraged men to adopt a style of alpha masculinity.
“I didn’t take the traditional journalist route,” he said. “It started as a Men’s Health kind of thing with a bit of an edge.”
That is an understatement. Some of his posts were inflammatory, including one on "How to choke a woman during sex" and another dismissing the concept of “date rape."
“No one says you were 'date murdered' if killed by boyfriend or a date. It's just ‘murder,’” he had said in a tweet. His views have led The Guardian to label him "a professional misogynist and date rape apologist."
Last year, Cernovich became known for promoting more outlandish stories about Hillary Clinton – he pushed the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that she was connected to a child sex ring in a D.C. pizzeria, and promoted a number of theories about Clinton’s allegedly failing health, once making #HillarysHealth a trending hashtag on Twitter.
But Cernovich rejects claims by some that he's a white nationalist, saying that indicates a focus on a white ethno state -- something he says he has no interest in -- and notes his daughter is half-Persian.
“I call it the new right,” he said, when asked how he'd describe his affiliation. “The new right-wing movement is a wide group of people committed to free speech, anti-war, trade, it’s sympathetic to whistleblowers. It’s coalescing on a number of issues.”
While #HillarysHealth was dismissed by many as a fringe conspiracy theory, other media eventually focused closely on her health after she collapsed at a 9/11 remembrance service and was filmed being dragged into a van by aides.
"60 Minutes" profiled Cernovich recently after the pizzeria – Comet Ping Pong -- at the center of the D.C. conspiracy theory was raided by a gunman. However, Cernovich adamantly says he never named the restaurant. His connection to "Pizzagate" led "60 Minutes" to brand him as a spreader of fake news.
But two recent scoops have been anything but fake.
On April 2, Cernovich named Rice as the high-level Obama administration official behind the “unmasking” of names of Trump campaign officials caught up in surveillance. He posted the scoop on Twitter and on Medium, and the news quickly zipped around right-wing Twitter users and Reddit groups.
Bloomberg News and Fox News then reported that Rice sought to unmask the names, leading other outlets to focus on the story and forcing a response from Rice herself, who maintains she acted appropriately.
But those who monitor Cernovich already were well aware of the claim. The scoop was noticed in particular by Donald Trump Jr., who said Cernovich deserved a Pulitzer.
But Cernovich wasn’t done. On April 6, at 4:01 p.m. ET, after the Assad regime was accused of launching a chemical weapons attack in northern Syria, Cernovich tweeted a breaking news alert that imminent U.S. strikes were possible:
According to Fox News’ reporting, this was less than 30 minutes before Trump OK’d the airstrikes on Syria. Again, Cernovich’s reporting initially was ignored by mainstream reporters, until the strikes began.
Cernovich has been noticed by top Trump officials, though it's unclear how close his own sources may be to them. In addition to Trump Jr.’s tweet, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway promoted his appearance on "60 Minutes."
Cernovich, noting how controversial he is, said, “It takes a great deal of courage to give me a public shout out, that’s for sure.”
Indeed, some conservatives in outlets like National Review have expressed dismay at members of Trump's inner circle praising Cernovich.
Good lord. How long before you seriously regret tweeting this? https://t.co/WTLY0KthLf— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) April 4, 2017
But Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said he's not surprised.
"Birds of a feather flock together," Bannon told Fox News. "Cernovich deals in the same kind of innuendo that the president does, so it's a marriage made in heaven -- or hell."
Bannon added that Trump has "made no secret of his distaste for the media and so this is another attempt to get around what he considers the enemy."
For his part, Cernovich says he has a number of sources, some anonymous and some not, and he learned of the Rice scoop from sources telling him outlets such as The New York Times and Bloomberg were sitting on the story.
Cernovich’s break is eerily reminiscent of the 1998 scoop that brought Drudge Report’s Matt Drudge to prominence. Drudge broke the news of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, after Newsweek decided to sit on reporter Michael Isikoff’s scoop. Drudge ran with it and it turned the then-fringe news aggregator into one of the biggest names in news.
Cernovich says he is a big admirer of Drudge, and says he counts being added to Drudge’s blog roll as one of the biggest moments of his professional life. He also shares Drudge’s combative approach to the mainstream media.
As for what’s next, Cernovich says he has about five more “high-impact” stories to drop, stories he says the legacy media would love to get their hands on.
“I have a lot of big stories,” he said. “I’m just waiting to drop them at exactly the right time.”