Everything Is Just Dandy!

Inside Keffals’ Battle to Bring Down Kiwi Farms

VICE US
David Gilbert
2022-09-07
https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xgyagd/keffals-kiwi-farms

BELFAST, United Kingdom — Clara Sorrenti didn’t feel like she had many options when she left her home in Canada for Northern Ireland. 

The transgender activist and Twitch streamer known online as “Keffals” was running from a mob that spent months attacking her on the far-right hate forum Kiwi Farms. 

They had doxed her, posted personal details about her family members online, and, Sorrenti alleges, ultimately “swatted” her, sending an armed police force to the home she shares with her fiancé. Sorrenti traveled over 3,300 miles to Belfast, where her friend and fellow Twitch streamer Ellen Murray offered sanctuary.

Sorrenti didn’t reveal publicly where she was going and thought she would be safe—but she was wrong. Within days of arriving in Belfast, after she had resumed streaming, Sorrenti was once again under attack.

“As soon as I ended my stream, I saw a message from my friend that just said, ‘Call the police and don’t go outside.’ So I freaked out and ran to the living room and ducked in the corner because I had no idea what was going to happen,” Sorrenti told VICE News.

Sorrenti found out that someone inspired by the thread on Kiwi Farms had posted a picture of themselves standing outside Murray’s apartment while holding a threatening message. Moments later the police arrived, and told her that someone had reported a shooting at the apartment. No one had been shot, but it was another “swatting” attempt employed to harass and unnerve harassment targets, or even provoke a dangerous encounter with armed police.

The incidents last week were the culmination of a six-month long campaign by users of Kiwi Farms, a transphobic far-right forum that has long been home to some of the more vile hate speech on the internet. Users of the forum have engaged in doxing campaigns, death threats, harassment, and against people around the world like members of the LGBTQ community, women, and other groups.

“As soon as I ended my stream, I saw a message from my friend that just said, ‘Call the police and don’t go outside.’ So I freaked out and ran to the living room and ducked in the corner because I had no idea what was going to happen.”

 Sorrenti has led a vocal campaign to deplatform the forum, and the threats have only intensified. Sitting in a hotel in Belfast two days later after the most recent swatting event, Sorrenti is still shaken. She’s worried about the target on her back, and worried that her campaign to bring down Kiwi Farms might fail.

“If I don’t win this campaign, the rest of my life is going to be hell,” Sorrenti said. “I’ve made myself a significantly larger target for them now and if the groundswell of support goes away, there’s not a lot I can do about it.”

Kiwi Farms

Kiwi Farms grew out of a previous website known as CWCki, which was set up in 2008 to allegedly target a neurodivergent trans woman known as Christine Weston Chandler. Over the years, the site expanded its list of targets. In 2015, under the stewardship of Joshua Moon, it rebranded as Kiwi Farms. 

The forum now has a far-right user base that weaponizes data gathered by private companies about individuals. The users of Kiwi Farms describe their targets as “lolcows,” or “people with eccentric behavior who can be ‘milked’ for entertainment.” But their idea of entertainment involves stalking, harassing, and spreading disinformation. 

Kiwi Farms has operated in the shadows for years, partly because extremism researchers have warned journalists against covering the site, as publicizing it would simply make the site more popular and possibly more dangerous for those targeted.

In July, after months of sustained harassment, Sorrenti decided she’d had enough and went public with the threats she was facing.

Their idea of entertainment involves stalking, harassing, and spreading disinformation. 

“I did a seven-hour long stream where I talked about Kiwi Farms, and the history of it and all the abuse that I’ve faced from that website,” said Sorrenti. “I got banned [from Twitch] because the thumbnail that I used for the title card had slurs in it that were taken from my thread.”

The month-long ban was revoked after a couple of weeks, and at that point Sorrenti simply wanted to get back to her normal streaming, where she discusses trans rights and politics. On August 3, when she started streaming again, Sorrenti didn’t mention the site or its attacks against her, hoping the worst was over.

Two days later, armed police showed up at her door while she was asleep.

“They told me to put my hands up and when I get to the door, there are three police officers,” Sorrenti said. “Two of them were standing up and one of them in the middle was crouched down behind a riot shield with an assault rifle perched on top of the shield.”

The police were there because they were under the impression that Sorrenti had made threats of violence against lawmakers and members of her own family—threats that were actually made in her name by members of Kiwi Farms. The police arrested her while using her deadname, kept her in custody for 11 hours, and spent eight hours searching her house for a firearm that had been mentioned in the threats but doesn’t exist.

The police eventually let her go, and subsequently apologized for using her deadname, but Sorrenti was worried. She moved out of her house and into a hotel. A picture she posted of her cat on the bed in her hotel room was quickly seized on by Kiwi Farm users and they were able to identify what hotel she was staying in simply by analyzing the sheet patterns on the bed.

Sorrenti moved again, hopping between Airbnbs. But then a hacker group with connections to Kiwi Farms allegedly hacked her Uber account, and those of her mother and two brothers. The hacker posted their personal details online—including all addresses they had been to in recent weeks.

Her family members also began receiving terrifying, automated voicemails:

At that point, Sorrenti says she knew she had to leave.

“I wanted to get further away from [my family] because the only reason they’re being targeted is because they’re associated with me and close to me—which coincidentally is part of why Kiwi Farms goes after people’s families and their support structures, they want to isolate them from people,” Sorrenti said.

But what Kiwi Farms users didn’t know was that Sorrento wasn’t isolated: She was being supported by a team of friends, activists, and academics from the transgender community and beyond, including high-profile people like Chelsea Manning.

This group was central to helping Sorrenti launch her #DropKiwiFarms campaign that was aiming to deplatform the forum by forcing Cloudflare, the internet infrastructure and cybersecurity company, to drop their support for the site. 

The group also took on the responsibility for monitoring, reporting, and archiving everything that was being posted about her on the forum.

Central to all of this was Murray, Sorrenti’s contact in Ireland, who worked tirelessly to make sure that Sorrenti was safe. “It was probably three full-time jobs in terms of staff hours,” Murray told VICE News, about coordinating the work. “Probably, 24 hours of work each day.”

Murray has also been the subject of threats from Kiwi Farms’ users and had some of her personal information posted online. She doesn’t know how they found her home address; not only did someone show up outside her flat within days of Sorrenti arriving, but 30 minutes after that picture was posted was when the police arrived and said someone had reported a shooting.

A source with knowledge of the investigation told VICE News the police are focusing their investigation on a 16-year-old male from Derry.

Murray and Sorrenti were able to show the police news stories about the swatting in Canada that happened weeks prior, and they quickly stood down. Police are now aware of the situation and have put a flag on Murray’s apartment in case further threats are made. 

Law enforcement in Northern Ireland refused to comment on their investigation into the person who posted the threat outside of Murray’s apartment in Belfast, but a source with knowledge of the investigation told VICE News the police are focusing their investigation on a 16-year-old male from Derry.

At the time VICE News spoke to Sorrenti in Belfast, it looked like Cloudflare was not going to back down.

“Just as the telephone company doesn’t terminate your line if you say awful, racist, bigoted things, we have concluded in consultation with politicians, policy makers, and experts that turning off security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy,” Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince and Alissa Starzak, the company’s vice president and global head of public policy, wrote in a blog post published last Wednesday.

But within days, Cloudflare reversed course and announced it would be blocking Kiwi Farms because of an “imminent and emergency threat to human life.” The site soon resurfaced with a Russian-based provider, though that service quickly pulled support. On Tuesday, the site reappeared again with another provider, but had issues staying online.

“Kiwi Farms tried once again to go online, this time using a Chinese domain,” Sorrenti tweeted on Tuesday. “Now the servers cannot even be reached. When I said it is dead, I meant it. They will continue to stay on life support jumping domain to domain with a worse iteration of the site each time. We won.”

Hate Forum

Kiwi Farms users have been laser focused on attacking trans people and others—oftentimes with horrific consequences. 

In 2019, Kiwi Farms gained notoriety after it refused to take down the livestream video of the Christchurch massacre posted on its site or hand over information about the user who had posted the video. Moon responded to police inquiries and called New Zealand “a small, irrelevant island nation” and “shithole country.” 

The hate site has also been allegedly linked to the suicides of at least three people and the vicious harassment of hundreds more. 

In June 2021, Kiwi Farms users harassed a non-binary game developer known as Near. Users attacked Near for being autistic, doxed their personal information, and even went so far as to suicide bait Near’s friends.

When Near asked Moon to take down the posts, and end the harassment campaign, Moon refused. Days letter, Near posted a Twitter thread blaming Kiwi Farms for pushing them over the edge; Near died by suicide soon after.

“I would have kept going if Joshua Moon had shown me just the tiniest bit of compassion,” Near wrote in a message published before their death. “But he chose not to. That’s not on me, that’s on him. That’s on every last person who pushed me to this point and didn’t let up. I never deserved any of this.”

The hate site has also been allegedly linked to the suicides of at least three people and the vicious harassment of hundreds more. 

When someone becomes a specific target on Kiwi Farms, the site’s users create a dedicated thread on the forum. Sorrenti became a target of Kiwi Farms’ hatred in March, and to date her thread, which is filled with lies, disinformation, and Sorrenti’s most personal information, has 2,300 pages and more than 46,500 comments. Near had a thread, as did Chloe Sagal, a trans game developer who died by suicide in 2018.

“She made a post on Facebook about how she was suicidal to reach out for help to her friends and family and Kiwi Farms users mass reported it and got her locked out of her account,” Sorrenti said about Sagal. “She ended up lighting herself on fire in a public park.”

In the hours after the news broke that Kiwi Farms was no longer online, people once attacked by users shared their stories. 

“Crazy story: My 9yo trans child was so proud and confident that they ended up on the cover of National Geographic Magazine,” Debi Jackson, a trans rights advocate, tweeted. “But within days, we were doxxed on Kiwi Farms. The kind and gentle folks who call themselves Kiwi Farmers decided that I was a groomer pedophile and that Avery would only be ‘safe’ if they exposed our full names, addresses, cell phone numbers, places of work, etc. ‘to protect the children.’”

Taylor Lorenz, a journalist at the Washington Post, celebrated the downfall of Kiwi Farms as well. “As someone who was targeted by the community for years I can’t believe what [Sorrenti] and everyone who worked toward this for so long has accomplished,” Lorenz tweeted. “Such an incredible feat and reminder of the power of collective action.”

The reactions were visceral: “My husband just broke the news to us about KiwiFarms,” one person on Twitter wrote. “My mother is currently upstairs in the bathroom sobbing in relief. For the first time in seven years, my beautiful family is safe.”

While a version of the site is accessible on the dark web, Moon said on Monday that he did not envision “a situation where the Kiwi Farms is simply allowed to operate.”

But on Tuesday, Moon posted a new link to a new Kiwi Farms site using a Chinese-administered domain. The site is being hosted by Washington state-based web hosting and DDOS-protection company VanwaTech, the company that also provides services to 8kun, the former home of QAnon, and the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer.

One of the people involved in VanwaTech, according to an investigation by Logically in 2020, is Jim Watkins, the owner of 8kun and father of failed Congressional candidate Ron Watkins, who many believe was Q.

During an appearance on an online conspiracy show earlier this week, Jim Watkins discussed the possibility of Cloudflare dropping Kiwi Farms and said: “I’m OK with them losing customers [because] I may be in a position shortly to take some of those customers,” Watkins said. 

VanwaTech’s CEO Nick Lim disputed the links to Watkins, saying he or his company have no relationship with VanwaTech even though the document Logically relied on for its investigation is still online

“I don’t want to hide anymore.”

For now, Sorrenti is taking everything “day-to-day” and trying to take stock of what’s happened to her in the last month. She’s planning to stay in Europe for the next few weeks.

“I don’t want to hide anymore, I don’t want to keep running, I’m getting exhausted,” Sorrenti said, adding that she’s getting advice on how to take a break from it all. “I even had Chelsea Manning call me the other day and tell me I need a hobby, I need to go do something that isn’t work.” 

But no matter where she goes, she knows the threats are likely to continue. “I don’t really think anyone is going to come for me in Belfast but I am still nervous. No matter where I go people are always going to try and track me down and I get threatened every day,” she said. “I’m getting death threats and rape threats and people threatening to come to my house. It’s just insane.”

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