Eric Garland went to sleep on December 10 with 5,000 Twitter followers. When he woke up the next day he had 30,000.
“It was pretty awesome,” Garland told Business Insider in an interview.
“When you’re used to one level of Twitter and you see Luke f—ing Skywalker liked your tweets — he didn’t ask me to raise his kids if he died or anything — but it’s like, I’m 43 years old, so ‘Star Wars’ took the place of all religions.”
Garland wasn’t used to national media attention — his work was relatively obscure with a few exceptions. He previously published a handful of economic articles on The Atlantic, appeared on little-watched shows on HuffPost Live and Russia Today, and attempted unsuccessfully to kick-start a US stand-up comedy tour titled “WTF is up with the economy?”
A self-described “DC technocrat” based in St. Louis, Garland runs the small consulting firm Competitive Futures, which examines economic and political situations and advises corporate clients. Although he said many of his clients are confidential, he said governments in Monaco and France, as well as companies like Energizer, paid his firm for “strategic analysis” on topics like energy and housing. He boasted that his firm “predicted the housing crisis” in 2008, and it provides similar insights to corporate and government clients.
But since December, that hasn’t been Garland’s primary calling card.
Garland struck a nerve last year with a 127-tweet polemic supposedly describing the “game theory” of how almost every prominent aspect of recent American political history culminated in Russia’s interference in the US 2016 election.
By Garland’s estimation, Hurricane Katrina, the creation of conservative think tanks, former President Bill Clinton’s air war with deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and television ads for pharmaceuticals during the Iraq War were relevant to Russia’s hacking of Democratic National Committee emails.
The tweetstorm was instantly praised for stringing together disparate pieces into a grand narrative. It earned shout-outs from politically engaged celebrities like Mark Hamill (which excited Garland) and Patton Oswalt, as well as a number of prominent journalists. Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold said the thread was “great writing,” while Mother Jones editor Clara Jeffrey declared it the “Federalist Paper of 2016.”
“I don’t necessarily agree,” Garland conceded. “I read the Federalist Papers. It’s not that coherent.”
But rather than fading into political obscurity, à la media sensations Ken Bone and Joe the Plumber, Garland has built a loyal following who cheer on his aggressive denunciations now delivered in daily tweetstorms.
Since December, Garland has tacked on an addition 50,000 followers (he’s at nearly 84,000 right now) who eagerly herald or mock his diatribes. Though his favourite threading topic is Trump’s potential ties to Russia — a subject over which he will challenge established reporters directly in extended threads — he’s also threaded about Fox News, the state of the American left, and “concern trolling.”
Garland is part of a crop of left-leaning online pundits who have emerged postelection, connecting with disheartened or angry liberal news consumers with an anti-Trump message that focuses heavily on the president’s ties with Russia.
The rage has reared its head in different corners of the internet.
Former top staffers to President Barack Obama, for instance, rocketed to the top of podcast charts with “Pod Save America,” a pithy recap of recent political news that skewers Republicans and political journalists alike. Divorced from multiple cable networks, meanwhile, former ESPN and MSNBC personality Keith Olbermann launched his own video show on GQ Magazine that racks up hundreds of thousands of views multiple times a week with titles like “On Behalf of America, An Apology” and “Life in Trump’s America Just Got Worse for Your Pet.”
And Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca emerged from relative digital-media obscurity after authoring a viral piece about Trump “gaslighting” America, then going toe-to-toe with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
‘You just have to read a lot of news and know where to go’
But nowhere are the anti-Trump Russia theorists louder than on Twitter.
There, Garland’s screeds are magnified by other rising Twitter stars like the former conservative UK member of Parliament Louise Mensch — the former Heat Street website leader famous for peddling conspiracy theories — and freelance reporter Sarah Kendzior, who trade theories about Trump’s potential ties to Russia. Garland told Business Insider that the three often promote one another’s work and correspond privately.
Garland’s primary medium is “spastic” histories that explain contemporary politics that pingpong between subjects and metaphors, often leaving one thought unfinished to pursue another, more invigorating theory.
“We have a free and open press that are pretty good,” Garland said, referring to his style. “This is where I come in. It doesn’t always put the story together for people in a way that they can comprehend. There are very few complete conspiracies out there. There are conspiracies that people are assembling who aren’t telling what they’re really about, what their real goals and interest are.
“We have a group of conspirators in the White House right now who are dishonest about what they were really intending. But for the most part, there are a lot of things that are not conspiracies in the sense that they’re hidden. There are a lot of secrets — you just have to read a lot of news and know where to go and just remember it, and you can put a lot of different stories together.”
He’s not afraid to offer brazen predictions or cast aspersions — occasionally without much more than speculation.
Garland posited that House Intelligence chair Devin Nunes would go to prison over his handling of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election, and Trump would leave office “within weeks” because of indictments over yet unproven ties to Russia.
To Garland, former NSA official Edward Snowden proved unequivocally he was a Russian spy when he leaked internal documents.
“Homeboy took a million files out of the NSA database with him. No, not journalism, not crushing journalism. It was espionage, active measures. Sorry. Boom, called it,” Garland said.
And according to news reports he didn’t specify and Business Insider could not locate, Russian lawmakers have so clearly manipulated Trump, American intelligence officials recorded Russians calling the president “pussyboy.”
But while his followers are quick to share Garland’s theories, many journalists find the speculation irresponsible and hilariously absurd.
His tweetstorms have frequently provoked mockery. “Time for some game theory” became a meme on December 12 before many people saw the original thread, as Twitter users skewered its schizophrenic leaps from topic to topic without much explanation.
He inspired a similar reaction when he declared he would be willing to “SPILL BLOOD” to protect America from Fox News, a tweet he acknowledged was “one of the more unhinged-sounding” of his recent posts.
“Sometimes there’s a certain adrenaline element in just letting the clutch out and hitting the gas and going, ‘All right, you sons of guns!'” he said.
Garland defended his bold pronouncements as part of a strategy to attract attention to Trump’s ties to Russia and to criticise media outlets like Fox News.
“In a way, you’re kind of setting your hair on fire and running around,” Garland said. “And I’ll be the first to tell you: I know it’s not a way to preserve traditional credibility.
“That’s part of something I’m doing with something like that. Like, ‘Yeah I think this is so important, I don’t care what you think about me.’ Because Russia — they have nukes. This is a big deal. And if people are not paying attention to this — and you know, with [the tweetstorm] I was thinking cognitively, ‘Yeah, looks like Fox is going to bite onto this, let’s really let them have it. Let’s let them have it in a visceral way: F— you guys!’ Because what they’re doing is wrong.”
Indeed, his passion has been misconstrued for inebriation. Suggestions that he was on cocaine irked Garland initially, and he told Business Insider he asked several lawyers if he had grounds to sue Twitter users for libel. (They said he didn’t.)
But Garland has come to embrace his haters.
“I’ve never done hard drugs in my life. I’m naturally wired this way,” he said. “For all these people saying I do all this cocaine, it’s like — when is someone going to offer me cocaine? I’ve never done it, but pass the coke, guys. Where’s the blow here?”
He claimed his detractors are a combination of leftists and misguided journalists, while some were “Russians and bots” certainly programmed by malicious foreign actors to be used against people attempting to expose injustice.
“A great number of journalists who supposedly have gravitas want to tag me with very juvenile high-school-like taunts,” Garland said. “I guess this is the culture on Twitter.”
Asked specifically to whom he was referring, Garland wouldn’t say.
“I’m not going to justify the beefs — I got two hours of sleep last night. Yeah, f— them,” he said.
‘They’d have to shut down Twitter’
But critics felt that people like Garland were providing fuel to an increasingly hysterical center-left unable to come to grips with Hillary Clinton’s loss last year.
Writing for Slate, journalist Sam Kriss described Garland as a “charlatan, a snake-oil salesman, peddling sleek gibberish to people who’ve never read a book without ‘… and how YOU can profit’ in the subtitle; in any true meritocracy he’d be putting his strategic skills to work hawking trinkets by the roadside.
“It’s strange, but not surprising, that so many people would sing the praises of Garland’s masterpiece, because it is absolutely the worst piece of political writing ever inflicted on any public in human history,” Kriss wrote.
(Garland described the article as “libelous,” but also said it “made several family members nearly pee with laughter.”)
Though Garland continues to post furiously, he said the increased scrutiny has made him think twice before tweeting.
“If I mess up now, I’m part of the problem, I’m fake news,” Garland said. “It comes, for me, with a deeper sense of responsibility.”
He’s pleased with his role as one of the progenitors of the center-left threads, and sees his role online as someone who can prop up other nonmedia figures who have been inspired to thread.
Indeed, he told Business Insider that he was particularly proud he inspired fans to launch their first threads.
Last week, self-described student Steph Bello addressed a 30-tweet invective about the supposed failure of cable news to adequately cover the Russia story directly to Garland. Boosted by Garland’s endorsement, the tweetstorm racked up thousands of retweets.
“This is becoming this group project,” he said. “You get new voices out of that. It makes it an exciting time to be a user.”
But that doesn’t mean he intends to cede tweetstorming to others.
Asked about a scenario in which he stopped tweeting, Garland said it would be virtually impossible.
“They’d have to shut down Twitter,” he replied.
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