North Carolina politics are fucking nuts. Only in a state with some of the most undemocratically gerrymandered districts in the country and a far-right legislature whose signature policy achievement, by the way, is a bill that was essentially an act of blatant transphobia would a prominent state senator get caught investing in a social network for Nazis and brush it off by claiming he’s a victim of a smear campaign. And yet that’s exactly what State Senator Dan Bishop of Charlotte, NC did last week, after a Daily Mail investigation revealed he was “one of the only known investors” in Gab. In case you aren’t familiar with Gab, it’s an upstart social network that caters to racists, neo-Nazis, the alt-right, and anyone else who’s too odious a person for Twitter. It’s an unsavory platform to be affiliated with, even if you’re a company providing them services behind the scenes, and when it was revealed that Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers routinely posted anti-Semitic messages to the site, companies such as Stripe, PayPal, Microsoft, GoDaddy, and hosting service Joyent terminated their business relationships with the social network for Nazis. The site is currently offline but claims to be re-launching soon.
But when Bishop was called out for funding the site, he issued a statement in which he clarified that he’d invested a mere $500 in Gab and plead ignorance of the type of speech that occurs on the site and claiming he was being “targeted and smeared by a British tabloid.” View the full statement below:
My statement on Gab: pic.twitter.com/3nZZUa2JyT— Sen. Dan Bishop (@jdanbishop) October 31, 2018
Even if you’ve never met Dan Bishop, you know his type. He loves the rules — but only when he gets to write them so that they benefit him and his friends, and/or weaponize them against people who are not his friends. He first rose to ignominy in 2016, when as a first-term member of the North Carolina House of Representatives he helped write and sponsor HB2, North Carolina’s notorious “bathroom bill” which was meant to almost completely erase the rights of trans individuals in the state. After drawing criticism for his sponsorship of the bill, Bishop claimed he was a victim of “the radical transgender agenda.” That fall, Bishop was elected to the State Senate, where he continued to break new ground in the field of bad-faith conservative slimeballery. Shortly after he was sworn in last year, he pledged to introduce legislation that would criminalize protesting against former elected officials, citing “ubiquitous leftist rioters” who had chanted “Shame!” at ex-Governor Pat McCrory for having signed the Bishop-sponsored HB2 into law. Then, in the wake of a series of student protests against alt-right speakers on the UC Berkeley campus, Bishop introduced a “campus free speech” bill that would have made it easier to punish students at publicly funded colleges for demonstrating on campus, while simultaneously rewriting the definition of “harassment” on college campuses in a way that would make it legal to discriminate against minorities, women, and individuals who identified as LGBTQ. And this spring, he sponsored a bill that would have both armed public school teachers and give them the authority to arrest their own students. Politically, the guy’s somewhere to the right of Kid Rock and a little to the left of, like, Jair Bolsonaro.
With all this in mind, it’s hard to believe the guy when he claims wasn’t aware of exactly what sort of shit was going down on Gab. A quick perusal of Bishop’s Twitter reveals that in the weeks following Charlottesville — which is to say, as he was investing $500 in Gab — he “Liked” a Dinesh D’Souza tweet speculating that the violence at the Unite the Right rally had been staged, multiple tweets equating anti-fascists with neo-Nazis, and a tweet that contained a screenshot from 4Chan promoting the conspiracy theory that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock was a government agent.
Now, I’m not saying that everything Bishop has done online should be used as evidence against his character, but it does fit into a pattern of who Bishop’s willing to give the benefit of the doubt to — namely, white nationalists and active shooters. And Bishop’s pleas of ignorance become even less credulous when you take into account the fact that the guy literally follows Gab, which has its own history of posting anti-Semitic content, on Twitter.
While Bishop would argue that his $500 investment in Gab is trivial, it’s really, really, really not. For one, it betrays a direct ideological pipeline between his policy proposals and literal white nationalism — it’s these people whose interests he advocates for, not the state’s most vulnerable communities, whose rights he’s helped systematically strip away to the point that they don’t have $500 to invest in anything. Bishop and other politicians of his ilk may not be white nationalists themselves, but they share the common interest in placing themselves at the top of a hierarchy that codifies the status of conservative white men as a privileged class who are beyond reproach.
I reached out to both Bishop and Gab itself asking for documentation that would confirm the accuracy of Bishop’s claim that he invested a mere $500 in Gab, but did not receive a response. But based on Bishop’s public statements and documents listed on a StartEngine investor page that he linked to when he announced he was backing the platform, $500 would have bought an investor about 454 shares of Gab, which were worth $1.10 at the time. Unlike shares of publicly traded stocks, it’s hard to tell how much Bishop’s shares in Gab, which relies upon the relatively new and generally sketchy model of equity crowdfunding, are worth now, or if Bishop still owns those shares. But in an SEC filing earlier this week, Gab asserted a self-determined valuation of $38,857,546. How they came up with that number, I have no idea, but it’s almost four times greater than the $9,900,000 that Gab said it was worth back when Bishop invested.
Neither Bishop nor Gab responded to emails asking what the current worth of Bishop’s shares are, and a voicemail I left with Bishop’s office requesting to speak with him about his investment went unreturned. However, equity crowdfunding investments are highly speculative, the sort of thing you go into with the full knowledge that you’re probably going to lose your money. In this sense, they’re less like buying stock in a company and more like donating to a Kickstarter — projects whose mission you believe in and want to see exist in the world. Dan Bishop actively helped sustain an online space that encourages humanity’s worst impulses to go unchecked in the name of “free speech” to the point that there are vastly more people who feel unwelcome there than people who do. Given the rest of his political priorities, I’d say the guy got his money’s worth.