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Can Gettr Become the Online Gathering Place for Trump’s G.O.P.?

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Can Gettr Become the Online Gathering Place for Trump’s G.O.P.?

If you’re not familiar with Gettr, the conservative social-media app, you can be forgiven. Its most notable moment had been when the site was hacked on its launch day: July 4, 2021. Since then, it’s toiled in relative anonymity, working hard to be the free-speech alternative to Twitter, or the “Twitter killer,” in the words of Steve Bannon, a frequent Gettr poster.

But the company just had a blockbuster week, reporting seven hundred thousand new users on the site. After Twitter banned both the congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s personal account and Robert Malone, a prominent doctor on conservative media, for spreading vaccine misinformation, Joe Rogan joined Gettr. “Just in case shit over at Twitter gets even dumber,” Rogan wrote. “I’m here now as well.” The masses took note.

Early Newspaper

Before Christmas, I met with Gettr’s C.E.O., Jason Miller, a savvy veteran survivor of both Trump Presidential campaigns. As a senior communications adviser on the 2016 campaign, Miller famously impregnated a fellow-staffer while his own wife was pregnant. A few days before the 2020 election, he claimed that Democrats were “going to try to steal it back.” On January 6th, he reportedly drafted a pair of tweets for Trump, claiming that “the fake news media” was “trying to blame peaceful and innocent MAGA supporters for violent actions.” One of the drafts, which was never posted, said, “Our people should head home and let the criminals suffer the consequences!” (Miller, who has been subpoenaed by the January 6th committee, told me, “My lawyers are talking with them.”) I had hoped to meet him at his company’s offices, on Columbus Circle—where “a couple few dozen” people work, Miller said—but the Omicron surge dampened those plans. Instead, we met in a coffee shop’s outdoor shed. Beforehand, a Gettr spokeswoman had assured me—unprompted—that Miller, who arrived in a KN95 mask, was vaccinated and boosted.

After a little chitchat about D.C. (Miller commutes to New York a few days a week from his home in Arlington, Virginia), our conversation turned to Trump. In October, 2021, Trump announced that he would be launching Truth Social, another Twitter alternative that’s part of his larger—and still undefined—media project, Trump Media & Technology Group. Devin Nunes quit Congress in January to serve as C.E.O. of the venture, a move that was announced shortly after the Securities and Exchange Commission reported that it was investigating the project for potential violations. It’s still unclear if Trump’s effort will progress beyond slide decks promising that some guys named “Josh A.” and “Billy B.” will steer the ship, but Miller finds himself in something of a delicate spot: his business rival is the most powerful figure in Republican politics, and, basically, the Godzilla of social media. Miller assured me that all remained rosy with Trump—the two had talked just the day before—and noted that the former President will need a working social-media platform if he decides to run in 2024. “If his platform takes longer to develop, I would not completely rule out him joining Gettr,” Miller said. “And, even when he launches his, I wouldn’t rule out that he also creates a Gettr account.”

Miller told me that he’d made Trump an offer with a “whole lot of zeros,” apparently in the nine-digit range, to join Gettr—but no dice. In early December, Miller hawked the app to congressional staffers in D.C. and got a few sign-ups, though Twitter’s a hard habit to break. (Miller has a staffer whose job is devoted to signing up “Capitol Hill and G.O.P. influencers.”) When we talked, Miller had just returned from a trip to Paris, where he courted the far-right Presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, and he had upcoming trips scheduled to India and Brazil, where, largely because of Jair Bolsonaro and Bolsonaro’s sons’ use of the app, nearly fifteen per cent of Gettr’s users now reside. His global recruitment gambit is set to include Brazilian country singers, Indian cricket players, and Japanese sumo wrestlers.

Miller wouldn’t talk on the record about specific pop-culture figures getting the Gettr sweet talk, but he mentioned that former “Mandalorian” and mixed-martial-arts star Gina Carano has an account. One ad promoting Gettr sign-ups featured a photo of the actress Dakota Johnson and her words, “Cancel culture is such a fucking downer,” while another quoted Kim Kardashian to similar effect. Neither Johnson nor Kardashian has an account, but Enes Kanter Freedom—the middling N.B.A. center and vocal critic of the Chinese government—sure does.

Gettr is, for the most part, short on recognizable names, though a few, such as Tucker Carlson and Tulsi Gabbard, have joined the site in the past couple of days. Private messages aren’t yet available. (Miller told me they’re coming this year.) And, while the likes of Mike Pompeo, Sean Hannity, and Dinesh D’Souza have accounts, if you’re not deep into the conservative social-media world, you might not know who a lot of Gettr’s verified users are. @Jamierodr14, a “Proud Mother, Retired Army Veteran For President Trump!” has more than a hundred and eighty-eight thousand followers, but it wasn’t otherwise discernible what merited the official Gettr “V” at the top of her account. The same went for verified users like @Clinton614 (“special weapons and tactics operator”) and @KellyCurrie45 (“Married ! Fighting for true elections! TRUMP WON ! Freedom from Communism! Jesus is Lord 🙏🏻🙌🏻 Let’s go Brandon 💯”). Verified users have all been contacted directly by the Gettr team or their verified status on other platforms is carried over to Gettr. Miller said that a formal verification policy would be out shortly.

So far, the site has been where the “reply guys” of Twitter finally found themselves as main characters. That’s why the Rogan news drew such excitement in the Gettr-verse—it could use a little more star power, especially from one who likes to jump into the fray. The Internet-famous types on the site don’t really seem to engage with one another—you’re not going to get the right-wing equivalent of David Shor and Justice Democrats arguing over the finer points of coalition politics—and a lot of big-name feeds are merely cross-posting from Twitter. Since they all seem to mostly agree with one another—anti-mask, pro-Trump—there’s not much to say after a while. “People are just a lot more respectful. It’s an enjoyable experience,” Miller said. The “respectful” environment is in the eye of the beholder. Earlier in December, Miller had posted a cartoon of a Christmas elf hanging from a noose behind Hillary Clinton; it seemed to be a Jeffrey Epstein allusion. “ ’Tis the season!” he wrote.

Gettr is part of a niche conservative-media ecosystem that could see a banner year in 2022. Gettr, Parler, Rumble, and Gab—each app beloved by the right wing—has had their moment in the spotlight. But the midterms are coming, then the 2024 campaign will ramp up. As Big Tech cracks down on COVID-19 and election misinformation, sites with more permissive posting rules could prove attractive to prominent figures on the right. It might simply be a matter of which becomes the go-to gathering place.

Parler, which started in 2018, has claimed that it has twenty million users, many more than Gettr, which only boasts around four million. Parler was effectively taken offline following the January 6th attack on the Capitol, when Amazon Web Services stopped hosting the site. It’s since found a new host and tried to recalibrate. In February, the site’s founding investor, the G.O.P. megadonor Rebekah Mercer, fired Parler’s C.E.O., who later claimed he’d been pushed out after advocating for stricter content moderation around QAnon and neo-Nazi posts. Mercer has since hired George Farmer, the Oxford-educated son of a Tory peer—and husband of the conservative commentator and Cardi B Twitter-beefer Candace Owens—to run the site. Parler returned to Apple’s App Store in May. This winter, the company reported twenty million dollars in new funding; in January, Farmer told Kara Swisher that he wasn’t worried about Gettr’s new influx of prominent names. (Recently, Melania Trump launched an N.F.T. project in partnership with Parler. But really, who knows how to parse that?)

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Can Gettr Become the Online Gathering Place for Trump’s G.O.P.?