Riding Rage Over Israel to Online Prominence

Jackson Hinkle’s incendiary commentary has generated over two million new followers on X since October — a surge that some researchers say is aided by inauthentic accounts.

Jackson Hinkle has cultivated an online persona so incendiary that he has been kicked off YouTube, Twitch and Instagram.

He rages on undaunted, even energized. He produces a regular podcast on Rumble, a website popular with many prominent conservatives. He writes dozens of posts a day on X, where his following has surged to 2.5 million from 417,000 in the six months since Oct. 7 — the day Hamas fighters mounted their assault on Israel.

Along the way, he has employed false or misleading content, promoted manipulated images and made comments that watchdog organizations have denounced as antisemitic. He calls himself an American patriot even as he praises American adversaries, including Vladimir V. Putin, Xi Jinping and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“DROP A LIKE if you stand with IRAN in the face of ISRAELI TERRORISM!” he wrote last week on X after an Israeli airstrike in Syria killed several Iranian military officials. A day later he addressed the Houthi leadership in Yemen over video, praising the group for its attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

It has all made Mr. Hinkle an online celebrity at age 24, a Gen Z symbol of the modern internet: a place where authenticity is no longer a necessity, and outrage offers attention and even some financial reward.

“It was a godsend for me at the time,” he said in an interview about his surge in popularity on X amid the war in Gaza. “I was very fortunate.”

His sudden rise may stem from more than good luck.

Two Israeli research companies that specialize in online threats, and that have focused on what they consider disinformation related to the war in Gaza, said they had identified coordinated and possibly state-sponsored networks of bots or inauthentic accounts that were amplifying Mr. Hinkle’s provocative brew of political views. China, Russia and other foreign actors are known to use such tactics to achieve their geopolitical goals — including efforts to influence this fall’s presidential election.

Mr. Hinkle has also benefited from changes by X’s owner, Elon Musk, including the cancellation of policies that once limited toxic content. With the addition of a premium subscription feature, he now charges certain followers $3 a month for what he calls “extra cool stuff,” including behind-the-scenes videos and “random thoughts.” X allows him to pocket up to 97 percent of the revenue — money that Mr. Hinkle has told subscribers helps him “continue exposing the Deep State.”

Imran Ahmed, the head of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a research organization, said Mr. Hinkle was part of “a sort of new cadre of people who exploit the algorithms’ insatiable desire for highly contentious content to benefit themselves economically.”

In a new report, the center documented a staggering rise in followers for 10 prominent accounts on X that spread antisemitic content since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.

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Mr. Hinkle’s was at the top, by far.

“It’s sort of a sick industry of creators and platforms who benefit from contention,” Mr. Ahmed said, “the sort of car-crash nature of how people react to hate.”

To illustrate a post about the Gaza conflict, he used a stylized cartoon of himself dressed in military gear with a rifle in front of a fireball. His profile on X and other platforms includes a doctored image of his bloodied face surrounded by a ring of pistols.

Mr. Hinkle solicits donations and sells merchandise to support his “independent journalism” on platforms like Patreon, having already been barred from PayPal and Venmo.

A Putin magnet in Mr. Hinkle’s apartment. When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Mr. Hinkle heartily embraced the Russian president’s rationale for an unprovoked conflict.Credit…Ysa Pérez for The New York Times

Mr. Hinkle has a regular podcast on Rumble, “The Dive.”Credit…Ysa Pérez for The New York Times
In the interview, Mr. Hinkle emphasized that he did not accept any payments from foreign governments, but he spoke unapologetically about his support for — and from — often hostile foreign powers. He visited Russia and China this year at the invitation of organizations close to the governments, dining with Russia’s foreign minister and appearing on state-controlled television networks.

“I think they appreciate support wherever they can get it,” he said.

From Bernie bro to MAGA fan
From an early age, Mr. Hinkle understood that zealous support of a cause could win public attention. He grew up in San Clemente, in Southern California, a surfer who heavily marketed his own embrace of environmental activism, gun control measures and progressive politics.

As a teenager, he helped start an environmental cleanup organization and another to encourage young people to run for political office. Teen Vogue recognized him as a top young environmentalist; Reader’s Digest included him on a list of inspirational children. He posed in an Instagram photo with the actor Will Smith, whose son Jaden Smith worked with Mr. Hinkle to limit plastic water bottles in schools.

ImageMr. Hinkle is sitting in the back of an open-top red car with a young woman who is waving at a crowd. Both are wearing sashes that say “homecoming.”
Mr. Hinkle in 2017. He grew up in San Clemente, in coastal Southern California, a surfer who heavily marketed his own embrace of progressive politics.Credit…Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media, via Orange County Register, via Getty Images

Perry Meade, a progressive organizer who worked with Mr. Hinkle on campaigns as teenagers, said his “overarching understanding of Jackson was that he always wanted to be famous,” adding, “Sure, he cared about things, but he came first.”

His activities soon turned political. At his high school graduation in 2018, he knelt during the national anthem in protest against police brutality and racial injustice. He twice ran unsuccessfully for San Clemente’s City Council, when he was 19 and 20. One local conservative blog called him “an extreme left-wing ideologue.”

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He said in the interview that, after his political losses, he had “decided to still pursue the issues I cared about — but on the national stage.”

Mr. Hinkle found that stage on YouTube, where one of his big coups, he said, was an interview with Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. At its peak, his channel reached 300,000 subscribers.

His views, like those of Ms. Gabbard, who once joined him surfing, have shifted. The Sierra Club, one of the largest environmental organizations in the world, included Mr. Hinkle in a get-out-the-vote video filmed in 2018. By 2022, he was on social media describing environmentalism as “anti-human.”

Today, he says he is a Stalinist and a Maoist who was expelled from the Communist Party of the United States. (Roberta Wood, a party leader in Chicago, said he subscribed to the newsletter but had never joined the party and did not reflect its values.) He once supported Bernie Sanders, but now praises former President Donald J. Trump.

He is, he wrote last year, an “American PATRIOT, GOD fearing, Pro-FAMILY, Marxist Leninist, Pro-PALESTINE, RUSSIA & CHINA, Anti-DEEP STATE, Anti-IMPERIALIST, Anti-WOKE, Pro-GROWTH, ANTI-MONOPOLY, Pro-GUN, Pro-FOSSIL FUEL.”

An international pivot
As Mr. Hinkle’s focus settled on international affairs, his audiences grew. He supported authoritarian leaders like Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whom he called a “hero.” When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, he embraced Mr. Putin’s rationale for the conflict.

Mr. Hinkle has become a “merchant of rage,” said Pekka Kallioniemi, who researches social media and disinformation at Tampere University in Finland.

“The way he moves on from one thing to another, it seems very opportunistic to me,” Mr. Kallioniemi said.

Mr. Hinkle drew critics’ attention for frequently spreading Russian propaganda about Ukraine, including disinformation linked to covert Kremlin campaigns. His affection for Russia was personal, too.

He first traveled there in September with Anna Linnikova, a model crowned Miss Russia in 2022. For a time, they were engaged to be married. Mr. Hinkle posted a photo of the pair posing in front of Moscow’s Red Square last year and said they were moving to Miami together. (By the end of 2023, they appeared to have split acrimoniously.)

He visited Russia again recently to attend a conference organized by Konstantin Malofeyev and Aleksandr Dugin, both prominent nationalists who face sanctions in the United States. He said he had been attracted by Mr. Dugin’s writings, which glorify Russian culture, as an antidote to corrupted values in the West.

YouTube suspended his channel in October for “repeated violations” of the company’s policy that prohibits denying or trivializing major violent events, including the war in Ukraine, according to a company spokesman.

It was only when Hamas invaded Israel that month, though — when Mr. Hinkle began posting constantly about criticism of Israel and Russian support for Palestinians — that his account on X reached stratospheric heights.

Several organized networks of inauthentic accounts amplified his posts, according to Next Dim, an Israeli company that studies inauthentic activity online and that previously found evidence of an effort to amplify pro-Beijing messages on X.

One of the organized networks had previously boosted unrelated content — in Chinese — that criticized the Japanese government for releasing radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in August, the researchers found. Once the fighting began in Gaza, the same network, which had at least 20,000 accounts, began reposting Mr. Hinkle’s content.

Another research company in Israel, Cyabra, found that Mr. Hinkle’s account gained 1.2 million followers over the first 19 days of the war. A sample of 12,510 of them suggested that roughly 40 percent were fakes.

In the interview, Mr. Hinkle shrugged off the findings of inauthentic support for his account. “There’s always going to be bots on social media,” he said. He acknowledged that he had made mistakes in some posts, but said they weren’t intentional, and he argued that the scale of Israel’s retaliation in Gaza vindicated his view of the conflict.

“I think if we’re going to focus on people who are putting out false information, an incorrect Twitter photo is not the biggest deal in comparison to lies that are used to sell a war,” he said.

Losing his YouTube subscribers, he said, had cost him three-quarters of his salary. He suggested that he had recouped the loss with his activities on X, principally through subscribers. “I’m doing OK, I guess,” he said.

He declined to say how much his posts earned, or how many paid subscribers he had. In October, he noted that he had made $550 the previous month from X’s advertising revenue-sharing model. His profile recently featured ads for a large Emirati airline, a major shoe brand and a popular travel blog, but he said revenue was limited because his posts were too controversial for some advertisers.

Mr. Hinkle spoke admiringly of Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host who has peddled pro-Russian narratives, and Candace Owens, a conservative commentator who left The Daily Wire’s website last month. Mr. Hinkle, who said he had turned down a job offer from a foreign media outlet that he declined to disclose, compared himself to Mr. Carlson and Ms. Owens: “We’re all independent — not by choice.”

“You know, of course, I’d be happy if there was any media outlet in the United States that wanted to hire someone like me,” he said, “but our values don’t align, so I don’t think that’s in my future.”