For the last two weeks someone pretending to be Stranger reporter Lester Black has been calling local activists and Democratic party operatives. The person identifies himself as “Lester Black, a reporter for the Stranger,” claims to be working on a convoluted story about antifascists, and then tries to obtain personal information from the subjects, according to people who have been contacted.
Below is a string of texts between this Lester imposter and a community member (whose identity we are not revealing, so as not to make them the subject of further dishonest targeting). In these texts, the Lester imposter claims to be working on a story about a "Ballard Nazi" beset by antifascists.
It seems likely that the "Ballard Nazi" referenced in this exchange is Sean-Michael David Scott, identified as a Seattle Proud Boy and neo-Nazi last September by Puget Sound Anarchists. The activist who received these messages provided the phone number these texts came from. The imposter did not respond to multiple calls from me, and the voicemail associated with this number isn't set up. I assume this guy is using a burner or some kind of internet number to make his calls.
Another person this Lester imposter has contacted, David Fleetwood, the first vice chair for the King County Democrats, says the Lester imposter called him twice: once about a week-and-a-half ago, and once last Monday. All told, the two spoke for a total of two hours.
On the first call, Fleetwood said, the fake reporter asked him if there were any connections between antifascist organizers and the Democratic party. He also seemed to be "obsessed" with Rep. Matt Shea, the Spokane Valley Republican who was booted from his party and his committee assignments after a recent investigation revealed him to be a domestic terrorist.
"He kept trying to imply that maybe things had gone overboard [with Shea]," Fleetwood said, "and he was attempting to make it a both-sides thing, saying both [antifascists and fascists] are just as radical, both are just as dangerous."
In an attempt to rebuff the caller's equivocation, Fleetwood brought up the Ballard Nazi as an example of Nazi-aligned fascists operating in the region. In response, the imposter asked if he thought Nazis getting doxxed, evicted, and fired from jobs was fair. Fleetwood said that "there are consequences for behaving in ways that are antisocial."
On the second call, Fleetwood said the Lester imposter spoke mostly about the history of antifascism and fascism, and insinuated that antifascists created fascism. On this call he also sought information about activists Alycia Ramirez and Matthew "Spek" Watson, and wondered why many activists don't like Stranger writer Katie Herzog.
Fleetwood, who last spoke to the real Lester Black during the Bailey Stober controversy in 2018, said the impersonator sounded like Lester. "Kinda laid back, a little earnest. It was close enough with two years difference [since the last time I talked to Lester] that it didn't immediately make me question anything," Fleetwood said.
Will Casey, communications director for the Washington Democrats, says people impersonating reporters with Democratic operatives is unusual.
Right now, we can only speculate who the imposter is. He could be the Ballard Proud Boy himself, he could be someone associated with Shea, or he could be some random prankster. For Casey, that's exactly the problem.
"In my opinion, it doesn't matter if this is a member in leadership of the 3 Percenters or some Extremely Online high school kid pulling what he thinks is a funny prank," Casey said. "The whole problem with these far-right groups is that their rhetoric radicalizes people who they've never met. If this becomes the 2020 version of Crank Yankers, reducing the violent rhetoric in our politics and rebuilding trust among polarized communities will be even harder."
In the meantime, if you want to make sure you're speaking to the real Lester Black over the phone, just ask him to explain the technical difference between vaping flower and vaping concentrate. If the laid back, earnest-sounding guy on the other end of the phone does not provide a quick, authoritative answer, then hang up the phone. You're talking to an imposter.