How a ‘Lego’ online gamer infiltrated the White House press corps
Who is “Kacey Montagu?” POLITICO’s Christopher Cadelago tells the wild and bizarre tale of how a fictional correspondent went from the depths of internet role-playing to the White House briefing room.
But Montagu never joined WHCA and The Daily Mail. There is no Kacey Montagu, except as a digital impersonation of a White House correspondent.
“I love journalism and I think the Press Corps is doing a really bad job right now, so I decided to ensure some transparency and ask questions that some friends and I wanted answered,” Montagu said. , contacted by e-mail. and asked why they were posing as a White House reporter.
Motivation aside, Montagu’s activity is a remarkable illustration of how the online landscape, as well as the era of virtual work linked to the pandemic, has paved the way for evil spirits to infiltrate the upper echelons. power. What is perhaps more remarkable is that he or she did it all without raising a lone eyebrow… until Thursday.
It’s unclear exactly who the real Kacey Montagu is. And he or she refused to reveal much personal information.
In conversations with U.S. officials and government monitoring and nonprofit journalism organizations, Montagu said he was an 18-year-old law student from the United Kingdom who was born in the United States before crossing the pond. with his family at the age of six. In another conversation, reviewed by POLITICO, Montagu said they were studying political science. He or she said that they were not motivated by politics, but were socially liberal and conservative on economic issues.
Online acquaintances suspect much of the biographical information to be false. They believe the Montagu White House moonlighting started off as something to be bragged about in the global online gaming platform called ROBLOX, where users jokingly call themselves “Legos.” Within that platform is a role-playing group called nUSA, where people from around the world participate in a mock US government exercise. At one point, Montagu had adopted the role of secretary of state but resigned from that post after – as they recalled -. [nUSA] The President went to war with a UK and I thought that was a really bad idea!
There is a level of sophistication in the way Montagu works. The email address associated with the Twitter accounts he or she created appears to have been used only to establish these feeds, an associated website, and to contact reporters and the White House. Other than that, there is no digital breadcrumb trail.
A Twitter account by the name of Kacey “Lego” Montagu has engaged with a few people who have noticed Montagu’s involvement in White House press operations. But neither is there any identifiable information that can be discerned from it. The background image is of the late Prince Philip and the avatar used is of Trisha Paytas, a YouTube star.
Montagu’s play as a White House reporter dates back to at least December, when he created @WHschedule on Twitter. They repeatedly mentioned the “calendar” account in emails as a main task. In March, they started tweeting from @WHpoolreport. The accounts are rudimentary republications of two sources of information that journalists consume on a regular basis: the daily schedules of the President, First Lady, Vice President and Second Gentleman and the so-called pool reports, which are dispatches. in real time from a small group of journalists responsible for following around these directors during the day and reporting to the rest of the press on their movements and statements.
“I created them for fun, but also to make sure people know what’s going on – they should be able to know what POTUS and VP are doing and I think the following account shows that people are interested in this, ”Montagu told POLITICO.
The accounts have gained the attention of insiders, who have quickly come to rely on their speed and efficiency. @WHSchedule had over 1,300 subscribers, including several White House correspondents (some working at POLITICO). The new @WHPoolReport account has amassed over 600 in just a few weeks, some of whom work in administration like Michael LaRosa, press secretary to Jill Biden and Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris.
As the accounts gained traction, Montagu dabbled in proactive reporting to the White House. Montagu asked the WHCA to become a pool reporter himself and urged the Biden administration to request a day pass for a “colleague” to cover the White House in person. Montagu said they never formally applied for a pass, although the idea “would have been cool.”
Montagu emailed questions to press assistants for President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. They’ve started emailing new White House press workers with congratulatory notes after landing jobs, or noticing how cool their roles must be.
A person called “pres. arnie vinick ”, former chairman of the nUSA group of which Montagu was a part, sent POLITICO a screenshot of a Zoom on Covid-19 response briefing held by the White House with“ Kacey Montagu ”virtual hand raised to ask a question. Vinick said the photo was sent to him by Montagu, and Montagu confirmed that they had covered the Covid-19 press briefings, but were not called to ask a question.
“Whether that is wrong or not, I don’t know, but I really wasn’t surprised that she cheated on these people,” said “vinick.” “She’s been bragging about it for some time.
Another longtime community member with contact with Montagu said they suspected they created the account “just for memes” and never assumed things would get this far. The MP said they decided to speak out, in part, to help show how incredibly easy it is for someone who has no apparent media credentials or journalism background to s’ sink into the highest ranks of industry and government.
“She somehow knew she was going to get caught; I don’t think she predicted that a Politico article would be written about her, ”the person, who calls themselves“ zarta, ”said in an online post. They expressed confidence that, “if this ha[d] continued, she could very well have gotten her own day pass and be able to get to [D.C.] and in the White House.
In other screenshots, shared by the nUSA community, Montagu claims he tricked the WHCA into posing as a real journalist and at one point they were about to be verified by Twitter.
The bulk of Montagu’s effort focused on attempting to solicit responses from Psaki during the briefing. Montagu regularly emails reporters serving on a given day as a White House Pool reporter with questions they wanted to ask in the briefing room. In one, obtained and verified by POLITICO, Montagu said they could not attend “due to social distancing rules”, before asking for a question to be asked on their behalf.
“Recently the White House read the appeals and has the names of the people who say ‘Senior Administration Official’, so why doesn’t the White House release the names of the people in the appeals making these comments? so that they can be retained? accountable to the American people?
The signature on the email was “WH Correspondent” with the outlet listed as WHN.
The reporter that day declined to ask Montagu’s question, as did several other people who received emails from the account, including at least two POLITICO staff. But Montagu, whose electronic signatures at other times called them a “political correspondent” by the false acronym WHSG, managed to pose questions to reporters at The Plain Dealer. and CQ Roll Call, among others, asking questions about everything from Covid-19 travel bans and upcoming ambassadors to Biden’s reaction to the Microsoft hack.
POLITICO verified the questions through screenshots of emails and conversations with reporters, news crews, Montagu online associates and administration officials.
The White House declined to comment.
In some cases, Montagu has followed up with polite emails to reporters thanking them for asking Psaki questions on their behalf. In at least one case, a White House official was connected with Montagu to come back with more information when they had it. That kind of quick attention wouldn’t be paid to someone outside of the media trying to get information from the White House.
It would also have been extremely unlikely that this would happen in the days leading up to Covid when all 49 briefing room seats were occupied rather than the 14 that are now occupied so reporters can be socially distant in the small room. During the pandemic, it became the norm for the pool reporter to ask a colleague in the press corps a question or two out of courtesy.
Some White House reporters approached by Montagu via email said inquiries usually came after their first pool report was sent that day. This report likely informed Montagu about who would be in the briefing room. Some of the pool service reporters said they did a quick due diligence before deciding to ask the proposed question and came across a since-disabled LinkedIn profile for Montagu that lists the post as “chief political correspondent” at WHS and Washington. , DC The profile photo associated with the account was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson eating an ice cream cone.
Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson was the pool reporter on Thursday and when his turn to ask Psaki a question came he asked on behalf of an absent colleague. Like the others, he turned out to be Montagu – a fact revealed after Mediaite started to inquire in the origins of the question, which revolved around Biden’s relationship with former President Barack Obama and whether the White House would bring back the unveiling of the presidential portrait.
Soon more dominoes were falling. A Google-hosted profile page for Montagu’s has been removed. Monagu’s old Linkedin profile has also disappeared.