Gab Founder Andrew Torba Wants to Build a Christian Nationalist Internet

Facing increased competition from the likes of Truth Social, Torba has pivoted from free-speech zealot to hardcore Christian nationalist.
Andrew Torba speaking about Christian nationalism in recent video posted to Gab TV​..
Andrew Torba speaking about Christian nationalism in recent video posted to Gab TV.

Gab CEO Andrew Torba says that he rediscovered God after a user from his social media platform opened fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in a hate-fuelled attack, killing 11, in 2018.

Torba’s newfound religious outlook wasn’t borne out of some sense of responsibility for enabling the shooting through the toxic cesspool of online bigotry he’d created, nor sorrow for the victims of the massacre. It was that the shooting was bad for his business and personal life, Torba explained in a podcast last week. “My face was plastered next to his as if I was the one who pulled the trigger,” Torba said. “I lost everything.” 

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Members of his company quit, including his lead engineer. Gab, a social media platform that billed itself as a beacon of free speech, where a lack of moderation was a selling point, was banned by hosting providers, payment processors, and app stores. 

“My business was reduced to ash, and my personal life was reduced to ash,” he said. “When you have something that dramatic happen to you, you learn very quickly who your real friends are. I had everything taken away from me, but I had Christ.” 

This is Torba’s new origin story, how he pivoted from being a free speech zealot to a hardcore Christian nationalist. This year, he’s gone full-tilt on the once-fringe ideology that blends patriotic fervor with religious zeal. He’s also made it clear that he fancies himself a kingmaker to the GOP’s political fringes, just as Christian nationalist rhetoric has crept from church pulpits into the mainstream, and is now looming large over the upcoming midterms. 

Today, more than a million of Americans—in particular, young American men—visit Gab each month.

When Torba founded Gab in 2016, the site quickly—and for good reason—gained a reputation as a safe haven for neo-Nazis and white supremacist shitposters who’d been booted from mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Among them, the man who opened fire on the Tree of Life Synagogue. 

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Back then, it was unthinkable that mainstream elected officials and political candidates would consider it a good idea to set up shop on Gab. But as the intersection in the venn diagram between the GOP and far-right extremists has grown bigger, it’s become increasingly clear that some fringe political figures see Torba as a viable ally. 

Arizona state sen. Wendy Rogers and Arizona state rep. Mark Finchem (who is running for secretary of state) touted their endorsements from Torba earlier this summer—Rogers even declared herself part of the “#GabCaucus.” Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano was forced to disavow Torba following reports that he’d paid the Gab CEO thousands of dollars as a consultant. U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar and Matt Gaetz all maintain Gab accounts. Greene, who has identified herself as a Christian nationalist, previously paid at least nearly $40,000 in marketing costs to Gab. 

But while Torba loves to present Gab as an unstoppable, rapidly growing force, data provided to VICE News by SimilarWeb, a digital intelligence data analyst, tells a slightly different story. 

According to SimilarWeb’s data, Gab had nearly 13 million views (about 1.7 million unique views) in August and traffic to the site has been steadily declining throughout 2022—which could in part be due to Trump launching his own social media platform, “Truth Social.” 

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Data from SimilarWeb shows the growth — and decline — of Gab since 2019.

To be clear: web traffic to Gab in 2022 is still substantially higher than what was recorded in 2020, but it’s nowhere close to the kinds of numbers that the site was getting in early 2021 when traffic soared on the day of the Capitol riot, and peaked on Jan 11 with nearly 4 million daily visits. 

At the time, Torba claimed that the spike in Gab activity was due to Twitter permanently suspending Trump for spreading election misinformation, which caused many of his supporters to seek out “alternative” platforms. 

It’s no secret that Torba was desperate to get Trump on Gab. A verified, placeholder account by the name of Donald Trump registered to Torba’s email, and with 2.3 million followers, automatically reshares any posts he’s made elsewhere, giving the illusion that he is active on the platform. 

The spike in traffic to Gab also coincided with Parler, another app popular with the far-right, crashing that month amid an influx of Trump supporters. Traffic to Gab remained relatively high in the following months, despite the platform being hacked in February 2021. 

Torba, who has promoted the white nationalist “Great Replacement” theory and made explicitly antisemitic comments on his Gab profile, seems keen to capitalize on the rise of Christian nationalism by making his platform the beating heart of this surging ideology. Last month Torba self-published a short book titled, simply, Christian Nationalism which is currently ranked #10 in the category of “Christian Spiritual Warfare” on Amazon . Earlier this summer, he rolled out a new line of Gab merch, including hats emblazoned with the “Christian Nationalist” flag—a version of the American flag, but a cross is in place where the stars usually are. 

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He also sells a $35 pillow, in a bright green hue, with the phrase “Christ is King,” which has been co-opted by white nationalist livestreamer Nick Fuentes’ supporters, who are known as “groypers.”

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Gab's online store rolled out a new line of Christian Nationalism merchandise earlier this summer.

Torba’s ability to keep high-profile political figures on the platform is all in service of his ultimate fantasy, of building what he calls a “parallel Christian society on the internet.” There seems to be some indication that he’s delivering on that promise, but it’s too soon to know whether it’ll take off. There’s now Gab TV, and Gab Ads. Late last year, Torba even announced the launch of Gab Pay, the platform’s own payment processor.

“I just joined Gab!” wrote William Wolfe, a former senior Trump official who served in the Pentagon and the State Department, on the platform last week. “I unapologetically defend the idea of Christian nationalism, rightly defined, as a key component of national renewal.”

Wolfe also shared a link to a talk he gave at the recent National Conservatism Conference, titled “The Christian Case for America First Government.” “Looking forward to connecting on here with those who share this vision for how to help rebuild our country,” he added.  

Joe Kent, who is running for Congress out of Washington, is also on Gab, even after a recent article in Rolling Stone raised questions about whether his campaign might be reaping the benefits of being on Gab. A tech firm specializing in disinformation noticed that Kent’s account on Gab saw an unusual spike in followers last December. Months after announcing his candidacy, he seemingly gained 7,000 new followers overnight, which suggested to the tech firm that new users on Gab were automatically forced to follow his account. 

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But many members of the GOP continue to keep their distance from Torba. Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot said “Antisemitic platforms have no place in Texas, and certainly do not represent Texas values.” Others, such as Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, were forced to distance themselves from Torba after their relationships with Gab’s CEO became the subject of scrutiny. 

Mastriano, whose own flavor of Christian nationalism has shaped his campaign, paid Gab $5,000 for “advertising consulting,” according to watchdog Media Matters for America. HuffPost later discovered that all newly-created accounts on Gab automatically followed Mastriano. And just days before Mastriano put out a statement disavowing Torba and deleted his Gab account, he accepted a $500 campaign donation from him. 

Others, such as Dan Cox, who is running for governor of Maryland, followed Mastriano’s lead and deleted his own Gab account. 

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Meanwhile, Torba has only doubled-down on his antisemitic statements, saying in a statement that Jews, atheists or others don’t belong in the conservative movement.

"We have seen the fruits — or lack thereof — of our nation being led by Godless pagans, nonbelievers, Jews, and fake Christians-in-name-only," Torba said in July. "If we are going to build a Christian movement it must be exclusively Christian and we can't be afraid to say that out loud.”

Christian nationalist ideology enjoyed a major resurgence with the election of Donald Trump, who, despite his reported marital philandering, was worshiped by many of his supporters as a Christ-like figure, or a messenger from God. “Donald J Trump is providential,” former Trump advisor Steve Bannon said in a speech at CPAC last month. “God works through Trump.”

Today’s Christian nationalists believe that America is an inherently holy, Christian land, and that it’s their duty to restore God’s kingdom in order for Jesus to return. Part of this means that they think the country’s laws, policies and cultural institutions should reflect evangelical Christian values. 

Within this framework, contentious cultural and political issues, like drag queen story hours, “critical race theory,” Hunter Biden’s laptop, or the 2020 election results, can take on primordial significance as they’re perceived as Satanic obstacles that need to be destroyed in order for God’s kingdom to prevail. 

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One study identified Christian nationalism as the most dominant ideology among the mob who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

“To these folks, the end justifies the means. If those means are undemocratic, or anti-democratic…that’s fine with them,” said Philip Gorski, a sociologist, co-director of Yale's Center for Comparative Research and co-author of The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy. 

And one recent poll found that a majority of Republicans believe that Christianity should be the official religion of the U.S.—despite many of those same respondents recognizing that it would conflict with the Constitution. 

Surging Christian nationalism in the U.S. has also created opportunities for fringe extremists to build bridges into the mainstream. 

“We need to think about this as a coalition-building strategy, and about the ways in which it might be an effort to unite somewhat disparate groups,” said Gorski. 

He described a spectrum of people for whom Christian nationalism might appeal. On one end, he said, there are people who are churchgoing Christians across various denominations though the majority who are evangelicals and Pentecostals. For those people, said Gorski, the theological intricacies of Christian nationalism will be important. 

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On the other side of the spectrum, you have someone like Fuentes. “People who are basically just secular white supremacists,” said Gorski. “And it kind of sounds better to say you’re defending Christian civilization than defending white dominance. I mean, it sounds nicer, nobler — it’s a nice fig leaf anyway.”

And then there’s the people in the middle: MAGA-types for whom Christian nationalism can be used as a kind of virtue-signaling. 

Torba’s blog posts on his news site since 2019 reflect a shift in his messaging and tone over time. His go-to subject matter in some of his earlier blogs, like what he perceived as a double standard in Facebook’s content moderation, or Big Tech’s alleged ties to the Chinese Communist party, evolved into urgent, manifesto-like screeds with religious overtones. 

In one of the only posts on his news site from 2019 that mentioned religion, Torba wrote, “whenever we [Gab] get no-platformed the first thing I do is thank God for the blessings that inevitably come from these trials by fire.” 

That kind of rhetoric became more frequent in his writings the following year. When COVID-19 hit the U.S., it triggered a movement of Christian conservatives who claimed they were being persecuted by lockdown orders in some places that prevented them from attending church in person. In a June 2020 blog titled, “Then They Came for Christians: A Warning,” Torba tried to argue that the persecution was also happening online — and he and Gab were among the persecuted. 

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“God moved me to build what would become a digital Noah’s Ark of sorts, although I didn’t realize that at the time back in 2016,” he wrote. “Gab was run by an outspoken Christian and Trump supporter, so it had to [be] smeared and destroyed at all costs.” 

Torba went all-in on the Stop the Steal movement, promoting false conspiracies that Trump was the true winner of the 2020 election. He also ramped up his religious rhetoric. In late November 2020, he wrote “The Christian Crusade to Save Free Speech, Again.” “It’s time for you to take a leap of faith, brothers and sisters, and fully embrace Jesus Christ as King or risk being conquered and destroyed by the false god of woke marxism and its pagan army of lost souls,” he wrote. “We must rise up and defend our freedom in the name of God or risk being destroyed from within our own nations.” He signed that blog, “Jesus is King.” 

In 2021, after the Capitol riot, Torba’s writing grew even more urgent and extreme: he started talking about the need to form a “parallel system “that caters solely to Christian conservatives, and vowed to only support Christian businesses moving forward.

“If they are not serving God, they are serving Satan,” he wrote in one blog titled “The Silent Christian Secession,” in which he also expressed support for the eventual formation of “Jesusland” (referencing a 2004 meme that envisioned the U.S. splitting up, with the southern states reforming as a Christian bloc named Jesusland).

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The first time Torba namechecked Christian Nationalism on his news site was March 2021. 

“The Holy Spirit has captivated and energized the youth. The kids are Christian Nationalists. There is no turning back now,” Torba wrote in a blog titled, “Have Faith, The Kids Are Christian Nationalists.” “What is the worst that can happen? Someone calls them a “racist”? Who cares. They are leaning into it, as they should.” 

It soon became clear that the “kids” in question included Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist livestreamer who was 22 at the time, and his “America First” movement, whose supporters were known as “groypers.” In July 2021, Torba wrote a blog directly praising Fuentes, who, like many others in his movement, was rebranding as a Christian Nationalist to broaden his appeal. 

“You may not like it, but Nick Fuentes and the millions of Christian men and women like him are the future. Get used to it,” Torba wrote “We’re not going anywhere and we grow stronger by the day. America First Christian Nationalism is inevitable.” 

An analysis of Torba’s posts on Gab by Media Matters for America published earlier this year found that he’d mentioned Fuentes or his organization “America First” over 140 times since 2019 — and 120 of those references were in 2021. Fuentes, for his part, described Torba as a “total rock star” and a “very important figure.” 

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The budding bromance between Fuentes and Torba became official earlier this year, when Fuentes announced that Gab’s CEO was sponsoring his conference, “AFPAC” (America First Political Action Conference) which was being held in Orlando, Florida, the same weekend as CPAC. 

That conference drew a number of elected officials as speakers, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Arizona state rep. Wendy Rogers, Rep. Paul Gosar and Idaho’s Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (the latter two speakers spoke by video). 

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Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers promoted her endorsement from Torba on her Gab account and on Telegram.

Fuentes’ admiration for Torba stemmed, in part, from his ability to draw legitimate political figures onto Gab, which would have been unthinkable at the time of the Tree of Life shooting in 2018, given the site’s reputation for being a safe haven for neo-Nazi’s and white supremacist shitposters. 

Those groups still exist on Gab but now they coexist with Trump supporters, QAnon followers, and increasingly, Christian nationalists. On Gab’s “Marketplace,” users can sell T-shirts with swastikas or statements like “Support Your Local Proud Boy” alongside T-shirts with things like “Jesus Set Me Free” written on them. 

By shrouding himself in religious rhetoric, Torba’s tried to whitewash his reputation of some of the more unsavory aspects of his platform, build inroads into the GOP, and launder antisemitic views into the mainstream. 

“It’s consistent with the mainstreaming strategies that the radical, racist right have been pursuing and deploying for decades in the U.S,” said Gorski of Torba’s tactics. “Taking something that’s fascist and making it look conservative by associating it with something more mainstream.”

The head of the Anti-Defamation League recently called Torba “one of the most toxic people in public life.” Whether or not Torba is able to attain success in his ambitions of being a legitimate political power player depends, in part, on whether the GOP continues to pander to the fringes, boost white nationalist dog whistles, and platform disinformation. 

Torba has repeatedly stated this year that he’ll only talk to “Christian” media outlets. When VICE News reached out for comment, he responded with a clip from a recent biopic Padre Pio where Shia LeBouef plays an Italian Franciscan friar. In the clip, LeBouef shouts “Say it, Say ‘Christ is Lord’.”

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter.