How an online ‘Lego’ gamer infiltrated the White House press corps

Montagu launched two real Twitter handles followed by some senior White House officials and journalists. Montagu has filed under the Freedom of Information Act and received Psaki’s personal financial disclosure form, along with disclosure from at least one other official, the President’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan.

In communicating with confidants, Montagu has posed as a member of the White House Correspondents Association and claimed to be a reporter for The Daily Mail, the British tabloid known for its gossip coverage of celebrities and political figures. Montagu also communicates regularly with top White House reporters and has had several conversations with White House officials.

But Montagu never got into WHCA and The Daily Mail. There’s no such thing as a Kacey Montagu except as a digital imitation of a White House correspondent.

“I love journalism and I think the press corps is doing a pretty bad job right now, so I decided to create transparency and ask some questions that I and some friends wanted the answers to,” Montagu said, as he was reached by email and asked why they pose as a White House reporter.

Motivation aside, Montagu’s activity is a notable example of how the online landscape, along with the age of virtual work related to pandemics, has opened up opportunities for the mischievous to infiltrate the highest levels of power. Perhaps what is more notable is that he or she did everything without raising a lonely eyebrow … until Thursday.

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Who exactly the real Kacey Montagu is remains completely unclear. And he or she refused to divulge a lot of personal information.

Speaking to U.S. officials and nonprofit journalists, as well as government outfits, Montagu said they were an 18-year-old UK law student who was born in the U.S. before moving across the pond with his family at the age of six. In another conversation that was discussed by POLITICO, Montagu said they were studying political science. He or she said they were not politically motivated, but rather socially liberal and conservative on economic issues.

Online acquaintances suspect that much of the biographical information is not true. They believe Montagu’s moonshine started out at the White House as something to boast about on the global online gaming platform ROBLOX, where users jokingly call themselves “Legos”. Inside this platform is a role-playing group called nUSA, where people from all over the world take part in a simulated US government exercise. At one point, Montagu had taken on the role of foreign minister, but afterwards, they recalled, resigned [nUSA] The President went to war with some Brits, and I thought that was a pretty bad idea! “

Montagu’s way of working is demanding. The email address associated with the Twitter accounts he set up was apparently only used to set up these feeds, a related website, and to contact reporters and the White House. Otherwise there are no digital breadcrumbs.

A Twitter account by the name of Kacey ‘Lego’ Montagu caught up with a few people who noticed Montagu’s involvement in press operations at the White House. But there is also no identifiable information that can be seen from it. The background image shows the late Prince Philip and the avatar used is Trisha Paytas, a YouTube star.

Montagu’s acting as a White House reporter dates back at least to December when he or she set up @WHschedule on Twitter. You repeatedly referred to the “schedule” account in emails as the main task. In March, they started sending out tweets from @WHpoolreport. The reports are rudimentary re-releases from two sources of information that reporters consume on a regular basis: the daily schedules of the President, First Lady, Vice President, and Second Gentleman, as well as the so-called pool reports, which are real-time broadcasts of one small group of journalists charged with tracking down these principles during the day and reporting to the rest of the press corps on their movements and statements.

“I made it for fun, but also to make sure people knew what was going on – they should be able to know what POTUS and V.P. and I think the following report shows that people are interested, ”Montagu told POLITICO.

The reports were heeded by insiders who could quickly rely on their speed and efficiency. @WHSchedule had a following of more than 1,300, including several White House correspondents (some work at POLITICO). The new @ WHPoolReport account has amassed more than 600 customers in just a few weeks, including some who work in administration such as Michael LaRosa, spokesman for Jill Biden and Symone Sanders, senior advisor and main spokesman for Vice President Kamala Harris.

As accounts gained momentum, Montagu tried proactive reporting at the White House. Montagu asked the WHCA if he wanted to be a pool reporter himself and urged the Biden administration to apply for a day pass so that a “colleague” could personally cover the White House. Montagu said they never officially applied for a passport even though the idea “would have been cool”.

Montagu has emailed questions to press secretaries for President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris. They have made it their business to notify new White House press secretaries with congratulatory letters after they have achieved positions or noting how cool their roles need to be.

A person who goes by the name “pres. arnie vinick, ”former president of the nUSA group that Montagu was part of, sent POLITICO a screenshot of a White House Covid-19 response zoom briefing with“ Kacey Montagu’s ”virtual hand to ask a question. Vinick said the shot was sent to him by Montagu, and Montagu confirmed that they covered the Covid-19 press conference but were not asked to ask a question.

“Whether this is a fake or not I don’t know, but I really wasn’t surprised that she fooled these people,” said “vinick”. “She bragged about it for a while.”

Another longtime member of the community who was in touch with Montagu said she suspected it created the “memes only” account and never assumed things would get that far. The member said it decided to speak up in part to show how amazingly easy it is for someone with no obvious media knowledge or journalistic experience to dig their way into the highest ranks in the industry and government.

“She knew one way or another that she was going to get caught; I don’t think she predicted a Politico article would be written about her, “the person who works with Zarta said in an online message. They expressed confidence that “if this ha[d] went on, she could very well have got her own day pass and could have traveled [D.C.] and into the White House. “

In other screenshots shared by the nUSA community, Montagu claims they cheated on WHCA by posing as a real reporter and at one point they said they were on their way to be verified by Twitter.

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Most of Montagu’s efforts focused on soliciting answers from Psaki during the briefing. Montagu regularly emails journalists who are serving as the White House pool reporter on a given day with questions they wanted to ask in the briefing room. In a case obtained and verified by POLITICO, Montagu said they could not be present “due to social distancing regulations” before asking to ask a question on their behalf.

“Recently the White House read calls aloud with the names of those who say ‘senior administrator’. Why is the White House not posting the names of the people in the calls and making these comments so that they can be held accountable to the American people? “

The signature in the email was “WH Correspondent”, with the point of sale listed as WHN.

The reporter for that day declined to ask Montagu’s question, as did several others who received emails from the account, including at least two employees at POLITICO. But Montagu, whose email signatures elsewhere referred to them as “political correspondents” under the false acronym WHSG, was successful in asking questions of reporters from The Plain Dealer and CQ Roll Call, which asks about everything from Covid-19 travel bans to upcoming ambassadors to Biden’s reaction to the hacking of Microsoft.

POLITICO checked the questions through screenshots of the emails and conversations with journalists, press representatives, Montagu’s online employees and administrative officials.

The White House declined to comment.

In some cases, Montagu sent polite emails to reporters thanking them for asking questions on their behalf. In at least one case, a White House official was on line with Montagu to come back with more information if they had it. That kind of quick attention would not be given to anyone outside the media trying to get information from the White House.

It would also have been extremely unlikely that in the days before Covid all 49 board rooms were occupied, rather than the 14 that are now occupied, so reporters in the small room can be socially distant. During the pandemic, it has become the norm for the pool reporter to politely ask a colleague in the press corps a question or two.

Some White House reporters emailed by Montagu said the requests were usually received after they sent their first pool report that day. That report likely gave Montagu an indication of who would be in the meeting room. Some of the reporters on the pool service said they did a quick due diligence before deciding whether to ask the proposed question and came across one that has since been disabled LinkedIn Profile for Montagu listing the job as Chief Political Correspondent at WHS and in Washington, DC. The profile picture linked to the account was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson eating an ice cream cone.

On Thursday, Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson was the pool reporter, and when it was his turn to ask Psaki a question, he asked one on behalf of an absent colleague. As with the others, it turned out to be Montagu – a fact that was later revealed Mediate began to inquire into the origins of the question about Biden’s relationship with former President Barack Obama and whether the White House would bring back the presidential portrait unveiling.

Soon other dominoes were falling. A Google hosted profile page for Montagu has been removed. Monagu’s old LinkedIn profile also disappeared.

By Friday, the more popular account Montagu set up on Twitter, @WHschedule, was suspended for mimicking the White House color scheme and not disclosing that it had no connection with the U.S. government.

A Twitter spokesman told POLITICO that it violates the company’s impersonation policy.

“I enjoy allowing transparency from the administration – unfortunately WHSchedule has been suspended,” Montagu said in her email, “I have no idea why!”

Tina Nguyen and Mark Scott contributed to this report.

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