Tim "Treadstone" Gionet was not always a supporter of President Donald Trump.
The 29-year-old internet troll, most widely known as Baked Alaska, seemed to be an unlikely person to wade into the real-estate mogul's camp at the start of the 2016 election season.
Back then, Gionet identified as a carefree, easygoing libertarian. He supported Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's bid for the White House, firmly opposed the war on drugs, and championed the cause of Black Lives Matter, actively participating in the movement's street demonstrations.
And he worked at BuzzFeed, hardly an incubator for Trump supporters. But Gionet was the exception. As he put it, "BuzzFeed turned me into a monster." Specifically, a monster who opposed what he saw as political correctness gone amok. He found refuge with those who voraciously supported the freewheeling, brash antics of Trump.
"I'll never forget this story," Gionet said, recalling to Business Insider the "aha moment" that drove him toward Trump. "I was talking about the new Justin Bieber album. And I was like, 'Dude, that new Justin Bieber album is dope. I have to admit, I love Justin Bieber. He is totally my spirit animal.' And someone came up to me and was like, 'Hey bro, you can't say spirit animal, that's culturally appropriating Native American culture and that's not cool.'"
"I was like, 'What? What the f--- are you talking about?' I had heard … about the dangers of political correctness, but I thought this was just exaggerated," Gionet said. "I thought there was no way people in real life could be like this."
Gionet said the incident, and others like it, sent him down a path that ultimately led to his resignation from BuzzFeed and eventual transformation into one of the internet's most notorious alt-right trolls.
"The thing that really attracted me to Trump was his stance against political correctness," he said.
Gionet is something of a Forrest Gump of politics. He surfaced in a number of places in the far-right universe during the 2016 presidential election. Upon leaving BuzzFeed, Gionet went on the road as manager for right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos's college tour. He spent Christmas with blogger Chuck Johnson. And he finished the campaign working with "new right" personality Mike Cernovich.
During this time, his influence in the far-right internet community grew. In addition to forging connections with the right's top internet celebrities, Gionet saw accelerated growth on his own Twitter account. He gained thousands of followers, arriving at the approximately 160,000 figure of people who follow him today on the social media platform. Gionet also became one of the de-facto leaders of the alt-right meme army, using images of characters like Pepe the Frog to bait those in opposition to Trump.
And yet, despite the person he projected on the outside, some of those closest to Gionet had reservations about how much he really bought into the politics he now hawks. Many were surprised at how far right he has veered. His politics strained personal and professional relationships.
In conversations with friends, family, and former co-workers, an image of a kind but often lonely social-media genius emerged. One who had reinvented himself several times in his life in a desperate quest to fill the void of loneliness with fame and attention — irrespective of the cost.
"I've seen him happy, I've seen him sad, I've seen him doing well, I've seen him doing bad, but his whole thing is he wants people to like him. So he wants to be famous," said Joe Hood, a former friend and colleague who worked at BuzzFeed Video with Gionet. "To me, his conflict now is that it was easier to get famous without people liking him. And now he's famous, but no one likes him."
'I need a name. I need an industry name to be known by'
Gionet was born in Anchorage, Alaska, to a family of of eight children, five of whom were adopted from Russia. His father, Paul, is a pharmacist. Susanne, his mother, is a nurse. They are devout Christians and raised their children as such.
The family also operates a non-profit organization, Russian Encouragement Ministries, which aims to spread the gospel and provide medical supplies to orphanages in eastern Russia — a cause his father said Gionet actively participated in during his youth.
"Tim has come to Russia with us probably 15 times," Paul said, adding Gionet even speaks "a little bit" of Russian. "As a kid, teenager, and young adult."
Upon graduating high school in 2006, Gionet left Alaska for Los Angeles to attend Azusa Pacific University and study film and marketing. During his time there, he said he scored a position at Warner Bros. Records, where he was spotted by Kevin Lyman, the founder of Warped Tour. He offered him a job.
"He was a nice guy. And I said, why don't you come work for me for a bit?" Lyman said. "He wasn't 'Baked Alaska' at that point."
In fact, it was Lyman who helped give Gionet his now-infamous moniker.
"He's like, 'You're in the entertainment business. You need to have a name. All anyone cared about is you're from Alaska. Your name is 'Alaska,''" Gionet said. "I was like, "OK?' He was like, 'Trust me, you're from Alaska, that's all anyone is going to want to ask you about. That's your name.' He's like, 'You need a name. No one cares about Tim. They care about Alaska!'"
"I was like, 'Damnit, this guy is a genius! This guy is right. I need a name, I need an industry name to be known by," he continued. "So my name was 'Alaska.' After a while I realized just being called Alaska worked, but I needed to differentiate myself. I needed to be more unique than Alaska. That's like someone being named 'Texas' or 'Kentucky.' You have to brand yourself a little more. So I came up with 'Baked Alaska,' because at the time I was a stoner. So I was like the baked kid from Alaska. And it's also a double meaning because it's a dessert."
Lyman said Gionet started as an intern but "worked his way into a paid position" doing social media and marketing with the Warped Tour. Eventually, however, Gionet left. He said he briefly worked in 2011 for Capitol Records before deciding to pursue a career of his own in music.
Gionet developed a rap persona which he described as a "wild, redneck, kick-ass" character designed to take the "web by storm." He filmed music videos for songs like "Alaska Vacation" and "I Climb Mountains," which featured him wearing outlandish clothing items while rapping alongside scantily clad women.
"He literally … turned up as this artist, 'Baked Alaska.' I couldn't believe it," Lyman said. "I didn't think he had aspirations of becoming an artist when he worked with me. He never mentioned it."
The music videos, despite their rich production quality, failed to achieve viral success. Nevertheless, word did get back to Gionet's deeply religious father, who expressed strong disapproval at the content of the music.
"I have seen some of his stuff in the past," Paul said. "Of course, that makes us but heads because I don't approve of the language. He knows I'm at odds with his language."
Gionet was also not happy with his life as a rapper. He said he became involved in the Los Angeles party scene and struggled with drugs and alcohol, eventually seeking professional help to get sober. He was also "discouraged with how things were going" with his career and decided to search for other opportunities in the Los Angeles area.
That's when he came across a job opening at BuzzFeed.
"BuzzFeed Motion Pictures needed a social media strategist," he said, "and I happened to be the perfect fit for them."
He got a call about six months later.
'A new chapter'
Gionet had hit a low point in his life. He made the decision to leave Los Angeles for Alaska. Bags packed and on his way to the airport, his phone rang.
"I literally had my suitcase packed up, wheeling it down the stairs," he explained. "I called the Uber, I was going to move back to Alaska, and I had my suitcase bringing it into my Uber. And as I am putting my suitcase into the Uber car, I get a call, and I'm like, 'What?' And the call was from BuzzFeed."
Gionet said it came as a "complete surprise." He "didn't even remember" applying for the job.
"And I was like, 'If you guys are really serious, I'll cancel my ticket and go interview with you. But if you guys aren't that interested, I don't want to waste my time,'" he said. "And they were like, 'No, no. We're really interested. You really fit what we are looking for. And we promise you it won't be a waste of your time.' So I was like, 'OK, cool.' So I canceled my plane ticket, went in and interviewed. They loved me and I got the job right away. And this opened up a new chapter in my life."
Initially, Gionet said he loved working for the digital outlet. As a social-media strategist, he was responsible for growing BuzzFeed Video's social-media accounts, including Tasty, its food-video staple that had just launched. Colleagues who worked with him said he was brilliant at his job.
"He did amazing things. He made the Tasty Instagram and Tasty Twitter. And it became like the top 10 accounts in six months," Hood said. "Some of that is BuzzFeed's brand but he is really f---ing good at social media. Like, it's insane."
Working at BuzzFeed Video, Gionet also appeared in the outlet's web videos. With his mullet and distinct clothing style, he became a regular personality. He starred in BuzzFeed's "If You're Life Was 'Making a Murderer'" video, in addition to taking roles in more traditional productions like "Guys Swap Phones For A Day."
But as politics moved from the backdrop to the forefront of media during election season, Gionet said he became frustrated with the direction of the outlet.
"When I started BuzzFeed, I was making videos about cats and beer pong, OK? By the end of it, it was about feminism and white privilege," he said. "I don't know when the shift happened, but something happened in the culture where they were pushing these anti-white, anti-male agendas."
Gionet also morphed into a vocal Trump supporter and started to wear his "Make America Great Again" hat around the office. (He even later had Trump's face tattooed to his arm.)
"Let's just say I got a lot of dirty looks and a lot of people stopped invited me to the meetings. I'm not f---ing joking," he said. "It was really weird once I came out public as a Trump supporter at BuzzFeed. It was like I was a heretic, I was like the guy no one wanted to talk to. All their opinions about me had completely reversed and it was difficult."
Former colleagues seemed to corroborate his claims, telling stories of Gionet, who they described as having social anxiety, being the subject of jokes around the office.
"Definitely he was bullied in his department. It was all girls — so like they would laugh at him and stuff like that," Hood said. "You don't wear a MAGA hat to an office where like 30% of the people are gay. It wasn't the right thing to do and he was doing it to instigate something."
Will Neff, who worked with Gionet at BuzzFeed, also said "a few of the girls in the office started joking that he looked like a pedophile." Neff said the pushback Gionet received for his views seemed to push him further to the right.
"I think working at BuzzFeed made him eventually more Republican," he said.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed disputed Gionet's claims of political discrimination, saying that "any suggestion that this former employee was treated unfairly for his political beliefs is completely false."
'I got to meet Donald Trump'
Amid mounting tension with colleagues, Gionet left BuzzFeed for a job managing Yiannopoulos's college tour in 2016. He traveled the country with the right-wing provocateur, keeping his schedule and planning the logistics for various events.
"It was a great experience," Gionet said. "I got to tour around and go to all the different college stops and put together the tour budget and the press stuff."
As an assistant to Yiannopoulos, Gionet also traveled to the Republican National Convention, receiving special access, through the right-wing outlet Breitbart, to various functions in Cleveland.
"I got to meet Donald Trump," Gionet said. "He's a great guy. Got to shake his hand and talk to him."
When Trump met him, he signed the tattoo of his face that Gionet had inked to his arm.
"He was like, 'Wow, that's great!' And he thought it was great," Gionet said. "He looked a little surprised. It's probably a little funny to see your face on someone else's body."
Gionet and Yiannopoulos ultimately went their separate ways. A person familiar with the matter said Yiannopoulos fired him for an undisclosed reason.
It was suspected Gionet had become a liability for Yiannopoulos, as he had begun drifting further and further to the right. His former colleagues took notice of Gionet's increasingly extreme views.
"If you are going far-right of Milo, then you are in a very extreme, extreme demographic," said Neff, who also worked at the libertarian Reason magazine and is familiar with the political landscape on the right. "There aren't many people that are right of Milo. And there certainly aren't many people that are so far right of Milo, that Milo felt the need to coach them back."
Others doubted how sincere he was in his views.
"He never was political," Lyman said, speaking of his relationship with Gionet. "That's something he's invented for attention more than anything."
"I don't think Tim believes in anything," said another former employer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity over fear of reprisals. "I think Tim just wants someone to love him."
Briefly on his own after parting with Yiannopoulos, Gionet remained active in the Trump movement. He drew on his musical background to write songs and produce music videos aimed at exciting Trump supporters. His most successful was a song called "MAGA Anthem." It featured Gionet rapping lyrics like, "Build the wall, it just got 10 feet higher, build and build and build, just build the wall" and, "I just want to make America great, I just want to have a Trump steak on my plate."
Gionet's profile continued to rise, and he forged relationships with many others on the right. One was Cernovich, who was quickly growing his own brand as a right-wing provocateur on Twitter.
"He was on Twitter," Cernovich said, explaining how he first encountered Gionet. "He had been working with Milo and after he had been finished working with him, I thought it would be cool to have him do some of the same kind of event organizing while he was working with Milo."
Cernovich hired him for an undisclosed amount of money and the two worked on a project called MAGA3X until Election Day. The idea was based off of Grant Cardone's book, "The 10X Rule" — a self-help book aimed at teaching readers how to 10X their life. In the case of MAGA3X, the idea was to have each Trump supporter take three fellow Trump voters to the polls on Election Day.
And after Trump's surprise electoral victory in November, Gionet traveled to central California to spend Christmas with notorious right-wing blogger Chuck Johnson.
"We are friends," Johnson said. "He came up to visit me for Christmas. I knew he wasn't going home for Christmas, back to Alaska, so he hung out with me for a few days."
"He stayed at my place for a few days. We played Monopoly a bunch," Johnson added. "I'm big into board games."
Gionet also led other social-media campaigns. Perhaps his most famous was getting #TrumpCup to trend on Twitter and become the subject of national headlines. The idea behind the hashtag was for patrons of Starbucks to tell the baristas that their name was Trump so that the employees would write it on the cups. The campaign was prompted by a customer who said a Starbucks employee refused to write "Trump" on his cup.
'I'm alt-right. I've always been alt-right'
The alt-right descended into civil war following Trump's surprise victory — and Cernovich and Gionet were at the center of it.
In celebration of Trump winning the presidency, Cernovich organized the "Deploraball," a party aimed at celebrating the new breed of Republicans who had helped usher the billionaire into the Oval Office.
The party, which took place the night before Inauguration Day, was initially set to feature several luminaries of the alt-right. But Cernovich said he wanted to ensure that the Deploraball remained free of the racist elements for which the alt-right had become known. Moreover, he wanted to use the night to launch what he has dubbed the "new right," a collection of nationalist, populist Trump supporters who reject calls for a white ethno-state.
Meanwhile, Gionet continued to radicalize. He openly questioned the role of Jewish people in society and media — comments that were widely criticized as anti-Semitic and that he now says he regrets making.
Cernovich tried to tame Gionet, but it was to no avail. Eventually, Cernovich chose to take action. In late December, Gionet and white nationalist Richard Spencer were disinvited from the event.
The move to exclude him from the Deploraball infuriated Gionet. He recorded a Periscope video, lashing out at Cernovich.
"Mike got upset that I was tweeting some things about Jewish people," he said. "I don't hate Jews, but there are some things that I like to talk about. I'm alt-right. I've always been alt-right. I've never said I'm not alt-right, unlike Mike Cernovich, Paul Joseph Watson, Milo, and these other cucks. I've always been alt-right."
Gionet stressed he regretted the comments he made about the Jewish community, saying he was "heated and misspoke."
"It didn't come out how it was supposed to come out," he said. "I have nothing but respect and love for people of all faiths, including people of the Jewish faith. And I would never want them to think that I think otherwise. And it does break my heart. It's not my belief at all. I have no problem with Jewish people."
Months later, Gionet says he has mended his relationship with Cernovich and matured as a person.
"I took things too far," he said. "I wasn't very mature and I wasn't thinking about the consequences and so I realized that."
"I've been working on the last few months on humbling myself and restoring relationships," Gionet added.
Neff said he was not sure what to make of the apology.
"Is it genuine? I don't know," he said. "I haven't really spoken to the kid in forever. I know there are some good things in him. I know that that he's not just a f---ing asshole in a vacuum. There are some good things about this kid."
Most surprisingly, however, Gionet said he no longer associated with the alt-right.
"Here's the thing," he said. "The definition has changed so much. I don't know if that describes me anymore."
"Everyone seems to have a different definition of it," Gionet continued. "To me, it means alternative-right. It means right-leaning, different from neo-conservatism, and there's trolling and all that. But some of these other people say alt-right means you are a Nazi or a white supremacist or white nationalist. And I'm like, 'No, I'm not down with that. I'm not a white nationalist.' So I don't know. When people are asking me now, I just say I don't like any labels. I am not going to subscribe to any labels."
'It didn't fulfill the void in my soul like I thought it would'
Gionet's rise in the right-wing universe has certainly brought him a level of fame and celebrity that he lacked before. But it doesn't seem to have fulfilled him as a person.
"When I was a kid all I dreamed about was being famous," he wrote in an email earlier this year, "but once it happened I realized it didn't fulfill the void in my soul like I thought it would."
Since the election, Gionet has looked to start making other people famous. He launched the 907 Agency, a public-relations firm that specializes in helping clients increase their presence on the internet. His partner, David Bullock — who, coincidentally, goes by the name "Alaska" — said he works with Gionet about three days a week.
"I saw him setting trends on Twitter and he saw me on Kanye West's Saint Pablo Tour," Bullock said in an email. "We were both making waves in different industries so we decided we would be able to greater maximize results if we pooled our resources."
Gionet said he couldn't yet disclose clients of the agency, saying only that it included musicians and actors.
Moving forward, Gionet said he does not see himself "as some sort of intellectual" in politics, but more as an entertainer.
But he has continued to remain active in the political scene. Most recently, Gionet has been making trips to the University of California, Berkeley, to support the rights of conservatives to speak on campus.
The right-wing personality has also started working on a book titled, "Meme Magic Secrets Revealed."
"I've been a big part of putting together meme armies that helped win an election, a presidential election," he said. "So many people asked me about it. … So I decided to write a book about it. This is in essence like the magicians revealing their secrets. It's me a meme magician, telling people my story."
Gionet's book is set to be released on July 7, 2017 — or 7/7/17.
For Gionet, that's no accident.
"Seven is God's number and I'm a Christian," he explained. "Seven is the number of completion in the Bible."
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