Mathew Blanchfield Interview: Former CEO Who Took Hard Line Against Trump Supporters
September 15, 2017
It was Nov 9, 2016 and the election that the world was watching had shocked the CEO of a company called 1st in SEO, a company that exists to promote websites and digital brands. This CEO, Mathew Blanchfield, shot off a letter to his clients. The terms were clear: If you voted for or support Donald Trump; “You’re not welcome here.” Fast forward 9 months and Blanchfield has separated himself from that business, lost thousands of dollars protecting existing clients and defending himself from cyber attacks and now he runs a website called Liberal Resistance.
I had seen Matt face down Tucker Carlson right after the election. For those that don’t know, Tucker is a talking head on Fox News. He told Tucker that Trump is a fascist and he didn’t want anything to do with Trump or the people who put him in office. I didn’t know anything about that when I first discovered Matt on Twitter. To me, he was just the editor to a liberal platform that was kind enough to share articles I’ve published on this site to his millions of readers. Once I learned his origin story I had to talk to him about it.
I took the phone call in my car. I frequently do interviews over lunch for the convenience of the subject but this was the first time I did one in my car. It felt a bit like a political version of Jerry Seinfeld driving around talking to comedians. Matt answered the phone from his home in New Mexico and I asked the question of the day; “What happened?”
He talked about the letter he sent but explained that, “I did not cancel anyone’s contract. I would not. I assumed that if [client’s that supported Trump] knew how strongly I held my position, then they wouldn’t want to do business with me.” This was a stunning revelation if you were only reading about the incident in the Conservative media.
I asked him if he has since backed off of his decision not to do business with people he knew supported Donald Trump? He answered without a moment’s hesitation, “No. Not at all.”
Blanchfield tried to explain the cost of his decision to Tucker Carlson during the interview and Tucker didn’t seem very interested, choosing to focus on the upside to objecting to an unpopular politician, but there was nothing funny about what happened. “Within 24 hours of the letter being released to my clients, it was on the local news in Albuquerque,” Matt explained. One day later, he says he got a call he was sure was fake; Fox News was inviting him on the air and he agreed.
“The next evening I was on Fox and the next day I was on BBC. Very quickly, it became clear this was going to grow the size of my company substantially because, while there was a tidal wave of hate, anger, and rage that came my way, which did not surprise me, on the flip side there were a lot of people who felt very strongly that they wanted to support someone who took a position like I did. This was all prior to the inauguration. This was right after the election.”
It was obviously very important to Blanchfield that the story, since it had become a national one, was based on principle and not for profit, “When it became evident that this was going to make the company grow,” he explained. “I gifted the company to two friends of mine. One is a disabled paratrooper, and [the both] are fire fighters. I gifted the company because I felt that if I profited from doing this then that would negate the moral position of doing it just to make a point.”
“I need to clarify the reason for my question a bit,” I tell him. “You were quoted by Evan Wilt a writer for World saying, ‘…I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing what I did now. It was a terrible business decision.’ That sounds a bit like backing away from the position.”
He takes a deep breath and explains that he did say something like that but that he would need to amend it, “The only thing that would need to be added on is, ‘unless you’re willing to pay the price I paid.’ I wouldn’t advise [doing it to just] anyone who is excited and thinks they’re going to make a difference. I had no confusion of what I was stepping into. I could also afford to give my business away.
But I also had children…their school addresses were published, their routines were put online and they were told they should be raped and killed…but they would have been ashamed if we backed down. The reasons I wouldn’t advise people to do what I did is because the repercussions are severe.” In answer to the threats he’s as defiant, “I’m heavily armed, I’m prior military, I’m not afraid to be in a gun fight with somebody. I don’t suggest most people live that way.”
Before going on I felt it important to know more about what his former company, “1st in SEO” does. So I asked him to break it down since the idea of refusing service was bound to be controversial.
“1st in SEO is a search optimization company, web design company, and a social media marketing company,” he says. “To oversimplify―the primary object of the business comes down to this: there’s a bazillion websites online and if you want to be found when someone Googles [your subject/company]―for example, Joe’s Plumbing in Nebraska―you need to be on the first or second spot. We make sure your website ranks highly [on the search page].” I have to admit that’s something I haven’t mastered. He added a quick disclaimer: “I should say ‘they’ do this―the company that I owned. I have no ownership or participation anymore. So 1st in SEO makes sure the website gets ranked [highly]. They also build websites and manage social media accounts. There’s a very comprehensive mix of things that need to be done properly for Google to like your website, and they handle all of that.”
After the letter went public, the comparisons began immediately between his position and that of so-called conservative business owners who refused to bake a wedding cake for an LGBTQ wedding because it violated their own religious freedoms. Since most wedding cakes or wedding photos aren’t always branded in an advertising way, I always thought it was a little silly to say that selling a cake was promoting gay marriage. Matt’s company, on the other hand, was designed to promote their client’s businesses. Still, I’m not completely comfortable refusing service to anyone. So, I asked him if he could explain his view on why one was bad and the other okay.
He jumped at the chance to defend his position. “It was an insane analogy. The core part about this is that denying service to someone because they’re gay is illegal. Not even getting into the weeds of morality and logic, but denying service to people because of their sexuality is illegal in this country. It’s against the law.”
He continued, “Denying service to someone in New Mexico because I don’t like their political views is not against the law. So one is against the law while the other is not is so, apples to apples, it’s not even in the same universe. Saying that somebody is going to deny people service because of what they are and me refusing service to someone because of what they choose to do and [politically] believe is totally different. We decide what politics we have. We don’t decide if we’re gay, trans, short, tall, etc.. People choose their politics―that’s totally different. And actually, I didn’t deny anybody’s service and I didn’t refuse to do business with anybody, so even my actions were not the same.”
While all of this was going on the company’s clients were observing it from the sidelines and dealing with some of the repercussions, “What was the reaction you received to all of the public scrutiny from your previous company’s clients?”
“I had one client leave because of their political beliefs,” he admits. I’m a bit surprised that it was only one. But after he explains that he helped the client who left transition to another company he tells me about what his clients went through and how he lost a second client because of it, “The hackers that went after me also went after all my clients, publishing personal information. I spent lots of money, at least in the tens of thousands of dollars, in one month protecting those clients. It took a lot of time and effort to make sure they were protected. It was during that period of time that I decided gift the company to my friends.”
Leaving after he spent all of that money confused me a bit but Matt explained that two things were heavy on his mind. “We had a long list of people who wanted to become clients [after all the publicity] and I couldn’t profit from it because that’s not why I did this.” Beyond that, he said, “There was so much hatred directed toward me that I had to remove myself from the company so that that hatred followed me and got away from the existing clients. We released a statement to news agencies make it public knowledge that I left the company, and within days all of that computer hacking followed me.”
“You’ve been away from the company for a while now. Have you seen the negative response; the harassment, the death threats slow down?” I ask.
“Yes, a whole lot of it has slowed down.” The relief is evident in his voice, “It went from my appearance on Fox, within 24 hrs, I had 100,000 hate messages, phone calls. I had to shut down accounts because they were overloaded. I had a website collapse because the volume went up so high. I was hacked. Every single website I had was hacked. I had very intense security before this took place. And the people I contracted to service my websites called it, “state sponsored hacking.” Matt was careful to point out here that he was relying wholly on his contractor’s opinion for that description. “Now I have military grade security which is much more expensive.”
Many of the higher profile social media activists that I’m friendly with online and who operate under the “Resistance” mantle have experienced cyber attacks and doxxing-having their personal identities and families exposed. So I asked, “What can Resistance activists do to protect themselves from these attacks?”
“This, in my opinion, which is bias, but this proves exactly what I was saying to Tucker Carlson to have been right. What happens in a fascist environment is that as soon as you speak up against the powers-that-be you’re annihilated.”
Annihilated is a strong word but not when I think of several Twitter folks who were forced to close their accounts and were effectively, if temporarily, silenced. Matt did not just diagnose the problem, he offered this; “There’s a company called SUCURIthat costs money but it’s not cost prohibitive―it’s something that’s probably expensive for most people, but you can afford if it’s important for you. They can secure your website. They won’t make you invulnerable but they’ll make you so hard to breach that 99% of the people will go around you and for those that refuse to and still try to get inside, a team will be notified and be on it as it happens. So you can literally have military grade security, if you’re willing to pay for it.”
That brings us back to Tucker Carlson who mocked Blanchfield for calling Trump a fascist. For the record, fascism is hard to define but Merriam-Webster describes it this way, “A political philosophy, movement or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual. It stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
When Matt called Trump a fascist Carlson immediately leaped to the conclusion that Blanchfield was calling Trump ‘Hitler.’ The probable comparison is hard to ignore but Matt contends, “I never called Trump Hitler.”
It’s clear at this point that this was something Matt was passionate about and now that he’s had more than 8 months of a Trump administration he could reflect back on it. “His point was asinine. I believe his words were ‘jackbooted thugs.’ So, if some jackbooted thugs didn’t come pull me out of [the interview] at that moment, then that meant it wasn’t a fascist regime. It’s an idiotic statement. Hitler, to use Carlson’s reference, came to power through an election. People didn’t get dragged out of their houses the first day. That’s not how anything like that works. Fascism is the blend of “big business” and government, and Trump is the epitome of that in every single way. And there are many other aspects of fascism―like using the alt-right, or whatever you’d like to call them. Just recently there was a black official in the South [that was threatened to] be killed if she touched a Confederate statue [Newsweek reported on the threat ]. That was a public statement.”
Without any hint of satisfaction, he says, “The reality is that what I assumed would happen is already taking place. Radical right-wing Christian fundamentalists groups, not just a singular group, but families of hate groups are now working in coordination with each other. They would not have done so prior to Trump’s election. They focus their fury and one person has already been killed, Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. But that’s not going to stop or slow down, and it’s not going to go away.”
To me, the point of contention is the use of the term “fascist.” I try to break through that with this suggestion, “There is a difference between identifying a political philosophy vs. declaring there’s a fascist regime in place.” It seems important to point out that the separation of powers, built into the Constitution, is designed in-part to prevent this type of individual from taking power. That isn’t to say a communist, fascist, socialist, capitalist person can’t occupy the office, they just are limited in their actions by the structure of our institutions. So our government is not fascist but that doesn’t mean that none of our leaders don’t prefer the concept of fascism as they understand it. Blanchfield accepts this but his concern runs deep.
“I would point out,” he says. “When Hitler took power he didn’t have that authority either before the Reichstag Fire. There are lots of things he didn’t have when he first showed up. That stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Trump is flagrantly in violation of so many laws, like the Emoluments Clause. He’s making money hand over fist for being president and that’s not allowed. And nobody’s doing anything about it. The ethical principles that we assumed our presidency went by are so far out the window that stuff that once upon a time would have mandated impeachment doesn’t even make it into broad news coverage anymore.”
I begin to challenge him on this point but he continues, “I would say, yes, on paper we have these checks and balances but I don’t think they are being effective. Yes, he is more hemmed in than if he were president of a Third World country. [But] our government isn’t functioning to hem him in in any other way, shape or form. He’s dismantling our government; everything that has to do with protecting the environment, to do with protecting your jobs, anything to do with protecting minorities. And nothing’s stopping him. Yes, the Court has been able to impede his having the travel ban, but he’s still in office and still working toward those ends.”
I point out that he’s describing the frustration associated with due process, “It is stressful.” I say, “But, there are numerous court cases fighting bad policy and a serious investigation ongoing into criminal acts. Even if you don’t trust the competence of the congressional investigations,” I offer, “There is still the special counsel’s investigation.”
Matt agrees, “I do trust the investigations. I absolutely believe [Robert] Mueller is doing a real investigation.”
With that I decide to clear the air, “So, Just to clarify, you’re saying Trump doesn’t have to run a fascist government to be a fascist?”
“Absolutely,” he says. “You can try to get there as fast as you can, though. I believe that [Trump] is the epitome of someone who is a fascist but I don’t believe the federal government is a fascist organization at this point.
To respond to this, Blanchfield started LiberalResistance.net. “I wanted to give people a platform to express themselves.” He does that by publishing works written by individuals in the Resistance Movement. Amplifying the message is something his skill set equips him to do. He expects to clear 12 million visitors this month. This time I was happy to help amplify his voice.
Matt Blanchfield is the former CEO and founder of 1st in SEO. He now runs a political blog called LiberalResistance.net from his home in Albuquerque, NM. Find him on Twitter @MDBlanchfield