The American political system often throws up some fairly strange stories, but this might be one of the weirdest yet – as a Roblox player managed to infiltrate the White House press corps.
An individual by the name of “Kacey Montagu”, who was able to ask questions directly to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, has now been revealed as an imposter. Politico ran an extensive story on Montagu, detailing how they created the fake persona and were able to fool White House insiders.
Montagu had apparently been masquerading as a White House correspondent since last year, creating a fictional “White House News” outlet to do so. They set up two Twitter accounts to repost information from official sources, and the speed and efficiency of these accounts attracted the attention of White House correspondents (and even some working in the administration). A senior advisor and chief spokesperson for vice president Kamala Harris, and Michael LaRosa, press secretary for Jill Biden and Symone Sanders, were both following one of the accounts.
By the time the ruse was unmasked, @WHSchedule had garnered a following of 1.3k people, and the newer @WHPoolReport had earned 600 followers in only a few weeks. Montagu used these accounts to communicate with top White House reporters on a regular basis, and even chatted with White House officials.
In conversations with confidants, Montagu posed as a reporter for The Daily Mail, and claimed to be a member of the White House Correspondents Association. Once the accounts attracted more attention, Montagu asked the WHCA about becoming a pool reporter, and emailed questions to press aides for president Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and vice president Kamala Harris.
Politco reports that Montagu managed to get four questions relayed to press secretary Jen Psaki by members of the White House corps, using Covid-19 as an excuse to explain why they were not in the room. They managed to plant questions about Covid-19 travel bans, upcoming ambassadorships, and Biden’s reaction to the Microsoft hack.
Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the practice of asking questions on behalf of fellow reporters has been normalised as a form of courtesy, explaining how Montagu was able to get these questions asked. Not every White House reporter was fooled by this, however – those who did some research found a deactivated LinkedIn profile for Montagu listing them as “Chief Political Correspondent” at WHS… with a profile picture of Boris Johnson eating an ice cream cone.
According to Politco, Montagu has told US officials and nonprofit journalism and government-tracking outfits that they are, in reality, an 18-year old law student from the UK. They were apparently born in the US before moving to the UK at age six. In another conversation, they claimed to be studying political science – but said they were not motivated by politics, describing themselves as socially liberal and conservative on economic issues.
“I love journalism, and I think the Press Corps is doing a pretty bad job at the moment, so I decided I would ensure some transparency and ask some questions me and some friends wanted the answer to,” Montagu told Politico over email.
But acquaintances from Montagu’s Roblox circle suggested the idea for this charade came from their involvement in role-playing group nUSA. Roblox has a pretty active political role-playing community – as I found from my own visit to Roblox’s Houses of Parliament – and it seems Montagu was once Secretary of State in the nUSA group. They resigned from this position after “the [nUSA] President went to war with some U.K. and I thought it was a pretty bad idea!”
Others involved in the nUSA community suggested Montagu had been bragging about their feats for some time, and suspected they began the scheme “for the memes”.
Eventually, the jig was up – last Thursday when a Washington Blade reporter asked a question on Montagu’s behalf, news website Mediaite investigated the origins of the question, and exposed Montagu as a “fictional reporter made of Lego”. The original Twitter accounts for Montagu are now suspended, but a new one has appeared claiming to be Montagu – and making the most of the media attention.
Although Montagu never quite got to the stage of asking (or receiving) a White House press pass, members of the nUSA community said Montagu was getting close. It’s an extraordinary story of digital duping, and shows how Covid-19 has made it far easier for this sort of mischief to occur. I imagine the White House will now be asking itself some questions about how this was able to happen.