Back in July of 2018 during a episode of the Moehill Mountain podcast, The Escapist editor-in-chief Russ Pitts commented that The Escapist staff courted the Alt-Right and Nazis with its content, before he took over the outlet. Pitts made similar comments again in September of 2018, much to the dismay of some former Escapist staff members.
One staff member in particular, Robert B. Marks, a Jewish writer and content producer, took umbrage with Pitts’ comments and sued Enthusiast Gaming, the parent company of The Escapist, for defamation and libel. This move came after Pitts and Enthusiast Gaming refused to retract the statements that broadly labeled the staff at The Escapist as recruiters for the Alt-Right/Nazis.
In early November Pitts attempted to offer a rebuttal to the libel suit, stating that he wasn’t inferring that Robert B. Marks was a member of the Alt-Right, but rather that his comments covered the broad spectrum of staff and the community at The Escapist from 2012 to 2018, and therefore Marks was not included in that spectrum. Pitts also attempted to conflate all forms of Right-wing or Conservative views with Nazism. For reference, Robert B. Marks continued to contribute to The Escapist between 2015 and 2017, and made it known that he was not a member of the Alt-Right.
Nevertheless, leaked chat logs from someone close to Russ Pitts revealed that as far back as the end of 2017 Pitts was already referring to the staff and community at The Escapist as “Alt-Right”.
Back on December 7th, 2017, Russ Pitts gathered a few potential staff in a Slack chat before the deal to purchase The Escapist had gone through. They were briefly discussing content plans and how to re-brand the site due to the “Alt-Right stink”.
A closer examination of the comments shows Russ Pitts specifically stating that the reboot of The Escapist would not be “Alt-Right”.
This was further exacerbated by Chipman, who wrote…
“Down for that. Obviously don’t want to make “reclaiming the brand” the theme of EVERYTHING, but I think it’s important to either have a post or video up pretty early on that can be pointed to that says in no uncertain terms “We know this name was associated with ugly things, this isn’t that, this is what it was before that, new sheriff in town, here to earn trust, etc.” so it doesn’t need to be repeated ad nauseum after the initial news hits.”
Pitts responds by stating that he did not want to be doing this to perpetuate “the sludge of evil E bcame after Susan left”.
Further into the chat Chipman specifically says he doesn’t want to name names, but goes on to say that they should distance themselves from the “bad ownership”.
This is also where Pitts makes it clear that one of their top priorities at the time, was erasing the “Alt-Right stink”.
In response, Chipman wrote…
“How honest would [it] be “allowed” to be about the history of all this? Again – I don’t want rehashing old grudges to be my (or anyone’s) work-focus, but it might be helpful to be able to transparently say “X person directed the shift that brought this all down, so you can trust that the people bringing this to you now were not part of that.”
“[…] Hell, I’d rather NOT “name names” if that would be a sticking point, but it might be beneficial to able to say “bad ownership” (plus I wouldn’t want people to assume it was editors like Tito who stuck around after).”
Grey responds saying that it doesn’t do anyone any good to throw anyone under the bus, and Pitts agrees, but then proceeds to throw former Escapist owner, Alexander Macris, under the bus.
Chipman further reiterated that they should acknowledge their separation from the former staff, though, stating…
“I can agree with that. I just think it’s good to have some element of “We acknowledge trepidatio nre: the brand” as part of any Mission Statement, at least early on, if only to cauterize the wound. Otherwise, yeah, the work has to speak for itself. Fuck Alex, but if we’re already repossessing his ruins I don’t need to in (another) public fight with his crew. At least not until his new friends inevitably land him in federal prison.”
As revealed in the leaked chat images, Pitts continues to take shots at Macris.
Shamus then joins the chat and then offers his advice for clearing out the “Alt-Right” from The Escapist, suggesting to completely wipe out the entire userbase, to nuke the forums, and to start from scratch. He also makes it known that he never met Alexander Macris but heard good things about him.
Before finally getting off the subject of Alexander Macris, Pitts states that the former Escapist was run through Greek mafioso types and that The Escapist was “doomed from the start”.
If you’re unable to read the text, Pitts states…
“The short version of the Escapist 1.0 story is Alex’s first company failed, and so for his second company he made a very bad deal with some very unsavory people and the entire enterprise that would become The Escapist was doomed from the start.
“Everyone I’ve enlisted to help with this next iteration is committed to doing it right, and preserving everyone’s sanity while making it happen.
“There is A LOT that none of you knew about the original Escapist. It was mine and Susan’s job to keep it that way. But it broke us in the process.”
The Slack from there covers the process of bringing in more staff, raising capital, and eventually joining Enthusiast Gaming.
It’s true that Pitts doesn’t necessarily name Marks as a member of the Alt-Right or courting the Alt-Right, but the only person they excluded from the label was Greg Tito (who departed from The Escapist in early 2015), leaving almost everyone else to be painted as Alt-Right under the all-encompassing umbrella.
Additionally, one of the only notable examples of content that fell under the Alt-Right umbrella that Pitts used in the legal motion was an article from former Escapist editor-in-chief, Josh Vanderwall, which championed free speech. That article along with various other articles from Vanderwall were reportedly deleted, according to archives captured by Kotaku In Action. When further pressed to clarify the actual Alt-Right content on The Escapist, Pitts labeled all Right-wing views as being equivalent to Alt-Right Nazi views. However, there were no specific Right-wing articles published on the site.
As evident in the Slack chat leaks, basically anyone who wasn’t Greg Tito seemed to be labeled as Alt-Right, and to this day Pitts has yet to clarify who specifically he was referring to when he claimed that the staff at The Escapist were using it as a “recruitment tool for the Alt-Right”, especially between 2012 and 2018.
The libel case between Robert B. Marks and Enthusiast Gaming and Russ Pitts will resume in January, 2019.
I attempted to reach out to Russ Pitts multiple times but have not received a reply to any inquiries.