WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held a video call in April with an infamous right-wing internet troll and a virtual reality entrepreneur to discuss the Trump administration’s plans to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Zinke’s half-hour call with Charles “Chuck” Johnson, the CEO and founder of Gotnews.com, and Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR, occurred just after lunch on April 12, according to a recently published log of Zinke’s scheduled meetings last month.
The call’s listed topic of discussion: “Border Wall building plans.”
What knowledge or expertise Johnson and Luckey could bring to such a conversation, and why the man tasked with managing some 500 million acres of federal land would agree to the meeting, is anyone’s guess.
A conservative journalist with serious credibility issues, Johnson is perhaps best known for being banned from Twitter in 2015 after asking for donations to help him “take out” civil rights activist DeRay McKesson. He also unsuccessfully sued Gawker for defamation, seeking $66 million over articles addressing rumors that Johnson defecated on the floor at some point during college.
In January, Forbes reported that Johnson was “working behind the scenes with members of the [Trump] transition team’s executive committee” to “recommend, vet and give something of a seal of approval to potential nominees from the so-called ‘alt-right’” to work in the administration.
Luckey, the multimillionaire founder of Oculus VR, has come under fire for funding a pro-Donald Trump internet group that pumped out anti-Hillary Clinton memes during the 2016 presidential race, and for donating $100,000 to Trump’s official inauguration committee.
The Interior Department did not respond to HuffPost’s multiple requests for comment. However, a spokeswoman for the agency told Gizmodo that the April 12 call was arranged by Zinke’s friend Scott McEwen, a co-author of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s autobiography American Sniper.
“The Secretary had a brief meeting where he listened to [Johnson and Luckey’s] ideas about using technology on the border and referred the gentlemen to the Department of Homeland Security,” the spokeswoman told Gizmodo.
“Regarding setting up the meeting, a friend of the Secretary’s suggested he talk with them about their technology,” she added. “As a result, they had a very brief meeting with the Secretary. There was no action after.”
Johnson did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. Contacted by Gizmodo via Twitter, Luckey reportedly referred the publication to a response he’d previously given them, which read, “I could give you an answer, or I could tell you to fuck yourself.”
Paul Blumenthal contributed to this report.