The Prankster who Faces Castration in Louisiana
When news went worldwide that DeQuincy, Louisiana, had “banned twerking” (as in Miley Cyrus’ scandalous dry hump dance), it was Groundhog Day for beleaguered officials in the tiny town.
A mysterious prankster from afar had struck again.
Truth is, DeQuincy’s mayor had never even heard of twerking. He had to ask his wife what it meant. And he certainly hadn’t tried to ban it “in the name of Jesus” as was being widely reported. Nor did DeQuincy plan to jail first time offending twerkers for 30 days—discussion about which had spread as far as Germany, where they refer to twerking as trockenfickentanzen.
Indeed, the twerking “news reports” were yet another hoax pulled by 34-year-old Paul Horner of Phoenix, Arizona, a self-proclaimed “American Hero” who has made it his business to take on DeQuincy (of all places) in addition to political targets like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum.
Who is Horner, and what does he have against poor DeQuincy (population: 3,398)? His fake press release about the twerking ban went so far and wide that the DeQuincy Mayor, Lawrence Henagan, had to tell Nola.com that the story was “a bunch of hogwash.” (That is a real quote.) This is the third time Mayor Henagan has had to deal with his fake alter ego, Mayor Maynard Wilkens, a made up name by Horner to which fake quotes are attributed, like this one: Twerking should be illegal because it is “a defiant act against Jesus and his teachings.” Earlier this year, similar fake press releases about DeQuincy banning all Korean people and issuing guns to all students in school were widely circulated and believed. (For the record, the town is 80 percent white, 19 percent black, and 1 percent Native American, Asian, Hispanic or Latino, according to the latest census data.)
Horner is part satirist, part hoaxer, an occasional stand-up comedian (pictured to above doing stand up at Copper Blues in Phoenix), and all-around SEO expert who owns multiple parody news sites and has spent years punking the media and Internet. A Minnesota native, he moved to Arizona to attend the Phoenix Art Institute, where he earned associate degrees.
Some of his other greatest hits:
- “Gay-to-straight program to be used in all Arizona public school curriculums beginning November 1st” —an August 2013 fake article that forced the governor’s office to respond. Jan Brewer’s spokesman said “it’s a completely phony, and vile report intended to deceive readers. Its authors should be ashamed.”
- “Banksy arrested, real identity revealed” —a February 2013 fake press release touting the identity of the most famous graffiti artist in the world as one Paul William Horner was credulously picked up by Jezebel and Complex Magazine, among others.
- “Local man stops robbery by quoting Pulp Fiction” —a December 2012 article based on a dream Horner had, because he really, really likes Pulp Fiction. Repeat up by Reddit and several other news outlets.
I reached Horner by phone yesterday in Phoenix, and he chatted to me about his antics and philosophy on life. DeQuincy, meet your nemesis.
Q: Why DeQuincy?
A: My friend Brandon grew up there and he said it’s a huge shithole. Everybody is just alcoholics and really just the epitome of drunken rednecks. That’s the reason I did just one story on them, about my friend Brandon being a gay zombie taking bath salts. [The article says seven people were killed in an attack by the drugged up zombie.] I kept going with it because they [the people of DeQuincy] started hitting up my fanpage on SuperOfficialNews and they were sending threats to me, saying they were going to kill me and cut off my balls and arrest me.
Q: Is DeQuincy the only place where people have threatened you?
A: India threatened to kill me. Yeah, they don’t like me. If you search on SuperOfficialNews for “rape festival“…[Horner published a series of articles earlier this year on the Punjab Rape Festival, some of which spread to Facebook and blogs and were indeed taken seriously.]
Q: This is actually hilarious, because I’m from Louisiana and I’m also Indian.
A: I’m not saying all Louisiana’s like that. Just DeQuincy. So I apologize about that. I’m a big activist. At the bottom of that India story, if you don’t like what’s going on in India, there’s a link to a legit site—GiveIndia.org—helping women get out of abusive situations, help them get clothes and food. The point of that was to bring attention with some exaggerated story and then try to get funds raised for that.
Q: Have you ever applied to The Onion for a job?
A: I used to want to and then I started hearing that some of the guys get paid. That Jan Brewer article, for example. In one day, I made $500 in ad revenue. I noticed that my income from this has been steadily climbing. I’d always love to do freelance contract work, though. The Onion is complete satire which is fun to write. But when you read something and you know it’s a joke already, it’s not as fun as if you’re
thinking it’s real. A lot of my stuff, especially on SuperOfficialNews, that’s kind of hoax and satire, it starts off really real and then it gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on.
I just thought it was rad because [Brewer] actually had to have her spokesman talk to Fox News and MSNBC and CNN and say it’s not true, ‘whoever wrote this is vile,’ but at the same time, if she could implement gay to straight programs in all the public schools, she would. She hates gay people, she hates minorities, she makes all her political decisions based on the Bible. And then I threw in Joe Arpaio because no one likes him here.
Q: How does it make you feel when you see real news sites pick up your articles?
A: Yeah, it’s awesome. It’s the best. I’m writing a book in a self publishing deal through Amazon — 20 of my favorite hoaxes, how it went viral, how I helped it go viral if it did, the impact on the internet, and secrets on how to make it go viral on social media. [He shared his potential book cover with me, seen above at right.]
I realized how fun it was to write hoaxes in April 2012. There was this $600 megamillion Powerball, and I didn’t win it, so I wrote a story about a guy named Paul Horner winning it and said he was already the richest guy in the state, and he was going to use the money for fixing up one of his mansions in the Cayman Islands and his golf course. And that he would donate a lot of money to the Rick Santorum campaign. It got people pissed off and riled up, it got a million views. It just made me feel better about not winning. So I thought it’d be cool to have a website like SuperOfficialNews, and I started doing a mixture of satire hoaxes and then just full on hoaxes.
Q: Is Paul Horner your real name?
A: Yes. Yeah, because people always steal my stuff.
Q: How many websites do you own?
A: I don’t know, I have a lot of goofball ones. I register for domain names and sometimes I do something with them. If you go to FappyTheDolphin.com — Fappy is the anti-masturbation dolphin sponsored by the Monsanto company. [Fappy has his own Facebook page with nearly 10,000 likes.] People buy Fappy merchandise, you can check it out at CafePress.com. I got like a million designs.
Q: How much money do you make?
A: I don’t want to say. I make ad revenue on my stories.
Q: How do you make a fake press release go viral?
A: It’s easy. With twerking, it’s entertaining, it’s a hot topic that’s in the news…you just post it on the right sites, and if you know how to use Reddit and Facebook, social media and SEO, it’s not that hard. I’ve just acquired skills over the years. There’s other sites you can use to make it more credible, like fake press release sites. PRLog.org is a real press release site — you can submit one free press release a day. Otherwise it’s $200-300 a press release and you have to get it confirmed. But on the free sites, they don’t verify, and what sucks is if it gets too much traffic, it gets flagged and they’ll close your account. [Since our conversation, PRLog.com has taken down the twerking press release and banned Horner’s account.] I like doing fake Twitter postings in Photoshop. I actually have a subreddit on Reddit, it’s called Fake Tweets.
Q: What do your family and friends think of all this?
A: None of my friends believe anything I post anymore. I’m like the boy who cried wolf or whatever. I don’t pull pranks on my family. What’s really important is I don’t ever do anything negative. There’s a lot of people who do death hoaxes and stuff like that. My stuff — it’s all stuff that I wish would actually happen.
Q: You wish a town would ban twerking?
A: I do wish one town would make twerking illegal. That would be so funny. And Bill Murray crashing parties. And Big Lebowski 2 coming out. That would be awesome! I wrote a script for it and everything.
Q: Maybe you should just film it yourself and put it on YouTube.
A: No, that wouldn’t be good. Tara Reid already did that and made a fool of herself.
Q: What’s your ultimate political goal? What are your views on President Obama?
A: I don’t have a lot of money and I don’t have connections. I can’t do much. So I can write about it and I can point out how ridiculous and messed up something is. That’s what political humor is. I’m not a fan of Obama just because most of the stuff, he says one thing and he does another. If Mitt Romney were in there, it’d be worse. But it’s the same person. They’re the exact same people. [Obama] blames stuff on other people so nothing’s ever his fault. Jesus, what are we still doing in Iraq? In Afghanistan? Guantanamo Bay is still open, that’s ridiculous. And then Syria? Yeah, other countries are fucked up but they’re not harming us. I’m a total believer in non-intervention policy. [Horner voted for Ron Paul in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.] And who even knows who supplied what [in Syria]? They still can’t even prove we’re not supplying shit to Al Qaeda.
Q: What’s most important to you, with activism? What’s your dream job?
A: Just good versus evil type stuff. When I see something wrong, if I can do something to point it out and exaggerate it…my favorite writer is Hunter S. Thompson. He said, “I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me.” I dig all that. The freedom to go out and just call BS on people.
Q: And what about the good people of DeQuincy? [As I am a born and raised Louisianian, I informally reached out to friends to see if we know any DQ residents. Two out of two respondents said growing up in DeQuincy had its good and bad parts, like any other small town.]
A: It’s a town of 3000 people. I probably won’t write about them again. Or maybe I will. I’m putting them on the map.
Q: I’m from Louisiana and I’d never even heard of it.
A: If you find it on the map…there’s like nothing around it. And Brandon was just telling me it’s the worst place on the face of the planet. Seriously, that whole town threatened to kill me, my family, kick my ass…I have all their names, Facebook pages, IP addresses…So, after that [gay zombie bath salt] story, I made sure to use them in all my redneck stories. But I wrote on [an angry DQ resident’s] page, basically if I get no blowback from this, I won’t use their city anymore. But if they wanna get bad, I can get badder. They have 30 packs of beer. I have the internet.
Q: People on my Facebook newsfeed were sharing the story a lot, they were so ready to believe it, even people from Louisiana. Maybe because it’s not that much of a stretch…?
A: (laughs) That’s rad.
Q: But a few people did notice that you said county jail, not parish jail, and that tipped them off that it was fake. [Louisiana is the only state in the union to have parishes instead of counties thanks to French and Spanish influences.]
A: Oh yeah, it’s supposed to be parish jail. I was going to actually change it [after a commenter pointed it out] and then I just liked county jail better. I moderate all the comments [on SuperOfficialNews], and there’s about 70 comments right now sitting in queue pointing that out. And I don’t approve those.
Q: Are you religious?
A: Super spiritual. I was raised Catholic, and then I became agnostic in college.
Q: What’s your sexual orientation and background?
A: I like vagina and I’m white.
Q: Do you like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert?
A: I like Jon Stewart a lot. Stephen Colbert’s really funny. I don’t know, just because I don’t like Bill O’Reilly so much, it pisses me off sometimes watching Colbert. I love The Daily Show for sure.
Q: Last question. How much weed do you smoke a day?
A: Zero. I don’t do any drugs.
Color us impressed. Oh, and try Googling “biggest penis in the world.” His SEO magic seems to be working.