Chandler man pleads to extorting business - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler man pleads to extorting business

April 29th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Chandler man pleads to extorting business

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

A Chandler man has pleaded guilty in federal court to using his YouTube channel to threaten and extort a private business.

Austin Steinbart, 30, was sentenced to time served after spending several months in custody following his arrest last year.

The long-time Arizona resident, who has been associated with the controversial QAnon political movement, got caught up in an online firestorm last March after he used his social media presence to attack a business that wouldn’t heed to his demands.

According to court records, Steinbart hacked into a California-based medical facility’s records and obtained private information on a number of celebrity patients.

The defendant then posted a video on his YouTube channel, detailing his hacking operation to his 10,000 followers. Once the medical facility became aware of Steinbart’s video, they reached out and asked him to delete it.

Steinbart refused and threatened to leak additional information.

“You have no idea what patient data I possess or what my next move is,” Steinbard wrote the company. “All you know for certain is that I have thousands of highly-engaged followers ready to propagate any leaks far and wide across the global internet at a moment’s notice.”

On March 19, 2020, FBI agents visited the defendant’s Chandler home and asked him to take down videos containing private information. He again refused.

Two days later, Steinbart posted another video and directed his followers to contact a Connecticut-based data security company that had suspended Steinbart’s account for copyright and privacy infringements, court records show.

If the company did not restore access to his account, Steinbart warned he and his followers would “start flooding their phone lines and their email billing system” until the company could no longer conduct their day-to-day business.

Steinbart additionally provided instructions to his YouTube followers on how to contact the company and what to say to them.

The data company claims it received thousands of emails shortly after Steinbart posted his video.

Steinbart posted more videos in the following days with new instructions on how to flood the company’s emergency tech support line, court records show.

The attack campaign escalated to Steinbart sending a threatening message to the company’s CEO on Twitter, where he claimed to be running a military intelligence operation called “Qanon” on behalf of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

“You are impeding my operation and threatening our national security with your unconstitutional censorship,” Steinbart wrote the CEO.

Federal prosecutors claim Steinbart is not associated with the DIA in any capacity.

In recent years, QAnon has become a umbrella term for the followers of conspiracy theories that perpetuate beliefs in underground sex-trafficking rings and plots against former President Donald Trump.

Steinbart has publicly described QAnon as being a series of online back channels designed to circulate information that circumvents the “mainstream media.”

But federal authorities claim the QAnon identifier could have some more sinister associations.

In 2019, the FBI field office in Phoenix wrote a memo that described QAnon-driven extremists as a “domestic terrorism threat” and believed the conspiracies propagated by followers could result in the execution of various violent acts.

Many followers of QAnon beliefs were allegedly involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol building and could be seen walking through the halls of Congress wearing shirts with “Q” symbols.

After the insurrection, Facebook and Twitter suspended more than 70,000 accounts that were promoting QAnon-related content.

YouTube and Twitter have suspended Steinbart’s accounts for violating company policies. But the defendant quickly found other platforms to post his opinions on the investigation into his actions.

In a video posted on Instagram last June, Steinbart called the FBI and CIA “corrupt” agencies and said he was on a mission to expose their so-called hypocrisy. 

“They made up ridiculous lies about things I have said to make me look crazy so they could keep me locked up until trial,” Steinbart said in the video. “The FBI will rest in the ash heap of history where they belong.”

A couple months after Steinbart posted that video, he was arrested for violating his pretrial release conditions after he failed a drug test.

Court records show Steinbart had attempted to pass the drug screening by filling a prosthetic penis up with clean urine. Steinbart admitted to possessing the prosthetic device, but denied trying to use it. Regardless, a federal judge ordered the defendant back into custody and he remained there for several months.

Steinbart pleaded guilty in March to one count of extortion and was sentenced to one year of probation. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss several charges of wire fraud and identity theft.

In various videos posted online, Steinbart has indicated he plans to produce a documentary about himself and has recently filed papers in Arizona to form a nonprofit media company. He additionally is on a mission to establish an “Internet Bill of Rights” that would prevent social media companies from censoring their users.

“I have an army of patriots behind me and we are taking this fight to the max,” Steinbard said in an online video. “We will never surrender and we will restore the constitutional rights of all Americans.”