A member of the private online chatroom where a major leak of US classified documents surfaced has defended 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, who was charged in connection to the leak on Friday, telling CNN that Teixeira shared the classified material to keep other members informed, “so we won’t be shocked by the news cycles.”
Teixeira, the Massachusetts Air National Guard member who was arrested, was “like a father figure to me,” said the chatroom member known online as Vahki, who said he is 17. The pair bonded over video games, fitness and Christianity.
Vahki claimed that Teixeira was attempting to look after his online friends by sharing the classified information with them.
“It wasn’t really ‘pushing these to teenagers for clout,’” Vahki told CNN on the social media platform Discord over the weekend, describing Teixeira’s motivation for sharing the documents. “It was more like showing these to friends, so we won’t be shocked by the news cycles. And we know what’s going on with our tax dollars.”
Teixeira is accused of posting a trove of classified intelligence – including sensitive information on the war in Ukraine – on Discord in a series of leaks that have rocked Washington and rattled US allies. He made his first appearance in federal court in Boston on Friday and did not enter a plea.
The scandal has put a spotlight on how a new generation of US military personnel socialize online and the risks that come with gaming platforms like Discord where anonymity is cherished. The US military has used Discord for recruiting but also warned service members as recently as last month not to “post anything in Discord that you wouldn’t want seen by the general public.”
Teixeira, who appears to be the only service member using the chatroom, didn’t tell his online friends the US military documents he was sharing were classified, according to Vahki. Asked if Teixeira realized he was breaking the law when he shared the documents, Vahki declined to comment.
Teixeira and Vahki’s friendship grew over the last four or five years, Vahki said, adding that the pair played video games in which they fought zombies (“Left 4 Dead 2”) and built their own virtual worlds (“Garry’s Mod”).
Teixeira and Vahki were both members of an obscure Discord chatroom called Thug Shaker Central that featured memes and talk of guns and religion. Photos of the classified documents later ended up on a second Discord chatroom, known as End of Wow Mao Zone, in March, before spreading to a pro-Russia Telegram and to Twitter.
Vahki conceded that some members of Thug Shaker Central posted racist memes but claimed they did so in jest. The chatroom membership of about two-dozen people was racially diverse, he claimed. CNN could not get in touch with other members of the chatroom to verify this.
Asked if anyone in Thug Shaker Central was concerned the leaked documents could affect the war in Ukraine and the lives of soldiers there, Vahki claimed the documents were never intended to be made public.
Membership in Thug Shaker Central “was strict,” Vahki told CNN. “Usually, you had to either know a member IRL [in real life], or play with us online enough for us to sort of trust you. It was like a voting system.”
Vahki said that he hasn’t been contacted by the FBI as part of the investigation. He said he felt “awful” after a week in which his friend was arrested.