Deon Venter (AKA Don Murray?)— South African Racism Moves To Ireland.
I’ve been watching a couple of right-wing aggregator sites with .ie domain names over the past couple of years and I finally decided to find out who was behind it.
www.itv.ie seemed like a strange URL to be hosting what it does. ITV is a UK-based commercial TV channel whose nearest competitor would be the venerable BBC. This website seemed to be hoping that non-discerning browsers might end up here, while searching for the UK ITV site. A tactic which features strongly in the following investigation.
This Wordpress site appears to go back to 2009, mostly sharing videos and articles from anti-immigrant, right-wing and pro-Brexit content producers, with a little lifestyle content to make up the rest of the magazine-style theme. A basic, but slightly pompous, design with some dated looking advertisements for online dating, car rental and the old favourite — diet supplements.
Nothing is obvious about who owns or runs the site, ownership records are obscured and there’s a vague feeling of cybersquatting and small-time grifting. It felt like something from the early days of the internet — copied content, shady ads, misleading URL, but with an obvious agenda. A hope that the right-wing pearl-clutchers would be drawn to sharing the site on Facebook and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a few ad-revenue clicks or PayPal donations. Was this site about the money or the message? Or both?
So, the owner of the site is riding the coat-tails of a large media company that is based in a neighbouring country. It’s a common strategy to use well-known brands to trick users into landing on your site and/or assuming your site offers the same weight or officialness. Nothing hugely wrong with that. Just a bit dishonest.
My first instinct was to take a look at the history of the site in the Wayback Machine. Here, we can see that the site had a bit of life starting in 2007/8, a bit in 2011 and really got going from the end of 2019.
In 2008, the site redirected to a portal site called All Irish Links. This appears to be an earlier cybersquatting site with a Eurocentric network of linked sites and keywords designed to funnel the unwary into something confusing which probably involved money. A quick search reveals discussion about a pair of entrepreneurial gentlemen who seem to have had a number of domains taken off them in the 2000’s, which they were attempting to squat. For now, that is another story.
Let’s take a quick look at the site in 2011. It’s been registered by a company called Always Amber, for a “client”. They’re still going, and they also seems to be sitting on a huge number of unused .ie domains for their “clients”. This, again, is another story. Let’s dig in to the site as it is now. Who’s running it now?
Although the Wayback Machine only shows the current site existing since 2019, either it wasn’t indexed by Wayback or the site owner just faked the older age of the site by posting material and changing the dates to give the impression of a longer-standing site. Not important, but worth noting.
I started looking through the site for anything that might reveal the person(s) behind itv.ie. There were no names, no authors. Just the content producers who were featured on the site. Standard investigative software tools (WPScan, NMap, etc.) provided no further clues, so I started to trawl through the source HTML — the code behind the website, which your browser uses to display the content in a human-friendly way.
Scrolling down through the auto-generated code, I looked for something unique. Something I could base a search on. Just a little thread that I could start pulling on.
Eventually, right near the end of the HTML, I saw something that appeared somewhat unique. A Google Adsense client code. This is the unique sequence of numbers that Google assigns to you to make sure that any ad revenue is associated with your site and your bank account. It also allows you to track and monitor your ad engagement and can be used on one site, or across all of your sites.
I searched for the digits and started to see the same Adsense code across a number of South African-related websites (SAUKTV.com, SAUKRadio.com), and one that stood out to me: LutonAirport.info.
The SAUK sites appear to be mainstream news sites, a very similar to the tactic used by itv.ie. LutonAirport.info is a straightforward attempt to lure worried travellers onto a fake site, in the hopes of a few ad clicks. I expect there may be more ‘…airport.info’ sites out there.
With nothing revealing in the SAUK sites, I struck gold with LutonAirport.
A quick ICANN domain registration lookup provided a company name:
Running all of this info back into a search and I feel that we have our man.
“A network of racially charged websites used narratives of white victimhood in South Africa to turn a profit. The website domains are owned by a South African company called CoZaNic, operated by a man named Deon Venter.”
The author, from DFRLab, had arrived to a similar place using the same method — Adsense IDs. They had started with the SAUK sites and I had started with the Irish one. It’s a great investigation which goes deep into Venter’s methods and social media presence.
But, what’s a South African racist doing running an anti-immigrant website here in Ireland? Is he running one in every country, for ad revenue, or is there something else? The knowledge and connection with the Irish alt-right seems to be too intimate for someone who’s just wildly farming clicks. Money or racism? It’s both.
Deon Venter owns a large number of domain names. Some go nowhere, but many others have websites associated. Lots of misleading airport sites (aeropuertoalicante.net, capetowninternational.com), location specific dating sites (datingireland.net, indian-dating.net) and many random speculative URLs (honeybush-tea.com, windturbine.biz, car-loans.biz). He also owns a number of ethnonationalist-adjacent domains (volksparty.com, nativeeuropeans.com, southafricangenocide.com) and a couple of EU-sceptic domains like reformeu.com and irexitfreedomparty.com.
Rolling back to Venter’s LinkedIn page, it seems that he is a (surprise) “Google Certified SEM Consultant for Adwords” based in Dublin, Ireland. He lives here. He’s made friends.
He even organised a ‘Silent Protest Against UN Migration Pact’ outside the Irish government buildings in 2018. I have found an address related to him in New Ross, in Wexford, which was sold in 2018. He’s even registered the domain new-ross.com, which badly redirects to Booking.com.
Deon Venter, a hard-core racist grifter, is here in Ireland pushing his hate-filled agenda and trying to turn people against each other. He’s likely working with others in the Irish ‘Patriot’ network and looking at ways to profit from division.
UPDATE 12/01/21: A keen eyed observer noted that Deon had signed off as ‘Don Murray’ on his change.org protest page. A follow up search revealed that Don Murray is the main contributor to the itv.ie site and has a Wordpress user name of “Atlas”. Further probing revealed another very similar site at irishnews.net — a slight variation site which doubles up on the itv.ie content and features the same advertisements for dating, rental cars and diet supplements. The byline for irishnews.net is “Irish News For People, NOT Profit”. From what we’ve seen above, Deon Venter’s (Don Murray’s) motive seems to be very much about profit.
We can see articles showcasing the National Party and nationalist profiteers like Keith Woods.
Both sites also have a strong affiliation with Knights Templar International and selling its wares. KTI have a strong association with UK nationalists and unionists like Nick Griffin and Jim Dowson. Another rabbit hole for another day.