With striking lilac hair and a pugnacious attitude, the anti-sex trafficking activist known as Eliza Bleu has broken into some of the top tiers of right-wing media in just a few years, growing her audience through interviews with popular figures like Ben Shapiro, Tim Pool, and Dr. Drew Pinsky.
But in late 2022, Bleu found an even more powerful ally: new Twitter owner Elon Musk.
Bleu, who refers to herself as “a survivor of human trafficking,” has lent the billionaire an unusual form of credibility by insisting that pre-Musk Twitter was overrun with child pornography. Only Musk, Bleu says, has been willing to stamp out the abusive material on Twitter “at scale.” In another tweet, she declared, “The war against Elon Musk is actually a war over your mind.” Musk responded with a bullseye emoji.
Bleu’s praise for Musk comes even as the billionaire has slashed much of Twitter’s staff, including huge numbers of workers responsible for content moderation. For his part, Musk has boosted Bleu’s profile on the site with replies and retweets, helping her earn more than 100,000 new followers in December alone.
“You have a direct line to me on this issue,” Musk told Bleu in a Twitter Space live chat in December.
When I stepped away from the gang, my traffickers lost money. And they want that money back.
But now Bleu and Musk find themselves embroiled in a Twitter censorship controversy, after multiple critics of Bleu who shared embarrassing images from her past saw their accounts temporarily suspended from the site. Some users suggested that Bleu’s “direct line” to Twitter brass and Musk himself may have led to the crackdown, even as the Twitter owner insists he’s in favor of “free speech” and wide-ranging debate.
Bleu and Twitter didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Amid the controversy over the suspended accounts, questions about Bleu’s background have emerged. Her critics have seized on contradictory videos and interviews—and her frequent use of different names online—to suggest Bleu isn’t who she claims to be.
Now two former friends of Bleu tell The Daily Beast that, at best, Bleu is exaggerating her experiences for attention.
“It’s making a lot of her old friends around here really angry,” said Carly Wenzel, a one-time pal of Bleu who has known her for two decades, who added she believes Bleu is “completely lying.”
Bleu grew up in a rural area along Illinois’s border with Iowa known as the “Quad Cities.” She’s portrayed her homeschooled upbringing as an innocent one, albeit one that made her all the more naive about how the world really works.
Despite her claims to the contrary, public records prove that Bleu’s original name was Eliza Morthland. Born in 1981, her father is Richard Morthland, a farmer and former Illinois state representative who ran unsuccessfully on the GOP ticket for lieutenant governor in 2018. Morthland did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2021, Bleu appeared to deny on Twitter that she was Eliza Morthland, but Facebook photos show her standing with other members of the Morthland family. A 2010 newspaper article about Richard Morthland shows a woman who looks just like Bleu standing next to the politician and identified as his daughter, “Eliza Morthland.” Richard Morthland also gave a comment for a 2009 article about a band Bleu worked for under her married name Eliza Siep. And Bleu’s cosmetology license lists Richard Morthland’s farm as her address.
There’s no question that Bleu has advocated for trafficking victims, especially on Twitter. But she has offered murky accounts of her own background that leave even her supporters unsure about all but the vaguest details. She can also grow hostile with reporters who ask for basic facts, like the years she was trafficked or the names of perpetrators. For example, journalist Katie Herzog reached Bleu on the phone in December, only to have Bleu become defensive when Herzog raised even the prospect of asking Bleu about her own story.
Bleu stirred up some controversy of her own with diehard supporters of the band, in online mini-scandals that featured Bleu calling Star the n-word.
Interviewed on Tim Pool’s podcast, Bleu said she could not offer details about her alleged abusers because of unspecified legal issues. Then she asked why it would be a problem if she was making up her story.
“Let’s say, hypothetically, it is made up,” Bleu said. “What’s my biggest win so far in public? Getting Twitter to address child sexual abuse material and make it a top priority?
“I’m not asking an abuser for money, and I’m not asking people for money,” she added.
The Daily Beast pieced together a rough outline of Bleu’s account of her trafficking experiences based on interviews she’s given to sympathetic media outlets.
Bleu has said that her trafficking spanned two different periods, separated by roughly a decade. In her telling, Bleu was first groomed by a prominent photographer she met at a Warped Tour concert in Chicago when she was 16. A few years later, when she was still a teenager in the late 1990s, Bleu’s father drove her to Los Angeles because Bleu was convinced that an unnamed “high profile musician” she met through that photographer would make her a star.
Instead, she was sexually assaulted within 48 hours of arriving in the city, according to a 2020 podcast interview. Her traffickers quickly hooked her on a drug she knew as “ice”—generally recognized as slang for crystal methamphetamine, though Bleu has said she didn’t know what drug it was.
Bleu claims she was then sold for $500 to a sex-trafficking ring in the Hollywood Hills, where she found herself living with members of a ring that trafficked transgender women.
“I was sold for $500 to a very old gentleman in the Hills,” Bleu said in the 2020 interview.
Bleu claims she struggled to get enough water and food, “because I was on drugs and other substances.” But Bleu was such a handful for her traffickers, in her telling, that they ultimately gave her back to her original trafficker for free. Bleu claims she was hospitalized for a drug overdose before returning to her family farm in Illinois.
“My family didn’t even recognize me when I got off the plane,” Bleu said.
After two weeks on the farm, she returned to Los Angeles to retrieve her car, Bleu claims, but she was once again swept up into human trafficking for an undefined period.
“It’s odd what happens to the trauma brain,” Bleu said on the 2020 podcast episode to explain why she returned to her traffickers, comparing it to Stockholm syndrome.
Bleu’s second trafficking period, in her account, began in roughly 2008 or 2009, when she was living in the Chicago area. In that same 2020 podcast interview, Bleu claimed she was trafficked by a “high-profile athlete” whom she has declined to name. That man and his associates, according to Bleu, put her in a dangerous neighborhood she has said existed on what she called a “gang line”—the violent border where two Chicago gang territories meet.
“My mattress was on the floor because we had so many shootings that year in the area,” Bleu recalled in 2020. “I just didn’t want to get shot.”
Bleu attempted to leave her traffickers in 2013, and, in her account, ultimately succeeded for good in about 2014. Bleu has repeatedly suggested that her former traffickers from Chicago might still be out to get revenge on her and her family members.
She slept on the floor but by choice, because she was into these floor pillows at the time.
A former roommate of Eliza Bleu
“When I stepped away from the gang, my traffickers lost money,” Bleu said in the 2020 interview. “And they want that money back”
Asked in a 2021 interview why she hadn’t pressed charges against the unnamed athlete and her other traffickers, Bleu—appearing on a podcast with more than 100,000 YouTube subscribers—said the men could still track her down and murder her.
“I am terrified that they would kill myself or my family or people that I care about,” Bleu said. “That’s how organized they are.”
Last month, Bleu tweeted that her family knows “every detail” of her story and stands behind her. She then blasted the “corporate media” for asking questions about her past, declaring, “if anyone steps on [my family’s] property or my property let it be extremely clear that we are all armed.”
Wenzel, a one-time friend of Bleu who says she has known the anti-trafficking activist for more than two decades, doesn’t think Bleu’s account is accurate.
Wenzel told The Daily Beast that she met Bleu in the Quad Cities, where both women were partying with musicians. Wenzel was 18, and said Bleu was in her early twenties. The Daily Beast verified Wenzel’s friendship with Bleu through photographs.
In Wenzel’s telling, she and Bleu were both deeply involved in the “scene” subculture of the early aughts—a time of tight jeans, swooping haircuts, and high drama on sites like MySpace and LiveJournal. Wenzel was trying to hook up with a member of one of her favorite bands on a tour bus in Iowa City when Bleu stepped on board. The two young women realized they had mutual friends and a shared interest in music—and the men who made it.
“She said that she was going to be very famous for sleeping with band members,” Wenzel recalled.
Wenzel takes issue with Bleu’s timeline of her first trafficking experience. She claims that she too was at the Warped Tour concert where Bleu met the photographer she claims groomed her. But while Bleu said that she wasn’t even 18 when she met the photographer, Wenzel insists that Bleu would have been in her early twenties—putting the date of the concert sometime in the early 2000s.
She’s a very powerful, very smart intelligent woman.
“Her timeline is just so weird,” Wenzel said, noting she believes that Bleu appears to be “lying about her age in certain articles.”
Bleu moved to Los Angeles, but Wenzel doesn’t remember hearing about her old friend being trafficked. Instead, she said Bleu unsuccessfully tried to convince Wenzel to move in with her in California. She did not recall Bleu calling home to the Quad Cities with tales of being addicted to “ice” or living with a trafficked group of transgender women in the Hollywood Hills.
Wenzel said she “keeps seeing these stories out of L.A.” and believes “that absolutely didn’t happen.”
By 2005, Bleu was back in Illinois and eventually earned a cosmetology license. Bleu began touring as a traveling stylist for musicians, where she received her first taste of internet controversy.
Bleu worked for mega-popular rock band My Chemical Romance as a stylist, going by the hair-inspired name “Eliza Cuts” online. Bleu’s job brought her into a group of My Chemical Romance entourage members dubbed the “World’s Most Hated Crew.” That clique also included future YouTube star and makeup mogul Jeffree Star, who would later be accused of paying out hush money to sexual-assault accusers.
Bleu was closely monitored by the bands’ fans on sites like LiveJournal—particularly after she entered a brief engagement with My Chemical Romance’s heartthrob lead singer, Gerard Way. But Bleu stirred up some controversy of her own with diehard supporters of the band, in online mini-scandals that featured Bleu calling Star the n-word and allegedly authoring a thinly veiled fictional account of her failed relationship with Way.
After leaving the rock circuit, Bleu lived with a friend in Chicago from roughly 2009 to 2011. That’s around the period when Bleu claims she began to be sex-trafficked again by the unnamed athlete in a violence-plagued neighborhood.
But that’s not how her former roommate, who asked The Daily Beast not to use her name out of fear of backlash from Bleu’s fans, remembers it. Instead, she said the pair lived in Wicker Park, an affluent, trendy Chicago neighborhood. The roommate said Bleu’s parents were “always supportive financially.”
“She was not in a precarious situation,” the roommate told The Daily Beast in a text message.
The roommate does remember Bleu sleeping on the floor, though not because of bullets.
“She slept on the floor but by choice, because she was into these floor pillows at the time,” the friend told The Daily Beast, though she added that Bleu “eventually bought a bed.”
Like the ex-roommate, Wenzel scoffs at the idea that Bleu lived in a dangerous neighborhood. Wenzel, who by then was married with a child, said she brought her toddler to visit Bleu and the roommate at their apartment—hardly the front line of a gang war.
“That is so not true,” Wenzel said. “She lived in a really cute apartment. They’re the whitest girls you could ever meet. There was no gang activity.”
Around this time, Bleu resurfaced online as “Eliza Siep” in 2010, unsuccessfully auditioning for American Idol using a surname she had picked up during a short-lived marriage. But she soon moved on to a new name and another position in the music industry. Now she would become “Eliza Knows,” the sultry, self-proclaimed music “video vixen.”
Donewald defended Bleu from skeptics earlier this month, tweeting that Bleu is ‘the real deal.’
Under her new online name, Bleu began to dance as a “video vixen” in mostly low-budget music videos. A YouTube playlist that appears to have been compiled by Bleu herself shows her gyrating in videos from 2012 and 2013 with song titles like “Feelin’ Myself” and “A Million Ways to Love You.”
In one 2012 video Bleu posted to YouTube, she filmed herself calling her mother to shock her with the news that she’d become a music-video dancer—only to discover that her mother was happy for her. In the video, Bleu told her mother she wanted to become a music-video dancer because of her childhood admiration for the “Fly Girls,” dancers on the comedy show In Living Color.
Bleu also gave interviews about the video-vixen lifestyle. In 2016, Bleu, speaking in a markedly different voice than the one she used in earlier media appearances and the one she uses today, claimed that she had rejected an offer to have sex with a client for $150,000.
“It’s a nice offer, but it’s not me,” Bleu said.
Still, it appears that Bleu may have engaged in some kind of sex work around this time. In one interview, Bleu advertised her account on a now-defunct camgirl website where men could pay money to talk with her.
Around 2016, Wenzel claims that Bleu asked her to join her as an escort, promising that Wenzel could make $500 in a night—an offer that stunned Wenzel and her husband.
“She was absolutely loving it,” Wenzel said. “She was bragging about it, saying she was making so much money.”
Bleu later suggested that sex workers with a pimp might qualify as trafficking victims, though Wenzel said she didn’t meet any pimp or trafficker when she socialized with Bleu, be it an unnamed “high profile athlete” or otherwise.
“She’s a very powerful, very smart intelligent woman, I will not discredit her for that,” Wenzel said. “She knows exactly what she’s doing.”
As proof that she was trafficked, Bleu often cites the organization she says “saved my life”: Eve’s Angels, a Christian nonprofit that serves sex trafficking victims and women seeking to leave the commercial sex industry.
In her telling, Bleu—living in her gangland apartment in 2013 and desperate to leave her traffickers—contacted Eve’s Angels after discovering founder Anny Donewald through a YouTube video. (In another recent tweet, Bleu claimed to have found the group via a web address in a Bible the group left at a strip club.) The group soon spirited Bleu away from her traffickers and into a safehouse “three states away.” In her account, Bleu claims she briefly returned to her traffickers after that escape, but eventually escaped the traffickers’ clutches for good around 2014.
Donewald defended Bleu from skeptics earlier this month, tweeting that Bleu is “the real deal.” But, like Bleu, Donewald’s claims about sex trafficking in her own life have come under scrutiny.
In 2018, Donewald’s parents and brother filed a defamation suit against Donewald and Eve’s Angels. While Donewald and her children were living with her family members in Michigan, Donewald’s parents “confronted her about her ‘treatment of her daughter,’” according to the lawsuit. In response, Donewald and her group accused her parents of sexually abusing and trafficking children, according to a 2022 appeals court opinion.
Donewald took the case to police, leading to a criminal investigation into her parents but no charges. Donewald’s claims fell apart after her daughter told her grandparents that Donewald had told her to fabricate the claims in an attempt to score a “pay-off” from the grandparents, the appeals court opinion found.
The activist was ordered to pay a judgment of more than $47,000, plus legal fees. As of the May 2022 appeals court ruling, the family was still stalled in settlement talks, with Donewald denying the defamation claims.
Donewald did not respond to requests to comment. Eve’s Angels did not return an email, and two phone numbers attached to the charity were either not in service or went directly to a full voicemail inbox.
Bleu emerged as a public “survivor advocate” a few weeks into the pandemic, worrying in an April 2020 article in the conservative The Daily Wire that pandemic lockdowns would worsen sex trafficking. Within two years she would amass a large profile through Twitter and right-wing podcasts, culminating in her alliance with Musk.
In December, Bleu aided Musk in his campaign against Twitter’s former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth—who seemingly angered the billionaire after resigning in November—linking to a 2010 tweet by Roth that read, “Can high school students ever meaningfully consent to sex with their teachers?”
“This explains a lot,” Musk replied, and many of his followers took the bait, suggesting that Roth was a depraved “sex criminal.” Amid other attacks, Roth reportedly was forced to flee his home. (In truth, the 2010 tweet merely linked to a Salon article that did not advocate allowing teachers to have sex with minors. Instead, it examined a criminal case against a teacher who had an illegal relationship with an 18-year-old student.)
But now, cracks are starting to appear in Bleu’s online reputation, especially within the right-wing circles she once courted.
The controversy ignited on Jan. 6, when she appeared on Tim Pool’s video stream. During the show, Bleu claimed to represent two anonymous “survivors” of Andrew Tate, the kickboxer turned “king of toxic masculinity” accused—with three other suspects—of sexual exploitation and other heinous crimes. (Tate has denied wrongdoing.)
Some of Tate’s most rabid fans, along with other right-wing users, began scrutinizing Bleu’s backstory. They posted clips from past media appearances to cast doubt on her trafficking claims, and trolled her with screenshots from a racy music video dating back to 2016 that she participated in for WorldStarHipHop in her “Eliza Knows” phase.
She clung to us all from out of nowhere. She had none of the attributes of an Epstein victim yet insinuated otherwise.
Maria Farmer on Eliza Bleu
Bleu’s outfits in the video were provocative, but they didn’t feature nudity or appear to be nonconsensual, and had been on YouTube for seven years. Still, Twitter locked the accounts of several prominent right-wing personalities who cover internet drama after they refused to delete their tweets about the music video.
Bleu, for her part, declared that the screenshots amounted to posting a “non-consensual photo.” In a series of tweets on Jan. 20, she vowed to “escalate to the full extent of the law.”
“Twitter did an outstanding job and they will be excluded from legal action. There won’t be anyone else involved spared. I take things all the way and I have no chill,” Bleu wrote. “I’m a survivor advocate and that doesn’t stop with advocating for myself as a survivor.”
Ella Irwin, Twitter’s head of trust and safety under Musk—who has also previously praised Bleu—defended the suspensions in a thread on Sunday.
“In the past 2 weeks, we’ve suspended multiple accounts and/or restricted content, causing confusion for users,” Irwin wrote. “Unfortunately, we can’t answer questions or share details about specific users and account actions.”
But Bleu’s critics have not been placated, especially after contemporaneous clips of Bleu as “Eliza Knows” celebrating the launch of the WorldStar video surfaced, suggesting that she participated in its creation consensually.
She once told me there’s three people I would cheat on you with: Ben Shapiro, Elon Musk, and then there might have been one other.
An ex-boyfriend of Eliza Bleu
They’ve also dug up a 2021 interview in which Bleu told right-wing pundit Michael Malice that she was “trafficked” on Twitter when a group of people used her pictures to create social media accounts. At that point, Bleu had escaped her supposed actual traffickers years earlier, and the fake accounts were being used as some sort of ill-defined catfishing scheme, she said. Bleu’s critics have seized on that interview, in which Bleu described a sort of identity-theft as “trafficking,” as proof that Bleu uses an expansive definition of the term.
The expansive definition also didn’t sit right with Maria Farmer, a victim of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. From Farmer’s perspective, Bleu’s public posts seem to conflate what it means to be a sex-trafficking victim with sex work. “This woman and her cohorts have effectively bastardized the words trafficking and survivor—we just want to use the word victim now,” Farmer told The Daily Beast.
Since emerging as an anti-trafficking activist, Bleu has crossed paths with Epstein victims. In September 2020, she announced on Twitter that she had “accepted a new position with Victims Refuse Silence,” which at the time was the trafficking nonprofit of Virginia Giuffre, a high-profile victim of Epstein and Maxwell. By November of that year, Bleu tweeted that she had stepped back into a part-time role with the organization. (Corporate records in Florida from 2021 and 2022 list Bleu as the group’s secretary and director.)
Bleu was once featured in videos on the group’s website, soliciting donations, asking people to get involved, and plugging her own Twitter handle as a resource for trafficking awareness. “I firmly believe that anybody that’s helping us in the survivor space should be very thoroughly vetted because we have a lot of nefarious players that just want to be close to victims and survivors,” she said in one video, in which she claimed her former traffickers made a Twitter profile with her name, photos, and videos without her consent.
Teresa Helm, a victim of Epstein and former director of Victims Refuse Silence, said she became friends with Bleu and asked her to join the group before it dissolved. “She’s been almost like a freelancer in the world of advocacy,” said Helm, who now works for National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which was once known as “Morality in Media.”
“She’s nonstop on Twitter which has been wonderful because it has brought to light a lot of things that were happening that people weren’t paying attention to otherwise,” Helm continued, adding that Bleu told her she’s friends with Musk. “She’s been a pioneer in waking people the hell up.”
Asked about Bleu’s doubters, Helm said, “I support her as a trafficking survivor entirely. Nothing in her past makes anything less valuable in terms of her advocacy work. It’s not her job to prove anything to anybody.”
Still, some survivors of Epstein’s sex ring said they didn’t trust Bleu. One victim, who asked not to be named, told The Daily Beast that she shared concerns about Bleu after researching her background and finding ties to right-wing figures and publications, such as Pizzagate-promoter Mike Cernovich and conservative website The Blaze.
“The ability to finally share my story and connect with others was freeing, but it’s not as straightforward as ‘simply going public,’” the Epstein victim said. “Only a strong foundation of therapeutic recovery prepared me for the publicity generated by the salacious facts of this case. However, I was not prepared for my trauma being co-opted for other’s gain.”
Farmer, who tried to report Epstein and Maxwell to the feds in the 1990s, said she had raised concerns about Bleu’s backstory on Twitter, only for Bleu to block her.
“She clung to us all from out of nowhere,” Farmer said of Epstein survivors. “She had none of the attributes of an Epstein victim yet insinuated otherwise.”
Bleu’s critics have also seized on her reality-television appearances in an attempt to poke holes in her trafficking story. Sometime around 2002, for example, she appeared on the dating show Blind Date as a contestant so hostile that the show’s editors kept a running onscreen count of her complaints. In 2012, at the height of what she would later describe as her second period being sex-trafficked deep in Chicago gang territory, Bleu appeared as an amateur model on Chicago-based The Steve Harvey Show, where Tyra Banks judged her performance.
The suspensions have fueled speculation about Bleu’s access to Twitter execs and complaints that Musk’s supposed commitment to free speech only goes so far when his friends and allies are being embarrassed.
David Karpf, an associate professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, told The Daily Beast that the Bleu controversy underscores how chaotic content moderation has become under Musk.
“You can say whatever you want on Twitter, so long as nobody notices and you don’t say mean things to anybody in Elon’s circles,” Karpf told The Daily Beast.
For her part, Bleu insisted on Twitter on Tuesday that she didn’t ask Musk to suspend the accounts that tweeted the WorldStar video.
“If I was going to ask for a favor from Elon Musk, I would ask him to make humans a multi-planetary species,” she wrote.
Farmer told The Daily Beast that Bleu’s support of Musk was a slap in the face to survivors. She points to Musk’s reported visit to Epstein’s Manhattan mansion and Maxwell’s infamous photo with Musk at a 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar party. “Elon Musk needs to pull out a little Shakespeare and study it: Thou doth protest too much,” she said, adding that she believes “it’s almost like he’s hired this woman to cover for himself.”
“Anyone who was even remotely affiliated with Jeffrey Epstein is odious at this stage,” she added. In response to some of Bleu’s pro-Musk tweets, multiple users have replied with the snapshot of Maxwell and Musk, with one writing: “thank you Elon Musk (shown here with convicted child sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell) for looking out for the children.” (For his part, Musk has claimed he was photobombed.)
Bleu has occasionally raised money online related to her anti-trafficking efforts. In 2020, she raised $1,625 for a vacation, writing that normally “I serve survivors of Human Trafficking, my standard caseload is 20 survivors at a time. During this season I took on an extra 61 survivors via online advocacy.”
She raised another $2,205 the following year to attend the libertarian Freedom Fest conference. Bleu has also indicated that she opened a safe house of her own for trafficking victims. In March 2020, she tweeted that she had opened the facility, called the Humanity House. It is unclear whether the facility is currently in operation.
Bleu’s latest posts, which once attracted praise, are now rife with trolls. One person created an account in her name whose main photo features Bleu bent over alongside the caption, “help im bein trafficked.” Another user remade the Steve Buscemi “fellow kids” meme with Bleu’s face and the words: “Hello fellow survivors of human trafficking.”
“There’s definitely a lot of misogyny and right wing trolls,” an ex-boyfriend of Bleu’s told The Daily Beast. “I don’t think she should have to be dealing with any of that."
According to the beau, who asked to remain anonymous, the two met in 2019 at an event for presidential candidate Andrew Yang. At the time, he says, Bleu was working in elder care and living on her family farm.
Bleu shared with him that she’d been trafficked in Los Angeles as a teenager; he had no reason to disbelieve her. “It wasn’t like she just randomly came up with like, a trafficking story,” he said, adding that when it comes to her personal life, “She is definitely a very private person, despite how public she is.”
Even back then, however, Bleu told him she wanted to be famous.
“She mentioned how she would love to be on the Ben Shapiro podcast,” the ex said, adding that she also envisioned starring on Joe Rogan’s show. “That was a joke that she had: ‘I’m going to get on Joe Rogan before you.’”
Bleu also joked about the famous men she dreamed of dating, with Musk among them. “She once told me there’s three people I would cheat on you with: Ben Shapiro, Elon Musk, and then there might have been one other,” he recalled.
“The reason this is all funny to me now is because last month she was on Ben Shapiro’s podcast. Her and Elon Musk are in communication with each other,” the ex told The Daily Beast.
“She definitely had these aspirations of being somebody. Her aspirations are kind of going exactly how she wanted in a weird way.”