National Security & Foreign Policy

Issues ››› National Security & Foreign Policy
  • Canada’s "Alt-Right" Mosque Shooter, And What He Means For Right-Wing Media

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    It’s not true that the accused gunman who entered the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City on Sunday night and opened fire on dozens of defenseless worshippers was “of Moroccan origin.” And it’s also not true that the gunman, who was later apprehended with two rifles in his Mitsubishi, was part of a “false flag” operation, connected to a larger, Muslim-led “insurrection” movement.

    Instead, the gunman who killed six Muslims and wounded many more over the weekend in an "unprecedented" (for Canada) attack on a place of worship is named Alexandre Bissonnette. He’s white. He’s 27 years old. He was born in Canada. And he’s a poster boy for today’s dangerous "alt-right" movement: a radicalized extremist whose hate apparently sparked a barbaric gun rampage.

    He’s been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an act of terror against Muslims.

    The accused killer’s connection to the far right is not a tangential one. Bissonnette is a white nationalist who, according to Canadian press accounts, has been described by friends and acquaintances as:

    And then there was this description, from a Canadian refugee activist (emphasis added):

    "He was someone who made frequent extreme comments in social media denigrating refugees and feminism. It wasn’t outright hate, rather part of this new nationalist conservative identity movement that is more intolerant than hateful.”

    In other words, he’s not a “lone wolf” gunman. He’s an "alt-right" assassin who seemingly became deeply immersed in a radical movement in search of cultural and ethnic purity. (One family member thinks Bissonnette “fell under the influence” of someone who radicalized him.)

    In the wake of the deadly attack, Fox News viewers were told virtually none of that about the gunman. In fact, they were fed misinformation about the identity of the shooter, thanks to the network's claim on Twitter that a second gunman on the scene was “of Moroccan origin.” (Though police initially arrested two suspects, including one who is of Moroccan descent, they quickly realized he was a witness to the attack and that there was only one shooter, the Canadian native Bissonnette. Fox did not correct its tweet for more than 24 hours, until a spokesperson for the Canadian prime minister called on the network to "either retract or update" its false claim.) "Alt-right" outlet Breitbart.com did the same thing, hyping the Morocco angle, and then limply updating the incorrect report.

    During all of Fox News’ prime-time coverage on Monday night, the Quebec massacre came up exactly twice, according to a transcript search via Nexis.

    One of those references came from Bill O’Reilly, who, rather than acknowledge the shooter’s "alt-right" roots, instead tried to portray the massacre as part the larger war on terror narrative: “Continuing now with our lead story, extreme vetting to prevent terrorism in the USA. As you know may know, six people are dead, 17 others hurt after a college student allegedly shot up a mosque in Quebec, Canada.”

    O’Reilly never explained how “extreme vetting” would have stopped a homegrown white nationalist gunman from killing Muslims.

    Fox News’ hands-off Quebec coverage fits the channel’s long-established pattern of downplaying acts of right-wing, white supremacist violence, and treating them as rogue, isolated events. This, while Fox News hypes beyond proportion and common sense attacks by Muslims in America.

    In terms of the timing of Quebec’s "alt-right" massacre, it’s difficult to separate the targeted, and likely political, killings from the hotbed of international controversy set off by President Donald Trump’s decision to sign an executive order temporarily barring individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.

    Having been elected after running an openly Islamophobic campaign, Trump has repeatedly defended the ban as a way to protect American from “bad dudes” coming into the country and committing acts of terror in the name of radical Islam. It’s a deeply white nationalist message.

    Using that context, White House press secretary Sean Spicer tried to politicize the Quebec massacre by weirdly suggesting it proves the need for the president’s get-tough-on-terror agenda (emphasis added):

    We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. It’s a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant, and why the president is taking steps to be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to our nation’s safety and security.

    To repeat, the arrested gunman is reportedly a white nationalist Trump supporter.

    Meanwhile, as Media Matters has noted, white nationalists in the press are “ecstatic” over Trump’s travel ban, and they are expressing their glee in openly hateful and bigoted ways: “These virulently racist writers are praising Trump for stopping 'these disgusting animals' and 'sneaky sand-people' from entering the country and are also calling on Trump to arrest or impeach federal judges who oppose the ban. A neo-Nazi writer even suggested killing those protesting the ban.”

    For the extreme "alt-right" movement, Trump has arrived as its Oval Office savior, as the two sides team join forces to wage war on jihadists supposedly pouring across America’s borders.

    Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity have also joined the on-air pep rallies to tout the anti-Muslim ban. This is the same Fox News that has advocated for bugging mosques and eliminating other constitutional rights, the same Fox News that once told its viewers, "Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims."

    For years, Fox News and other conservative media have stoked dangerous Islamophic fires with runaway hate rhetoric. (See the mob they whipped into a frenzy during the so-called “9/11 mosquehysteria in 2010.)

    Trump is now trying to harness that hate to push his anti-Muslim agenda. What’s new and different is the emergence of the international "alt-right," white nationalist movement and the violence, or the threat of violence, that never seems to be far from the surface.

    Tragically, Quebec witnessed that violence this week. The pressing question going forward: How high can Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media dial up their Muslim disdain during the Trump era, without inspiring gun rampages?

  • Cable News Hosts Anti-Muslim Extremists To Defend Trump’s Muslim Ban

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Just a few days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning U.S. entry for refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, CNN and Fox News both hosted anti-immigrant extremists or members of designated hate groups to discuss the president’s move, effectively legitimizing and normalizing these groups. Neither CNN nor Fox correctly labeled any of the guests as belonging to groups that pursue fiercely anti-Muslim, anti-refugee agendas.

  • A White Man Allegedly Murdered 6 People At A Mosque, But Fox News Is Still Identifying A Moroccan As A Suspect

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    UPDATE:

    Fox News has deleted its tweet labeling a suspect in the shooting as being "of Moroccan origin." Earlier today, Kate Purchase, Director of Communications for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, called on the network to "either retract or update" its false claim. 

    Twenty-four hours later, Fox News still has not corrected its erroneous tweet that a suspect in the mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City is “of Moroccan origin.” The suspect is actually a French Canadian man named Alexandre Bissonnette who is described in one news report “as an online troll who was inspired by extreme right-wing French nationalists, stood up for U.S. President Donald Trump and was against immigration to Quebec -- especially by Muslims.”

    During the evening of January 29, a gunman entered the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center and opened fire, killing six people and wounding eight others. Police initially arrested two suspects in the attack: Bissonnette and Mohamed Belkhadir, who is of Moroccan descent.

    What happened next exemplifies Fox News’ tendency to try to pin the blame for high-profile acts of violence on entire communities -- but only when doing so suits the outlet’s conservative world view. Here’s a brief timeline:

    At 12:05 and 12:06 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on January 30, Quebec police released two tweets indicating that only one of the arrested individuals was a suspect, and that the other is considered a witness to the attack:

    At 12:31 p.m., Fox News issued its erroneous tweet, claiming, “Suspect in Quebec mosque terror attack was of Moroccan origin, reports show.” It is noteworthy that at the time the tweet was sent, Bissonnette’s identity had also been leaked to the press, but Fox News made no reference on Twitter to the French Canadian, who was a bona fide suspect:

    This mistake would have been easy to correct. Given developments in the story that clearly identified Bissonnette as a suspect and Belkhadir as a witness, Fox News could have issued a new tweet with accurate information along with a note saying that it would delete the inaccurate earlier report.

    Instead, hours later, Fox News responded to its initial tweet with two identical tweets that failed to clarify the earlier mistake. At 6:12 and 6:14 p.m., Fox wrote on Twitter, “@FoxNews Mosque attack suspect formally charged w/ six counts of murder; Second man cleared, identified as a witness”

    At best, this update fails to clarify that the Moroccan individual is no longer a suspect in the shooting: It indicates that a “second man” was “cleared” without saying who that man is.

    At worst, the update makes it seem as if the Moroccan man had subsequently been charged with murder. Imagine relying on Fox’s Twitter account as a sole source of information on who police believe perpetrated the shooting. First, there is a “suspect” who is “of Moroccan origin.” Second, the “suspect” has been charged with murder, while another man has been “cleared” and identified as a witness.

    And as a practical matter, Fox News’ response likely did little to stop the spread of misinformation. The update was sent more than six hours later. While the initial erroneous report was retweeted more than 900 times, the two identical follow-up tweets were retweeted fewer than 140 times.

    But there is a larger, more troubling context to Fox News’ mistake and the outlet’s subsequent failure to set the record straight.

    The shooting took place just days after President Donald Trump created a national firestorm by signing an executive order temporarily barring individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. While many condemned the order as discriminatory, contrary to American values, and unconstitutional, others, including people within the Trump administration, view the order as a first step, saying it should or will be expanded to other Muslim-majority countries. In this context, it would be especially important for Fox News to correct an erroneous report that labels a person from Morocco, a majority-Muslim country, as the suspect in an act of apparent terrorism.

    Fox’s actions also have implications in terms of the network's tendency to use high-profile shootings to play a collective blame game. When high-profile tragedies occur, Fox News is quick to scapegoat entire communities if doing so aligns with a conservative agenda. When Islamic extremism is the motivation for terrorist acts or African-Americans are accused of killing police officers, those communities are condemned as a whole on Fox News. When white suspects are accused of killing police officers or terrorism is motivated by right-wing extremism, Fox News goes silent.

    In the case of the Quebec mosque shooting, Fox News was clearly getting ready to play the collective blame game. At the time of Fox’s erroneous tweet, both Belkhadir and Bissonnette’s names had leaked, but Fox News focused on only the Moroccan “suspect.” Now that there is no Moroccan suspect -- only a white, right-wing, Trump-supporting French Canadian suspect -- we can expect to stop hearing from Fox about this tragedy and what broader implications it might portend.

  • Right-Wing Media Wrongly Cite Obama To Justify Trump’s Muslim Ban

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media figures echoed misleading claims from President Donald Trump’s administration that his executive order seeking to ban travel from seven specific, predominantly Muslim countries “came from the Obama administration,” citing what they call a 2011 “ban” on “immigration from Iraq” and the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015. But, as experts have noted, the comparison to the Obama administration's actions in 2011 and 2015 are “misleading,” as “The Obama administration’s 2011 review came in response to specific threat information” and was not an “outright ban,” and the 2015 legislation still allowed visa applications from those seven countries.

  • Fox’s Chris Wallace Ignored Constitutional And Diplomatic Concerns Over Trump’s Muslim Ban

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace failed to mention any of the constitutional and diplomatic problems with President Donald Trump’s executive action banning visitors, immigrants, and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries in an interview he conducted with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway about the order.

    According to CNN, the executive order “bars all persons from certain ‘terror-prone’ countries from entering the United States for 90 days and suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days until it is reinstated ‘only for nationals of countries for whom’ members of Trump's Cabinet deem can be properly vetted.” The executive action impacts immigrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. The order has a religious exception, giving “the Department of Homeland Security leeway to prioritize refugee claims made by people ‘on the basis of religious based persecution.’” Trump himself said he will prioritize Christians refugees over Muslims refugees in an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network.

    After Trump’s executive action caused chaos for incoming refugees and immigrants at airports nationwide, a federal judge “blocked deportations nationwide late Saturday of those detained on entry to the United States after” Trump had already signed the order.

    Many cable and network news shows on Sunday explained the array of legal and diplomatic problems associated with Trump’s order. NBC’s Chuck Todd questioned the constitutionality of green card holders reportedly also being subject to the executive order. CBS’ John Dickerson grilled White House chief of staff Reince Priebus about the diplomatic backlash of the order from allied countries. ABC’s Terry Moran explained that Trump’s insistence that Christians would receive special treatment is “probably unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.” On CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, ACLU president Anthony Romero gave a thorough explanation of how Trump’s executive order violates international treaties, several clauses and amendments of the Constitution, and federal statutes. And Republican strategist and CNN commentator Ana Navarro pointed out that the order amounts to -- and is perceived widely as -- a Muslim ban.

    Yet Wallace noted none of those constitutional and diplomatic problems in his interview with Conway. He briefly mentioned the judges that temporarily blocked some parts of the order, but neglected to explain why, and allowed Conway to dismiss the effect of the rulings on Trump’s order without any pushback. Watch Wallace’s interview of Conway about the executive order below:

  • Former Breitbart Chief Now Writing America's Foreign Policy: Trump Gives Stephen Bannon Place On National Security Council

    Media And Security Experts React To Bannon's NSC Appointment: "Unprecedented," "Lunacy," "Truly Dangerous"

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    National security experts and media figures denounced President Donald Trump’s “dangerous” decision to give his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, a prominent role on the National Security Council. Bannon is an extremist anti-Semite who formerly ran the white nationalist “alt-right” website Breitbart.com.