Conservative media haven't had the best luck in recent years when choosing which fringe protests or figures to elevate into the national conversation, often mistakenly tying themselves to extremism and bizarre conspiracy theories. In 2013, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Drudge, and other conservatives helped promote a rally of truckers planning to clog the Beltway to protest the government. The protest -- which eventually fizzled -- turned out to have been organized in part by someone who thinks President Obama and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person.
This year, conservatives threw their weight behind a Nevada rancher fighting against the federal government over grazing fees, only to be burned when he was videotaped giving his thoughts on "the Negro." 2014 also featured an unhinged conspiracy about President Obama trying (and apparently failing) to spark a domestic Ebola outbreak and a staggering amount of outlandish comments from Fox News contributor Allen West.
Media Matters looks back at the year on the fringe.
Right-wing media figures are accusing President Obama of purposely wanting "to infect the nation with Ebola" because he wants a "redistribution" of wealth, and a new "civil war."
Conservatives have previously claimed Obama "deliberately" "planned" the humanitarian border crisis; deliberately abandoned Americans to die in Benghazi; was "purposefully creating drama" like the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash; and tried to intentionally destroy the economy as payback.
The Ebola conspiracy theory is also making its way into politics. As Right Wing Watch noted, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) wondered if Obama is intentionally delaying a Ebola response "to create a greater crisis to use it as a blunt force to say, well in order to solve this crisis we're going to have to take control of the economy and individuals and so forth."
Here's a look at media figures who have suggested President Obama is purposely trying to infect Americans with Ebola.
Laura Ingraham: Obama Willing To Expose Military To "The Ebola Virus To Carry Out This Redistribution Of The Privileged's Wealth." Ingraham, a contributor to ABC News and Fox News, suggested on her September 26 radio program that Obama is willing to expose American soldiers to Ebola to atone for colonialism:
INGRAHAM: [T]he military is just another tool in his arsenal to level the playing field, right? I mean, in other words, Africa really deserves more of America's money because we're people of privilege. We're people of great privilege, so we should do what we can, we the American taxpayers, to transfer wealth over to Africa. It's his father's rage against colonialism, as Dinesh D'Souza wrote about, and maybe this is a way to continue to atone for that.
INGRAHAM: If a few American military personnel have to be exposed to the Ebola virus to carry out this redistribution of the privileged's wealth, then so be it.
Alex Jones: Obama Is "Letting Ebola In" As Part Of Plan To "Bankrupt Us" And "Start A Civil War With Obama As Its Head As The New Lincoln." Jones, a prominent conspiracy theorist, alleged on his October 8 radio program that "the military knows Obama and others are funding radical Islam. They know the borders are open, they know they're letting Ebola in ... this is to bankrupt us under Cloward and Piven. But it's beyond that and now they want to start a civil war with Obama at its head as the new Lincoln."
Jones's YouTube channel includes videos with headlines such as "Ebola Threat Is Just The Crisis Obama Needs To Stay in Office," "Obama Using Military as Ebola Guinea Pigs," "The Federal Government Wants Ebola To Spread" and "Why Obama Brought Ebola To U.S. Exposed: Special Report."
As first lady, Michelle Obama has campaigned against childhood obesity. In response, male right-wing media figures have launched personal attacks at her, culminating in Fox News host Keith Ablow declaring that Obama should "drop a few" pounds before commenting on nutrition.
In a rush to sensationalize growing violence in Iraq at the hands of religious extremists, media have circulated dubiously sourced maps which purport to illustrate plans for a future Islamic caliphate that extends from Spain to the southern and easternmost reaches of India.
A Sunni Islamist militant group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) has torn through Iraq in recent weeks, violently capturing several cities and straining the Iraqi government's ability to respond. On June 29, according to the Wall Street Journal, ISIS "announced itself as a new Islamist 'caliphate' ... unilaterally declaring statehood and demanding allegiance from other Islamist groups."
In the wake of this news, media outlets from Fox News to ABC have issued reports on the militant group's future plans based on maps culled from Twitter to declare that ISIS is strategizing to take over swath of territory larger than the Roman Empire within the next five years -- a goal that would include, among other feats, conquering Spain, Portugal, Greece, and most or all of India. The maps resemble the geographic dominance of the historic caliphates that ended with the demise of the Ottoman Empire.
On June 3 ABC News published a map -- also cited by Breitbart.com -- which was "purportedly published" by ISIS and "widely shared on Twitter." According to ABC, the "terrifying" map was "published at the same time that ISIS announced the creation of a caliphate."
But ABC News didn't actually trace the image to ISIS, and instead relied on a tweet of the image from American Third Position (A3P). ABC didn't disclose that A3P is a white nationalist political party in the United States.
As iO9 pointed out, "This is one of those 'garbage in, garbage out' stories, since ABC News' source was Twitter." The outlet cited to analysis from Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who explained, "It's an old image put out by fans of the group ... There is nothing official about it nor is there some alleged 5-year plan."
Fox News reported the same day that a "chilling new map reveals the ISIS plan for world domination," displaying an expanded, translated map the network claimed was "released by ISIS" to lay out "its five-year plan." Several days ago the Daily Mail similarly highlighted the map as a "chilling five-year plan," as did The Blaze, the website of notorious caliphate fear monger Glenn Beck.
While Fox attributed the map to ISIS, the Daily Mail described it as having been "widely shared by ISIS supporters on social networks."
Despite the serious tone of their reports, neither the Daily Mail nor Fox News cited any experts to discuss how realistic it would be for ISIS to conquer a swath of land that envelops half of Africa and India and includes territory protected by NATO (Spain, Portugal).
From the June 9 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:
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Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is alleging that a shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada that left two police officers and another victim dead was "absolutely staged" by the federal government.
On June 8, a married couple identified in news reports as Jerad and Amanda Miller ambushed and killed two police officers at a restaurant and killed a third person before taking their own lives in a "suicide pact" at a nearby Walmart. Witnesses say they heard the shooters state "this is the start of a revolution," after the officers were shot. The slain officers were allegedly draped in Gadsden flags by the shooters, a symbol commonly associated with the Tea Party. Law enforcement officials believe the couple held extreme anti-government views and Jerad Miller reportedly claimed to have participated in the standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and lawless Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
On the June 9 edition of The Alex Jones Show, Jones claimed "the country is being purposefully imploded right now," before calling the shootings "absolutely staged." Jones continued stating, "There is so much proof of this being staged yesterday, when I first read about it, and this morning, that my mind exploded with hundreds of data points, and quite frankly it's conclusive." He then claimed that the shooting bore out some of the "hundreds of predictions" that he had made "since the Bundy ranch situation," including a scenario where a shooting is blamed on the Tea Party. Towards the end of the segment, Jones named Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and referenced actions by the Obama administration in purporting to identify the actual parties responsible for the Las Vegas police ambush. He concluded, "I kept telling, they're getting ready to false flag, and it happens right in Harry Reid's district, right in his state, right in his city, with his police department":
Dinesh D'Souza, the right-wing media darling who conservatives had claimed was targeted for prosecution because he is a critic of the Obama administration, has pleaded guilty to charges of campaign finance fraud.
D'Souza, famous for producing an anti-Barack Obama film rife with lies and outlandish claims, was indicted by the FBI in January and accused of violating campaign finance laws by "arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," and allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate. On May 20 D'Souza pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and making false statements. He will be sentenced in September and likely faces imprisonment of ten to 16 months.
Right-wing media figures -- many of whom went to bat for D'Souza's flawed film -- rallied to the filmmaker's defense following his initial indictment, claiming he was being prosecuted for his political beliefs. Fox News host Sean Hannity labeled D'Souza "the latest victim to be targeted by the Obama White House." Matt Drudge accused Attorney General Eric Holder of "unleashing the dog" on "Obama critics," and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones responded to the charges, saying, "This is like Nazi Germany ... once they're done with these guys, they're coming after you and I." Radio host Laura Ingraham characterized the indictment as being "more about stifling political dissent" than any serious allegations of wrongdoing, and Rush Limbaugh described it as an effort to "criminalize" conservatives.
During one such interview in February, Fox host Megyn Kelly said the charges "raised red flags for some because D'Souza, who has pleaded not guilty, is behind the box office hit 2016: Obama's America, a film that is very critical of the president." D'Souza responded that he couldn't speak about the case specifically, but that he knows "for a fact" that Obama was personally unnerved by his film and said, "I am a public critic of the president, and I do recognize this has made me, to some degree, vulnerable to some forms of counter-attack."
This right-wing media defense was reportedly part of a deliberate plan by D'Souza. The New York Times reported in April that, in a conversation with one of his alleged straw donors, D'Souza said that if he were charged "he might plead guilty, but would initially plead not guilty because that 'gives him a window of opportunity to get his story out there.'"
Conservative pundits were more than happy to oblige this desire. Now will those who championed D'Souza's virtuousness finally condemn his crimes?
For her part, Ingraham will not. She responded immediately to news of the plea by downplaying the seriousness of the crime and doubling down on her claim that D'Souza was prosecuted for political reasons.
After right-wing folk hero Cliven Bundy was caught on camera delivering a racist tirade, Media Matters looks back at the conservative media figures who propelled him into the national spotlight.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy appeared on Alex Jones' radio show today to do damage control over comments he made about "the Negro" and how he wonders whether blacks were "better off as slaves" than on government assistance.
During the appearance, Bundy denied that he is racist, called on The New York Times to retract their accurate quotes of him discussing "cotton picking," and repeatedly restated his offensive views on slavery. Bundy also defended himself by explaining "there's a black man right in my front yard right now" as part of the militia siding with him against the government.
Lawless rancher Cliven Bundy praised "hero" Sean Hannity for promoting his cause during an appearance on a conspiracy radio show during which he also warned a civil war could only be avoided if federal "bureaucrats" are disarmed by county sheriffs.
Bundy has been in conflict with the federal government for decades over his refusal to pay grazing fees for his cattle herd's use of public lands. A recent attempt by the Bureau of Land Management to enforce court orders allowing the confiscation of Bundy's cattle to settle unpaid fees and fines was suspended due to safety concerns after armed militias rallied to Bundy's cause and some militia members pointed guns at BLM law enforcement.
Despite threats of violence from Bundy and his supporters -- and the fact his legal claim against paying grazing fees is incredibly weak -- right-wing media have praised Bundy as a conservative champion standing against an outsized federal government. Amid endless sympathetic coverage on Fox News, host Sean Hannity emerged as the network's leading advocate for Bundy.
Media Matters and others have criticized Hannity's "totally irresponsible" journalism, including his support of Bundy's extreme positions, invocation of the deadly Waco standoff, and his touting of the possibility that the federal government will kill Bundy.
During an April 21 appearance on 9-11 truther Alex Jones' conspiracy radio show, Bundy offered thanks to Hannity for promoting his cause. While he said the men disagreed about whether armed militias are the first or last line of defense against government overreach, Bundy said of Hannity, "He is my hero and he supported me and this movement and I appreciate and love him for it. Support him 100 percent." For his part Jones said, "I want to commend Sean Hannity because he has been really bad on a lot of issues but he has a lot of courage doing the right thing here. So I appreciate him being supportive of this."
"Whether it's true or not, we have to wait to see."
That's the caveat Fox News legal correspondent Bob Massi provided to viewers after reporting a baseless conspiracy theory about the government's motivation for enforcing the law against a Nevada cattle rancher who has been defying court orders for decades.
For years, cattle rancher Cliven Bundy defied legal orders instructing him to remove his cattle from a publicly owned allotment of land in the Nevada desert. Bundy, who says he does not recognize the authority of the federal government, initiated a decades-long conflict in 1993 when he began refusing to pay grazing fees related to his cattle's use of lands referred to as the Bunkerville allotment. An escalating series of judicial orders eventually led to the revocation of his grazing rights and orders to remove his cattle. In April, officers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which stewards the land in question, began impounding the cattle in order to pay off the nearly $1 million Bundy owes in unpaid fines and grazing fees.
The conflict reached a boiling point on Saturday, when Bundy and hundreds of protesters, including militia members, initiated a standoff with authorities. Violent rhetoric associated with the movement led BLM to abandon its efforts to round up the cattle.
Fox News legal correspondent Bob Massi was still near the Nevada ranch after the standoff wound down, and he issued several reports on the April 14 edition of Fox & Friends speculating that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was behind a nefarious plot to bar Bundy's cattle from public lands in order to build a solar power plant there at the behest of a Chinese energy firm. Massi made sure to point out that he was repeating these claims without knowing "whether it's true or not."
MASSI: As Eric just said, the present director of the Bureau of Land Management is Harry Reid's former political adviser. And it's been reported, whether it's true or not, one of the things that the ranchers have said -- and I've interviewed Ryan, who's the son of Mr. Bundy, his sister Susan -- that they believe that there's plans out here for some solar energy projects out here that Reid has basically endorsed. There's one at State Line in Nevada, there's one in San Bernardino. And it's also been reported, whether it's true or not, that, Senator Harry Reid when he went to China made some kind of deal with a Chinese manufacturer over there to actually put in the solar plants over here in the state of Nevada and in California and Utah. Whether it's true or not, we have to wait and see, but there's no question I'll tell you this: Being here since 1974, anything that happens in Nevada, Harry Reid's behind it one way or the other.
The claims about Harry Reid's involvement appears to have originated with conspiracy-monger Alex Jones, whose website Infowars.com alleged that BLM wants to remove Bundy's cattle "in order to make way for solar power stations."
As the theory goes, BLM has studied the possible impact of solar power plants in certain portions of the Nevada desert. BLM has a new director, Neil Kornze, who is a former Reid adviser. Reid's son is an attorney at a law firm that represents a large Chinese energy firm who wanted to build a solar power plant in Nevada, and Reid has himself expressed support for the project. Ergo, Kornze is Reid's puppet at the BLM, who is strictly enforcing the law against Bundy in order to place a solar power plant on land where Bundy's cattle have been trespassing for more than 15 years.
Unfortunately, a quick glance at a map illustrates that the Alex Jones dots don't connect. Bundy's ranch and the allotment in question are located north and west of Lake Mead, near Bunkerville, NV. Per Reuters, the proposed site for the Chinese power plant was "90 miles south of Las Vegas" near Laughlin, NV. And the land currently being studied by BLM for possible solar development (dubbed the "Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone") is north east of Lake Mead and well south west of the Bunkerville allotment.
Right-wing media are fanning the flames of a conflict between a federal agency and their new hero -- a scofflaw Nevada rancher who's threatening a violent range war against the federal government.
Cliven Bundy, a cattle rancher in Nevada, has been fighting the government over grazing rights on public land for nearly a quarter century. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay government fees required to allow his cattle to exploit public lands. In 1998, the government issued a court order telling Bundy to remove his cows from the land, as part of an effort to protect the endangered desert tortoise located there. And in July 2013, a federal court ordered Bundy to get his cattle off public land within 45 days or they would be confiscated. The confiscation began this month, and the cattle will be sold to pay off the $1 million in fees and trespassing fines Bundy owes.
Conservative media have held the confiscation out as a big government invasion of private property rights and have repeatedly hyped the rancher and his family as victims being intimidated by a heavily armed force of federal agents who are escalating the situation into the realm of notorious and deadly standoffs like Ruby Ridge and Waco.
Fox News hosted the rancher on the April 9 edition of Hannity, where Sean Hannity sympathized with Bundy's claims against the government and argued that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands "keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer."
Fox & Friends highlighted the situation and complained about the protections for the desert tortoise. Co-host Brian Kilmeade said, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition."
Meanwhile, Glenn Beck's TheBlaze.com played up the fact that the federal agents confiscating Bundy's cattle were armed. Alex Jones' Infowars.com posited that the government was attempting to "enslave us in an [United Nations] Agenda 21 future where we have no property and no rights." During an April 9 edition of Jones' conspiracy theory radio show, Jones said of Bundy, "So your bottom line, like Paul Revere, you're making your stand, you're telling folks we're being overrun by an out of control tyranny."
National Review Online's Kevin Williamson called the presence of armed agents "inflammatory" and described the government's actions as a "siege." The conservative American Thinker accused Attorney Gen. Eric Holder of enforcing the law against Bundy for racial reasons.
But if anyone is waging a campaign of intimidation, it's Bundy and his family, who have repeatedly threatened violence, invoked revolutionary rhetoric, and issued public statements making known that they own firearms and appear willing to use them.
The Drudge Report and Fox Nation are promoting an outlandish report from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' website Infowars that suggests a sinister purpose behind a Department of Homeland Security procurement request for 141,160 rounds of .308 rifle ammunition.
Jones and his website have long fearmongered about the government's bulk purchase of ammunition. Conservative media outlets and Republican politicians have followed Jones' lead and run wild with the conspiracy, suggesting that the government was preparing for widespread civil unrest, attempting to limit the civilian ammo supply, or even planning to wage war against Americans. The conspiracy even inspired a Republican-led House Oversight Committee hearing and Republican-backed legislation to limit government ammunition purchases.
Following the announcement Thursday that conservative commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza has been charged with violating federal campaign finance laws, his allies are claiming that the move is evidence of a conspiracy by the Obama administration to silence its critics.
D'Souza has been a fixture in conservative media circles for years, and his laughable 2012 documentary 2016: Obama's America became a surprise critical success thanks in part to the support of his media allies. Reuters reports that D'Souza "has been indicted by a federal grand jury for arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate (reportedly Wendy Long).
Matt Drudge tweeted that the indictments against D'Souza and former Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell are evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder is "unleashing the dogs" on "Obama critics."
In a panicked video headlined "Emergency: Obama Launches Purge" posted on his YouTube channel last night, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones told viewers that "America is going over the edge," adding, "I actually am scared." According to Jones, the charges against former Gov. McDonnell are "trumped up garbage" (for what it's worth, conservatives like Byron York disagree, labeling the details "ugly, sordid, damning").
Pointing to the supposed persecution of D'Souza, Jones claimed that the administration is engaged in much worse behavior and warned, "The issue is here, they can find a mistake in your checking account and claim that it was fraud or wire fraud. They can do it to anybody." According to Jones, "this is like Nazi Germany" and "once they're done with these guys, they're coming after you and I."
The description posted on Jones' YouTube channel explains that this is an "Emergency Alert!!!," adding "This is it, we are in deep shit! If they get away with this they will come for all of us, that's how it works!!!" D'Souza has appeared on Jones' program to promote his movie.