Author Page | Media Matters for America

Natalie Martinez

Author ››› Natalie Martinez
  • A New Mexico judge received multiple death threats. Earlier, right-wing social media accounts had spread her contact information.

    After a controversial bail decision, Judge Sarah Backus' contact information was spread on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and 4chan.

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A New Mexico courthouse was evacuated following a slew of death threats against District Court Judge Sarah Backus via social media, phone calls, and emails. Prior to the evacuation, conservative accounts had spread her contact information across social media platforms after she granted bail to five suspects allegedly involved with training children to perform school shootings in a remote compound in New Mexico stating that prosecutors had not shown “clear and convincing evidence” of the alleged planned attack.

    On August 13, Backus presided over the bail hearing for suspects of the compound case and set bail at $20,000 each, ordering that the suspects remain under house arrest and wear GPS ankle monitors. In reaction to her ruling, right-wing Facebook pages posted links and memes referring to Backus’ role in the trial and put her phone number and email in the status. The far-right page The Red Elephants posted her contact information suggesting that followers should call and complain about her decision to grant bail to the accused; the post was shared 10 thousand times. Three other conservative Facebook pages posted a meme calling for Backus’ removal and gave her office number as well as numbers to the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commision, the White House, and the U.S. Capitol switchboard. The top post among these was shared 27 thousand times. One other popular post from a grey-badge verified page also included Backus’ office number, as well as the email of Chief Judge Jeff McElroy of New Mexico. The content from conservative Facebook pages also spread through Pro-Trump Facebook groups. Posts on major groups encouraged people to call and email Backus.  

    Backus’ contact information also spread on other platforms, including Twitter, Reddit, and message board 4chan. A few popular tweets from pro-Trump accounts mimicked the language in the Facebook posts while spreading Backus’ office number, fax number, email and even court address. In a top Reddit thread on “r/the_donald,” one top-voted comment included Backus’ contact information, as well as numbers of the office of New Mexico’s attorney general, and a court number which the poster said could be used to reach Backus’ clerk. On 4chan, a couple of threads shared Backus’ office number. One post shared a screenshot of Backus’ supposed Twitter page and implicitly called for others to find and doxx the boy who is featured in the profile picture.

  • Fake news sites are pushing voter fraud conspiracy theories on Facebook about the Ohio election

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As the vote count for the special election in Ohio 12th Congressional District still rolls in, fake news sites have taken to Facebook to spread conspiracy theories about Democrats rigging the election results. Some of these sites are using this fake narrative to advocate for voter ID laws, a voter suppression tactic that disproportionately affects minorities. This push comes as the Supreme Court recently upheld Ohio’s voter-purge law which Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted particularly impacts neighborhoods with low-income and minority populations.

    These voter fraud conspiracy theories are largely based on two narratives. The first is a recent report that 588 votes in Franklin County were misplaced but later found. Fake news sites and social media accounts pushed baseless allegations that the recovered votes are part of an attempt by Democrats to rig the election. I Love My Freedom’s Facebook page posted an article on the discovery with the status: “The Democrats are trying to pull a fast one on us!!!” The Political Insider posted a video from its regular contributor and radio personality Wayne Dupree in which he speculated over the timing of the votes’ recovery, wondering, “Why didn’t they find the box of ballots the same night? Why is it now?” Dupree also said that the person who “found the ballots need (sic) to go to jail.” Conservative Tribune claimed that Democrats have a “history of fixing elections and opposing accountability for election integrity” in a Facebook post that linked to an article titled “Officials Magically Find Hundreds of New Votes That Boost Dem in Toss-up Ohio Election.” And an article from BizPac Review floated the idea that voter fraud was at play with the “newly-discovered votes that are favoring the Democratic candidate.” Young Conservatives, which is part of a Republican clickbait farm, posted an article about the recovered votes that c also specifically mentioned the voting rights of felons and made baseless accusations of illegal voting by undocumented immigrants. (These two groups are frequently featured in voter suppression narratives.)

    The second source for these voter fraud conspiracy theories came from an unverified claim, originating from the far-right Mercer-funded group the Government Accountability Institute, that 170 registered voters in Ohio’s 12th district are 116-years-old. When the fake news sites picked up the claim, they added allegations of voter fraud and election rigging by Democrats to the mix. Constitution.com wrote that Democrats “tend to benefit from voter fraud at a rate that far surpasses the assistance given to conservatives through the use of the same tactics.” Truthfeed claimed, “The Left hasn’t given up trying to create conditions favorable for voter fraud in Ohio.” And a Young Conservatives article which stated that “Democrats have been known to steal close elections” was shared by former Sarah Palin’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and by conservative commentators CJ Pearson and Stacey Dash on Facebook.

    The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune posted an article that claimed this news was part of an attempt from the Democratic Party to “get their ‘blue wave’ to happen.” The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune also advocated for voter ID laws, writing, “If voter ID laws are passed and implemented … those 170 impossibly old voters would no longer be able to cast ballots — and that is something the fraudulent Democrats of the state desperately want to avoid.” The article has earned over 81,000 interactions on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, and was shared by Fox News host Shannon Bream and frequent Fox News guest Larry Elder. Western Journal and Conservative Tribune’s Facebook network also pushed the claim with most of the pages posting the exact same status alleging that Democrats attempted to rig the election.

  • A list of the right-wing amplifiers of the QAnon conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. , NATALIE MARTINEZ, TALIA LAVIN & ALEX KAPLAN

    While the unhinged conspiracy theory known as “QAnon,” or “The Storm,” has been gaining traction online among President Donald Trump’s supporters since October 2017, it was Tuesday night when it finally jumped to the mainstream in the form of shirts and signs that were prominently visible at a Trump campaign rally in Tampa, FL. Supporters of QAnon believe “a high-level government insider with Q clearance” is anonymously posting clues informing the public of Trump’s master plan to undermine the “deep state” and dismantle pedophilia rings supposedly linked to powerful celebrities and politicians.

    While the theory has its murky origins on 4chan and 8chan -- message boards best known for serving as the source of hoaxes and organized harassment campaigns -- many prominent right-wing figures, websites, and social media accounts have helped amplify QAnon. And the consequences of its unfettered growth could be dangerous. A man is facing terrorism charges in Arizona for using an armored vehicle to stop traffic on a bridge near the Hoover Dam with demands and letters clearly inspired by QAanon. Similarly, “Pizzagate,” a pedophilia-focused conspiracy theory fueled by Trump supporters during the 2016 presidential election, inspired a man to open fire inside a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.

    Below is a growing list of right-wing media figures, politicians, websites, and social media accounts that have carelessly amplified QAnon by either evangelizing its tenets to their followers or neutrally presenting the conspiracy theory through their influential platforms without clarifying to their audiences that the whole thing is a baseless canard.

    Amplifiers include:

    Right-wing media figures

    Alex Jones, founder of conspiracy theory site Infowars

    Jones went all in on QAnon, even claiming “the White House directly asked” Infowars correspondent Jerome Corsi to be on the “8chan beat” covering QAnon. After QAnon followers began criticizing Corsi and Jones’ opportunistic hijacking of the conspiracy theory, Jones attempted to backpedal his initial enthusiasm, justifying his distancing by claiming that the identity of the anonymous poster who goes by Q had been “compromised.”

    Mike Tokes, co-founder of NewRightUS

    Rodney Howard-Browne, right-wing Christian preacher and evangelist

    James Woods, actor

    Roseanne Barr, actress

    As documented by The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, Barr was among QAnon’s early high-profile supporters. Barr often tweets about the conspiracy theory and has also focused on its pedophilia-related offshoot known as “Pedogate” (derived from Pizzagate) and she recently asked a skeptical follower “what exactly” about Q “is doofus”?

    Roger Stone, notorious right-wing dirty trickster

    Stone promoted a QAnon video on his Facebook page.

    Curt Schilling, former baseball player and Breitbart podcast host

    Schilling has repeatedly tweeted about QAnon, claiming to be “proud” to provide a platform to amplify the conspiracy theory, which he did during his Breitbart show, The Curt Schilling Podcast.

    Jerome Corsi, Infowars correspondent and prominent “birther” conspiracy theorist

    Corsi repeatedly amplified QAnon, both from his platform at Infowars and from his Twitter account. Infowars claimed that Corsi was “working directly” with the moderators of 8chan’s The Storm forum.

    Sean Hannity, Fox News host

    On January 9, Fox’s Sean Hannity tweeted from his account that his followers should “watch @wikileaks closely! Tick tock.” The tweet quoted another tweet that claimed that “out of nowhere, Ecuador suddenly offers to mediate a resolution for #JulianAssange,” with the hashtag “#QAnon.”

    Bill Mitchell, Trump sycophant and host of Your Voice America

    Jack Posobiec, One America News Network correspondent and prominent pusher of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory

    While Posobiec has referred to the conspiracy theory in neutral terms, it isn’t clear if his hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers know how he feels about it. Is he serious about the conspiracy theory or just trying to surf its popularity while remaining neutral to claim plausible deniability when inevitably, the consequences become dangerous?

    Liz Crokin, pro-Trump troll and conspiracy theorist

    Pro-Trump troll and self-appointed “citizen journalist” Liz Crokin has expanded on the QAnon conspiracy theory to speculate that “The Storm” includes a crackdown on elite pedophiles. Crokin has gone on to accuse model Chrissy Teigen and her husband, singer John Legend, of pedophilia. Recently, she also claimed John F. Kennedy Jr. had faked his death and is behind the Q posts.

    Charlie Kirk, executive director of Turning Point USA

    On a now-deleted tweet, Kirk spread bogus statistics that seemingly originated in the QAnon universe.

    Mike Cernovich, pro-Trump troll and notorious Pizzagate pusher

    Like Posobiec, Cernovich has made neutral mentions of the conspiracy theory on his Twitter account without clarifying to his followers that it’s baseless.

    Political figures

    Eric Trump, son of President Trump

    Eric Trump liked a tweet of a slogan linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

    The official Twitter account for the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee

    On July 4, a Twitter account that identifies itself as belonging to the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee of Florida tweeted out (and later deleted) a YouTube explanatory video of QAnon.

    Paul Nehlen, candidate in the Republican primary for Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district

    Social media accounts

    Facebook

    RT America

    Conservative Post

    The American Patriot

    National Conservative News Network Canada

    YouTube: Channels extensively covering Q

    The following are channels YouTube has allowed to proliferate that cover and interpret every post Q signs (ordered by number of subscribers):

    Websites

    YourNewsWire

    Fake news site YourNewsWire took the QAnon pedophile conspiracy theory to Facebook with baseless accusations targeting celebrities Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.

    The Blacksphere

    Freedom Outpost

    The Trump Times

    The Deplorable Army

    Neon Nettle

    From an archived version of a since-deleted post that appeared on Neon Nettle, a fake news site that has also pushed the conspiracy theory on Twitter:

    WorldTruth.TV

    Neon Revolt

    The site features a tag devoted to QAnon-related content.

    Exopolitics.org

  • Under Facebook’s new algorithm, conservative meme pages are outperforming all political news pages

    Since Facebook announced new algorithm changes, right-leaning meme pages have altered their posting behaviors and gained more overall weekly interactions

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Immediately after Facebook announced in January 2018 that it was rolling out changes in the algorithm used to arrange posts in users’ news feeds, right-leaning pages that post memes on a regular basis began altering their activity pattern by decreasing the number of links posted per week. Since then, right-leaning meme pages have generally gained more average weekly interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) and have continued outperforming other prominent politically aligned Facebook pages in terms of amount of content shared.

    Last week, Media Matters released a study examining the engagement of 463 prominent Facebook pages that regularly posted political content between January 1 and July 1, 2018. One key finding was that images posted by right-leaning pages were the best performing content in the study. Media Matters additionally reviewed 26 right-leaning pages from the study that regularly post memes (which we’re dubbing “meme pages”). While these meme pages had significantly fewer page likes on average than the other pages, their engagement numbers -- including total interactions, shares, and interaction rates (number of interactions per post divided by page likes) -- across the board wildly surpassed those of other right-leaning pages, left-leaning pages, and pages that weren’t ideologically aligned. And while political pages overall showed little change in interaction numbers over the course of our six-month study, right-leaning meme pages showed significant growth in average weekly number of interactions and shares.

    Part of this engagement growth can potentially be explained by changes in right-leaning pages’ posting patterns. The week after Facebook announced the algorithm change rollout, right-leaning meme pages began posting fewer low-performing clickbait links (though just as many images as ever), and they continued reducing these link posts over the course of the next three months. In altering some of their clickbait behaviors, right-leaning meme pages could possibly have avoided newsfeed demotions that would have resulted in less page visibility.

    Our findings:

    Right-leaning meme pages had consistently higher weekly interaction rates compared to all other political pages. On average, right-leaning meme pages had almost twice the interaction rates of right-leaning and left-leaning pages, and they had just over four times the interaction rates of nonaligned pages. Interaction rates, which are calculated by dividing the average number of interactions per post by a page divided by page likes, give a proportional comparison point for the performance of a Facebook page because they take into account the size of a page and the frequency at which it posts.

    Right-leaning meme pages’ outperformance of other pages that post political content was consistent regardless of their number of page likes. The average number of page likes for the 26 right-leaning meme pages we examined was just over 1.5 million, which is about 470,000 fewer average page likes than we found for right-leaning pages overall and around 1 million fewer page likes than the average tallies for left-leaning and nonaligned pages. Still, during every week of the study, right-leaning meme pages had significantly more average interactions per page than the other page groups examined. Overall, right-leaning meme pages had 186 percent more average interactions per week compared to right-leaning pages and 177 percent more interactions per week than left-leaning pages. Right-leaning meme pages earned on average 230 percent more weekly interactions than nonaligned pages.

    Posts from right-leaning meme pages were also shared more widely than other political content. On average, content posted by right-leaning meme pages had higher numbers of shares as compared to other partisan and nonpartisan political pages. Posts from right-leaning meme pages had 208 percent more shares than those from left-leaning pages, 266 percent more shares than those from right-leaning pages, and 342 percent more shares than those from nonaligned pages.

    Right-leaning meme pages saw a net increase in their interaction numbers over the course of the study. Right-leaning meme pages not only sustained high engagement over the six-month study period, but they actually saw a net increase in their interaction numbers. On the other hand, left-leaning pages, other right-leaning pages, and nonaligned pages overall saw little change in total number of interactions.

    Right-leaning meme pages performed better under Facebook’s new algorithm, which was implemented with the intention of reducing the reach of clickbait pages, media pages, and publishers. When Facebook announced the rollout of algorithm changes, it claimed that “meaningful interactions,” like sharing, commenting, and reacting, were going to be prioritized in news feed ranking over passive engagements, like clicking, viewing, and hovering. One of Facebook’s algorithm changes, first discussed in December 2017, was also supposed to demote “engagement bait” -- posts that “goad” users into interacting with their content (i.e., “like and share if you agree” or “tag a friend”) -- and pages that frequently post such engagement bait.

    Right-leaning meme pages frequently post engagement bait. In the 26-page sample reviewed over six months, engagement-bait posts that explicitly requested interactions from users frequently got the most engagement. During one of the peak interaction weeks, that of January 15, the two posts from our sample that got the most interactions requested likes and shares. The top post had over 941,000 interactions.

    During another peak week, that of May 28, four of the top five posts from our sample had engagement-bait content. The top post eamed over 707,000 interactions.

    It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why these right-leaning meme pages, with their engagement-bait content, are performing better since Facebook changed its algorithm, in part because Facebook has not specified the ways its algorithm detects engagement-bait key words and phrases. One explanation could be that, as shown in the examples above, right-leaning meme pages generally don’t put engagement-bait language in the post status; instead, the text is written in the image. If Facebook’s algorithm does not detect text in photos as part of its filtering, this could be an easy way for right-leaning meme pages to bypass news feed demotion.

    Almost all of the 26 right-leaning meme pages we reviewed are part of different Facebook page networks connected to fake news and clickbait websites. Five pages are tied to the fake news website America’s Freedom Fighters. Another two are tied to the fake news website Mad World News. Other fake news and clickbait websites connected to the pages we examined include Right Wing News (affiliated with the now-deleted racist fake news site Freedom Daily), TruthFeed, The DC Gazette, and American News Central. So, in addition to regularly posting images, right-leaning meme pages are also frequently posting links to their partner websites.

    Immediately after Facebook’s announcement in January, right-leaning meme pages started decreasing the number of links they posted on Facebook. Most pages that we reviewed were frequently posting links to clickbait and fake news sites up until mid-January. But immediately after Facebook’s announcement in January, right-leaning meme pages began altering their behavior on the platform, posting links less frequently than before (though continuing to post the same number of images). The right-leaning meme pages we reviewed, on average, posted about 200 links a week from the week of November 27 to the week of January 8. The week after Facebook announced its algorithm change rollout on January 11, they began posting fewer links -- and continued posting fewer over the course of the next three months. From the week of April 23, when the number of posts plateaued, until the end of our review period on July 1, these pages were on average posting 139 links a week. By reducing the amount of identifiable clickbait links they posted -- and continuing to post the same number of images, where engagement-bait language may be harder to detect -- right-leaning meme pages were potentially able to avoid news feed demotion affecting their visibility.

    Many right-leaning meme pages are propagators of misinformation, foreign propaganda, and racist and anti-immigrant content. Some of America’s Freedom Fighters’ Facebook pages are connected to a violent militia movement, and they, along with some TruthFeed’s and Mad World News’ pages, recycle racist Russian propaganda on the social media platform. Some pages from this review, including TruthFeed, The New Resistance, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, USA Patriots for Donald Trump, The Common Sense Conservative, Judge Jeanine Pirro has Fans, and Mad World News, have also spread conspiracy theories and smears against the students who survived the February 14 Parkland, FL, school shooting.

    Facebook has increasingly come under scrutiny for allowing fake news sites like Your News Wire and extremist media personalities like Alex Jones and his outlet Infowars to spread their conspiracy theories and bigoted speech on its platform. Criticism of Facebook’s enforcement of hate speech content policies has also become an increasingly important issue, as it came to light that the platform permits content pushing white separatism, white nationalism, and Holocaust denial. While the tech giant continues to cave to the baseless claims of censorship by conservative media, the victims of conspiracy theories and smears, like the families and survivors of the Sandy Hook massacre, are struggling to get a seat at the table.

    The 26 right-leaning meme pages reviewed were America’s Freedom Fighters, Cold Dead Hands, Dean James III%, Donald Trump For President, Donald Trump Is Our President, Extremely Pissed off RIGHT Wingers 2, Judge Jeanine Pirro has Fans, Mad World News, Military Memes, Nation In Distress, Occupy Democrats Logic, President Donald Trump Fan Club, SubjectPolitics, The Blacksphere, The Comical Conservative, The Common Sense Conservative, The Federalist Papers, The New Resistance, The Revolution, The voice of the people, Trump Republic, TRUMP TRAIN, Turning Point USA, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, United States Constitution, and USA Patriots for Donald Trump.

    Charts by Melissa Joskow.

  • Study: Analysis of top Facebook pages covering American political news

    Study of 463 leading Facebook pages shows that partisan pages have roughly equal engagement, but right-wing pages drastically outnumber left-wing pages

    ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ

    A Media Matters study of engagement, measured by interactions over a six-month period, on Facebook pages that regularly post content about American political news found that right-leaning Facebook pages had virtually identical engagement to left-leaning pages and received more engagement than other political pages.

  • Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward and her husband are admins of a racist conspiracy Facebook group

    Kelli and Michael Ward are using the Facebook group Tea Party to promote her Senate campaign

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Republican Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward and her husband Michael Ward have been campaigning on a racist Facebook group with over 94,000 members called Tea Party that pushes conspiracy theories. The Wards are among the group’s administrators and moderators, along with some other Republican congressional candidates and extremist media figures. Some of the administrators and moderators have shared far-right conspiracy theories, fake news, and anti-Muslim, racist propaganda in the group.

    A CNN KFile review of the social media activity of Kelli Ward’s husband found that Michael Ward has pushed far-right conspiracy theories on Twitter about Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich’s murder and the DNC’s supposed involvement in it, the Clintons’ supposed murder of their political rivals, and incumbent Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain’s alleged connections to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Zachary Henry, spokesperson for Kelli Ward’s campaign, called Michael’s tweets and retweets “obscure details of Dr. Ward's social media activity.”

    However, since Kelli Ward’s previous Senate bid against John McCain in 2016, she and her husband have been promoting her posts in a Facebook group, Tea Party, that features conspiracy and racist content posted by other administrators and moderators.

    Michael Ward regularly shares posts from his wife’s verified Facebook page to the Tea Party group. He has also previously requested donations from group members. Although most posts directly quote Kelli Ward’s social media and campaign positions, in a 2016 post, Michael Ward claimed that McCain is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Some of Ward’s co-administrators and moderators have both promoted her campaign in the group and spread conspiracy theories and racist propaganda to the group’s members. Tea Party administrator Mike Michaels, who is also a co-administrator for the Facebook page Citizens For Trump along with Fox News analyst Jan Morgan, has also promoted Kelli Ward’s campaign events in the Tea Party group. Mike Michaels has posted multiple anti-Muslim messages in the group, referring to Islam as a “cancer” multiple times and saying that American women would “not be safe if Muslim immigrants come here from Syria.” Michaels has pushed the conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama is Muslim multiple times. He also implied that Black Lives Matters is worse than the KKK.

    Group moderator Lori Saxton has pushed conspiracy theories about the DNC’s involvement with Seth Rich’s murder, the Clintons allegedly murdering their political rivals, and Pizzagate. Another administrator, DeeAnn LaRue, claimed that the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, was “orchestrated by the left” in a post that got over 2,000 interactions.

    The Tea Party Facebook group is also run in part by extremist media figures Pamela Geller, Jack Posobiec, Patrick Howley of the far-right site Big League Politics, and Eliyokim Cohen of the racist fake news site Jews News (who has defended neo-Nazis in the group). Other administrators and moderators of this group include neo-Confederate Virginia GOP Senate nominee Corey Stewart, as well as Republican congressional candidates Danny Tarkanian, Daniel Crenshaw, Matt Rosendale, Patrick Morrisey, and Chris McDaniel, and Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), who is running for re-election.

  • Right-wing media are rallying to defend the Trump administration’s inhumane separation of families at the border 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT & NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump administration is separating immigrant children from their parents or legal guardians after they cross the border, with at least 2,000 children taken from their parents since April 19. The administration’s merciless and inhumane policy has spurred numerous heartbreaking stories, including reports of a breastfeeding baby who was ripped from her mother, a Honduran father separated from his family who took his own life, and children who are held in cages alongside strangers. Yet right-wing media figures have been quick to defend the policy and dismiss its inherent cruelty:

    • Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak justified separating families at the border, saying the Border Patrol facilities are "better than what they had." Pollak also claimed that ICE taking children from their parents and putting them in detention facilities is “just about caring for the kids.”

    • Right-wing troll Dinesh D’Souza, who recently received a pardon from President Donald Trump, questioned whether immigrant parents are “the ones choosing to separate their families.”

    • Fox's Pete Hegseth defended the separations because the children get food and "soccer and video games." Hegseth also called images of detained children “quite compassionate,” and said the policy was “defensible.”

    • Fox News’ Trish Regan argued that Trump is showing asylum-seeking families "tough love" by taking children away from their parents.

    • Fox contributor Tammy Bruce called for White House press briefings to end after reporters confronted White House press secretary Sarah Sanders about the separation of families.

    • Fox's Jesse Watters argued that the White House should "start ripping press passes away" from reporters who ask about families getting separated at the border. Watters also said that “some would say” that separation is “a more humane policy” than detaining the families together.

    • In a series of tweets, Twitter troll Bill Mitchell aggressively defended the policy, accusing the media of focusing on “#FakeNews ‘concentration camps,’” complaining about the money spent to keep the children captive, suggested that many of the children are “not with their families at all - they are with smugglers” (only a very small percentage of cases involve smuggling and often a bona fide relationship between the child and adult is clear), and claiming, “President Trump is PROTECTING these children.”

    • Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade downplayed “the so-called separation of kids and parents” at the border, arguing that the Democrats are using it to distract from the Justice Department inspector general’s report on the handling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server and the Singapore Summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

    • Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt said that families are “choosing to be separated” by showing up at the border. She also argued that “you can't even really blame an administration” for the separation policy.

    • Her fellow Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said that “the part that is troubling” is not children being ripped from their parents, but the parents choosing to come to the United States in the first place. Doocy also argued that the cages some children are being housed in shouldn’t be called “cages” because rather they are “walls [built] out of chain link fences," and he defended family separation by suggesting the U.S. government spends a lot of money to “make sure that those kids wind up with all that stuff” that detention facilities offer.

    • Fox & Friends repeated or referenced Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s lies about family separation throughout the June 18 broadcast. Nielsen initially claimed that separation wasn’t happening -- it is.

    • Right-wing troll Mike Cernovich said that Trump was “keeping [children] safe in dorms,” and he accused former President Barack Obama of giving children “to human traffickers.”

    • Fox host and Trump lackey Sean Hannity claimed that the policy of separation “took place in previous administrations” (neither the Obama nor the Bush administration separated families as a matter of policy). Hannity also accused the media of having an “obsession” with the “so-called policy of separating illegal immigrant families.”    

    • Fox’s Laura Ingraham called the “outrage” over the separation policy “hilarious,” complained about watching “our country try to contort itself into other peoples' cultures,” and excused the separations because the children have “entertainment, sports, tutoring, medical, dental, four meals a day, and clean, decent housing” even though their “parents irresponsibly tried to bring them across the border illegally.” On her Fox show, Ingraham called the administration’s child detention centers “essentially summer camps” and compared them to “boarding schools.”

    • Sinclair's Boris Epshteyn choose not to editorialize on the cruelty of family separation itself, instead attacking the "discourse" around separation policy and claiming it is what's wrong with Democrats and media.

    • Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter warned the president not to fall for “these child actors weeping and crying on” cable news.

    • Radio host Rush Limbaugh called the outrage over family separation “an entirely manufactured crisis” and claimed “it happened during the Obama administration” too (it didn’t).  

    • One America News Network correspondent and internet troll Jack Posobiec defended the policy by fearmongering that children crossing the border could be with traffickers as opposed to family members. There is clear evidence of the relationship between many of the children in detention and the adult that accompanied them.

    • American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, a frequent cable news guest, contended that “Obama and Trump have same child protection policy” (they do not).

    • Fox’s David Bossie attempted to shift the blame onto the parents, arguing that “if they don't become criminals, they're not separated.” He also claimed that Trump is just “following the law,” ignoring the reality that separation is a Trump administration policy, not the law.

    • Fox host Tucker Carlson warned his viewers that people speaking up against America detaining children in cages just want to "change your country forever."

    • Chris Bedford, editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller News Foundation, criticized the "hyperbole" over family separation and child detention.

    • Drudge Report’s Matt Drudge attempted to paint Latin American children as violent by publishing a photo of children in Azaz, Syria.

    • Turning Point USA spokesperson Candace Owens claimed that “these policies were in place” during the Obama administration (they were not).

    • Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter aggressively defended the policy, suggesting that the U.S. ought to “separate the children and then send them all away” and “in prison (sic) the parents until they serve their sentence then throw them out.”

    • Infowars frontman and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed that separation has been the “standard procedure for decades” when you “pick up a group of a hundred people and you have no idea who the hell they are.” Infowars also claimed that Trump had exposed “the hoax that the US is mistreating migrant children.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro fallaciously argued that Trump is simply “enforcing the law on the books.”

    • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk posted a series of tweets fearmongering about “illegal immigration” and claimed that “all of this happened for 8 years under Obama” (nope).

    • NRATV host Dan Bongino claimed that reporting on the “immigration/children story” is “propaganda, nothing more” and argued that anyone who believed it is “delirious, and should seek professional help.”

    • Radio talk show host Ben Ferguson shared an image on Facebook claiming that policies of separating children from “illegal parents” had been in effect since 2009 and that Democrats just started talking about the issue because “they only care about making Trump look ‘bad.’” The post has been shared over 100,000 times.

    • Conservative commentator Dick Morris claimed that families seeking asylum at the borders were part of a “scam” in which adult immigrants were “abusers” who are using their children as a “battering ram to force their way into the country.” He also said the solution to this problem is to deny asylum to all immigrants who come to the border with a child.

    • Fox New contributor and Townhall Editor Katie Pavlich posted a series of tweets comparing the separation of asylum-seeking families to the separation of children and arrested parents and supporting Sarah Sanders’ claims in which she portrayed “illegal aliens” as criminals who are responsible for separating U.S. families permanently by “committing murder or killing through drunk driving.”

    • Conservative Review TV’s Jon Miller claimed that media are trying to push controversy around separation policies in order to “distract from the disastrous IG report and anything else this president has done that will cause people to vote for him.”

    • Fox News’ Tomi Lahren tweeted that “we owe ILLEGAL immigrants NOTHING,” and suggested that family separation is just one of the “consequences” parents have to accept when they “drag [their] kids over here ILLEGALLY.”

  • As Trump separates migrant families and 1,500 kids are missing, three Sunday shows ignored immigration entirely

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ

    Sunday shows largely ignored America’s treatment of migrant children, even as new reports and outrage on social media show a growing humanitarian crisis.

    In April, a top official with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told Congress that HHS had lost track of 1,475 unaccompanied minors who were detained at the US-Mexico border. This news has raised concerns that HHS has not taken the proper precautions to protect these migrant children in government custody from abuse and human trafficking. An ACLU report this week revealed that immigrant children suffer “pervasive abuse” while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Following the ACLU report, these missing migrant children got new attention from  a social media campaign #WhereAreTheChildren.

    One target of this social media campaign is the Trump administration’s new policy of separating children from parents when migrant families and asylum seekers attempt to pass through the southern border -- a policy which Trump recently called "horrible" and blamed Democrats for. Earlier in May, Attorney Jeff Sessions announced “zero tolerance” separation policies which are believed to cause detrimental effects on migrant children. Families separated at the border face significant challenges in contacting each other. The Arizona Daily Star told the story of a mother who “covered her eyes with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks” as she wondered if she would ever see her children again.”  

    Despite all of this, only three of the five Sunday shows, ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Fox News' Sunday With Chris Wallace, and NBC’s Meet the Press failed to discuss immigration whatsoever. CBS's Face the Nation did discuss the Trump administration’s separation policies with Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mark Meadows, and briefly mentioned them again during a panel discussion.

    The only Sunday show to mention the missing children was CNN’s State of the Union during a roundtable discussion. During the show, CNN contributor Rick Santorum called news of the missing children “hyperbole to try to create an issue."

  • In the wake of mass shootings at schools, conservatives blame everything but guns

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE, SANAM MALIK & NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After nearly every school shooting, right-wing media scramble to find reasons why guns should not be blamed for gun violence.

    After 10 people were killed during a mass shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, TX, pro-gun proselytizers in the conservative media sphere insisted that gun safety laws would not have prevented the shooting and instead pointed to other aspects of American culture that they said required reform. Here are some of the excuses right-wing pundits offered for the May 18 shooting:

    In February, after the school shooting in Parkland, FL, claimed 17 lives, conservative media took the very same approach:

    • Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce claimed that talking about firearms doesn’t get to the “core issue” of “the human condition.” She and the hosts of Fox & Friends also blamed drugs, virtual reality, and video games for the shooting.
    • Radio host Michael Savage tweeted that “liberal judges and the ACLU” were to blame.
    • Fox guest Lou Palumbo blamed “the media, the entertainment industry,” and “the lack of parenting.”
    • Fox News contributor Kevin Jackson blamed “Leftist-run schools” and falsely claimed that the shooter was linked to antifa.
    • Fox News host Laura Ingraham blamed “mental illness”and “broken or damaged families” for the shooting on her show.
    • The Gateway Pundit suggested that the shooter supposedly being a registered Democrat was a factor. (He was not actually a registered Democrat; the blog was forced to correct the story.)
    • Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter blamed the FBI’s Russia probe for the shooting, tweeting, “The FBI was too busy trying to undermine the president to bother with doing it's (sic) freaking job.”
    • The Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson suggested that the shooting was related to the shooter growing up without a father.
    • Liberty One TV’s Joe Biggs (formerly of Infowars) tweeted that the FBI was “too busy chasing Trump/Russia nothing burgers” to have prevented the shooting.
    • Pamela Geller falsely claimed that the shooter was connected to antifa and Islamic terrorist groups.
    • Laura Loomer shared a fake photo of the shooter and speculated that he was a “radical leftist” with potential ties to antifa and Islamic resistance groups.
    • Infowars claimed that the “MSM” (mainstream media) was “already covering it up” that the shooter was likely a “Democratic voter” and had clothing “similar to the style worn by ISIS fighters in Syria.”

    But as others have pointed out, most of the phenomena listed above are also present in other countries that don’t experience nearly as much gun violence as the United States does.

  • Popular conservative meme pages on Facebook affiliate themselves with an extremist militia movement

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The fake news website America’s Freedom Fighters has identified itself as part of the extremist militia movement The Three Percenters (also referred to as the Three Percent movement and III%), which has been implicated in multiple cases of race-based violence. Some pages that are part of America’s Freedom Fighters’ popular Facebook network bear the name or the logo of the militia movement in their name or profile pictures. 

    The Three Percenters is a loosely organized anti-government “patriot group” whose name refers to the disputed idea that 3 percent of American colonists fought against the British during the Revolutionary War. Although the largest group claims it is “NOT a militia” and “NOT anti-government,” the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the Three Percenters as anti-government extremists, and outlets including Politico, Vice, and Reveal have identified local groups affiliated with the movement as militias. In a profile of Three Percenter cells, Reveal wrote that the movement has “long been active around the fringes of the white supremacist ecosystem.”

    In its principles, The Three Percenters state that they are not “the aggressor” and have a “don’t fire unless fired upon” policy. However, local level groups and militiamen affiliated with the Three Percenters movement have been implicated in multiple instances of domestic terrorism and racist violence over the past few years. Members of the Three Percenters, along with other militia groups like the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia and the Oath Keepers, provided security for the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, in August 2017. The Three Percent United Patriots has operated as a border militia that “hunt[ed] Mexicans” while profiling and targeting Latinos passing through the U.S.-Mexico border. A member of the Three Percenters militia was arrested before attempting to detonate a bomb outside of a bank in Oklahoma City. And Three Percenters from Idaho and Oregon joined Ammon and Cliven Bundy’s armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.

    Muslims and Muslim community spaces are frequent targets of state and local level Three Percenter groups. One of three arrested suspects in the bombing of a Minnesota mosque in March was identified as the head of the group White Rabbit Three Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia. In 2016, the North Dakota Security Force III% published a since-removed video of a model of a mosque being shot at and blown up. Multiple Three Percenter groups have organized armed protests targeting mosques in Georgia, Texas, and Kansas (where the group goes by both Kansas Security Force and Kansas Three Percent Security Force).

    America’s Freedom Fighters has promoted the Three Percenters movement on its website and Facebook accounts. The fake news site reprinted the Three Percenters’ oath from their bylaws in an article titled “We Are The Three Percent!” (These are also the same bylaws that the radical anti-government militia group the Oath Keepers has adopted.) In this article, America’s Freedom Fighters also promoted its Facebook pages and a large Facebook group for Three Percenters. In another article, America’s Freedom Fighters praised The Three Percenters for “securing the U.S.-Mexico border” after the militia threatened to kill immigrants as they approached the border. America’s Freedom Fighters’ now-inactive online store also used to feature merchandise with the Three Percenters’ logo.

    Some Facebook pages affiliated with America’s Freedom Fighters reference The Three Percenters in their names and profile pictures. These pages include: Dean James III%, Nation in Distress, USA in Distress, and The voice of the people. According to data from Crowdtangle, the most popular of these pages -- Nation in Distress -- earns an average of over 412,000 interactions a day. Dean James III% and The voice of the people earn over 72,000 and 77,000 daily interactions, respectively. 

    This article has been updated for clarity.