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Nina Mast

Author ››› Nina Mast
  • Xenophobic German campaign #120dB says domestic abuse by Europeans is less harmful than sexual violence by migrants

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Despite claiming to advocate for victims of sexual misconduct, anti-immigrant campaign 120 decibel (#120dB) will do anything to scapegoat migrant men for sexual violence -- even downplay domestic abuse.

    In an April 2 interview with far-right activist and YouTuber Brittany Pettibone, a “German identitarian” activist named Annika argued that domestic abuse by German-born men is different from sexual violence against women by migrant men because “most women” who are victims of domestic abuse “don’t really defend themselves” and “are quiet” while abuse against women in public places by refugees is “really torturous.”

    Annika (who is often referred to by her other name, Franziska) is a spokesperson for #120dB. As documented previously by Media Matters, #120dB is a digital movement attempting to spread a xenophobic, anti-feminist message by riding the coattails of the #MeToo movement. #120dB, which has been heavily promoted by white supremacist “identitarian” group Generation Identity and its European leaders, claims sexual violence by refugee and migrant men is being ignored for fear of offending these communities and calls itself the “true #MeToo.”  

    In the interview, Annika conceded that incidents of sexual violence allegedly committed by migrants are overreported in comparison to domestic abuse because law enforcement “can't just go to a private place and do something in there, but the state can go to a public place and work against the rape there.” In doing so, she unwittingly undermined her movement’s reliance on the assumption that elites are covering up what they characterize as a wave of sexual assaults that they allege are disproportionately committed by refugees and migrants.

    The reality is that migrants and refugees are disproportionately accused of violent crime, both in reports to law enforcement and in online news. In Germany, "foreign-looking suspects" are twice as likely to be reported for violent crime. In Sweden, that rate is 2.5 times. A January 2018 analysis by Germany newspaper Der Spiegel found that of 450 online news reports about 291 “purported sex crimes alleged to have been committed by asylum-seekers and immigrants,” the perpetrator was actually a refugee in only 95 cases, many of which occurred in refugee camps.

    In their effort to scapegoat black and brown men for violence against women, Annika and her colleague Ariane dismissed Germany’s significant issue of domestic abuse, the vast majority of which targets women. That's not a great look for a movement that advertises itself as the “voice of forgotten women.”

    Annika, who considers herself a “right-wing woman” and “anti-feminist,” has appeared in several interviews with Pettibone and her boyfriend, Austrian “identitarian” Martin Sellner. At least two of Pettibone’s videos on the subject appear to be monetized on YouTube. Pettibone and Sellner were both detained at the U.K. border and denied entry in March based on their plans to meet far-right activist Tommy Robinson and the likelihood that their extremism would “incite tensions” in the country.

    From the April 2 YouTube video:

    ANNIKA: It's different because the most rape in Europe from German people or from Swedish people, they take place at home, so in a private place. And there's no violence. The most women don’t really defend themselves. They are quiet and most times they know the rapist, so it's the husband or the father, or someone else related to them. So, they don’t really -- you just can't tell the truth afterwards because you don't have any evidence of it because you don't have blue arms [bruises] or someone heard you scream or something. But the other rapes --  from refugees -- these are really torturous. So you can see those girls are stabbed and they have blue arms and they screamed, and it's in a public place, so you have to go after them but in another way because the state can’t just go into a private place and do something in there, but the state can go to a public place and work against the rape there. So, it's both rape, but it's not the same, because there’s a huge difference [in] how the rapists are doing this.

    ARIANE: And again, there is an enormous difference between engaging into sex with someone to have a higher position into your career, you can -- you still can say no. You can say no and then don't take this path, but if you're forced on the street like we already know about those things that happened. They are so just, just, just totally new. We didn't have that before that things like this went public.

    [...]

    Like domestic violence, which is also often done by women, just to mention that.

    BRITTANY PETTIBONE (HOST): Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

    ARIANE: And so many of those cases are not reported. And yeah, they happen in quiet and the state can't do much about it.

    PETTIBONE: It’s very obvious, and it’s just a case of them underreporting. A lot of people don’t know that it’s even happening, and they’d be shocked to hear of the amount of girls and the ways in which they are being raped and murdered and abused.

  • Steve Bannon reveals plans to visit Sweden to “learn from” the nation’s far-right party

    But even a party with neo-Nazi roots doesn't want to be associated with Bannon

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Steve Bannon revealed to a Swedish newspaper that he will be visiting the country to “learn from” the Sweden Democrats (SD), an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party attempting to rebrand away from its neo-Nazi roots. In seeking alliances with Sweden’s most prominent right-wing party leaders, Bannon is trying to dig himself out of the political irrelevance his downfall has brought. But it appears that even the members of a party with neo-Nazi origins are embarrassed to be associated with him.

    In a March 28 interview with Dagens Nyheter, a daily newspaper in Sweden, Bannon revealed his plan to visit the country in the next few months “to learn” from the Sweden Democrats, “some of whom we have studied closely.” When asked what insights would he share with SD members from his time at the White House (he was fired in August 2017), Bannon said he’d urge the SD to continue fighting, increase the party’s contact with the base, and stay away from the so-called “globalists.” He also called SD leader Jimmie Åkesson a “dynamic” politician and characterized SD as an example for “the whole world to study.”

    Bannon’s interest in Sweden is neither new nor surprising, as he has long telegraphed his plans to export his far-right politics to Europe. During Bannon's time at the helm of Breitbart.com, as well as during and after his White House stint, the outlet has shown an obsession with a mythical migrant crime wave in Sweden, particularly as the nation prepares for a general election (Sweden has become a gateway to the anti-migrant agenda in Europe). Bannon’s announcement of his plans comes on the heels of a series of embarrassing setbacks for him -- ranging from a humiliating electoral loss by a Republican politician he championed in a ruby-red state to his ousting from Breitbart, which he helped build. It appears he is looking for a comeback wherever he can find it.

    When asked directly whether the SD party invited him to visit Sweden, Bannon gave a vaguely affirmative answer, stating he didn’t want to make an announcement yet but that he would “definitely come to Sweden ... relatively soon.” But just hours after the interview was published, the secretary of the Sweden Democrats party denied that anyone in the party arranged or even had knowledge of Bannon’s trip and refused to say whether SD will welcome Bannon to Sweden.

    Though SD was born out of neo-Nazi circles in the late ‘80s, it has since attempted to enter the mainstream by distancing itself from the overt white nationalism of some of its past leaders. In 2006, the party changed its logo from the torch used by the U.K.’s fascist National Front to an innocuous blue and yellow flower. Now, Sweden Democrats is the nation’s most established right-wing party and boasts a thriving (if controversial) social media presence. But its polarizing message has pushed its supporters away from the party in recent months.

    Though SD was polling as the nation’s second-largest party last June, a December 2017 poll showed support for SD has dropped to its lowest level since 2015. In February, a local SD member was forced to resign after posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook. Just last week, the party suffered another self-inflicted wound when one of its members was sentenced for repeated domestic abuse.

    The recently created more extreme far-right party Alternative for Sweden (inspired by the German AfD) serves as an additional threat to SD. AfS hopes to curry favor with SD’s most extreme elements and has successfully recruited several SD parliamentarians in the past few months, including one who was expelled from SD for extremist ties.

    It’s a testament to Bannon’s toxicity that the Swedish party that perhaps most viably embodies Bannon’s ideology has denied any contact with him, seemingly in an attempt to protect its vulnerable credibility. SD’s Åkesson has admitted that in the past, his party has been its own worst enemy, a problem which Bannon might find hard to resist, probably because he can easily relate.

  • Seth Rich's family is suing Fox News in response to the network's inaccurate, harmful, and shameless reporting

    The network served as a national platform for a conspiracy theory about Rich’s death that is still being promoted nearly two years later

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The family of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich is suing Fox News for compensatory and punitive damages in response to the network’s “false and fabricated facts” that fueled ongoing conspiracy theories about his 2016 murder. The network never apologized for or explained its gross mishandling of the story.

    Almost immediately after Rich was killed in July 2016, a massive right-wing conspiracy theory was born. The baseless theory generally contended that Rich’s death was linked to the email hacking of the DNC that culminated during the last presidential campaign, and that he was the source of a set of 22,000 stolen DNC emails leaked by WikiLeaks. That theory and its offshoots spread across far-right circles on social media, in right-wing blogs, and on fake news and conspiracy theory websites.

    It eventually reached Fox News, when, on May 15, 2017, then-contributor Rod Wheeler told a Washington, D.C., Fox News affiliate that he had confirmed Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks. The claim was repeated in a FoxNews.com article on May 16. From there, the theory exploded in mainstream conservative media, including on Fox Business and the Fox News channel, where prime-time host and serial misinformer Sean Hannity obsessed over the case and became the conspiracy theory’s most visible national champion.

    Even after Fox News retracted its online story with a vague reference to editorial standards, and, in some cases, even after Rich’s family pleaded for outlets to stop politicizing their son’s death, Hannity and other Fox News personalities continued to push the theory.

    The lawsuit by Rich’s family mentions just some of the times that Fox News continued to push the conspiracy theory after the original story was retracted:

    Almost a year after the network promised an investigation into the matter, no explanation for the behavior has been given nor disciplinary actions taken, according to Newsweek. To this day, the Seth Rich conspiracy theories, which have been dismantled by many major news organizations, persist.

    Just this morning, Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec and leading Seth Rich conspiracy theorist Matt Couch both claimed they had been in touch with one of the defendants in the case. Couch, who dismissed the suit as “nonsensical,” is exploiting the lawsuit to solicit donations for his media group, which is purportedly conducting an “investigation” into his death.

    Now, nearly two years after Rich’s tragic death, his family is suing Fox News for damages because the network "aided and abetted the intentional infliction of emotional distress" and served as a national platform for a “sham story.” From a March 13 ABC News article:

    In the suit, which was obtained by ABC News, Rich's parents, Joel and Mary Rich, claim that Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman and Fox News commenter Ed Butowsky reached out to the family under false pretenses to support stories that Seth Rich leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

    The lawsuit claims that Fox News, Zimmerman and Butowsky are liable for the harm caused by the report because they "aided and abetted the intentional infliction of emotional distress" caused by the story about Seth Rich and alleges that Fox News provided with a national platform to develop what the lawsuit dubs a "sham story."

    The Rich family claims that the “defendants’ conduct was extreme and outrageous” in what they allege was a deliberate effort to portray Seth Rich as a “criminal and traitor to the United States.”

    “No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure. The pain and anguish that comes from seeing your murdered son’s life and legacy treated as a mere political football is beyond comprehension” Joel and Mary Rich said in a joint statement.

  • Major US newspapers ignored the role of fake news in Italy's high-stakes general election

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A far-right party and an anti-establishment party that controls a fake news network won in major upsets in Italy’s general election on March 4 and are now vying to form a majority government. But major U.S. newspapers, some of which had previously covered the threat of fake news in Italy, entirely ignored the likely role fake news played in the election’s outcome.

    Researchers in Italy noted the increasingly alarming role of fake news after Italy’s 2013 election. But the country began paying closer attention to the problem after BuzzFeed and Italian newspaper La Stampa exposed anti-establishment party 5-Star Movement’s foundational role in a network of blogs and social media accounts spreading fake news, conspiracy theories, and Russian propaganda. In November 2017, a year after its original report, BuzzFeed reported on another network spreading hyperpartisan misinformation on Facebook, this one run by “an entrepreneur in Rome with links to a secretive Italian Catholic association.” That same month, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi asked social media companies, particularly Facebook, to “help us have a clean electoral campaign. The quality of the democracy in Italy today depends on a response to these issues.” In January 2018, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations summarized the threat of fake news and Russian-backed misinformation in Italy (page 137 of the report) and called on the U.S. government to cooperate with Italy on addressing the issue.

    Despite warnings from the U.S. and Italian governments, investigative reporting from media outlets and, in the case of The New York Times and The Washington Post, major newspapers’ own reporting on the role of fake news in Italian elections, these papers failed to acknowledge the possible links between far-right misinformation campaigns and the March 4 election outcome that was aligned with their message.

    According to a Media Matters analysis of coverage on Italy’s election day and the following two days, major U.S. newspapers including the Post, the Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today engaged in zero significant discussions of the threat of fake news in the Italian election. Two passing mentions of “conspiracy theories” in the Times' op-ed section were the closest the outlet came to discussing the role of fake news.

    The failure of these major outlets to connect widely reported, far-right, election-oriented fake news to far-right electoral outcomes raises serious concerns over their ability to inform readers about the threat of fake news for democracies around the world.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters used Nexis to search for mentions of “Italy” and “election” in the print editions of The Washington Post, USA Today, and The New York Times on March 4 through March 6, 2018. We used Factiva for The Wall Street Journal. We searched the resulting 26 articles for mentions of “news,” “media,” “fake,” “misinformation,” “conspiracy,” and “Russia.”

  • Far-right activists are teaming up with white supremacists to exploit South African politics

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right activists and trolls have seized on proposals to expropriate land from South Africa’s white minority (including Dutch-descended “Afrikaners” and other people of European descent) to advance a myth of so-called white genocide. Meanwhile, they are conspicuously ignoring South Africa’s uniquely disturbing history of institutionalized racism and white supremacy.

    Lauren Southern and Katie Hopkins: Reporting on supposed white extinction because the mainstream media won’t

    Earlier this year, notoriously bigoted Rebel Media commentator Katie Hopkins and former Rebel Media far-right stuntwoman Lauren Southern announced separate but similar plans to travel to South Africa and report on crimes against white farmers. Their ulterior motive, a motive shared by white nationalists who have championed their projects, was to portray South Africa as a country disintegrating into warfare systematically perpetrated by “black extremists” aiming to eliminate the white minority.

    Katie Hopkins and Lauren Southern in Italy supporting a far-right campaign to disrupt refugee rescues in the Mediterranean

    Southern apparently arrived in the country sometime in early January, based on her appearance in a January 10 promotional video shot in South Africa, which promised “the most authentic news about this area, [which] is not being reported in the international press.” Trailing by about two weeks, Katie Hopkins announced on January 24 that she, too, was traveling to the country to expose the “truths that aren’t being told” by mainstream media about the supposed “ethnic cleansing of white farmers.” Their “reporting” took the form of sensationalistic, sometimes-graphic videos that they plan to turn into full-length documentaries. Southern claimed her documentary, “Farmlands,” will be the “world’s first comprehensive documentary on South Africa.” Hopkins is expecting her yet-unnamed documentary to be released this summer.  

    While Hopkins’ trip appears to be at least partially funded by The Rebel (she also asked for donations in her promotional video), Southern has relied on donations primarily through Patreon and PayPal. Patreon previously found Southern to be in violation of its terms of services, and PayPal has suspended the account of Defend Europe, a group whose attempt to disrupt migrant rescues in the Mediterranean she actively supported.

    South Africa: The far-right’s “flavor of the month”

    Rather than expose the supposed plight of white South Africans, Southern’s and Hopkins’ nationalist tourism does more to expose the fringe network of white supremacists and far-right trolls working in concert to advance a narrative of white victimhood. While the obsession with mythical white genocide in South Africa has long sustained the interest of white supremacists worldwide, interest in the topic among a younger generation of far-right online personalities is a newer phenomenon that people like Southern and Hopkins are clamoring to exploit. (Faith Goldy, also formerly employed by The Rebel, initially planned her own trip to South Africa in January but canceled it at the last minute as a result of “outside interference” and “a failure of guaranteed security.”)

    As others have written, there is little factual basis for the fear-provoking claims advanced by these activists’ videos, and tracking the incidence of farm murders isn’t actually their concern. These documentaries, which have been accurately described as “agitprop dressed up as a documentary,” are nothing more than attempts at self-promotion and bids for acceptance among the ranks of far-right trolls and white supremacist heavy hitters carrying a nostalgia for apartheid.

    Southern’s ties to white nationalist-affiliated Afrikaner activists

    For her documentary, Southern interviewed Simon Roche, the leader of civil defense force Suidlanders, which promises to protect South Africa’s white minority in what the group sees as an inevitable race war. (Roche has attended the white nationalist conference hosted by Jared Taylor’s racist American Renaissance think tank and plans to attend the group’s April 2018 conference.) Southern has also encouraged donations to Suidlanders, whose website predicts an “impending civil conflict” against South Africa’s white minority and features a viral anti-refugee video purporting to show Europe under siege. The page claims,“South Africa’s present is the west’s future if it continues down its current path.” The video has been debunked as deceptive xenophobic propaganda.

    A group of American Suidlanders supporters welcomed Roche for a six-month “awareness campaign” in the U.S. in 2017 (during which he also spoke with Mike Cernovich and Swedish white nationalist radio host Henrik Palmgren). In a speech to the group, Roche claimed his group is “at the heart” of a “global nationalist forum” planned for August 2018. In his interview with Palmgrem, Roche said he has been contacted by groups in countries around the world that are interested in Suidlanders’ work, naming Sweden in particular. And since his tour, Roche has appeared on Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory outlet InfoWars on at least three occasions, including as recently as last week.

    Another of Southern’s videos features Dan Roodt, the founder of a group that fights “for the rights of Afrikaners and other ... people of European descent in South Africa” and co-founder and former deputy leader of the National Front, a white separatist party in South Africa.

    Since her trip to South Africa, Southern has been invited to promote her race-baiting pseudo-documentary on the show of scientific racist and far-right vlogger Stefan Molyneux.

    Southern and Jonas Nilsson, a far-right Swedish political scientist appreciated by white nationalists

    In January 2018, Jonas Nilsson, a far-right Swedish “political scientist” and author of a “polemical pamphlet” about “how the West can regain control of its destiny,” interviewed Southern about her documentary in South Africa. Two weeks later, he published an interview with Roche in the form of a trailer for Nilsson’s documentary about South African murders (yes, Nilsson is also making a documentary). Nilsson has given interviews to far-right personalities, including Palmgren and American white nationalist YouTuber Bre Faucheux. His Patreon-crowdfunded film, which will premiere in Sweden in March, has been promoted by the violent Swedish neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement. Nilsson considers Marcus Follin, a Swedish nationalist vlogger slated to attend the April American Renaissance conference, “an old friend” and Follin has promoted Nilsson’s documentary on Twitter.

    Katie Hopkins’ videos: High on drama, low on information

    In contrast to Southern’s pseudo-documentary-style interviews and reports, Katie Hopkins’ videos about South Africa primarily take the form of on-screen reflection and acting by Hopkins herself, producing sometimes-bizarre results. In one video, she participates in an emergency drill featuring Afrikaner men dramatically shooting pistols into the distance while Hopkins is escorted into a getaway vehicle (the viewers find out it’s a drill at the end of the video). In another, standing outside in the dark for reasons never fully explained, Hopkins delivers an impassioned monologue about the white farmers’ “biblical” connection to their land and their willingness to “shed their blood” for it.

    That video also featured (but did not introduce) Chris van Zyl, assistant general manager of an Afrikaner agricultural union, and Ernst Roets, the deputy CEO of AfriForum, a group that advocates on behalf of South Africa’s “minorities” and has referred to apartheid as a "so-called historical injustice." Both men have been criticized for exaggerating the plight of South Africa’s white farmers. Fact-checking organization Africa Check has questioned the murder rates provided by van Zyl's and Roet's advocacy organizations because the rate is currently not "possible to calculate," called out BBC for using a claim cited by Roets that “grossly” overstated the number of “white squatter camps” in the country, and criticized Genocide Watch's credibility for its rating of South Africa on its "Ten Stages of Genocide" scale without "provid[ing] the sources or methodology" or "events in South Africa" used as evidence for the claim.

    In a February 6 video, Hopkins claimed she tried to meet with Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, whom she accused of “inciting hatred” against white farmers. In another video posted that same day, Hopkins reports that she was detained and her passport was “marked for spreading racial hatred.”

    Competing projects with the same goal

    It is perhaps unsurprising that, despite Hopkins’ and Southern’s slightly different approaches to South African “white genocide,” they made basically the same connections. Since Hopkins’ bizarre detention in the country, and her subsequent return, she has seized on Twitter updates from AfriForum national operation coordinator Marius Müller about farm murders and has begun tweeting directly at Roche’s Suidlanders. Meanwhile, Southern has tweeted a map of alleged farm murders, which seemingly drew its information from a database that far-right troll Nick Monroe created based on information from Müller, AfriForum head Ian Cameron, and other Afrikaner activists.

    It’s hard to see Hopkins’, Southern’s, and other far-right commentators’ burgeoning interest in South Africa as anything less than a cynical attempt to capitalize on a global movement of white supremacy, poorly disguised as independent journalism.

    UPDATE: Language in this piece has been clarified to reflect Africa Check's characterization of its fact-checks. 

  • How Alex Jones has pushed the “crisis actor” conspiracy theory about Parkland students

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is reportedly one strike away from being totally banned from YouTube for spreading the conspiracy theory that survivors of the Parkland, FL, school shooting were “crisis actors.” In response to the threat, Jones is attacking YouTube for supposed censorship and defending himself by contending that he never “called the students crisis actors.”

    However, Jones has been pushing conspiracy theories about the students since the shooting occurred, including saying that students speaking out against gun violence were paid or scripted. Jones repeatedly made comments over the past several weeks, up to and including his March 3 claim that they are “Democratic Party operatives” who have “been scripted for what they’re saying,” demonstrating his major role in spreading the conspiracy theory.

    Jones repeatedly suggested Parkland students were “scripted” and “funded” “Democratic Party operatives”

    Jones: Parkland students are “Democratic Party operatives” who have “been scripted for what they’re saying.”

    ALEX JONES (HOST): Last Friday, CNN said, we are lobbying YouTube to take down Alex Jones. He says no kids died in Florida. He said they’re all crisis actors. And then they banned videos where I was saying they’re not crisis actors. It’s a real shooting. They've just been Democratic Party operatives and been scripted for what they're saying, the four they chose for media coverage out of 3,000. That's all come out. [Infowars Censored, 3/3/18]

    Jones: The “anti-gun students” were “coached,” and the Democrats “admitted it.”

    ALEX JONES: We don’t believe crisis actors were there, and we believe the shooting really happened. But they’re banning all that. Our headline, “The Truth About Crisis Actors,” let’s work with YouTube. Let’s talk about, were the anti-gun students coached? Which is now come out and admitted. The Democrats now admitted it in BuzzFeed. They banned it. [Infowars Censored, 3/3/18]

    Jones:  Parkland survivors are “being funded, they’re being given scripts.”

    ALEX JONES (HOST): And, again, you saw how David Hogg, the number one individual picked out of the school of three thousand to now lead the national anti-gun movement funded by George Soros -- oh, guys, I left it in the podcast studio last night. BuzzFeed came out and admitted that the Democrats run the entire anti-gun children's movement -- young people movement, but said it was a great thing. While they ban our videos for saying it. We're saying they're being funded, they're being given scripts. Not that they're crisis actors, not that the shooting didn't happen.

    [...]

    This is the deep state's children, they're high school seniors, coming out, meeting with Democrats, meeting with Bernie Sanders, meeting with everybody, and saying, "We are going to abolish the Second Amendment." So that's where we're at here. And the levels of lies are so intense. [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 2/28/18]

    Jones: There’s a “cover-up going on” with Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg regarding his involvement with his school’s drama department and his father’s former position in the FBI.

    MILO YIANNOPOULOS: You have been digging deep into the Florida crisis situation. I think what most people are interested in is internet ablaze with rumors that there’s something off about these kids. There’s something off about the reporting in general.

    [...]

    ALEX JONES: There's so much evidence that it gives me a headache. And I think you just alluded to the beginning of it. What we do know is there's a cover-up going on. They are pulling videos of this young man, a David Hogg, whose father is an FBI agent, whose mother is a big Democrat and big anti-gun person, who is an anti-gun activist and has been in a bunch of anti-gun videos and reports already. They are pulling these videos everywhere and pulling videos, off Facebook, Instagram, you name it, from their own sites of him in some type of CNN visit, internship, VIP thing. Then they're pulling photos of them in the drama department with the other three students. So, A, there's a cover-up going on. B, when you pull back from this, they are demonizing anyone that even asks questions. [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 2/21/18]

    Jones: The Parkland shooting was “the perfect false flag.”

    ALEX JONES (HOST): Wow, we said the perfect false flag would be a white nationalist attacking a multicultural school as a way to make the leftists all look like victims and bring in gun control and a war on America’s recovery and now right on time what we’ve been warning of, their main card, the thing we said was imminent, appears with all the evidence. [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 2/15/18]

    CNN: The Alex Jones YouTube Channel “received one strike” for a video called “David Hogg Can’t Remember His Lines In TV Interview.”

    InfoWars, a far-right media organization run by Alex Jones and known for peddling unfounded conspiracy theories, is on thin ice with YouTube after it posted a video that portrayed the survivors of the Parkland school shooting as actors.

    The Alex Jones Channel, Infowar's (sic) biggest YouTube account, received one strike for that video, a source with knowledge of the account told CNN. YouTube's community guidelines say if an account receives three strikes in three months, the account is terminated.

    That video focused on David Hogg, a strong voice among survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The attention has given him a powerful platform -- but it has also made him the subject of demonstrably false conspiracy theories that claim he's so skilled as a public speaker that he must be a paid actor.

    On Wednesday, YouTube removed the video from InfoWars' page for violating its policies on harassment and bullying. The video was titled, "David Hogg Can't Remember His Lines In TV Interview." [CNN, 2/23/18]

    BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel: Jones posted a YouTube video “suggesting that the students have ulterior motives” and stressing “that Hogg and his peers are ‘drama’ kids and all very interested in journalism.”

    According to a CNN report, Jones' Infowars channel earned its first strike after posting a video with the title "David Hogg Can't Remember His Lines In TV Interview," suggesting Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg was a crisis actor. The second strike came from a similar Parkland video. So far, it feels consistent. So for fun, I took a cursory glance at Jones’ Infowars account on Wednesday. Took about 90 seconds to find this:

    The video — while it doesn’t explicitly say Hogg and other students are crisis actors — digs through old photos of Hogg. I paused the video with closed captioning to show here where Jones stresses that Hogg and his peers are “drama” kids and all very interested in journalism, suggesting that the students have ulterior motives.

    One interpretation of this is that YouTube is being very careful and diligent. It’s sticking only to extreme forms of harassment when it comes to assigning strikes (a wide strike zone, so to speak). Another interpretation is that YouTube doesn’t want to deal with the fallout from banning Jones, and is allowing America’s best known conspiracy theorist to impugn the motives of child shooting survivors because of a few syntax technicalities. [Infowarzel newsletter, 3/4/18]

    Infowars.com: Hogg "denies being a crisis actor," but his “credibility was thrown into question” because he did an interview with CBS six months before the shooting.

    Hogg’s credibility was thrown into question after a video surfaced of him giving an interview with CBS six months ago on a story unrelated to last week’s school shooting.

    The student, who works at the school paper, also interviewed school shooting survivors hiding in a closet as the massacre was unfolding at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. [Infowars.com, 2/21/18]

  • Leaked Discord footage shows how far-right trolls game YouTube's algorithms

    Far-right trolls use Discord to organize and launch harassment campaigns against their political opponents

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right German trolls are organizing to game YouTube algorithms into making far-right video content trend and orchestrate harassment campaigns against political opponents, as evidenced by leaked online communications from the chat platform Discord. Though Discord -- a voice chat app originally designed for gaming -- has promised to do a better job in curtailing extremism within its servers (or chat rooms), YouTube’s Trending problem seems to have only gotten worse.

    In September 2017, a far-right German YouTuber Reconquista Germanica, whose real name is Nikolai Alexander, invited his 33,000 subscribers to join a Discord server by the same name. As BuzzFeed found, far-right trolls used it to communicate their attempts to bolster support for Germany’s far-right part in the upcoming elections. But the attempt was largely a flop. Now, the group is targeting YouTube, probably because it sees YouTube’s algorithm as an easy target.

    In clips of an audio chat from Discord published by the Alt-Right Leaks Twitter account, members can be heard discussing the use of fake accounts or “sock accounts” (also known as “sock puppets”) numbering in the hundreds to “raid” YouTube videos by commenting on those they seek to popularize and by using the “dislike” button to bury those of their political opponents. Members of the Discord server have also used the chat platform to organize harassment against German freelance journalist Rayk Anders.

    In one leak, a member explained how he decided to join the group after reading Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical book, Mein Kampf. In another, members joked about whether a surgeon’s assistant among their ranks should let political opponents -- including German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- whom he is forced to treat, die in surgery.

    The far-right ideologies expressed in these chat rooms do not exist in a vacuum. They are representative of a wider network of European extremists. In at least one video, prominent Scottish white supremacist Colin Robertson (who is known online as Millennial Woes) can be heard asking questions about the activities of the Reconquista Germanica Discord server. (Robertson is slated to attend an alt-right conference in Estonia on February 23.). And Alt Right Leaks has also previously published translated audio clips from the German Alt-Right Discord, of which Austrian Identitarian Martin Sellner is “a ‘VIP’ member.” Sellner gained international infamy last year after his anti-immigrant group Defend Europe attempted to disrupt humanitarian migrant rescues in the Mediterranean.

    Discord has become a popular platform among the “alt-right.” Last August, after white supremacists used the platform to plan events for the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, that left one woman dead, Discord shut down the “alt-right” server and promised to remain vigilant about the use of its platform for nefarious purposes. However, the continued use of Discord by “alt-right” groups -- in this case German far-right activists -- for organizing shows the platform still has a long way to go in preventing its service from being exploited for global information warfare and organization of harassment campaigns. Earlier this month, Discord claimed it is addressing the use of its platform to organize algorithm manipulation “raids” in a statement to non-profit news site Unicorn Riot:

    We are aware that there are users who are attempting to organize raids and circumvent detection, which is against our Terms of Service. We employ a variety of measures to detect this activity and stop this behavior, and those measures resulted in the server being detected and shut down. We will continue to be aggressive in addressing violations to our TOS and investigating and taking immediate action against those bad actors.

    For its part, YouTube is seemingly ineffective in dealing with the exploitation of its vulnerabilities, partly because those vulnerabilities are baked in YouTube’s “democratic” model: the platform’s “trending” mechanism is determined by an algorithm that does not account for the accuracy of a video’s content or or whether it is intended as harassment. Those vulnerabilities were most recently exploited when a conspiracy theory claiming one of the survivors of the Parkland, FL, high school shooting was a “crisis actor” was boosted into YouTube’s trending category overnight, despite its demonstrably false content and clear intent to harass a student speaking out about gun violence.

    Google -- which bought YouTube in 2006 -- -- did not respond to Unicorn Riot’s request for comment on Reconquista Germanica’s activities.

  • Pamela Geller's anti-migrant video is a hoax. There's even a complete film crew in the shot.

    Geller was purporting to show anti-police violence by migrants in Italy, but the video was debunked in 2014

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: Geller removed the video from her YouTube channel and website, but doubled down on her claim of “Muslim migrant violence” in an update:

    "Left-wing propaganda sites and Muslim supremacist terror-tied orgs have taken issue with one of the videos I previously ran saying it wasn’t real. The fact is there are thousands of videos exposing Muslim migrant violence and destruction that elicit no response from the enemedia. Left-wing propaganda sites and Muslim supremacist terror-tied orgs continue to ignore those videos and the widespread horror these migrants have wrought on the countries they’ve invaded."

    Notorious anti-Muslim commentator Pamela Geller uploaded and shared an obviously staged video framing migrants in Italy as anti-police vandalizers in the context of Italy’s highly contested general election.

    On February 11, Pamela Geller’s “Morning News Report” newsletter featured a YouTube video titled “Migrants in Italy” which was uploaded on February 7 to Geller’s YouTube channel, and shared on her personal website. The video shows people (who are actors) vandalizing an Italian police car with bats and sticks. Geller presented the video as real without verifying its authenticity in a shameless attempt to smear migrant men.

    The video, in reality, is an amateur recording of an Italian film shooting. The drama Mediterranea chronicles two friends from Burkina Faso who experience hostility after immigrating to Italy. The allegation that the video depicts Italian migrants engaged in a criminal act has been debunked since as early as 2014, by Italian, French, and German language websites. (A directional microphone and light-diffusion panel are also visible in the frame, though Geller seemed not to have noticed them.) As of this writing, the video has over 5,000 views.

    Pamela Geller is the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible figurehead. Her recent shameless promotion of blatant xenophobic misinformation comes weeks before Italy’s general election in March which is being widely considered a referendum on immigration. After an Italian neo-fascist shot six immigrants in central Italy last week, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called for Italy’s 600,000 undocumented immigrants to be deported, calling them a “social bomb ready to explode.” Berlusconi’s coalition of anti-immigrant parties has a real chance of winning in the March election.

    In addition to spreading anti-immigrant bigotry, Geller is currently crusading against social media companies. In what has been described as one of “the dumbest lawsuits" ever, Geller sued the Department of Justice for social media companies’ “censorship” of her anti-Muslim rhetoric online. Though her meritless case was dismissed, Geller is now taking her so-called censorship stunts to far-right media platforms, like on the show of former Breitbart technology editor and white supremacist sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos. During her appearance as a guest on Yiannopoulos' podcast on February 11, Geller condemned what she claimed is the censorship of conservative views on social media.

    And, just last week, Geller appeared on a “social media neutrality” panel convened by right-wing trolls and conspiracy theorists who blamed social media censorship for their declining traffic rates. Despite using social media to spread obvious misinformation and hateful speech, Geller accused media of removing content critical of Islam because Sharia law, according to her, mandates that Islam not be criticized.

    Geller’s promotion of an obviously staged video is just the latest example of her exploitation of YouTube’s "radical free speech experiment" to spread racist misinformation in a bid for self-promotion, but this time, amid concerns in Italy about election-related fake news and rising anti-immigrant sentiment, her stunts could have larger consequences. 

  • Fox & Friends didn't discuss Trump aide Rob Porter's history of reported domestic abuse but mentioned Obama 18 times

    Fox News' evening shows also virtually ignored the allegations against Porter

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Fox & Friends didn't mention that a top White House aide has abruptly resigned amid allegations of physical domestic abuse, but found time to attack former President Barack Obama by name about various pseudo-scandals at length.

    Rob Porter, a top White House aide with direct access to President Donald Trump, resigned abruptly on February 7 amid allegations of years of domestic abuse, including physical violence, from two ex-wives. After the allegations were first reported by the Daily Mail, CNN interviewed both women, who detailed years of physical and emotional abuse in their respective marriages over a ten-year period, including punching, choking, and throwing fits of rage.

    White House chief of staff John Kelly initially released a statement of support for Porter, calling him “a man of true integrity and honor” (in a new statement, he condemned the abuse); shortly after, media began reporting that Kelly had prior knowledge of the abuse allegations, which were part of why Porter was denied his FBI security clearance. Since the story broke, a third, unnamed woman who currently works in the federal government and previously dated Porter has said she suffered "repeated abuse" by him as recently as 2016. Though he has resigned, Porter denied all allegations, calling them "outrageous" and "simply false."

    From the time the story broke on Wednesday through 9 a.m. Thursday, Fox mentioned Porter’s name ten times over four shows (seven of the mentions occurred in just two reports). Fox first covered the allegations only after White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was pressed on the allegations in the February 7 White House briefing. Fox’s prime-time shows did not mention Porter at all aside from a brief report on the 6 p.m. hour. Fox & Friends the following morning also didn't mention Porter.

    While Fox & Friends didn’t find time to report on the resignation of a top aide close to Trump stemming from domestic abuse allegations, the show hosts did mention former President Barack Obama by name 18 times in relation to various contrived scandals, including Uranium One and the private text messages of two FBI employees.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of "Porter" on Fox News between February 6 and February 9, 2018 and "Obama" on the February 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends. Pronouns "he," "his," and "him" were excluded. Mentions of Porter by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders during the live airing of the press briefing were also excluded.

  • Sebastian Gorka was hired by a far-right media outlet. He still works for Fox News.

    Gorka is a conspiratorial bigot and frequent Hannity guest

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Sebastian Gorka, former Trump aide, recently-hired Fox News strategist, and frequent Hannity guest, has been hired by Canadian far-right media outlet Rebel media. Gorka is just the latest bigoted commentator to be hired by a network equally known for its hateful anti-Muslim commentary and sympathy for white supremacists. He’s also still employed by Fox News.

    On February 1, Rebel media promoted the first episode of Gorka’s new and recurring segment for the network, “The Gorka Briefing.” In the video, Gorka claimed to “untangle” various narratives about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, something he does regularly as a guest on Fox News. Just last night, Gorka appeared on Fox show Hannity, and helped host Sean Hannity further his long-standing campaign against the validity of the Russia probe when he accused former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia and the media of advancing a “false” narrative about the issue. Since August 2017, Gorka has appeared on Hannity 46 times, making him one of Hannity’s three most frequent guests, according to a Media Matters analysis.

    Gorka also briefly advised pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Coalition after he left the White House and, as The Daily Beast reported last night, was paid $40,000 for his work. The MAGA Coalition is a political group founded by “right-wing conspiracy theorists,” and was engaged in spreading the almost deadly “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that falsely accused members of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign of being part of a pedophilia ring operating out of a pizza parlor.

    Aside from Gorka’s penchant for conspiracy theories, he boasts a long history of bigoted and incendiary rhetoric, aimed at Muslims in particular, and has apparent ties to a Hungarian Nazi-allied group called Vitézi Rend. He was also reportedly fired from the FBI for his “over-the-top Islamophobic rhetoric” and was apparently ousted from his role in the Trump administration for partly the same reason.

    With his extreme anti-Muslim views and reported ties to a Nazi-allied group, Gorka may be a perfect match for Rebel media, an outlet that once employed someone who published a “satirical video” titled “Ten Things I Hate About Jews.” After the Canadian outlet lost several other high-profile contributors in the wake of its sympathetic coverage of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, it is now seeking to re-establish its brand and further expand its global platform of anti-Muslim ideology.

    In addition to hiring Gorka, the outlet recently hired former Daily Mail columnist turned far-right agitator Katie Hopkins. Most recently, Hopkins was apparently banned from South Africa for fomenting racial hatred while in the country reporting for The Rebel. But she is perhaps best known for her shameless anti-Muslim rhetoric. Hopkins once called for the use of “gunships to stop migrants,” actively supported a mission to disrupt humanitarian rescues of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, and floated the idea on Fox News of putting Muslims in internment camps in the wake of the Manchester terror attack.

    Rebel media is also slated to hire extreme “Muslim reform” activist Raheel Raza, who has cheered Trump’s Muslim ban, is affiliated with SPLC-designated anti-Muslim hate groups ACT for America and The Clarion Project, and serves as a senior fellow for The Gatestone Institute, whose founder is a major funder of anti-Muslim activism.

    Despite Gorka’s long history of bigotry and, now, open affiliation with a far-right outlet, one of America’s top cable networks still considers him a trusted "strategist." Gorka’s joint employment is just the latest evidence that Fox News has no interest in distancing itself from the network’s most extreme voices.