It Wasn't Just Alex Jones -- Smears Against Chobani Were Also Driven By Fake News And The “Alt-Right”
How Smears Against A Yogurt Company Illustrate The Connection Between Fake News And The “Alt-Right”
Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN
A Greek yogurt company has filed a lawsuit against a prominent fringe conspiracy outlet influential among the "alt-right" and its founder for baselessly connecting the company and its owner to an assault on a young girl in Idaho and to the spread of tuberculosis in that area. While the lawsuit specifically targets the one outlet, the smears were also propagated by others in the increasingly close ecosystem of fake news and the “alt-right.”
In June 2016, reports emerged claiming that Syrian refugees “gang-raped a child at knife-point” in a Twin Falls, Idaho, apartment, according to the Idaho Statesman. A country prosecutor corrected the reports, saying that although, as the newspaper put it, “an incident did occur,” the refugees were not Syrian, there was no knife, and there was no gang rape. The paper said that according to officials, two boys were “charged after authorities obtained video shot on a cellphone” of the assault. Ultimately, three boys -- a 7-year-old from Iraq and 10- and 14-year-old brothers from Eritrea -- pleaded guilty in early April to felony charges for assaulting a 5-year-old girl.
On April 24, the yogurt company Chobani filed a lawsuit against fringe conspiracy outlet Infowars and its founder Alex Jones for defamation. The Idaho Statesman described the suit as saying that Jones used his outlet to repeatedly push “false information linking Chobani, owner Hamdi Ulukaya,” and his Twin Falls, ID, plant -- which employs a number of refugees -- to that assault. The New York Times reported that according to the prosecutor in that case, “the assault case had nothing to do with Chobani.” The lawsuit from Chobani stated that Infowars pushed videos and articles that falsely connected the company to the assault incident and to tuberculosis in the area.
Infowars has repeatedly launched attacks against the yogurt company. In June, the outlet republished a piece from “alt-right” outlet Breitbart connecting Chobani to the incident. In August and September, the website ramped up its attacks on Chobani, connecting the company to “a 500% increase in tuberculosis and two high profile refugee rape cases in the last two months, including the gang rape of a 5 year old girl.” (As The Daily Beast noted, the supposed connections are baseless.)
The outlet has continued to hype a connection between the company and the assault as recently as this month. An April 11 YouTube video specifically cited in the lawsuit was titled "[Mainstream Media] Covers For Globalist's Refugee Import Program After Child Rape Case.” An Infowars Twitter account subsequently tweeted out the site’s video, saying, “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists.”
In response to the lawsuit, Jones doubled down on his claims, suggesting that the “information” Infowars reported was “part of the public record,” and that billionaire George Soros, with his “Islamacist-owned and backed U.S. company,” was behind the lawsuit. Jones was not wrong that he was not alone in his attack on Chobani. The smear that Jones adopted and amplified had already been pushed by others in the fringe and by purveyors of fake news.
Breitbart in late August had suggested Chobani was linked to the assault, writing that the assault “led to a look at the wider conditions that led to refugee resettlement in the state of Idaho, a situation connected to the drive for cheap labor by the local food processing industry that Chobani is a major part of.” The website also pushed the baseless insinuation that an increase of tuberculosis cases in the area was due to Chobani, writing that the number of tuberculosis cases in Twin Falls “jumped 500 percent between 2011 and 2012,” the year “Chobani opened the world’s largest yogurt factory.” Fringe outlet WorldNetDaily (WND) also attempted to link the assualt to Chobani, noting in April that the family of the assaulted girl “is still considering filing a civil suit against the families of the assailants, as well as refugee boys and possibly against the College of Southern Idaho, which places refugees from several Third World countries into the Twin Falls area. Many of them work at Chobani.”
Fake news purveyors also pushed these claims, with Before It’s News suggesting the assault was “not getting the attention it deserves” because of “someone … who happens to be a Muslim, makes Chobani yogurt in the Twin Cities and who has a hankering for bringing in hundreds of these barbarians as worker bees.” The Angry Patriot wrote that Chobani's “headquarters in Twin Falls, Idaho has endured some problematic assimilation challenges because of Ulukaya’s globalist agenda,” noting the assault that took place. Other fake news purveyors also suggested a connection.
Chobani has long been a target for “alt-right” media and outlets that push fake news. Fake news purveyor Freedom Daily republished a piece from Breitbart contributor Pam Geller in January 2016 that accused Ulukaya of “stealth jihad” because he encouraged more people to hire refugees. Fake news purveyor Before It’s News republished a January 2016 WND piece that originally attacked Ulukaya as “call[ing] on [the] biggest American companies to join [an] Islamic surge.”
Anonymous “alt-right” forums, such as on 4chan and Reddit, were also complicit in pushing these claims. One such post stated, “Twin Falls Refugee Rape Special Report: Why Are The Refugees Moving In? - Breitbart CHOBANI YOGURT is owned by Turkish muslim.”
This is not the first time Infowars has gotten into legal trouble for spreading conspiracy theories. Jones was forced to apologize for pushing the fake news conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate,” which claimed that a Washington, D.C., restaurant named Comet Ping Pong was helping Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign traffic children, in order to avoid a lawsuit from that pizzeria.
The Chobani case also highlights fringe and fake news purveyors’ ongoing campaign of anti-Muslim fearmongering. In the last few months, these outlets have targeted activist Linda Sarsour, smearing her as a terrorist who supports Sharia law, and former National Security Council staffer Rumana Ahmed, baselessly accusing her of being a spy.
The smears on Chobani are emblematic of the misinformation ecosystem that features fake news propagators and “alt-right” outlets and forums. This network spreads lies and innuendo that harms people, spurs harassment, and contributes to potential economic losses. Just ask Chobani and its founder.