"Trash," "Scum," And "Spy": How The “Alt-Right”/Fake News Ecosystem Targets And Smears People They Think Are Muslim
Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN
A misinformation ecosystem made up of “alt-right”-connected outlets and forums and websites that spread fake news is repeatedly smearing and attacking people they believe are Muslims or of Middle Eastern descent. Not only have these sites and forums suggested that such people are destroying Western countries and are inherently violent, but they have also targeted specific people, yielding threats and harassment, potential economic harm, and harm to careers.
One of the biggest smears this loose network has pushed is a persistent questioning of the loyalty of Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent, with outlets often suggesting that they are treasonous or spies. “Alt-right” outlet Breitbart repeatedly smeared a State Department staffer named Sahar Nowrouzzadeh as someone working on behalf of an Iran lobbying group. Fake news purveyors used the misleading smear, which reportedly played a role in Nowrouzzadeh's unwanted job reassignment, to call her “an Iranian agent,” a “Muslim spy,” “treasonous scum,” “an operative for the Iranian government,” and part of a supposed “Muslim infiltration of our government.” The ecosystem also recently targeted Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota state legislator, after she voted against a bill regarding insurance payments and the family of terrorists, claiming that she was “voting in favor of terrorists,” that her vote was “a troubling sign of a dangerous loyalty," and that she was a “piece of trash” who “does not care about the safety of our citizens.” Another figure, Women’s March activist Linda Sarsour, was falsely attacked by these groups for “sending” a “signal to ISIS" and labeled a “terrorist sympathizer.” Sarsour was subsequently harassed on Twitter.
In conjunction with personal attacks, those attacked by fake news purveyors and the “alt-right” are often accused of trying to promote or impose Sharia law. Many right-wing media figures and anti-Muslim bigots have evoked Sharia law, claiming that it is being pushed by Muslims in America to overtake the United States system of government. Fringe blog The Gateway Pundit accused Sarsour of being “pro-Sharia law with ties to Hamas,” and fake news purveyors claimed she “wants Sharia law in America.” In another instance, former National Security Council staffer Rumana Ahmed was targeted by this ecosystem after she wrote a critical piece about President Donald Trump in The Atlantic. “Alt-right” forums such as certain sections of Reddit and fake news purveyors also accused her of “believ[ing] in sharia law,” along with being a “spy” for someone who once served as an aide to former President Barack Obama.
Fake news purveyors and "alt-right" figures have also gone after companies and figures who have been supportive of Muslim refugees, falsely linking them to disease and assault. Following an assault of a young girl in Twin Falls, ID, fringe outlets such as Breitbart, various web forums, and fake news purveyors targeted Greek yogurt company Chobani and its founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant, falsely connecting them to the assault and to an increase of tuberculosis in the area. One fake news purveyor alleged that officials ignored the assault because of “a Muslim” who “makes Chobani yogurt in the Twin Cities and who has a hankering for bringing in hundreds of these barbarians as worker bees.” The company and its founder subsequently faced death threats.