The right-wing media has conjured a story out of thin air claiming that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito had fled his house to an undisclosed location due to supposed threats from pro-choice protesters. Alito is the author of the recently leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.
It’s possible that Alito and his family did in fact leave their house, but none of the outlets purporting this have provided any actual evidence to support that claim. Instead, the stories have been entirely sourced to “a rumor” repeated by disgraced libertarian pundit Ilya Shapiro, who now says he doesn’t know where he got the information. (Shapiro was recently placed on leave from Georgetown Law after posting racist tweets about President Joe Biden’s decision to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.)
“I heard a rumor that Justice Alito and his family have been taken to an undisclosed location,” Shapiro said in an interview on WMAL on Thursday, which he then repeated on Fox News.
But when asked on Monday where he’d heard the information, Shapiro dodged, telling Politico, “I don’t have any non-public sources,” and adding,“I forget whether I saw the rumor on Twitter or somebody told me. I don’t know.”
That resounding claim of authority was the basis for right-wing media’s latest ginned-up micro-scandal.
Breitbart wrote that Alito was forced to flee “after leftwing radicals attempting to intimidate conservative justices for considering overruling Roe v. Wade,” citing “Reports” in the headline and “rumors around D.C.” as the source for the information in the body of the story and linking to both Shapiro interviews. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted on Twitter that Breitbart softened its headline, which was originally unqualified, and changed the source from “reports around D.C.” to “rumors” after publication. The post does not include any note of an update or a correction as of publication.
A viral tweet from anti-abortion activist Kristan Hawkins further spread the rumor. Despite adding neither new information nor confirming the existing story, the tweet garnered more than 4,000 retweets and over 27,000 likes.
Far-right website Townhall included that tweet, as well as Breitbart’s story, in its write-up, which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) retweeted on Sunday. A former high-ranking Republican spokesperson retweeted the Townhall piece as well, adding that “if Sonia Sotomayor had to pack up her family and leave her home for safety because conservatives didn’t like an opinion, it would get January 6th level coverage.” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) followed suit, and tweeted the story on Monday. Townhall also linked to a post from the far-right site The Western Journal as further evidence, but that story was based entirely on Shapiro’s initial WMAL interview.
The story has since been picked up by Infowars, Hotair, and other right-wing figures and outlets. Anti-abortion activists Carrie Severino and Christine Yeargin repeated the rumor on Twitter, with Severino citing unspecified “reports” and Yeargin not citing any source.
Politico noted that Alito had canceled a previously scheduled appearance at a legal conference in Nashville, and instead had submitted a video. The development “could suggest there was an abrupt change in Alito's plans,” Politico wrote, although the story remained “unconfirmed.”
Protesters gathered outside Alito’s house on Monday evening, following earlier demonstrations outside the houses of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh over the weekend. Politico reported it was not clear if Alito was in his house at the time.
Justice Alito and his family might be at home. They might not be. Either way, Ilya Shapiro doesn’t know – but that hasn’t stopped the right-wing media from spreading rumors and innuendo to discredit abortion rights activists.