Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson tells Hannity that Hillary Clinton and Christopher Steele are controlled by the Devil
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Trial proceedings against the accused Finsbury Park attacker reveal he was motivated by the anti-Muslim commentary of extremist Tommy Robinson
Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
During the early morning of June 19, 2017, a man drove a 3.5 ton van into a crowd in Finsbury Park, London. The attacker targeted worshippers leaving the nearby Muslim Welfare House mosque after finishing evening prayers. One man was killed and 10 others were injured. The driver of the van reportedly shouted that he wanted to "kill all Muslims" before being arrested.
As the first details of the attack emerged, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was hosting a special edition live broadcast of his show to coincide with the airing of Megyn Kelly’s controversial interview of Jones for her short-lived Sunday night NBC show. Guest co-host Mike Cernovich first mentioned the incident, saying, “Looks like some kind of van attack in London, so there might be more breaking news.” Jones responded sarcastically saying, “Well, that’s not Muslims. Muslims never do anything wrong.”
Moments later Cernovich returned to the attack saying, “Breaking news: Man arrested after van plows into people outside of a London mosque.” Jones again reacted sarcastically, saying, “But it has nothing to do with Islam, right, Cernovich?” and said, “Then they say we’re anti-Islam. Yeah, I’m anti-Stone Age insanity, women wearing beekeeper suits.” Cernovich and Jones then went on an anti-Muslim diatribe that included Jones commenting that “Muslims are allowed to rape because it’s their culture, but then if a woman gets drunk and has sex, oh you date-raped her.”
The driver of the van, Darren Osborne, is now on trial. Proceedings have indicated that Osborne was radicalized in a matter of weeks as he became obsessed with the commentary of Tommy Robinson, a former leader of the violent anti-Muslim hate group English Defence League, Rebel Media employee, and frequent guest of Alex Jones.
According to English law enforcement, Osborne “became radicalised in just three to four weeks, as evidence from devices he used show him reading posts by the former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, far-right group Britain First and other extremists.” Osborne’s partner testified that Osborne was “brainwashed” by Robinson and others and said, “Darren has been watching a lot of Tommy Robinson stuff on the internet. I have pleaded with Darren to stop watching this sort of thing, but he just wouldn’t stop.”
The Independent reported that Osborne began consuming anti-Muslim material in the weeks before the attack from a variety of sources before zeroing in on Robinson and joining his email list. According to the Independent, “After picking up the van, Osborne started an intense bout of online activity, repeatedly searching Mr Robinson’s name and viewing his tweets alongside derogatory articles on Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn for more than two hours.” During testimony at the trial, Osborne admitted that he hoped to kill Khan, London’s mayor, and Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party.
Robinson is a frequent guest and topic of conversation on Jones’ program. In fact, hours after the attack, on June 19, 2017, Jones hosted Infowars Editor-at-Large Paul Joseph Watson and the two downplayed the attack and offered a preemptive defense of Robinson. Watson predicted that “leftists” would probably “go after” Robinson in reaction to the attack. Jones said, “We should get Tommy Robinson on. He’s never done anything violent, he’s done nothing wrong.” (While Robinson was criticized in the wake of the attack, the fact that the attacker was an avid consumer of his commentary wasn’t reported until January 2018.)
According to a search of Jones’ YouTube channel, in the past several years, Robinson has made frequent remote appearances on Jones show -- he has previously been refused entry to the U.S. -- to spread anti-Muslim hate. Robinson was on Jones’ show as recently as February 7, where he and Jones smeared Muslims as massively inbred.
Jones’ channel has promoted Robinson's appearances with titles like “Tommy Robinson’s Desperate Emergency Warning of Impending Islamic Takeover” and “Tommy Robinson: After Manchester Bombing, Muslims Claim They Have Nothing To Be Sorry For.”
During the intro of a video with the title “If The UK Continues To Fail Its Citizens English Men Will Take The Law Into Their Own Hands,” Robinson encouraged people to act extrajudicially against what he saw as the threat of Muslims, saying, “The situation in France -- I think England will be different. I can see a point when English men are going to react, and react en masse. I’d say by the phone calls I’ve been receiving all week that they’re pushing the point closer all ready. I don’t see any -- we have no -- there is no reasonable solution to this. … So to get through this and to bring the change we need there’s going to be chaos either way.” That video was posted on June 6, 2017 -- 13 days before the Finsbury Park attack.
Gorka is a conspiratorial bigot and frequent Hannity guest
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.
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A year ago today, President Donald Trump signed the first iteration of the Muslim ban, restricting travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. Since then, the executive order, which was a core Trump campaign promise, has faced powerful legal challenges, implementation roadblocks and forced revisions -- yet, parts of it still remain intact. Just as important, the ban has become one of the clearest windows into the challenges and harms the Muslim community faces in the era of Trump.
With more news coverage being devoted to American Muslims’ diverse experiences with Trump in the White House, it is important for journalists and media outlets to avoid aiding and abetting anti-Muslim extremism in the year ahead. Here are five do’s and don’ts for media outlets to consider:
When Trump first called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” as a presidential candidate, he cited a flawed poll from the anti-Muslim Center for Security Policy (CSP) as justification for its implementation. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated CSP a “hate group” for being a prominent “conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.” From the moment Trump enshrined this campaign promise into an executive order on January 27, 2017, white nationalists and neo-Nazis threw their unwavering support behind the discriminatory policy. And as it faced myriad legal challenges, Trump surrogates and anti-Muslim commentators attempted to sweep the ban’s original intent under the rug, framing it as nothing more than a national security precaution -- not a ban targeting Muslims. This year, the Supreme Court will decide the legality of the third iteration of Trump’s ban. It is imperative that media highlight its hateful origins and the extremism of the groups and activists mobilizing to keep it alive.
As anti-Muslim extremists have found more political legitimacy under this administration (even finding positions directly in the administration), major outlets -- especially Trump’s go-to network, Fox News -- have given them a platform to discuss Trump’s latest policies and rhetoric targeting Muslims. Too often, viewers and readers are not informed of these talkers’ backgrounds of extremism or hate group affiliations. Extremists exploit this lack of disclosure by casting themselves as legitimate talking heads and experts in the fields of national security and immigration. Some media outlets tend to reinforce this by couching their coverage and discussions about Muslims largely in the context of immigration and terrorism, which fuels Trump’s narrative -- and that of anti-Muslim groups -- that Islam is foreign and “other” and the Muslim community poses a threat to national security. As Media Matters and Southern Poverty Law Center note in this journalist’s guide to anti-Muslim extremists, reporters and media outlets are better off seeking other sources. But when they are covering these extremists’ activities, it is imperative that they alert their viewers and readers to their hate-based rhetoric and policy positions.
While anti-Muslim groups and personalities have enjoyed more media attention, some major outlets have largely failed to turn to Muslim leaders in real time to discuss Trump’s latest anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric. For example, immediately after the administration revealed the first two iterations of the ban, the vast majority of guests brought onto CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News’ prime-time shows to discuss the news were not Muslim. With that lack of inclusion, discussions of the ban on these networks largely revolved around the political and logistical consequences of the executive order -- not its real-life impact on the people affected. It is essential for reporters and outlets to turn to more leaders and experts in the community to inform their reporting.
Additionally, it is important for journalists and outlets to highlight the tangible and personal consequences of Trump’s anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric. As Muslim Advocates’ special counsel Madihha Ahussain noted on a recent press call with Media Matters and Southern Poverty Law Center, “Whether it has been Muslims walking on the street being called names and threatened with violence, Muslim women wearing headscarves being physically attacked, Muslim children in schools being bullied, or mosques around the country being vandalized, it seems and feels as though no aspect of the community has been spared from the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and violence over the last year.” Sure enough, in 2016, there was a 20 percent increase in reported anti-Muslim hate crimes. In the first half of 2017, there was a "91 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes ... as compared to the same time period in 2016." And in 2017, there was an average of nine mosque attacks per month from January through August, according to a CNN analysis.
Anti-Muslim extremists count on the media to cover their talking points and activities as supposedly credible counterpoints to actual experts. In response to the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, too many media outlets have introduced false balance in their reporting and commentary, pitting pro-Trump extremists against Muslim advocates and experts. When Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos in November 2017 that were posted by an ultranationalist British leader, CNN, for example, covered these tweets with a series of “both sides” panel discussions stacked with pro-Trump commentators that justified and defended the tweets. By introducing two sides to this debate as valid, the network muddied the truth about these harmful videos and their impact on the Muslim community. “Both sides” reporting and commentary unnecessarily inflames anti-Muslim sentiment and increases its real-life impact.
Journalists and media outlets can’t ignore the rise and weaponization of anti-Muslim hate on major online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. Too often, members of the “alt-right” harass Muslims online and fake news websites publish fake news stories demonizing Muslim communities that go viral here in the U.S. and throughout the world. Highlighting this reality and Muslim leaders’ front-line experiences with online hate gives viewers and readers a broader understanding of the challenges the community faces in the Trump era and encourages greater accountability from the online platforms that are exploited to amplify anti-Muslim hate.
Imanuelsen, who calls himself Peter Sweden, has denied the Holocaust and called Jews a separate race from Europeans
Far-right vlogger Peter Imanuelsen jumped to defend the anti-Semitic, “alt-right” congressional candidate Paul Nehlen after Nehlen tweeted that “Jews (and others) who do not acknowledge this fact [that Jesus is the Messiah] will burn in hell.” In two tweets, Imanuelsen argued that Nehlen’s comment actually was “very pro-semitic.”
Jesus is the Messiah. He is One with the Father and the Holy Ghost.
Jews (and others) who do not acknowledge this fact will burn in hell. https://t.co/gs2wBPqyKs
— Paul Nehlen (@pnehlen) January 21, 2018
This is not an anti-semitic statement contrary to what fake news media is trying to spin it as
This is just a basic Christian doctrine. If you believe in religious freedom, then people have the right to say this
If you want to get to heaven, you have to believe Jesus is Messiah https://t.co/lQlh7slNzD
— PeterSweden (@PeterSweden7) January 23, 2018
This is not an anti-semitic statement.
In fact, it is very pro-semitic.
Paul is trying to help the Jewish people to get to heaven by evangelizing them about Christ.
That is love. https://t.co/lQlh7slNzD
— PeterSweden (@PeterSweden7) January 23, 2018
Imanuelsen has a well-documented history of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic commentary, but claims to have renounced those beliefs. But as recently as October, Imanuelsen attended an event held by the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement. The group reportedly gives press passes only to journalists they approve.
He has also made a name for himself in bigoted and conspiracy theorist circles. He regularly tweets unsourced or unsubstantiated claims that allege Sweden’s immigrants and refugees are responsible for sexual violence, bombings, gang activity, and other criminality, and that such activity is underreported or covered up by the Swedish police. Imanuelsen has also previously said he doesn’t believe in evolution, that feminism “goes against God’s order,” that people should get “capital punishment” as a “consequence” of “being homo,” that Jews are a “seperate (sic) race from Europeans,” and that the moon landing was a hoax perpetrated by freemasons.
Right-wing pundit Frank Wuco, a senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) adviser who has worked on President Donald Trump’s travel ban, repeatedly warned audiences during his media appearances that Muslims are dangerous because their core faith purportedly instructs them that they can’t “coexist peacefully with other religions.”
“[There’s] a critical misunderstanding of the true nature of Islam, which was never intended to coexist, to complement, to mingle with other faiths,” he told one radio program in 2010. “It is clearly stated in the law, in the traditions, in the Quran, that Islam is here to abrogate all faiths that came before, was sent to abrogate and cleanse the corruption of the Jews and the Christians that are found in the previous scriptures.”
“So many have bought in hook, line, and sinker into the Muslim propaganda, particularly generated by the Muslim Brotherhood, that this is a -- yeah, it’s a religion that seeks cohabitation and tolerance and peace with non-Muslim faith groups and nationalities and it just simply is not true,” Wuco said in 2012 while discussing events surrounding the Muslim Brotherhood.
He added: “To say that Islam is willing to coexist peacefully with other religions and other sort of nationalities, if you can have such a thing in Islam, is really antithetical to what the Quran and what Sharia law teaches.”
Wuco entered the administration in January 2017 as a senior White House adviser at DHS. He has also served as the executive director of DHS’ Executive Order Task Force, which was organized to implement Trump’s orders to the agency, which include his ban on travelers from some Muslim-majority countries. DHS did not reply to a request for comment about Wuco.
Earlier this month, Politico obtained DHS records through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit which contained emails about the agency deploying a “‘crisis action team’ to enforce first Trump travel ban” and indicated Wuco's involvement in the department. As Kristin G. Şekerci, a research fellow at Georgetown’s Bridge Initiative noted, Wuco was “CCed on many of the DHS emails released through FOIA."
Wuco has a long history of other anti-Muslims remarks, which is summarized below. He suggested in 2014 that banning visas from “Muslim nations” is “one of these sort of great ideas that can never happen”; warned that Muslims “by-and-large” will “subjugate and humiliate non-Muslim members” and enact Sharia law; and praised the surveillance of mosques as a key tool to finding "out what's going on" in the Muslim community.
As HuffPost’s Christopher Mathias reported in March 2017, when Wuco was a right-wing pundit, he delivered presentations “as a fictional character he created named Fuad Wasul,” who had a “heavy Arabic accent” and was a “committed jihadist.”
Wuco has also made numerous anti-LGBTQ remarks as a pundit. He said in 2016 that “societies and nations for millennia have suffered greatly” for LGBTQ acceptance because those places have no "cultural" and "moral center." He smeared transgender people as sick individuals who suffer from a “malady” and lead a “horrible existence," and claimed it would be “great” to pretend to be transgender to “go into the women’s shower” at the gym. Wuco made those remarks during radio appearances with Charles Butler, a virulently anti-LGBTQ host who twice used the anti-gay slur “faggots” during one of Wuco’s segments (Wuco did not directly respond to Butler's use of the slurs but appeared again on the show later that year).
CNN’s KFile also reported that Wuco repeatedly promoted fringe conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama and officials in his administration and pushed false claims “that Obama was not born in the US,” made other disparaging comments about the LGBTQ community, and lamented what he called the "Zimbabwe-fication of America."
Here is a summary of the anti-Muslim remarks Wuco has made over the years.
Wuco praised the surveillance of mosques as key to finding "out what's going on" in the Muslim community. During a November 2015 Fox News appearance, Wuco said that a "mosque surveillance" program is key to finding "out what's going on behind the walls" of "mosques and Islamic reading centers." He added that after the cancellation of a mosque surveillance program in New York City, he "can only hope that some of these programs continue with other agencies." [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 11/14/15, via Media Matters]
Wuco: Muslims “by-and-large” will “subjugate and humiliate non-Muslim members” and enact Sharia law. Wuco warned on his now-defunct radio show website that “Muslim populations by-and-large will become enclave societies that, first, resist assimilation and then, will make every effort to establish independent rule for their enclaves under Shari’ah law.” [Need To Know, 2/27/10, via Internet Archive and Media Matters]
Wuco: “If you're a Muslim, you believe” that “violence and warfare against unbelievers” is “prescribed by God.” Following the June 2016 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, Wuco told Breitbart.com of shooter Omar Mateen: “There's nothing radical about him at all. He is a Muslim who is following the strictures of Islam and its guidance and prescriptions for violence and warfare against unbelievers. … If you're a Muslim, you believe it's being prescribed by God and it’s being ordained by the wisdom of Muhammad.” [Politico, 2/7/17; YouTube, 6/13/16, via Media Matters]
Wuco: “Right-thinking" Muslims “engage in jihad” because of their religion. Wuco said of Islam during an interview on an internet radio program: “If you’re a right-thinking Muslim, the inspiration, the motivation, to engage in jihad doesn’t come from Al Qaeda, or doesn’t come from Inspire magazine. It comes from God himself.” [The Liberty NewsCast with Willie Lawson, 4/30/13, via Media Matters]
Wuco: “The assertiveness of Muslim communities in western nations is becoming so pronounced. … You don’t even need ISIS in Sweden.” While speaking on a radio program, Wuco warned that Muslims are infiltrating communities in Western nations: “The assertiveness of Muslim communities in Western nations is becoming so pronounced. … You don’t even need ISIS in Sweden, you’ve got every day run-of-the-mill Muslims in massive communities protesting and becoming violent with the Swedish government, saying that they’re going to take over the country. This isn’t even ISIS. These are just peace-loving Muslims who have been allowed to immigrate into these countries.” [The Dougherty Report, 1/18/16, via Media Matters]
Wuco in 2014: Halting visas from “Muslim nations” is one of “these sort of great ideas that can never happen.” During an August 2014 Fox News program, Wuco responded to comments from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) about a ban on visas from the Middle East, saying that the proposed policy is “one of these sort of great ideas that can never happen. ... You're just not going to stop the visa application process into this country from Muslim nations in a blanket type of policy.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/28/14, via Media Matters]
Wuco frequently delivered presentations “as a fictional character he created named Fuad Wasul,” who had a “heavy Arabic accent.” HuffPost’s Christopher Mathias wrote in March 2017:
Wuco’s dim portrayal of Muslims has also veered into the bizarre.
During his work as a security consultant and radio host, Wuco often gave presentations as a fictional character he created named Fuad Wasul ― a “committed jihadist” escaped from an American military prison to help westerners understand what motivates Muslim fighters.
Wuco, who is from Florida, would role-play as Wasul, delivering the presentations with a “heavy Arabic accent,” according to a 2008 Florida news report.
“If you think you’re winning this war, if you think that you’re defeating jihad, you’re wrong, dead wrong,” Wasul (Wuco) once told a room full of civilian analysts working for military intelligence at MacDill Air Force Base. [HuffPost, 3/16/17]
Mother Jones: Wuco has suggested that “terrorism would be consistent with Islamic scripture.” Mother Jones’ Noah Lanard wrote in November 2017: “In the battle with the West, Wuco suggested, terrorism would be consistent with Islamic scripture. After a plot to kill the Pope was foiled in 2010, his website cited two suras, or chapters, from the Koran to explain the plotters’ motivation.” [Mother Jones, 11/1/17]
Wuco said “the true nature of Islam … never intended to coexist, to complement, to mingle with other faiths.”
FRANK WUCO: I’m afraid that President Obama is horribly mistaken in his tendency to believe, take at face value everything he learned from his Muslim friends in Chicago, largely an incredible group of apologists and vehement anti-Israelis, anti-Jewish, segment of the population. Whatever he learned when he was in Indonesia, which may not have been much, because he was a fairly young fellow when he was there at the time.
But I believe it’s culminated in a critical misunderstanding of the true nature of Islam, which was never intended to coexist, to complement, to mingle with other faiths. It is clearly stated in the law, in the traditions, in the Quran, that Islam is here to abrogate all faiths that came before, was sent to abrogate and cleanse the corruption of the Jews and the Christians that are found in the previous scriptures. So Islam abrogates all prior scriptures. Islam abrogates all prior faiths. And the goal of jihad, the goal is to bring as much of the living world, of the material world into the Islamic system as possible before the final day of judgement. So, for us to assume that the reason that the jihadists do what they do is only because they’re emotionally angry with us is really an insult to the commitment to jihad, if i’m the jihadist. [Blog Talk Radio, The Willie Lawson Show, 8/10/10]
Wuco: It’s “Muslim propaganda” that Islam is “a religion that seeks cohabitation and tolerance and peace with non-Muslim faith groups and nationalities.”
ERSKINE: So, that’s why we’re having problems with a lot of the Christians being persecuted again in Egypt, and a lot of the situations that are going on right now in the Middle East. So this was nothing that we should have been cheering about as so many in the news service were doing.
FRANK WUCO: Well, part of the reason is that so many have bought in hook, line, and sinker into the Muslim propaganda, particularly generated by the Muslim Brotherhood, that this is a -- yeah, it’s a religion that seeks cohabitation and tolerance and peace with non-Muslim faith groups and nationalities and it just simply is not true. To say that Islam is willing to coexist peacefully with other religions and other sort of nationalities, if you can have such a thing in Islam, is really antithetical to what the Quran and what Sharia law teaches. [Erskine Overnight, 7/21/12]
Imanuelsen is a xenophobic pseudo-journalist who has denied the Holocaust, called the moon landing a "hoax," and suggested that LGBTQ people be sent to camps
Peter Imanuelsen (aka Peter Sweden), a bigoted conspiracy theorist and self-professed “Swedish journalist” who made a name for himself by reporting on so-called migrant crime in Sweden, was recently banned from PayPal. Far-right trolls consider getting banned from such platforms a badge of honor, and Imanuelsen’s ban is a stepping stone for him as he seeks their acceptance.
Imanuelsen is a far-right vlogger who has worked to carve out a niche for himself at the intersection of pro-Trump trolls and the European far-right movement. Despite his Swedish persona, Imanuelsen is a British national born in Norway, who has spent time living in Sweden but has lived more than half of his life in the U.K. An August 2017 profile of Imanuelsen by the U.K. anti-extremism research group Hope Not Hate suggested that his family’s business appears to have committed tax evasion, which may explain their move from Sweden to the U.K.
Though a relatively obscure figure during his first year on Twitter, Imanuelsen’s notoriety was boosted around August 2017, a month after he participated in a wildly unsuccessful “alt-right” stunt to disrupt refugee rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea (ironically, the group's ship itself had to be rescued on one occasion by a refugee rescue ship). And, recently, he managed to draw the ire of the current curator of the official Swedish Twitter account.
Though Imanuelsen’s social media activity is now predominantly focused on blaming immigrants in Sweden for crime and complaining about “the left,” his older tweets, many of which have since been deleted, reveal an array of false, conspiracist, and bigoted beliefs. He has said he doesn’t believe in evolution, that feminism “goes against God’s order,” that people should get “capital punishment” as a “consequence” of “being homo,” that Jews are a “seperate (sic) race from Europeans,” that the Holocaust never occurred (though he claims he has revised his views on the Holocaust), and that the moon landing was a hoax perpetrated by freemasons.
Since Hope Not Hate’s profile, Imanuelsen has pushed the types of stories, often misleading or outright fabricated ones, that serve as fodder for narratives about Sweden among American “alt-right” Twitter personalities and pro-Trump trolls. His Swedish persona affords him a measure of credibility and gives xenophobic comments a sense of legitimacy (whether or not his conclusions are valid), and he understands the American media landscape -- particularly narratives about President Donald Trump -- well enough to exploit them for his own benefit. In fact, two days ago, he appeared on a list of the 20 most retweeted accounts tweeting about antifa.
Imanuelsen regularly tweets unsourced or unsubstantiated claims that allege Sweden’s immigrants are responsible for sexual violence, bombings, gang activity, and other criminality, and that such activity is underreported or covered up by the Swedish police. It’s a two-pronged tactic: It provides a foundation for him to advance his ethno-nationalist arguments against immigrants, and it promotes a sense of distrust of mainstream institutions necessary for the continued relevance of Imanuelsen and people like him.
More recently, Imanuelsen has promoted himself by fearmongering about government censorship and harassment to a level that could reasonably be considered paranoia. Since October, Imanuelsen, who now purportedly resides in Norway, has been claiming the police have visited his parents many times looking for him and have swarmed his house in the U.K. “probably looking” to arrest him for “hate speech.” On January 10, he also claimed (without evidence) that a “country” reported his January 8 tweet claiming (also without evidence) that Sweden is giving immigrants housing priority over native Swedes, writing, “I would guess it is Germany with their new ‘hate speech’ law that has reported me" to Twitter.
Imanuelsen has, for months, been ingratiating himself into far-right and pro-Trump Twitter circles -- he once tweeted four times in response to a Breitbart article lamenting the lack of Christian symbolism in a supermarket holiday ad -- and it appears that his efforts have begun to pay off. Imanuelsen now has over 85 thousand Twitter followers, 24 thousand YouTube subscribers, and his Periscope videos regularly draw tens of thousands of viewers.
Imanuelsen’s relationship with Paul Joseph Watson, an Infowars conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with the canard of Swedish migrant crime, illustrates his rise. Their Twitter relationship seems to have started in February 2017, when Watson quote-tweeted Imanuelsen’s tweet about an explosion in Malmo, which Imanuelsen later deleted. He started quote-tweeting Watson aggressively in March and started tweeting directly at him a few months later. Watson has quote-tweeted Imanuelsen many times and has interviewed him on Infowars. Most recently, Infowars.com reprinted a post Imanuelsen wrote for the anti-immigrant European news blog Voice of Europe. Imanuelsen’s* tweets parallel the content of several prominent far-right outlets that report on the subject of crime in Sweden, and an October 2017 post by the far-right Gateway Pundit was based entirely on his tweets. In November 2017, Imanuelsen was cited as a "journalist" who "keeps track of bombings in the country" in an article on the website of RT, a Russian media outlet which U.S. intelligence officials and experts have said is a propaganda arm for the Kremlin.
Two days ago, PayPal permanently suspended Imanuelsen for violating the company’s user agreement, a veritable badge of honor for white supremacists since the August 2017 events in Charlottesville, VA. Though PayPal didn’t specify which part of the user agreement he had violated, the company has previously frozen the account of far-right group Defend Europe (with which Sweden was associated). Paypal also told a French outlet that it was the company's policy “to prohibit that our services are used to accept payments or donations for organizations whose activities promote hatred, violence or racial intolerance.” Since the ban, Imanuelsen has joined the trend of soliciting donations via bitcoin, a cryptocurrency white nationalist Richard Spencer calls “the currency of the alt-right.”
Pamela Geller, America’s most notorious anti-Muslim extremist who has recently gravitated toward the “alt-right” in an attempt to maintain her own fading relevance, ran to his defense. Jihad Watch Director Robert Spencer, another vocal anti-Muslim propagandist, retweeted him.
But Imanuelsen isn’t content with Infowars-level infamy. He is desperate for an invitation to Fox News prime-time shows (he has pitched stories to their hosts via Twitter), some of which have been increasingly friendly to white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, internet trolls, and the European far-right, leaving open the very real possibility that a bigoted, racist, anti-Muslim, internet conspiracy theorist masquerading as a journalist could be mainstreamed to Americans by a major cable news network.
* This name has been updated with its correct spelling.
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In a recent profile, Fox host Sean Hannity named three right-wing media figures from the second half of the 20th century -- Bob Grant (1929-2013), Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985), and Barry Farber (1930-present) -- as inspirations for his own political commentary. A Media Matters investigation into content produced by Grant, Caldwell, and Farber revealed a trove of bigotry; Grant “routinely” called black people “savages,” Calwell had a political allegiance with “one of the most virulent anti-Semitic propagandists in the United States,” and Farber is a self-professed "birther" who pushed conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama.
Parallels, lessons learned, and enduring challenges for 2018
In 2016, the story of a juvenile sex crime in an Idaho town swept through the national right-wing media ecosystem, picking up fabricated and lurid details along the way; several months later, the newly inaugurated President Donald Trump falsely suggested that a terrorist attack had recently taken place in Sweden, baffling the country. The two incidents, though seemingly unrelated, were spurred by the same sentiment: rabid anti-immigrant bias fueled by a sensationalistic, right-wing fake news ecosystem.
In the global culture wars being waged online and in real life -- from Twin Falls, Idaho, to Malmo, Sweden -- influencers successfully mobilize anti-Muslim extremists, far-right media, and fake news websites in coordinated campaigns to promote misinformation. Their motivation may stem from an ideological agenda, the desire to create chaos, the intention to profit from emotionally resonant website content, or a combination of all three. And though misinformation is usually later debunked, the truth generally fails to travel as far or penetrate as deep as the original story, allowing a steady drumbeat of misinformation to continue. In the cases of Twin Falls and Sweden, this misinformation was fueled by xenophobia and sought to manipulate people into associating immigration and violent crime.
The Twin Falls, Idaho, case was the perfect story for anti-immigrant activists and far-right media. For the rest of us, it was the perfect example of how these anti-immigrant (and, specifically, anti-Muslim) activists and media seize on a story, elevating it, and twisting the facts to push their agenda.
In June 2016, two refugee boys, ages 7 and 10, and a white 5-year-old girl were discovered partly clothed in the laundry room of an apartment complex. The incident was filmed on a cell phone borrowed from one of the boys’ older brother. A year later, the two boys and the older brother whose phone they used, were charged, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced.
The incident had all the hallmarks of a crime story fit for the far-right echo chamber: sex crimes committed by refugees against white children in a historically white town with a growing Muslim population; a lack of sustained national media attention, creating an opening for accusations of a media cover-up; local politicians unable to get ahead of the narrative; and the backdrop of a highly politicized presidential election.
Misinformation about the case was initially spurred by anti-Muslim activist groups, such as ACT for America and Refugee Resettlement Watch, as well as anti-Muslim media figures and various white nationalists who had been seemingly preparing for an incident to exploit in Twin Falls since a local paper reported in early 2015 that the city would soon be accepting Syrian refugees. After the incident, far-right websites including Breitbart, Infowars, The Drudge Report, The Rebel Media, WorldNetDaily, and fake news website MadWorldNews ran with the story, fabricating new details for which there was no evidence, including that the young boys were Syrian (they weren’t), held the girl at knifepoint (they didn’t), and their families celebrated afterward (they didn’t).
In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Breitbart produced daily content on the story and sent its lead investigative reporter, Lee Stranahan, to investigate the “Muslim takeover” of the town. Infowars attempted to link the assault to Chobani, an immigrant-owned yogurt company that employs several hundred refugees, in a report headlined “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists.” Chobani sued Jones over the claim, and eventually settled; Jones issued an apology and a retraction. The story also bled into mainstream conservative news. Former Fox host Bill O’Reilly claimed the national media chose to not cover the local crime story because they “want[ed] to protect the refugee community.” O’Reilly pushed the narrative that sexual assault is committed frequently by Muslim refugees, saying, “the cultural aspect of the story is valid” in response to a Fox News contributor claiming that “we're seeing sexual assaults happen across the world from refugee populations” in Germany and Norway.
The story showed how a local crime story can become a breeding ground for right-wing fabulation in service of pushing an anti-Muslim agenda. And, when repeated frequently enough, these narratives become coded, so that a single word or phrase can conjure a version of reality that may not exist at all.
In the case of Twin Falls, many commenters explicitly extrapolated the mythical migrant crime wave of Europe to the American heartland. The Times quoted one American woman writing, “My girl is blond and blue-eyed. ... I am extremely worried about her safety.” It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of Trump voters think illegal immigration is a very serious problem for the country, particularly in the context of crime. And thanks to “alt-right” outlets like Breitbart, which consistently use crime in Europe to fearmonger about immigration into the U.S., local crime can have policy implications across continents. As the so-called “alt-right” attempts to expand its reach internationally, these high-profile crime stories are powerful fodder.
In February, Trump told rally attendees in Florida to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden” while talking about cities where terror attacks have occurred. The statement baffled most Americans, as no terror attack had occurred in Sweden the night before; Trump later clarified that his comment was in reference to a Fox News segment about “immigrants & Sweden.” The segment, according to The Washington Post, was likely an interview with an American filmmaker who “has blamed refugees for what he says is a crime wave in Sweden.” His “documentary,” part of which was aired during the Fox segment, was deceptively edited and pushed debunked claims of a surge of refugee violence.
If you gleaned your news about Sweden from far-right or conspiratorial websites, as many Americans do, Trump’s dog-whistle would have resonated clearly. The far-right sites have created a narrative that Sweden is the “rape capital of the world,” is in the throes of a cultural civil war, and that there are areas of the country so dangerous that even police don’t dare enter. As Media Matters and others have documented, influential far-right websites, white nationalists, right-leaning tabloids, fake news websites, and even more mainstream conservative outlets have cultivated an obsession with the mythical migrant crime wave in Sweden, publishing nearly daily content on the subject.
What is happening in Sweden is, actually, nothing close to the hellscape far-right media attempts to portray. The country’s crime rate pales in comparison to the United States’, and while high levels of immigration have created social and economic anxieties for native Swedes and immigrants alike (anxieties driven in no small part by anti-Muslim activists), no data shows that immigration is causing such problems in the country.
But these anti-immigrant narratives have created space for fabricated claims to fester. And in this ecosystem, as in the Twin Falls case, real stories can take on a life of their own. In December 2016, for example, Swedish local news outlet Kristianstadbladet reported that “new clientele” had been frequenting a church often visited by those experiencing homelessness and some people had desecrated the church pews. Despite a lack of information about who the new clientele were, Swedish hate site Fria Tider leapt to claim that it was a reference to refugees and they were the ones urinating, defecating, and masturbating in the church’s pews. MadWorld News, an American fake news website known for its anti-Muslim content, amplified the story in the United States, adding claims that “migrants scream Islamic chants and smash liquor bottles on the floor in an attempt to silence Christian worshippers from praying to God” and that “a migrant even tried to kidnap a child from a baptism ceremony.” The article was shared over 4,700 times. The story was also published on Focus News, a fake news website run by a 25-year-old Macedonian, and from there shared thousands of times in Macedonia, Georgia, and Kosovo. The story was fact-checked and debunked but by then the claim had already spread.
Stories like these, driven by far-right media and anti-Muslim activists, helped lay the narrative foundation for Trump’s Sweden reference. After his statement, right-wing media, fake news websites, and at least one neo-Nazi website clamored to defend him, using his comment to amplify a crime narrative that, up until then, had sparked limited interest outside the far-right media landscape. And while online attention to the country peaked after Trump’s claim, his amplification of the contrived and bigoted narrative took it from the fringe to the mainstream and effectively primed a larger audience to believe that, even if nothing has happened in Sweden, it could.
Sweden’s commitment to an open, democratic society is also a vulnerability. According to a late 2015 internal memo, Swedish police were instructed not to report externally the ethnic or national origin of suspected criminals. The decision, while an admirable attempt not to stoke racial tensions, has raised suspicion. Many far-right outlets perceived the move as an attempt to cover up what they deemed a migrant crime wave, and the controversy became so salient that the Swedish government had to respond. Now these same websites are targeting the Swedish government over its proposal to restrict the accessibility and distribution of personal sensitive data related to criminal offenses. Sweden’s open and progressive crime reporting practices that discourage unnecessary emphasis on people’s ethnicity or religion allow fake news purveyors to speculate on a suspected criminal’s ethnic background with impunity, as well as manufacture an inflated perception of criminality.
These examples illustrate that in a politically and culturally charged media environment, completely fabricated stories packaged to look as if they were published by a reputable news agency and partially true stories sensationalized by ideological or bad-faith actors alike can spread with such a degree of virality that by the time the truth is reported and the fake news fact-checked, the damage is already done. The articles themselves are left uncorrected and continue to be shared and referred back to as cautionary tales of the supposed crime wave and general societal degradation spurred by Muslim immigration and refugee resettlement. They are exceedingly easy to manufacture and disseminate, but difficult to disprove until all facts are available, which can be months or years later.
There is also evidence that Russian actors are attempting to sow political discord offline. In March, in the wake of Trump’s comments about alleged crime in Sweden, a Russian TV crew reportedly tried to pay young people in Sweden to riot on camera with the intention of portraying a nation roiled by violence. And a Facebook event called “Citizens before refugees,” which was created by what is now known to be a Russian actor, attempted to organize an anti-refugee rally in the town of Twin Falls, Idaho.
It’s easy for mainstream news consumers to dismiss these reports as misinformation-filled rants by white supremacists and various far-right ideologues (which they are), but in the aggregate, they act as a powerful rallying cry for an entire swath of Americans who yearn to see their deep-seated cultural and economic anxieties rationalized, their biases validated.
What's happening in Sweden is what's happening in sleepy towns in the United States. The ideologies, tactics, and goals are all the same. There will be another case like the Twin Falls assault and another story like that of the Swedish church, and in the context of a media landscape eager to exploit these situations and a presidential administration that encourages xenophobia and has deep ties to the far-right and a burgeoning fake news ecosystem, the impact of the next viral story could be much worse.
In order to confront the problem of anti-immigrant sentiment flamed by misinformation and fake news, mainstream media and governments alike need to be realistic about the challenges and possible solutions. In a recent report released by the Swedish government, the authors noted, “One important question is where the limit is for which expressions are harmful to society in large and its citizens.” It’s a question that may never have a perfect answer, but seeking to understand the ecosystem and its players, ideologies, relationships, and methods is a good start.
In that report, which focused on “white hatred,” experts outlined several far-right commentators and websites (many of which are American), suggesting that these groups be researched further in an effort to counter their racist, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist ideology. The report also detailed the role of tech companies like Facebook and Google in limiting distribution of their content online. Sweden has also ramped up its efforts to fight fake news through elementary school media literacy programs, news outlet initiatives, and bilateral law enforcement partnerships, including with the country’s Scandinavian neighbors.
In the United States, the commitment to identifying and solving the problem has been far less sustained. Trump himself has regularly pushed anti-Muslim sentiment and misinformation, and he’s known to get his information from the types of outlets that push bigoted misinformation. The administration has also decided that fake news is actually news that is unfavorable to it, and it’s officials have on multiple occasions pushed fabricated stories, and Trump himself has told over 100 lies in less than one year in office.
The antagonistic attitude that this administration has taken means the burden for combating anti-immigrant sentiment and fake news largely falls on media, local authorities, and other institutions. For example, fake news in Twin Falls may have been better combatted had the local authorities been more engaged in getting out accurate information. A local Twin Falls newspaper editor told The New York Times’ Caitlin Dickerson that, while local reporters attempted to correct falsehoods about the story, city officials refused to write guest editorials doing the same out of fear of political backlash:
“Behind closed doors, they would all tell you they were pro-refugee, and we wanted them to step forward and make that declaration in a public arena, and it just never really happened,” he told me. “That was frustrating to us especially at the beginning because it really felt like the newspaper was out there all alone.” He continued: “There were days where we felt like, Godammit, what are we doing here? We write a story and it’s going to reach 50,000 people. Breitbart writes a story and it’s going to reach 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 million people. What kind of a voice do we have in this debate?”
In the era of “alternative facts,” American news outlets and their fact-checking arms have stepped up their game, but the U.S. would be smart to develop interdisciplinary domestic and international partnerships, as Sweden has. This year, four states passed bills mandating media literacy be integrated into school curricula, and others are considering following suit. It would be worth considering Sweden’s dedicated media literacy program, taught to teens and young adults, as a model.
A translation in this post has been updated for accuracy.
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