Far-right and fringe media are baselessly claiming that truck drivers in Puerto Rico have gone on strike in order to benefit themselves and sabotage President Donald Trump’s relief efforts after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria. The Teamsters Union issued a press release on October 2 denouncing the hoax.
Since Maria hit Puerto Rico in late September, Trump and his administration have come under fire for their response to the hurricane, which caused widespread damage and left thousands of people without food and water. On September 30, Trump attacked San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for her “poor leadership” after she criticized the acting secretary of homeland security for calling the response in Puerto Rico a “good news story.”
On September 28, as the criticism of Trump and the highest levels of his adminstration mounted, a YouTube user uploaded a video titled “SMOKING GUN, Puerto Rican Truck Union Leader Sabotaging Hurricane relief Miami Trump Volunteers.” As others started sharing the video on social media, Twitter personality Kambree Kawahine Koa wrote, “Did mayor of San Juan mention union workers at port are on STRIKE & demanding money first before distributing supplies off boat?” Koa claimed she had a “source” for her allegation, but refused to name him. On September 30, fringe blog Conservative Treehouse cited, among others, Koa and another YouTube clip of the same union official to claim that the island’s Teamsters union was “refusing to move” hurricane aid and was “us[ing] Hurricane Maria as contract leverage.” The blog also posted a text-based image that claimed “the trucker’s union went on STRIKE.”
The contents of Conservative Treehouse’s blog post, including the tweets it cited, spread widely among the fringe, and were published by websites such as USSA News and pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit. The Gateway Pundit called the story a “smoking gun,” although the next day it claimed the reports were “unconfirmed.” In turn, these reports also spread, reaching 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board, commonly referred to as “/pol/,” and Reddit forum “r/The_Donald,” both of which have previously helped far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation. Jerome Corsi of conspiracy theory outlet Infowars and Newsmax’s Wayne Allyn Root also pushed the Gateway Pundit story on social media. Multiple fake news purveyors, including RedStateWatcher, also published the allegations and the original YouTube clip. Fake news purveyor America’s Freedom Fighters claimed Democrats were “leveraging their power with the Teamsters Union to halt progress so the Democrat Mayor can get on TV and blast the President over a failed recovery effort.” Fake news purveyor TruthFeed claimed that with these “multiple bombshell reports,” “the anti-Trump mayor of San Juan has been proved to be a pathetic political hack and liar.” Infowars accused “anti-Trump forces” of “using disgruntled Puerto Rican truck drivers as tools of obstruction to hinder Trump’s efforts to deliver aid and supplies to the storm-ravaged country.”
The YouTube clip from which these claims originated did not in fact show the union leader saying that the union workers were on strike. While he did criticize Puerto Rico’s governor, he was actually explaining that a law (along with road conditions) prevented truck drivers from driving. Indeed, CNN reported on September 30 that the Teamsters were “working together to recruit truckers to travel to Puerto Rico and help distribute a stockpile of relief supplies.” And on October 2 the Teamsters weighed in, confirming that the union “denounces reports from online, anti-union sources that stated Teamster truck drivers in Puerto Rico have refused to move supplies,” calling such reports “false” and without “basis in fact.”
UPDATE: On October 3, Trump appeared to allude to the false claim as he was leaving to tour the damage in Puerto Rico, telling reporters, “We need their truck drivers. Their drivers have to start driving trucks. We have to do that. So at a local level they have to give us more help.”