Over the past month, fake news purveyors and “alt-right”-affiliated figures and outlets have been smearing former FBI Director James Comey and special counsel for the Russia probe, Robert Mueller. The two men have been smeared by this media ecosystem, which has essentially been a propaganda machine for President Donald Trump and which perceives the two investigators as a potential threat to the president. Following Comey’s firing by Trump in May, Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, and Comey’s statement that Trump fired him over the Russia probe, this ecosystem has worked to discredit both and to assist Trump. These are five smears they have pushed.
Fake news purveyors pushed dubious “alt-right” claim that Comey was imperiled by supposed probe into Susan Rice
“Alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec claimed Comey dropped a probe of Susan Rice (there’s no evidence any such probe existed) to avoid implicating himself. Shortly after former FBI Director James Comey was fired, Jack Posobiec, an “alt-right” troll with a history of pushing conspiracy theories and misinformation, claimed that an “FBI source” told him that “Comey dropped the Susan Rice unmasking investigation [because] it would have implicated himself.” The tweet was in reference to the dubious claim that former national security adviser Susan Rice violated the law by unmasking Trump aides caught up in surveillance of foreign officials. There has been no corroboration outside of the right-wing fringe that Rice was ever under FBI investigation.
Fake news purveyors ran with Posobiec’s claim. Fake news purveyors ran with Posobiec’s dubious claim, with TruthFeed claiming it “does logically make sense.” Angry Patriot wrote that it “will only affirm Trump’s decision in giving [Comey] the boot,” and Conservative Daily Post and The Washington Feed published the same article claiming that it showed Comey “was an extremely corrupt individual.” The TruthFeed, Angry Patriot, and Conservative Daily Post articles received at least 1,700, 9,300, and 6,800 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo, a social media analytics site.
Fake news purveyors and “alt-right” outlets used Judicial Watch report to claim Mueller “conspired with radical Islamic groups” and should be concerning to Americans
Judicial Watch claimed Mueller, as FBI director, “caved” to “Islamist groups.” Following Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, right-wing group Judicial Watch published a report claiming that “as FBI director, Mueller bent over backwards to please radical Islamist groups and caved into their demands.” Judicial Watch alleged that the FBI under Mueller “eliminated the valuable anti-terrorism training material and curricula after Mueller met with various Islamist organizations, including those with documented ties too (sic) terrorism.” According to Wired, the FBI had removed those materials because “they were inaccurate or over-broad” or “because they were offensive.”
“Alt-right” outlet and fake news purveyors used Judicial Watch report to attack Mueller. “Alt-right”-affiliated outlet The Gateway Pundit used the Judicial Watch report to claim Mueller “conspired with radical Islamic groups.” Fake news purveyors joined in; Conservative Fighters and Angry Patriot wrote that it showed “the media’s glowing portrayal of Mueller” was “not true,” The Washington Feed claimed that it showed “the real picture” of Mueller, and Tell Me Now wrote that Mueller “thought it was more offensive than jihadists killing Americans” and that the report “will likely have some Americans concerned” about him being special counsel. The Gateway Pundit, Conservative Fighters, Angry Patriot, and Tell Me Now articles received at least 1,200, 9,500, 13,800, and 231 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.
“Alt-right” outlets and fake news purveyors suggested Comey was biased against Trump because his brother worked at a law firm used by the Clinton Foundation
Fringe blog Big League Politics suggested Comey was “protecting [Hillary] Clinton” because his brother worked at law firm connected to the Clinton Foundation. After Comey’s firing, fringe blog Big League Politics revived a claim, originating from “alt-right”-promoting outlet Breitbart, that Comey “was clearly protecting [Hillary] Clinton from … espionage and corruption charges” because his brother worked for a law firm that “does the Clinton Foundation’s taxes.”
“Alt-right” outlet and fake news purveyors ran with charge to discredit Comey. The Gateway Pundit claimed Big League Politics showed Comey’s “ties to the Clinton Foundation and the conflicts of interest that lie there are too close to not raise red flags.” From there it was revived by fake news purveyors, with Angry Patriot writing that it showed “Comey was compromised, so it is a good thing that Donald Trump removed him from office.” TruthFeed wrote that it showed Comey’s “crooked Clinton ties” meant Trump “was 100% correct to remove this shill,” USA Politics Today wondered how “Comey [was] not removed from the Hillary Clinton email investigation,” and Conservative Patriot wrote that it showed Comey was “involved in shady activities with [the] Clinton Foundation.” The Gateway Pundit, Angry Patriot, TruthFeed, USA Politics Today, and Conservative Patriot articles received at least 24,400, 5,800, 2,100, 2,700, and 4,800 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.
“Alt-right” and fake news-purveying outlets used 2009 Wikileaks cable to mislead about Mueller working with Russia
The Gateway Pundit, via Wikileaks, revived a 2009 cable showing Mueller, with authorization, transported uranium to Russia. After Mueller was named special counsel, The Gateway Pundit pointed to a 2009 cable published by Wikileaks revealing that Mueller delivered a sample of highly enriched uranium -- seized from the nation of Georgia and held in U.S. custody -- to Russia, with authorization from the Georgian government, for forensic analysis. The uranium was referred to by both Wikileaks and The Gateway Pundit as “stolen,” and The Gateway Pundit used the story to suggest that Democrats should be “up in arms over Mueller’s visit to Russia” because “according to the deranged Democrats, any contact with the Russians creates a cloud of suspicion and must lead to an investigation.”
“Alt-right” outlet and fake news purveyors claimed Mueller “has [a] connection to Russia.” Infowars, a conspiracy theorist website, wrote that the cable showed Mueller “has [a] past connection with [the] Kremlin.” Fake news purveyor USA Politics Today wrote that Mueller “is not … innocent” because he “oversaw the transfer of stolen highly enriched uranium” to Russia. And The Federalist Tribune asked, “Since Obama was president than (sic), does this mean he was acting in a treasonous manner in trying to stop the flow of stolen nuclear materials by cooperating with Russia?” The Gateway Pundit, Infowars, USA Politics Today, and The Federalist Tribune articles received at least 2,300, 206, 832, and 569 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.
“Alt-right” and fake news purveyors used 2015 AP article to falsely claim Comey covered up for Chattanooga shooting
Gateway Pundit spun a 2015 article on the shootings in Chattanooga, TN, to claim that “Comey colluded with Obama on radical Islamic murder of US marines.” The Gateway Pundit claimed that in 2015, “the FBI under Comey was completely baffled” about the motivation of a man who killed U.S. marines at a military recruiting center and at a naval base in Chattanooga, TN, in July of that year. The fringe website claimed, “No doubt this was the conclusion Obama wanted” and spun a November 2015 Associated Press article that quoted Comey saying, “We’re still trying to make sure we understand Abdulazeez, his motivations and associations, in a really good way.” Later, in December 2015, Comey told reporters that the shooter “was inspired by a foreign terrorist organization's propaganda.”
Fake news purveyors run with Gateway Pundit’s claim. Fake news purveyors ran with The Gateway Pundit’s claim, with some additionally lying that the report was new. The Washington Feed called it “Comey’s sickest secret,” while USA News Flash said it was “sickening” because “the public record will never be revealed.” Freedom Daily claimed Comey did a “sickening thing” to “cover up the murder.” Red Rock Daily News claimed it showed “Comey and Obama are criminals.” The Gateway Pundit, USA News Flash, and Freedom Daily articles received at least 1,900, 12,400, and 16,800 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.
“Alt-right”-affiliated outlet and fake news purveyors falsely claim Mueller intentionally lied about spying on antiwar groups
“Alt-right”-affiliated outlet GotNews alleged Mueller misled Congress about spying on antiwar groups. GotNews, an “alt-right”-affiliated outlet, claimed in May that a Justice Department inspector general report showed Mueller “misled Congress in 2006 about FBI surveillance of peaceful anti-Iraq War groups.” However, as the inspector general report noted, Mueller did not know at the time the information was incorrect.
Fake news purveyors used report to falsely claim Mueller is “a liar.” Fake news purveyors used the GotNews report to falsely claim Mueller lied to Congress. Angry Patriot and Conservative Fighters both wrongly wrote that Mueller “falsified testimony about the bureau’s surveillance on an anti-war protest in 2002” and that he is “a liar who illegally spied on Americans.” The GotNews, Angry Patriot, and Conservative Fighters articles received at least 637, 6,200, and 4,700 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.
“Alt-right”-affiliated outlets and fake news purveyors claim Mueller is connected to Democratic organization Civis Analytics
GotNews reported Mueller worked with law firm representing a “big Democrat group.” GotNews in June alleged that Mueller was “partnered” with a law firm, WilmerHale, that represented the “leftist analytics firm Civis Analytics,” which it also described as a “big Democrat group.” The GotNews report ignored the fact that WilmerHale also represents three Trump affiliates: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, daughter Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The Gateway Pundit and fake news purveyors ran with the report to question Mueller's “impartiality.” The Gateway Pundit wrote that GotNews showed Mueller had “ties to a particularly dangerous DNC megadonor.” Fake news purveyors also ran with the report, with Angry Patriot and Conservative Fighters writing that “Mueller’s bipartisanship seems doubtful given that his law firm worked with the Left-wing Civis Analytics,” and a Before It's News contributor wrote that the report was “raising questions about Mueller’s impartiality in his so-called ‘Russia probe’ into President Donald J. Trump’s campaign.” The GotNews, Gateway Pundit, Angry Patriot, and Conservative Fighters articles received at least 55, 3,200, 6,200, and 4,700 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.
This piece has been updated.