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  • Steve Bannon reveals plans to visit Sweden to “learn from” the nation’s far-right party

    But even a party with neo-Nazi roots doesn't want to be associated with Bannon

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Steve Bannon revealed to a Swedish newspaper that he will be visiting the country to “learn from” the Sweden Democrats (SD), an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party attempting to rebrand away from its neo-Nazi roots. In seeking alliances with Sweden’s most prominent right-wing party leaders, Bannon is trying to dig himself out of the political irrelevance his downfall has brought. But it appears that even the members of a party with neo-Nazi origins are embarrassed to be associated with him.

    In a March 28 interview with Dagens Nyheter, a daily newspaper in Sweden, Bannon revealed his plan to visit the country in the next few months “to learn” from the Sweden Democrats, “some of whom we have studied closely.” When asked what insights would he share with SD members from his time at the White House (he was fired in August 2017), Bannon said he’d urge the SD to continue fighting, increase the party’s contact with the base, and stay away from the so-called “globalists.” He also called SD leader Jimmie Åkesson a “dynamic” politician and characterized SD as an example for “the whole world to study.”

    Bannon’s interest in Sweden is neither new nor surprising, as he has long telegraphed his plans to export his far-right politics to Europe. During Bannon's time at the helm of Breitbart.com, as well as during and after his White House stint, the outlet has shown an obsession with a mythical migrant crime wave in Sweden, particularly as the nation prepares for a general election (Sweden has become a gateway to the anti-migrant agenda in Europe). Bannon’s announcement of his plans comes on the heels of a series of embarrassing setbacks for him -- ranging from a humiliating electoral loss by a Republican politician he championed in a ruby-red state to his ousting from Breitbart, which he helped build. It appears he is looking for a comeback wherever he can find it.

    When asked directly whether the SD party invited him to visit Sweden, Bannon gave a vaguely affirmative answer, stating he didn’t want to make an announcement yet but that he would “definitely come to Sweden ... relatively soon.” But just hours after the interview was published, the secretary of the Sweden Democrats party denied that anyone in the party arranged or even had knowledge of Bannon’s trip and refused to say whether SD will welcome Bannon to Sweden.

    Though SD was born out of neo-Nazi circles in the late ‘80s, it has since attempted to enter the mainstream by distancing itself from the overt white nationalism of some of its past leaders. In 2006, the party changed its logo from the torch used by the U.K.’s fascist National Front to an innocuous blue and yellow flower. Now, Sweden Democrats is the nation’s most established right-wing party and boasts a thriving (if controversial) social media presence. But its polarizing message has pushed its supporters away from the party in recent months.

    Though SD was polling as the nation’s second-largest party last June, a December 2017 poll showed support for SD has dropped to its lowest level since 2015. In February, a local SD member was forced to resign after posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook. Just last week, the party suffered another self-inflicted wound when one of its members was sentenced for repeated domestic abuse.

    The recently created more extreme far-right party Alternative for Sweden (inspired by the German AfD) serves as an additional threat to SD. AfS hopes to curry favor with SD’s most extreme elements and has successfully recruited several SD parliamentarians in the past few months, including one who was expelled from SD for extremist ties.

    It’s a testament to Bannon’s toxicity that the Swedish party that perhaps most viably embodies Bannon’s ideology has denied any contact with him, seemingly in an attempt to protect its vulnerable credibility. SD’s Åkesson has admitted that in the past, his party has been its own worst enemy, a problem which Bannon might find hard to resist, probably because he can easily relate.

  • The right wing's conspiracy theory network is now going after high school kids

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Erick Erickson wanted his Twitter followers to know that the article he was circulating -- which suggested the Parkland survivor-turned gun violence prevention activist David Hogg hadn’t been present during February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School -- was no conspiracy theory. “David Hogg contradicts himself in two separate interviews about whether he was at school during the shooting. And no, this isn’t a fake news Gateway Pundit bs story,” Erickson tweeted last night, referencing the pro-Trump website notorious for propelling hoaxes. The decision by Erickson, the right-wing commentator once deemed “the most powerful conservative in America,” to publicly stand behind the credibility of the Redstate article in question backfired rather spectacularly as it became clear that it was, in fact, a “bs story.”

    Contributor Sarah Rumpf's article originally argued that “Hogg’s statements in a new CBS documentary about the shooting is casting doubt on Hogg’s original story that he was at school on the day of the shooting” and that the impetus was on the student to “explain himself, and quickly.” But Rumpf subsequently struck the entire original story, stating in updates that video showed Hogg on the scene and blaming CBS for airing “a very confusing quote without context.” After being slammed on Twitter, Erickson deleted his tweet and has this morning been throwing a tantrum about the incident (meanwhile, Rumpf spent the night quote-tweeting people praising her response).

    Rumpf’s original post cited no source for her theory, but it echoed the conspiracy theories that far-right social media accounts and websites circulated earlier that day. Larger conspiracy sites like Alex Jones’ Infowars and, yes, Gateway Pundit picked up the story later in the evening.

    The right’s conspiracy theory conveyor belt famously targeted Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. Hoaxes about her health originated with wannabe sleuths on Twitter and Internet message boards, then moved to hyperpartisan Facebook-centered websites and larger right-wing blogs like Gateway Pundit that served as conspiracy clearinghouses. Finally, they entered the mainstream political debate via major conservative pundits and Fox News hosts. Now we’re seeing the same pattern play out, but this time the apparatus has fixated on high school students pushing for action to combat gun violence.

    Clinton had been the target of insane conspiracy theories for decades, and there’s a certain expectation that politicians seeking election should be able to respond to any criticism, however ludicrous. But, conservatives’ arguments that the Stoneman Douglas students have entered the public debate and thus are “fair game for critics” aside, you’d think we’d all be able to agree that the kids have been through enough and shouldn’t be targeted by a swarm of trolls and hacks.

    And yet, here we are. As the Stoneman Douglas activists have taken a central role in the current debate about guns, they’ve turned into the current hate object of the modern right. And so the tools and methods previously brought to bear against powerful Democratic politicians have now been turned on them.

    Almost immediately after the mass shooting, posters on far-right online message boards began warning that the surviving students who were giving interviews to television reporters were actually “crisis actors.” An organized campaign by those trolls turned that hoax into the top video on YouTube’s trending page, while other far-right websites, such as The Gateway Pundit and TruthFeed, subsequently attacked the students by suggesting they were coached.

    As student survivors of the shooting have spoken out about and campaigned for changes to gun laws, they have drawn increasing scrutiny from all parts of the right-wing media, including the message board conspiracy theorists and the websites that regularly draw from their musings.

    Over the weekend, far-right trolls apparently created and circulated a fake image and GIF of survivor Emma González tearing up the Constitution. Meanwhile, major conservative sites like Breitbart.com and Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire decided that they could produce good content by aggregating tweets from people who claimed that Hogg had offered a “Nazi salute” by raising a fist after his speech at Saturday’s March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C.

    The good news so far is that while Fox News played a key role in pushing the Clinton health conspiracy theories into the mainstream, its hosts and commentators don’t seem to have done the same with the Stoneman Douglas ones. Instead, the network’s conservative pundits have focused on delegitimizing the activists as young, ignorant, and overly emotional.

    That keeps the conspiracy theories festering in the fever swamps but largely out of sight of the rest of the public. But as the targets of both the Internet mob attack known as Gamergate and the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists would doubtless agree, those less-public campaigns can nonetheless do lots of damage to regular people who are just trying to go about their lives. In any case, the right-wing conspiracy network is here to stay, and it’s happy to go after anyone its members perceive as an enemy.

  • Is Steve Bannon still living at the Breitbart office?

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Although Steve Bannon announced he left Breitbart.com in mid-January and the site and its investors have publicly signaled a sharp split from the now-former presidential adviser, it appears Bannon may still be living in the town house that serves as Breitbart’s D.C. headquarters.

    Bannon announced his resignation from Breitbart on January 9, and the site quickly moved to distance itself from its longtime chair. Earlier this month, far-right Breitbart donor Rebekah Mercer, formerly advised by Bannon, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Bannon “took Breitbart in the wrong direction” and that “now that Mr. Bannon has resigned, Breitbart has the opportunity to refine its message and expand its influence.”

    But how much distance can Breibart really claim from Steve Bannon if he’s still living upstairs at the D.C. town house known as the “Breitbart Embassy”?

    According to a new interview with GQ magazine, Bannon is still “holed up at the company's Capitol Hill headquarters, plotting the next stage of his right-wing populist revolution and brooding over the course of human events.” From the February 28 piece:

    These days, he no longer runs Breitbart News, but Bannon remains holed up at the company's Capitol Hill headquarters, plotting the next stage of his right-wing populist revolution and brooding over the course of human events.

    That's where, on a recent Saturday afternoon, I found him—wearing a beige-khaki shirt over an orange polo, the collar down on one side and popped on the other. Amid the clutter sprawled in front of him on the dining room table at Breitbart's townhouse lay two totems of his current thinking. One was a copy of The New York Times, showing coverage of the Women's March protests that greeted the one-year anniversary of Trump's inauguration. He's been studying the movement closely, he explained. The other was a sheet of paper on which he'd sketched a triangle, labeling its vertices China, Persia, and Turkey. Invoking the 1930s and '40s, Bannon told me that he believes the triumvirate is forming a "new Axis," one that he thinks the U.S. and its allies must confront and defeat.

    Writer Michael Lewis also appeared to have visited Bannon at the “Embassy” for a Bloomberg View piece published earlier in February. According to that profile, Bannon hosted some Breitbart staffers at the house to watch the January 30 State of the Union address.

    Breitbart has used the Capitol Hill town house as its headquarters since at least 2011. In various interviews and reports over the years, the property has been referred to as “offices,” a “workspace,” and Bannon’s “living quarters.”

    In November 2017, Olivia Nuzzi reported in New York magazine that Bannon was “unwilling to admit that he calls the Breitbart Embassy home,” though a source agreed with what Nuzzi described as “the general consensus here in D.C.,” saying that Bannon lives “on the top two floors” of the town house. He also reportedly treated the property like a home, leaving family photos on the mantel and diet instructions on the fridge. A December application to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office also described the property as “the home of Stephen K. Bannon.”

    And in September, Bannon sat for an interview with 60 Minutes at the Breitbart Embassy. The resulting package described the property as Bannon’s “home in Washington, which doubles as the headquarters of Breitbart News,” and it showed footage of Bannon meeting with editorial staff at the dining room table.

    As USA Today’s Paul Singer reported in March, a local elected official familiar with zoning rules stated that Breitbart’s various uses for the town house “appear to violate” zoning regulations for the neighborhood. The house is zoned for residential use only -- and its actual owner, Egyptian politician Moustafa El-Gindy, was, until recently, receiving a deduction for the house that owners get if they maintain residence in the property -- but it’s clearly used as a commercial workspace.

    At the time of Singer’s investigation, a Breitbart spokesperson told the reporter -- and the standing committee that oversees Senate press coverage -- that the site was “transitioning” out of the house and actively looking for a new workspace in downtown D.C. According to Nuzzi’s profile eight months later, Breitbart News was still “headquartered in the basement” though most staffers worked there only when they were required to attend meetings.

  • After Florida school massacre, right-wing media call for more guns in schools (the school had armed security)

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    In the wake of a Florida school shooting that left at least 17 dead, right-wing media figures immediately blamed “gun-free zones” and argued that future shootings would be prevented if there were armed guards at schools, ignoring that the school did have “an armed police officer” on campus “in addition to security.”

  • Far-right activists and "alt-right" trolls are using the #MeToo movement to bolster their xenophobia

    #120dB is an ethnosexist German campaign that scapegoats Europe's migrants for gender-based violence

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A far-right campaign that blames immigrants and refugees for sexual violence in Europe is attempting to ride the coattails of the #MeToo movement. The campaign, apparently launched by German women and promoted by European white supremacists, far-right media figures, and anti-Muslim extremists, is an ethnosexist exploitation of a legitimate movement against gender-based violence and an attempt at normalizing hate against immigrant and refugee communities.

    The campaign is known as 120 decibels, a reference to the volume of most pocket alarms carried by some women as a defense against street harassment, and seems to have first appeared on Twitter January 30 in the form of the hashtag #120dB and a video that’s gone viral among far-right and ethnonationalist groups. The movement’s website invites women to join the “resistance” and share their experiences with “imported violence” using the hashtag #120dB.

    In the video's subtitles, several women -- purporting to speak for women who were subjected to violence in Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom -- claimed their respective countries “refuse to secure our borders” and “refuse to deport criminals.” They also lamented the European countries’ alleged cover-up of a migrant crime epidemic, saying their governments’ leaders would “rather censor any critique against [them] then taking (sic) us seriously.” The women contend, “Because of your immigration policies, we are facing soon a majority of young men that come from archaic societies with no womens-rights (sic). You knew that and you accepted it.” They called themselves the “daughters of Europa” and promised to call these abuses to account. And they call #120dB “the true #metoo.”

    The hashtag and video are being heavily promoted by Generation Identity, a self-proclaimed pan-European “Identitarian” movement against the “replacement” of (white) Europeans with migrants. Its Austrian co-founder Martin Sellner uploaded a version of the campaign video with English subtitles around the time #120dB first appeared online; it now has more than 40,000 views.

    Prominent women in the “alt-right” -- who consider themselves “anti-feminist” and value conceiving and raising white families -- are now starting to notice the #120dB campaign. Brittany Pettibone, a well-known “alt-right” troll who advocates for “anti-feminist” ideas and openly supported Defend Europe's campaign to disrupt refugee rescue missions, shared the English-captioned video on Twitter.

    The hashtag #120dB has since garnered attention from English-speaking audiences more widely -- including from the American anti-Muslim commentator Pamela Geller; the founder of a group called “Resistance Against Islamic Radicals,” Amy Mek, anti-immigrant pundit Ann Coulter; and contributors to the Canadian "alt-right" media outlet Rebel Media, Tommy Robinson and Lucy Brown.

    The campaign has also garnered attention from far-right activists and trolls obsessed with a mythical crime wave in Europe. Most notably, Breitbart London author Chris Tomlinson penned a February 1 article on the subject and has tweeted the hashtag #120dB 15 times as of this writing. In another tweet, Tomlinson used the hashtag to promote a Breitbart article he wrote about the late January murder of Pamela Mastropieto, an 18-year-old Italian, woman by a Nigerian man. On Saturday, a far-right extremist was arrested in connection with a racially-motivated shooting rampage in the central Italian city of Macerata, apparently in retaliation for her brutal killing. After the attack, far-right 4-chan trolls defended the suspected gunman Luca Traini, and one post called for followers to hang posters around Italy that read, "I was killed by open borders," a photo of the woman, and a reference to the hashtag #120dB. 

    Media Matters has documented Breitbart’s -- and, in particular, Tomlinson’s -- obsession with a nonexistent European crime wave, especially in Sweden. Two of Breitbart’s favorite tropes -- both employed by #120dB -- are the portrayal of immigrant men (particularly Muslims) as predisposed toward sexual violence, and the baseless accusation that law enforcement is involved in a cover-up of violent crime by immigrant populations.

    Meanwhile, Lana Lokteff, the "alt-right" co-host with her Swedish husband of Red Ice TV, a media company affiliated with white nationalist Richard Spencer’s AltRight Corporation, plans to interview the women of #120dB this week. Lokteff has previously criticized women who have spoken out against disgraced Hollywood mogul and sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, calling one of his accusers, Rose McGowan, “awful.”

  • Meet Peter Imanuelsen, aka Peter Sweden, the bigoted conspiracy theorist who is a frequent source for the American "alt-right" on Europe

    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

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    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.


    Screenshot from Peter Imanuelsen's Twitter account

    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.

  • Bannon bottoms out

    What Steve Bannon’s humiliating ejection from Breitbart means for the pro-Trump movement

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters 

    Steve Bannon is out at Breitbart.com and everything about that is hilarious. Bannon has completed one of the most rapid implosions you’re ever likely to see from a public figure, going from high-powered presidential adviser to disgraced and universally reviled pariah in less than a year. His (largely self-created) reputation as a shadowy master political tactician and dangerous “revolutionary” has been ground to powder. Last April, Time magazine profiled Bannon as "The Great Manipulator," and since then he's manipulated himself into a historic electoral defeat and out of two jobs.

    At every step along this ignominious journey, Bannon showed terrible judgment and sabotaged his own interests with his vanity and relentless need for validation from the "left-wing media" he professes to loathe. He got fired from the White House after volunteering an interview to the liberal American Prospect in which he trashed the administration's China policy. He tried to anoint himself the true leader of Donald Trump's political movement by defying the president and endorsing bigoted lunatic Roy Moore for Senate in Alabama. Bannon redoubled his support for Moore after the candidate was credibly accused of sexual assault, and he absorbed the blame for Moore's shocking defeat to Democrat Doug Jones.

    Then came Michael Wolff’s book and its insider account of the Trump administration’s dysfunction, which featured Bannon attacking Trump’s son and other top campaign officials for the “treasonous” June 2016 Russia meeting. Bannon dished so many on-the-record quotes because he wanted to burnish his own reputation and because he had someone who would listen. The Russia quote went too far, though, and Bannon came under attack from the president and his former patrons, hedge fund billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer. Bannon, the self-described street-fighting, take-no-prisoners political war machine, meekly attempted to worm his way back into Trump's good graces, but to no avail.

    Getting tossed from Breitbart like a Depression-era hobo from a freight train is obviously bad news for Bannon, especially since he had tried to spin his post-White House return to the site as a power move. "I've got my hands back on my weapons," he told the The Weekly Standard at the time, adopting the nickname "Bannon the Barbarian.” But what does Bannon's exit mean for Breitbart.com and the broader pro-Trump coalition?

    What needs to be stressed here is that Bannon was excommunicated largely for his tactics, not his politics. Bannon tried to position himself as an independent leader of the Trump coalition, which obviously was not going to sit well with a president who fancies himself a Messiah-like head of a historical movement. He earned Trump's opprobrium not by challenging him on policy, but by calling his son's actions treasonous and unpatriotic. The swiftness with which the entire MAGA leadership reoriented to cast Bannon as an insignificant un-person makes clear how much of the movement is driven by personality as opposed to policy.

    And that brings us to Breitbart, which fired its leader after determining that, as an ostensible purveyor of journalism, it could not have someone critical of the sitting president on its masthead. The Atlantic quoted a “source close to Bannon” saying that he had to go because “him being involved in politics was interfering with Breitbart’s ability to act as a news organization.” That’s obvious bullshit, given that Breitbart owed much of its post-2016 relevance to Bannon's alleged ability to elevate candidates who could challenge the Republican establishment.

    The problem wasn't Bannon's activism, but the fact that he was terrible at it and chose awful candidates whom Breitbart would eagerly debase itself to defend. No one in the MAGA movement had any public grievance with Bannon’s meddling in elections or his use of Breitbart resources to bolster his candidates until Roy Moore lost.

    As for Breitbart.com itself, the website had been functioning as Bannon's personal public relations shop; his every public utterance was given a splash headline, even when the story was literally “Steve Bannon has read a book.” Now it will have to fall back on its core missions: stoking racial resentment, failing badly at pretend journalism, and slavishly defending Trump. For conservatives, Breitbart will almost certainly be a go-to source for immigration news as the immigration policy debate spins up, much as it was during the 2016 presidential campaign.

    For Bannon, the future is (to put it charitably) uncertain. His power and reputation were always oversold, and his egotism, hard-charging extremism, and seemingly total lack of political intelligence mean that he’ll always be prone to self-destruction. Right now he looks to be a persona non grata to just about every conservative power center. But the right has a proud tradition of failing up, and there are always more right-wing billionaires with little sense but lots of money to throw around, so even after a public humiliation as long and total as the one he’s brought on himself, Steve Bannon might just be OK.

  • Breitbart will be as odious without Bannon as it was with him

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone released the following statement after news broke that Steve Bannon would step down from Breitbart.

    Media Matters has closely tracked Breitbart since the site’s inception and has written countless pieces about the site and Steve Bannon. Nobody knows Breitbart better than we do. Breitbart will be as odious, contemptible, and awful without Steve Bannon as it was with him at the helm. If anything, Breitbart showed that it is now committed in total devotion to Trump and can be best identified as a mere PR apparatus serving the Mercers' agenda. Without Bannon, Breitbart will remain just as disreputable and disgusting as ever. We’ll be watching.

  • Following the Trump-Bannon feud, Infowars is setting itself up to capture Breitbart’s disillusioned readers

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Leading conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars website are positioning themselves to capture Breitbart.com’s readership if the website doesn’t fire its Trump-scorned chairman Steve Bannon.

    On January 3, President Donald Trump publicly dissociated himself from Bannon following reporting that Michael Wolff’s newly released book quotes Bannon as saying that the actions of the Trump presidential campaign were “treasonous.” The president slammed Bannon in a statement, accusing his former chief advisor of “leaking false information to the media” during Bannon’s time in the White House, and saying he had “lost his mind.”

    This new controversy could exacerbate financial questions that continue to swirl around the Breitbart operation. A 2017 ad boycott rooted in disgust over the site’s extremism caused the outlet to lose nearly 2,600 advertisers. And now, following the presidential disavowal, Bannon’s biggest patrons, billionaires Rebekah Mercer and her father Robert Mercer, are reportedly uncomfortable with supporting his ventures and are reportedly looking into ousting Bannon from the website. Rebekah Mercer publicly rebuked Bannon the day after Trump’s statement was released. Matt Drudge, a major narrative driver in the conservative media apparatus whose contempt for Bannon predated the presidential spat, supported ousting Bannon.

    Breitbart’s coverage of this schism failed to provide meaningful pushback or provide any defense of the disgraced chairman. The site’s readers, for the most part, sided with Trump, expressing their repeated support with comments that Infowars compiled and published such as, “I didn’t vote for Bannon,” and “Bannon blew any credibility he had by backing Moore.” Infowars quickly compiled and published the comments.

    Infowars and Jones are currently exploiting the commotion to position themselves to fill the void Breitbart’s weakening and Bannon’s fall from grace might create. Now, nearly a year and a half after Infowars reporter and host Roger Stone bragged that he advised candidate Trump to hire Bannon, Jones is focusing his rage on the beleaguered Breitbart chairman, claiming he “stabbed the president and America in the back” and accusing him of being “at the heart of the attempt to take [Trump] down.” During other comments in the January 4 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones lobbed insults at Bannon (saying “Mr. Dandruff” has “big giant red swollen eyeballs that look like an owl on PCP that you poured 14 bottles of scotch on top of” and is a “pile of feces”) and suggested he be investigated for espionage. On Twitter, he attacked Bannon’s initial lack of response to Trump’s rebuke and praised Trump’s anti-Bannon statement.

    The MAGA base has come to expect specific things from its news content, which Breitbart provided in relentless streams: a strong anti-establishment stance that included targeting the media and both major political parties, and a penchant for “triggering the libs,” a phrase used to ridicule progressive stances on cultural and social issues. Those are the elements that Trump weaponized to help him achieve victory.

    After Trump took the White House, and following a year of reported chaos within the administration, the audience’s ethos now also includes unapologetic Trump loyalty, a defense mechanism that serves as a validation of their electoral choice. If Breitbart’s readers ultimately side with Trump and flee the website, Alex Jones’ Infowars seems like a prime candidate to pick up the disgruntled MAGA crowd by providing those readers the fix they’re looking for.

    The fact is that Infowars has fewer constraints than Breitbart because it’s a financially independent outlet reportedly grossing close to $10 million a year -- not from advertisers, but from selling nootropic supplements and other merchandise. And this relative independence will only incentivize Jones to push forward on the path of  bigotry, homophobia, and lies by pushing even more conspiracy theories and Trump propaganda that captivate the MAGA audience.

  • Following a bombshell report, Fox News is desperately clinging to their alternate reality about the Russia investigation

    While a NYT report reveals the real impetus of the Russia investigation, Fox is running with the unfounded conjecture of fake news, pro-Trump trolls, and Republican congressmen

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    In a continuation of the network’s pattern of sycophantic defenses of the president, Fox News hosts dismissed reporting from The New York Times that provided new details about what sparked the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, muddying the waters by pushing baseless conjecture espoused by pro-Trump internet trolls and fake news websites alike.

    A December 30, 2017 report by The New York Times explained that a conversation between Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat at a bar prompted FBI officials in June 2016 to investigate the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign. The report disrupted a well-established far-right and right-wing media claim that the investigation was prompted solely on information provided in a partially unverified opposition research dossier produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, noting:

    The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?

    It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.

    In a January 2 New York Times op-ed three days after the December 30 report, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that funded the dossier, echoed the Times’ earlier reporting, writing that rather than the Steele dossier being the major impetus for the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling, their sources told them “the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had [already] received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.”

    But in a segment responding to the the op-ed today, the panel of Fox News’ Outnumbered didn’t even mention Papadopoulos’ name. Instead the panel members deflected from the revelations by launching baseless claims, including the notion that Fusion GPS exerted influence on the FBI and that the “fake report” (which has in fact been at least partially verified) was used to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Trump, itself a fallacy promoted by Breitbart. From the January 3 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:

    MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): Fox News has reported that Fusion GPS was being paid by a Kremlin-linked law firm at the same time that it was digging for dirt on then-candidate Trump. And human rights activists have accused Fusion GPS of secretly working for the Russians. Congressman Jason Chaffetz is here.

    JASON CHAFFETZ: I did I read that op-ed from Fusion GPS. First of all, if they want to maximize openness and transparency, there is nothing, nothing that holds back Fusion GPS from releasing all the documents and all the financial transactions.You have the House intelligence committee having to issues subpoenas in order to get that information.

    SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): That's a great point.

    CHAFFETZ: But today they could release all of that information if they want. So, don't blame the House intelligence committee. It is against the law to go out and hire a foreign national to engage in these activities during the campaign. So, they potentially broke the law there. You have Marc Elias who was general counsel for the DNC. Hillary Clinton is involved in this. You’ve got the Podesta group involved in this. There is some really nefarious things, and you have a top official at the FBI whose wife works at Fusion GPS at the same time that they're doing an investigation, so don't call it a fake investigation. Let's get all the truth out there. That's what [South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey] Gowdy and [California Republican Congressman Devin] Nunes and everybody is after.

    [...]

    KATIE PAVLICH (CO-HOST): They have a responsibility on their end to the American people now because they are so involved and because they did have influence in the FBI based on the dossier. And again we have people connect to the dossier also connected to the Department of Justice under President Obama. And those are questions that are unanswered and that deserve answers to the American people.

    [...]

    FRANCIS: I think what people in the audience should remember and probably what you care about a lot is this idea that when originally we gave the government special powers to collect data, to listen in on your phone calls, it was a time when we were all frightened and still are about terror, about national security. The warning at the time was that in the end, this FISA warrant, this whole idea could be used to listen in on political opponents and become a political weapon. In this case, it looks like that's very much what happened, that a fake report was used to get a FISA warrant to spy on a political opponent. That's a very dangerous thing in this country. And that's what I think we should be chasing down and focused on.

    Pro-Trump media outlets have long attempted to discredit the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Russian government, and Trump’s defenders on Fox have spent months baselessly claiming that the FBI used the dossier as sole evidence to get a FISA warrant to surveil and investigate Trump and members of his presidential campaign. Fox’s Jeanine Pirro even suggested that FBI and the Department of Justice officials should be jailed for their implication in this alleged conspiracy.

    Following The New York Times’ December 30 report, right-wing media figures attempted to discredit the story by downplaying Papadopoulos’ influence, attacking the article’s anonymous sourcing, and castigating the reporting as distraction from the Mueller investigation that the network has deemed a “witch hunt.” Other right-wing outlets like Red State, the National Review, as well as other pro-Trump media outlets, fake news websites, and internet trolls have levied similar attacks in attempts to discredit the story.

  • The long, public humiliation of Steve Bannon

    Update: Bannon out at Breitbart 

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (1/4) : The Wall Street Journal reports that Robert and Rebekah Mercer, the pro-Trump hedge fund billionaires who bankroll Bannon’s “populist” movement, are debating whether to oust him as the chairman of Breitbart.com and that many Breitbart board members are “supportive of the move.” Getting fired from Breitbart would be a hilariously perfect denouement to the Bannon saga given how he spun his return to the website after getting fired from the White House. “I've got my hands back on my weapons,” Bannon said at the time. “I am definitely going to crush the opposition.”

    UPDATE (1/9): According to The New York Times, Bannon "is stepping down from his post as executive chairman of Breitbart News" at the behest of Rebekah Mercer.

    Original article below. 

    It’s been quite a news day for Steve Bannon. The Breitbart.com chairman and former White House strategist made headlines this morning when excerpts from author Michael Wolff’s new book on the Trump administration quoted him disparaging Trump campaign officials for the now-infamous June 2016 Russia meeting. “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon told Wolff.

    Those are some pointy words for a former top official in both the Trump campaign and White House to state on the record, even if they don’t add anything to our understanding of what the Trump campaign was up to. Given the sensitivity the president harbors toward the Russia investigation and his insistence on slavish loyalty from his underlings, it was only a matter of time before Trump responded to Bannon’s remarks. In characteristically Trumpian fashion, the White House turned a flamethrower on its erstwhile ally.

    “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” the delightfully petty statement from the president of the United States begins. “Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well.”

    What are we to make of all this? Well, once again we’re seeing that Steve Bannon isn’t the diabolical master of the political dark arts that he insists he is.

    In the months since he departed the White House, Bannon has done little but absorb punishment and defeat. He staked his own reputation (and, he insisted, the future of the Trumpian political movement) on Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, whose candidacy caved in on itself amid numerous reports of sexual misconduct, handing the Democrats their first Senate victory in the state in decades.

    As he was taking the blame for Moore’s loss, Bannon was also forced to make a show of cutting ties with another fringe whacko he’d been trying to get elected to federal office: Paul Nehlen, a “pro-white” primary challenger of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) who recently took up anti-Semitic tweeting as a hobby.

    On top of all that, Breitbart.com Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow publicly admitted that he believed Roy Moore’s accusers and thought the reports against him were credible, but the website rallied to Moore’s defense regardless in order to protect Trump from having to answer for his own multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

    So Bannon was already losing allies and credibility while struggling to convince people that he was politically useful. Then these book excerpts come out and suddenly the president for whom he once proudly described himself as a “wingman” is publicly calling him a hack, a failure, and a fraud.

    I suppose it’s possible that Bannon is executing some sort of elaborate rope-a-dope or 46-dimensional chess strategy in which he’s merely feigning to be a laughingstock in the eyes of everyone in power, but that feels overly generous. The more satisfying explanation is that Bannon is an incautious and ineffective extremist whose relevance depends on convincing people against all evidence that he’s a master tactician and dangerous “revolutionary.”

  • In urban Sweden and heartland America, xenophobic fake news looks the same

    Parallels, lessons learned, and enduring challenges for 2018

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    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 case of Twin Falls

    What's happening in Sweden?

    Lessons learned

    Response and enduring challenges

    The case of Twin Falls

    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.

    What's happening in Sweden?

    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.

    Lessons learned

    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.

    Responses and enduring challenges

    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.

  • Is Breitbart trying to have it both ways with this “alt-right” candidate?

    It is unclear whether Team Bannon actually disavowed congressional candidate Paul Nehlen for his anti-Semitism and ties to the “alt-right,” or if it considers his extremism “hysterical rubbish”

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    As conservative commentators scrutinize congressional candidate Paul Nehlen’s explicit anti-Semitic messages and ties to the “alt-right,” Breitbart.com, which had put its full support behind Nehlen, is appearing to disavow Nehlen’s extremism while also continuing to give him a platform.

    In an attempt to advance its nationalistic war against all things establishment, Breitbart went all-in for Nehlen -- a little-known candidate who had no chance of winning -- in a 2016 primary election, launching its quixotic crusade to unseat Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). Predictably, and despite Breitbart’s full-throated support (up until the election, the outlet published close to 30 pieces of content shilling for him), Nehlen lost to Ryan by a 85 to 15 percent margin. Not discouraged by his loss, Nehlen continued to raise his profile with a prolific social media presence and, most importantly, Breitbart’s support. Breitbart’s Executive Chairman Steve Bannon hosted him on his radio show a week after his embarrassing loss, treating him “like a hero” and literally professing his love for him.

    In June, close to a year after his humiliating defeat, Nehlen announced a new bid to unseat Ryan in 2018. Breitbart continued to churn out Nehlen-related content, as well as provide him with an “exclusive” platform to author his own attacks on the speaker of the House. However, Nehlen’s penchant for bigotry on social media recently drew the condemnation of a conservative commentator when he targeted attorney Ari Cohn with an anti-Semitic message. As a result, other pundits in the MAGAsphere similarly condemned Nehlen’s anti-Semitism, with Rebel TV host John Cardillo claiming he’d “spoken to Team Bannon” and “they were shocked and disgusted”:

    Despite the reported shock of his loyal supporter, Nehlen’s anti-Semitism was anything but sudden. His ties to white nationalism and the “alt-right” had been explicitly displayed in his digital fingerprints, as reported by HuffPost and Salon. His attacks on Cohn were not his first display of anti-Semitism, nor were they out of the ordinary given his habit of aggressively responding to his critics using compelling arguments such as “eat a bullet” or “self deport.” Nehlen had also promoted a 4chan meme with ties to the “alt-right,” as well as embraced “Groyper,” a known “alt-right” mascot. He has never shied away from being “all in on the AltRight (sic) vote.” After stumping for Roy Moore, Breitbart’s chosen (and defeated) candidate in the Alabama senatorial special election, Nehlen appeared on the “white power podcast Fash the Nation” and used an anti-Semitic expression, talking about “people who want to throw their parentheses at you,” a clear allusion to the “alt-right” echo meme. Currently, he’s responding to his critics from the right with the type of trolling that is typical of message board posters, crudely comparing outcries to “autistic screeching” (a meme often used to signal enjoyment from triggering those deemed oversensitive).

    Meanwhile, the Cardillo tweet remains the only (even second-hand) evidence that Breitbart is at all bothered by the explicit extremism of their chosen candidate. And in response to the HuffPost article that compiled evidence of Nehlen’s ties to white supremacy, Breitbart editor and Team Bannon member Raheem Kassam dismissively tweeted that it was “hysterical rubbish:”

    In fact, Breitbart has continued giving Nehlen a platform. As recently as December 18, Nehlen made a guest appearance on the Breitbart radio show Whatever It Takes with Curt Schilling. If what Cardillo tweeted is true, it shows that Breitbart is trying to have it both ways -- appease conservative critics with a vague reported condemnation of Nehlen’s bigotry, without issuing a full-throated disavowal that could cause them to lose the Gab “alt-right” audience. This audience loves Nehlen, proving once again what's become more than evident this year: Breitbart is OK with playing footsie with Nazis.

    UPDATE: CNN reported that an adviser of Steve Bannon, Arthur Schwartz, said "Nehlen is dead to us" in response to Nehlen's increasingly offensive tweets.