Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
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.
Loading the player reg...
Jones regularly uses intimidation and threats of violence
The outlet is now working directly with online message boards to promote the conspiracy theory that Trump is staging a counter-cabal against the “deep state” officials in government
Infowars announced that its chief Washington correspondent and notorious crackpot Jerome Corsi has begun “playing a more central role” in pushing a fringe online message board conspiracy theory known as “The Storm,” entrenching itself deeper into the tinfoil hat territory the site usually inhabits.
Corsi has jumped on board of “The Storm” train, a conspiracy theory that emerged from 4chan and 8chan, two online message boards that serve as hubs for the far-right and “alt-right” users and is reportedly “working directly” with the moderators of 8chan’s The Storm forum.
As reported by New York magazine’s Paris Martineau, this new conspiracy theory claims that President Donald Trump’s cryptic October 2017 comment about the “calm before the storm” was a hint at a master plan Trump is setting in motion to kneecap members of the “deep state.” According to Martineau, the theory claims former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain among many others will be arrested, calls the Steele dossier a total fabrication, and argues that “the Las Vegas massacre was most definitely an inside job connected to the Saudi-Clinton cabal.”
Over the course of 2017, right-wing media figures have been pushing the narrative that “deep state” operatives are attempting to remove Trump from power and that the ongoing probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election campaign is an evidence of this supposed coup.
An anonymous poster “Q” seems to have set “The Storm” in motion. “Q,” who claims to be a “high-level government insider with Q clearance,” began posting “intel drops” (or crumbs) on 4chan meant to leave clues to inform the public of Trump’s plan.
Corsi, who was one of the loudest voices spreading the lie that former President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, has a penchant for pushing conspiracy theories, ranging from wild speculation about Obama’s sexual orientation to claiming that Adolf Hitler escaped Germany with the help of Allen Dulles, who would later become the CIA director. Corsi has now written “decode” analyses of the messages “Q” has posted on message boards, reaching unfounded conclusions and assigning meaning to wildly ambiguous claims, breathing new life into the conspiracy theory.
Pro-Trump troll and self-appointed “citizen journalist” Liz Crokin has expanded on the conspiracy theory to speculate that “The Storm” includes a crackdown on elite pedophiles. Crokin has gone on to accuse model Chrissy Teigen and her husband, singer John Legend, of pedophilia.
By highlighting Corsi’s “central role” in pushing an insane conspiracy theory, Infowars has once again proven that there are no limits to the outlet's shilling for Trump even if it means championing a conspiracy theory called “the new Pizzagate -- only worse.”
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.
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
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.
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.
In addition to speculating about an FBI plot to kill the president, Jackson has falsely claimed that Colin Kaepernick supports terrorism and Trump released his tax returns
Fox News contributor and radio talk show host Kevin Jackson has pushed several outright lies and conspiracy theories in just a few weeks:
December 19: Cited “social media” to float the possibility that the FBI plotted to assassinate President Donald Trump.
FACT: There is absolutely nothing to confirm that the FBI -- or any domestic law enforcement agency -- plotted to assassinate the president of the United States, other than Infowars.
December 5: Falsely claimed Trump released his tax returns.
FACT: He has not.
December 1: Falsely accused former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick of material support for terrorism, claiming he “gives money to terrorists.”
FACT: Claiming Colin Kaepernick “gives money to terrorists” is a lie, unless you have a particularly suspicious view of his donations to groups like "Meals on Wheels; DREAM, a Harlem charter school; the Coalition for the Homeless, an organization offering assistance to homeless people in New York City; and Justice League NYC, an organization opposing child incarceration."
November 4: Parroted Trump’s false claim that the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap resulted in the five released detainees becoming “re-engaged” in terrorism.
FACT: PolitiFact wrote in 2015 that the five Taliban prisoners exchanged for Bergdahl by then-President Barack Obama “are known to be in Qatar, where they have been since their release over a year ago. Qatar is considered neutral ground -- not a battlefield -- and they are not allowed to leave the country.” A 2016 follow-up piece reported that the five men were still in Qatar and a 2017 report pointed out that exaggerated and incorrect claims about released Guantanamo prisoners "became a Republican talking point."
November 3: Falsely claimed Obama funded the Steele dossier.
FACT: Organizing for Action, a non-profit that is not Barack Obama but supports his policies, made payments to a law firm which also paid Fusion GPS for the dossier that former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele compiled on Trump’s potential ties to Russia.
Conspiracy theory reaches local talk radio and fake news websites
Some local talk radio shows and fake news websites are pushing a new conspiracy theory from Infowars that the CIA hacked into a Hawaii state government database to forge former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. One of the radio hosts pushing the conspiracy theory has previously been cited as an analyst on a local ABC affiliate.
On December 12, Jerome Corsi of the conspiracy theory outlet Infowars claimed that investigators for former Maricopa County, AZ, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, headed by his chief investigator Michael Zullo, had found “evidence that the CIA and or other government entities illegally hacked into Hawaii Department of Health records searching for” Obama’s records. (President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio in August after he was charged with criminal contempt because of his treatment of undocumented immigrants.) Corsi, who has been a chief figure of the birther movement, added that the “evidence” “strongly suggests the CIA played a role in the forgery” of Obama’s birth certificate.
Some local talk radio stations have hyped Infowars’ report. New Orleans talk radio host Jeff Crouere -- a Townhall writer who has been featured as a “political analyst” on ABC’s New Orleans affiliate WGNO -- called Corsi’s report a “bombshell” on his radio program (which is carried by a station affiliated with Louisiana Public Broadcasting) and said, “I’ve said from the beginning that birth certificate [Obama] released was a fraud.”
Some stations have invited Corsi and Zullo as guests on different radio shows and allowed them to push the extremely dubious allegation. Corsi hyped his report on Weekend Wake Up with Chuck and Julie on Denver, CO, radio station KNUS, where Corsi said that the “CIA played a major role in, I believe, creating” Obama’s long-form birth certificate that was released in 2011. Corsi also promoted the conspiracy theory on The Peter Boyles Show, which also airs on KNUS. In response to Corsi’s “report,” Boyles said that Obama’s “social security number is fraudulent” (Boyles has previously allowed guests to push birtherism on his program). Zullo spoke about the article on the show Your Turn on Northwest Florida radio station WEBY, where the host called the report a “bombshell” that’s “shaking the Earth” and lauded Infowars.
Additionally, multiple fake news websites have lauded the report, with some of them also calling it a “bombshell” and claiming that it showed the CIA, “possibly with the help of other government agencies, forged Obama’s documentation.” Some of these fake news websites also used their verified Facebook pages to push the conspiracy theory. The Infowars report was also hyped on the pro-Trump subreddit “/r/The_Donald,” a conduit for conspiracy theories.
This is not the first time this year that an Infowars conspiracy theory citing Arpaio has reverberated in the right-wing echo chamber with the help of fake news websites. In March, the outlet, trying to back Trump’s false claim that Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower, asserted that Arpaio had documents showing that Trump and his family had been surveilled by the National Security Agency (NSA) for years. That report subsequently spread to other far-right outlets and fake news websites, along with The Drudge Report.
Since Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel, right-wing media have worked overtime to delegitimize the investigation
Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel on May 17. Since then, right-wing media have repeatedly called the investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election (and a few related issues) a coup against Donald Trump. Watch:
Donald Trump praised Alex Jones’ “amazing” reputation when he appeared on his show
Alex Jones and Infowars have pushed numerous conspiracy theories over the years. Media Matters has compiled a vast number of them into one video:
Some of the conspiracy theories in the video that Jones, his coworkers, and guests have pushed:
Jones claims that “Pizzagate” (that hacked Clinton emails referring to pizza orders were secretly about an underground child molestation ring) is real.
Jones claims that the Oklahoma City and 9/11 terror attacks were false flag attacks. Flight 93 was shot down by someone who refused to go along with the false flag attack; (Jones also claims that the person who disclosed that to him was subsequently murdered.)
Jones claims that mass shootings in Newtown, Las Vegas, and Orlando were either faked or part of elaborately covered-up conspiracies.
Jones claims that though American astronauts did go to the moon, there is secret technology there that has never been disclosed. Jones also agrees with his guest that the real moon landing was never shown to the public.
Jones claims that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both smell like sulfur.
Jones claims that the Rockefeller Foundation is secretly poisoning America through vaccines.
Jones claims that young women get breast cancer from being hyper feminized by artificial chemicals in the food and water.
Jones claims that Charles Manson was part of a secret CIA mind control program.
Jones claims that Donald Trump is being secretly drugged at night (and that he is risking his life by saying so).
Jones amplifies Chuck Norris’ claim in WND that “sky criminals” are using chemtrails to wage war on Americans.
Infowars’ Owen Shroyer claims that Adolf Hitler is still alive.
Jones claims that Democrats are going to kill people; he also claims that liberals want to put people in dungeons, cut skulls open, and eat their brains.
Jones claims that Google is going to force Americans into “self-contained bubble cities.”
Jones claims that “there is a signal being sent by women that is controlling men.”
Jones claims that Al Gore flies around with a refrigerator full of blood.
Jones claims that there are humans crossed with fish; he further claims that there are humanoids that are 80% gorilla, 80% pig and are talking.
Infowars contributor Mike Cernovich claims that we are approaching the singularity because time is becoming dilated.
Jones claims that the government has secret weather weapons that can cause natural disasters like hurricanes. He also claims that there is a secret volcano/earthquake weapon.
Jones claims that top Democrats are “into black magic.”
Jones claims that the Obama White House chiefs and chefs used satanic rituals.
Jones claims that the Canadian Parliament building was built to carry out Satanic rituals.
Jones claims that the Vatican is anti-Christian, and Pope Francis is “an upside down cross.”
Jones claims that the “black pope, the Jesuit general” is now in control.
An Infowars guest claims that the Rothschilds, the Jesuit black pope, the city of London, and Wall Street -- as part of the deep state -- use pedophilia and mind control to control the Free Masons, the Knights of Malta, and other secret societies.
Jones claims that Ted Cruz’s father is linked to the JFK assassination.
Jones claims that there is an alien force attacking humanity. He further says that while he does not bash those who do endorse UFOs, he personally sees it as an interdimensional force telling everyone to kill themselves.
Jones claims that what many people think are flying saucers are actually three jumbo jets projecting an image downwards to the ground.
Jones claims that Michelle Obama is actually a man and that Joan Rivers may have been murdered for revealing it.
Jones claims that there are secret death panels for veterans.
Jones claims that U.N. wants to bring back human sacrifice.
Jones and Infowars guest Billy Corgan allege that elites and mega-wealthy are preparing to secretly go off world.
An Infowars guest claims that children are kidnapped from Earth, transported secretly to Mars where they are enslaved in a Martian colony.
Jones and an Infowars guest allege that stargates are being built, including at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland (and that it is dedicated to Shiva).
Jones claims that exposure to artificial chemicals are turning people gay.
Jones claims that the Pentagon successfully developed a gay bomb.
An Infowars guest claims that a race of part-human, part-robots will replace humans and feed on human corpses.
Jones claims that pedophiles and psychic vampires are in control of an AI system.
Jones claims that outfits worn on MSNBC are uniforms meant to fool the public as MSNBC officials meet with the CIA and top government psychiatrists.
Jones claims that Katy Perry’s Super Bowl performance was part of an Illuminati ritual.
Jones claims that Beyoncé invoked urban terrorism in her video.
An Infowars guest claims that the government secretly has teleportation and time travel technology.
Jones claims that Satan is stealing the promised ability to travel through dimensions.
Jones claims that Russian sex operatives were sent to him whom he heroically declined even though they know that Marilyn Monroe look-alikes are what is in his mind’s eye.
Donald Trump praised Alex Jones’ “amazing” reputation when he appeared on his show.