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  • Trump-endorsed One America News Network among right-wing amplifiers of Jacob Wohl's attempted smear of Pete Buttigieg

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right network One America News Network and others helped spread a hoax from pro-Trump trolls Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman regarding Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

    One America News Network has repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories and employs well-known right-wing conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec. President Donald Trump has praised the network, and he regularly watches and cites its programs -- just last week, he pushed a false claim from OANN that the United Kingdom helped the Obama administration spy on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

    On April 29, the network aired a segment about a Medium post purportedly from a man named Hunter Kelly accusing Buttigieg of sexually assaulting him earlier this year.

    Media Matters did not find a segment since then correcting the report.

    The real Kelly has since come forward to deny he wrote the post; he said Wohl and Burkman tricked him after approaching him to ask him to make up the allegation. From The Daily Beast:

    Kelly said that Wohl and his similarly infamous cohort, lobbyist Jack Burkman, booked him a flight from Michigan to Baltimore. From there, they drove to Burkman’s home in Arlington where Wohl showed him a draft of a statement detailing the bogus accusations against Buttigieg.

    Kelly said he expressed concerns about the scheme but Wohl told him to sleep on it. When Kelly woke at around 11 in the morning, Wohl “was already dressed in a suit because he ‘can’t do a Monday if he isn’t in a suit’” and—of more significance—the fabricated statement had been posted to Medium, along with fake Twitter and Gmail accounts in Kelly’s name.

    According to Kelly, Burkman tried to calm his nerves by claiming that he was a “‘star’ and people are eating me up.”

    The trio, according to Kelly, ate Subway sandwiches, during which Kelly continued to express his regrets. Burkman and Wohl tried to calm him down by promising to purchase “any house I wanted” and insisting that his family would “get over it.”

    Wohl has a history of pushing false claims and hoaxes. He told USA Today in February that he aimed to interfere in the Democratic presidential primaries, including with the use of fake social media accounts, and he previously spread a false claim about Democratic candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). The lie about Buttigieg also resembles a similar scheme by Wohl and Burkman involving a fake intelligence service used to fabricate a false sexual assault allegation against special counsel Robert Mueller.

    In addition to OANN, other figures and outlets that pushed Wohl and Burkman’s false claim about Buttigieg include:

    • PJ Media, though the original link has since been updated to note that the story is false

    • Fellow Gateway Pundit writer Cassandra Fairbanks (who has also since deleted her tweet, which was captured via CrowdTangle)

    • Radio host Bill Mitchell

    • Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/”

    According to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, links to articles that pushed the false claim received more than 31,000 Facebook and Twitter shares combined. The original Medium post also received at least 60,000 Facebook engagements.

    Update (5/1/19): OANN has since aired a segment acknowledging that the allegation against Buttigieg was a hoax from Wohl. On the April 30 edition of The Daily Ledger, guest host Alex Salvi talked about Wohl’s “smear effort” without noting that his own network had pushed the same allegation a day earlier, mocklingly saying, “I mean, we were supposed to believe that Buttigieg announced his candidacy and then immediately went and sexually assaulted someone? It makes no sense.”

  • The far-right is using the tragic Notre Dame Cathedral fire to push conspiracy theories and bigotry

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As a fire consumed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, far-right figures took to social media platforms and message boards to spread misinformation and baseless claims, such as speculating that the fire was connected to terrorism or suggesting that Muslims and ISIS were linked to the tragedy.

    As reported by The New York Times, a spokesperson for the cathedral said the fire’s cause is not yet known, and prosecutors have since ruled out arson. And yet far-right narratives and speculation have already influenced automated suggestions on social media platforms like YouTube, which scrambled as the news was breaking to contain auto-generated text linking content about the cathedral fire to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    Here are some examples of the far-right using the Notre Dame fire to spread bigotry, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and other baseless claims on tech platforms and elsewhere:

    A popular conspiracy theorist known as Partisangirl speculated that French President Emmanuel Macron had “probably set fire to Notre Dame” as a way to deal with recent protests:

    Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson spread a claim based on a since-deleted tweet that cited a Notre Dame Cathedral worker saying “the blaze was deliberately set":

    White nationalist Faith Goldy appeared to suggest that the fire was possible retaliation for the mosque shootings in New Zealand last month in which 50 Muslims were murdered:

    Jim Hoft’s The Gateway Pundit published a “flashback” to ISIS claims that the 2015 terrorist attack in a Paris concert house was “just the beginning”:

    A thread in Reddit’s pro-Trump forum “r/The_Donald” suggested Islam was to blame for the tragedy:

    Anti-Muslim extremist group leader Frank Gaffney baselessly suggested that the fire was part of a “Sharia-supremacist assault on Christianity.”

    Anti-Muslim blog Jihad Watch originally wrongly implied a Muslim woman arrested for an attempted car bombing was related to the attack (it later noted it was a separate story); the baseless suggestion was picked up by The Gateway Pundit and anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer.

    Fox guest host Mark Steyn mentioned terrorist attacks by Muslims while discussing the fire and suggested it showed the decline of Christianity in Europe.

    Loomer, fellow anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, and others on social media suggested a connection between the fire and two men smiling near it, with Geller writing, “Muslims laugh as blaze destroys Notre Dame.”

    Far-right conspiracy theorists Mike Cernovich, Stefan Molyneux, and James Woods claimed the fire meant “the West has fallen,” that it showed the “general decline in IQ throughout the West,” or that it showed “the great and glorious history of Christianity … being eradicated from the face of the ‘new’ Europe.”

    TheBlaze host Glenn Beck said that if the fire “was started by Islamists, I don't think you'll find out about it.”

    Major Twitter accounts pushing the QAnon conspiracy theory also suggested the fire was set deliberately, including Educating Liberals (run by Dylan Wheeler), an account the president's son Donald Trump Jr. follows.

    Anonymous users on far-right message boards on 4chan and 8chan blamed Muslims, suggested it was a false flag, and claimed it was retaliation from “the deep state.”

  • Fox News figures repeatedly suggested the Obamas were behind dropped Smollett charges

    Right-wing figures on social media went further, suggesting the Obamas were involved in the staged Smollett attack

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Multiple Fox News figures and other right-wing media personalities are suggesting that former first lady Michelle Obama helped actor Jussie Smollett after his alleged attack that police say he staged. The claim comes after far-right message boards, social media accounts, and other outlets pushed conspiracy theories that the Obamas or Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) had been involved in the Smollett incident.

  • Actor James Woods is a main conduit for content from the far-right fever swamps to millions on Twitter

    Woods has a history of using his Twitter account to amplify far-right message board narratives, conspiracy theories, and hoaxes

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    James Woods, a far-right Hollywood actor with a large Twitter following, has increasingly become a megaphone for content from the internet fever swamps, amplifying it by pushing it to his followers -- a role that has been noted by journalists, social media analysts, and far-right users themselves.

    Woods, whose verified Twitter account has more than 2 million followers, is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, and his criticism of the left regularly receives positive coverage from conservative media publications. Some right-wing outlets have even characterized Woods as a potential California gubernatorial candidate and championed him as a possible Academy Awards host. His tweets have been retweeted by Fox News host Laura Ingraham and Donald Trump Jr.

    When Woods was briefly suspended by Twitter in September after posting a meme from 4chan that falsely claimed Democrats were urging men not to vote in the midterm elections, the right-wing media ecosystem rushed to his defense. Trump Jr. said Woods was “a strong conservative voice,” and Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell called him “one of the top conservatives” on Twitter. Woods later claimed Twitter told him it would delete his offending tweet and let him back on the following month.

    Yet Woods has continued to use his wide reach on Twitter to regularly share smears, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and other content that can be traced back to anonymous message boards that are popular with far-right users, like 4chan’s “/pol/,” 8chan’s “/qresearch/,” “The_Donald” subreddit (a forum on Reddit for Trump fans), and to white nationalist hotspot Gab. Just this year, Woods has played a crucial role in amplifying the following far-right narratives:

    • In January, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was recovering from surgery and missed oral arguments at the Supreme Court, followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory baselessly speculated that Ginsburg was incapacitated or had died. Later that month, with the false claim and hoaxes supporting it spreading on social media, Woods started repeatedly pushing the conspiracy theory and the hashtag #WheresRuth. A SCOTUSBlog analysis found Woods to be one of the most followed accounts that pushed the conspiracy theory, while The Washington Post noted Woods “helped get the hashtag #WheresRuth trending on Twitter.”

    • In January, soon after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced her presidential campaign, “The_Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “/pol/” relentlessly smeared Harris by claiming she used an extramarital affair with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to boost her political career. As far-right message board users were creating memes and misogynistic nicknames attacking Harris, Woods tweeted multiple hashtags such as #HorizontalHarris, #HeelsUpHarris, #WillieWanker, and #FreeWillie to push the smear to his Twitter audience.

    • In January, a Gab account falsely claimed that former President Barack Obama was behind recent mass layoffs from media outlets due to a 2016 law he signed. The Gab post was picked up by message boards and far-right social media accounts, and Woods tweeted an article pushing the conspiracy theory days later. A Gab user cheered Woods’ tweet, noting it went “to his nearly 2 MILLION followers" and suggesting he was the tipping point in getting the claim to spread broadly.

    • At the end of January and beginning of February, far-right message boards pushed a conspiracy theory that actor Jussie Smollett had coordinated with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Harris in staging what he said was an anti-queer and racist attack on himself to help pass the anti-lynching legislation they had introduced. Smollett has since been indicted for filing a false police report, but there is no evidence that the senators were involved. The conspiracy theory became popular in far-right circles, and Woods tweeted an article pushing the false claim on February 22. An analysis from Storyful found that “Woods’ tweet prompted thousands of users to engage with the theory.”

    Woods’ amplification of fever swamp content has extended to multiple other cases as well:

    • He has repeatedly tweeted screenshots of 8chan posts from “Q,” the central figure of QAnon, and once tweeted and deleted a post simply saying “Q” that QAnon supporters interpreted as an endorsement. He also pushed a hoax about Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) that was popularized by a QAnon account.

  • Right-wing trolls attack Brie Larson and target Captain Marvel with negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

    4chan users called for a boycott of the film after Larson spoke out about the importance of representation

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Media Matters / Melissa Joskow

    Weeks before its release, the superhero movie Captain Marvel has already been targeted with negative reviews on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes after users on 4chan called for a boycott and attacks on the woman-fronted and -directed film.

    On February 12, Entertainment Tonight posted an article in which actor Brie Larson, who portrays the film’s superhero, said: “I had a meeting with Marvel and what we discussed is they wanted to make a big feminist movie.” The next day, The Hollywood Reporter posted a profile of Larson in which she discussed the movie’s significance for women -- in addition to it being the first Marvel movie led by a woman, it is also the first to be directed by a woman. Larson also said in an interview published on February 11 that the movie critic community “appeared to be overwhelmingly white male” and that she wanted the film’s press tour to be “more inclusive” for film critics of color and women.

    Some in far-right circles have responded by lashing out online at Larson, calling her an “idiot” and saying that a “big feminist movie” “sounds awful.” Right-wing writer Courtney Kirchoff wrote articles calling Larson a “rude, sexist, racist bigot” and an “insufferable sexist bitch” on the website of BlazeTV host Steven Crowder, who is part of YouTube’s far-right community and who has hosted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his show and vice versa. On Reddit’s “r/MensRights” subreddit, a user promoted a YouTube video calling Larson an “NPC superhero” -- a reference to a meme about people who supposedly parrot left-wing views without thinking for themselves.

    Users on on 4chan’s “/pol/” message board have been particularly angry, calling the movie “Captain SJW” -- short for “social justice warrior,” a far-right term criticizing those who support liberal causes such as feminism, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights. They also wrote that her “career needs to be destroyed for what she said about white men” and called for the movie to be boycotted. Some users also specifically urged others to “tank” the film’s ratings and “downvote” it on review sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, along with pushing users to start Twitter campaigns like #BoycottBrie and #BoycottMsMarvel:

    On February 18, another 4chan message board, "/tv/," had a thread in which a user asked, "#BoycottCaptainMarvel raids when?"

    Thousands of reviewers flocked to Rotten Tomatoes to tank the film’s pre-rating, which measures what percentage of people want to see it. The film's score dropped from 90 percent on February 11 to 59 percent as of the publication of this article.

    On February 19, some 4chan posters suggested message board users had played a role:

    This would not be the first time far-right trolls tried to impact reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. In 2017, some on the far-right took credit for tanking the rating for Star Wars: The Last Jedi because they were angry about the film’s “feminist agenda.”

  • Right-wing trolls are sharing a hoax version of the Green New Deal

    The hoax has spread enough to reach Google's search suggestions, and people are falling for it

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right trolls are attacking the Green New Deal by sharing a fake version of the proposal that includes a suggestion to use recycled urine.

    The Green New Deal is a comprehensive plan to fight climate change that has been championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). She and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a nonbinding resolution on February 7 that outlines policies for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within 10 years, including transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy and revamping transportation, agriculture, buildings, and other infrastructure.

    As the Twitter account Unfakery pointed out, right-wing trolls are parodying the contents of the Green New Deal in an attempt to fool people into believing it actually includes a proposal to recycle urine.

    Google’s search engine also picked up the disinformation: The hoax currently comes up as a suggestion when one types in “recycling urine.” (Media Matters searched for the term via an incognito browser.)

    Here’s how far-right trolls spread the hoax:

    YouTube conspiracy theorist Mark Dice posted the hoax on both Twitter and Facebook and admitted that he made up the language, urging his followers to “spread it around,” make it “go viral,” and “don’t give away the joke.”

    A YouTube user posted a video about the Green New Deal that mentioned Dice’s hoax as if it were a real point in the proposal. Dice wrote a comment under the video saying that he created the hoax as “satire,” again urging people to spread it:

    Reddit forum “r/The_Donald”:

    4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/” (an earlier 4chan thread also pushed the hoax, but it has since been deleted):

    Reddit’s “r/The_Donald”:

    Far-right troll and One America News Network host Jack Posobiec (who later wrote that it was “obvious satire”):

    Even though Posobiec noted that it wasn’t real, other far-right trolls continued to spread the hoax, including on /pol/:

  • Far-right figures push conspiracy theory blaming Obama for mass journalism layoffs

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right figures on social media, message boards, and fringe websites have been pushing a conspiracy theory that claims former President Barack Obama is behind the recent mass layoffs at media outlets. These figures include conservative actor James Woods and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

    The conspiracy theory seems to have started on Gab, a social media platform favored by white nationalists, where a user falsely claimed that the Obama administration had been funding journalists to push its propaganda via the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act and that the layoffs were due to the funding drying up. In fact, Obama signed the measure as part of a defense authorization bill, and it specifically aimed to fight foreign propaganda. The new conspiracy theory builds off of previous far-right hysteria that the 2016 law would target “alternative media.”

    The recent media layoffs -- which have hit numerous news outlets including HuffPost, BuzzFeed, McClatchy, and Vice Media -- are due to multiple factors, including their dependence on Facebook for page clicks (which decreased after Facebook made changes to its news feed) and struggles with ad revenue. Far-right trolls on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/” have helped coordinate a harassment campaign against those journalists based on a false claim that reporters in the past had flippantly urged working-class Americans to start new careers in tech. The 4chan campaign targeted journalists on social media with messages telling them to “learn to code” -- language that was repeated by some users pushing the new conspiracy theory.

    Here’s how the false claim spread from Gab through the right-wing fever swamps:

    QAnon believer Amber Merkel on Gab:

    QAnon believer Neon Revolt on Gab:

    Twitter account @outlawjw, which has also pushed the QAnon conspiracy theory, tweeted the false claim from Gab:

    Reddit forum “r/The_Donald”:

    4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/”:

    8chan’s "/pol/":

    Far-right website DC Whispers:

    Actor James Woods:

    Neon Revolt touted the important role Gab played in amplifying the conspiracy theory:

    Fake news site NewsPunch (formerly known as YourNewsWire):

    Conspiracy theory outlet Infowars posted on its website a video featuring Alex Jones pushing the false claim, and the video then spread on Facebook and YouTube:

    The false claim continued to spread online, such as on conspiracy theory site Natural News:

  • Newsmax host elevates far-right conspiracy theory accusing two Democratic presidential candidates of staging a hate crime

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Editor’s note (2/21): Following the publication of this post, Smollett was arrested on February 21 by Chicago police “on suspicion of filing a false report about” the alleged assault.

    Newsmax TV and Rebel Media host John Cardillo amplified a far-right conspiracy theory that originated from message boards and social media accounts and accuses Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) of staging the alleged anti-queer and racist attack against actor Jussie Smollett. The conspiracy theory contends that the senators' intent in drawing attention to a case like Smollet's was to help pass their proposed anti-lynching legislation. The baseless claim connects with the far-right narrative that Smollett's alleged attack -- which reportedly included the attackers wrapping a rope around the Empire star’s neck -- was a hoax in efforts to minimize the importance of anti-lynching legislation.

    Harris and Booker, both of whom recently announced their 2020 presidential candidacies, introduced the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) last summer. The bill, which unanimously passed in the Senate, would classify lynching as a federal hate crime. Earlier attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation in Congress failed repeatedly during the 19th and 20th centuries when the act of racial terrorism was widespread across the country. Both Harris and Booker have called the attack on Smollett a “modern-day lynching.”

    Here’s how the conspiracy theory bubbled up from the fever swamps to Cardillo’s Twitter feed:

    Twitter account @hankentwhistle:

    4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as /pol/:

    YouTube:

    Reddit’s “r/conspiracy” forum:

    4chan’s /pol/:

    Reddit’s “r/The_Donald”:

    Voat, a Reddit clone populated mostly by alt-right trolls:

    Gab:

    Multiple Twitter accounts:

    Newsmax TV host John Cardillo:

  • A New Mexico judge received multiple death threats. Earlier, right-wing social media accounts had spread her contact information.

    After a controversial bail decision, Judge Sarah Backus' contact information was spread on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and 4chan.

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A New Mexico courthouse was evacuated following a slew of death threats against District Court Judge Sarah Backus via social media, phone calls, and emails. Prior to the evacuation, conservative accounts had spread her contact information across social media platforms after she granted bail to five suspects allegedly involved with training children to perform school shootings in a remote compound in New Mexico stating that prosecutors had not shown “clear and convincing evidence” of the alleged planned attack.

    On August 13, Backus presided over the bail hearing for suspects of the compound case and set bail at $20,000 each, ordering that the suspects remain under house arrest and wear GPS ankle monitors. In reaction to her ruling, right-wing Facebook pages posted links and memes referring to Backus’ role in the trial and put her phone number and email in the status. The far-right page The Red Elephants posted her contact information suggesting that followers should call and complain about her decision to grant bail to the accused; the post was shared 10 thousand times. Three other conservative Facebook pages posted a meme calling for Backus’ removal and gave her office number as well as numbers to the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commision, the White House, and the U.S. Capitol switchboard. The top post among these was shared 27 thousand times. One other popular post from a grey-badge verified page also included Backus’ office number, as well as the email of Chief Judge Jeff McElroy of New Mexico. The content from conservative Facebook pages also spread through Pro-Trump Facebook groups. Posts on major groups encouraged people to call and email Backus.  

    Backus’ contact information also spread on other platforms, including Twitter, Reddit, and message board 4chan. A few popular tweets from pro-Trump accounts mimicked the language in the Facebook posts while spreading Backus’ office number, fax number, email and even court address. In a top Reddit thread on “r/the_donald,” one top-voted comment included Backus’ contact information, as well as numbers of the office of New Mexico’s attorney general, and a court number which the poster said could be used to reach Backus’ clerk. On 4chan, a couple of threads shared Backus’ office number. One post shared a screenshot of Backus’ supposed Twitter page and implicitly called for others to find and doxx the boy who is featured in the profile picture.