Fox's Jeanine Pirro suggested that Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib are representing other countries in Congress
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On July 30, President Donald Trump said that he would be willing to meet with Iranian leadership with “no preconditions.” Right-wing outlets were largely silent about Trump’s remarks, but had harshly criticized former President Barack Obama for saying the same thing.
While running for president and during his presidency, Obama made clear that his vision for America’s foreign policy involved meeting with Iran. In 2009, Obama said that he was willing to talk to Iran “without preconditions” to reach a deal that would end the country’s nuclear weapon program. Obama again said in 2013 that he would sit down with Iranian leadership but only if the regime signaled that it was serious about giving up its nuclear weapons. In response, conservative media pundits branded the former president as “weak” and roundly disapproved of his supposed leniency toward Iran.
But now right-wing outlets are generally silent about Trump’s remarks. Notably, Fox host Sean Hannity, who was an outspoken critic of Obama’s plans to meet with Iran, has not mentioned Trump’s announcement, and many others have followed his lead.
Here’s how right-wing media reacted to Obama previously:
Anti-Muslim hate crimes increased for the second consecutive year in 2016, according to the latest FBI numbers. During this climate of bigotry, the right-wing media figures used their platforms to blatantly spread fear and misinformation, demonizing Muslims all over the world. Some explicitly called for American Muslims to be put in internment camps, while others denied the existence of Islamophobia in our schools (Islamophobia actually increased in 2016), and claimed that Muslim immigration means more terrorism (there's no connection).
Here is a glimpse of some of the most absurd things the right-wing media figures said about Muslims in 2017.
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 the wake of a vehicle attack in New York City that left at least eight dead and 11 injured, Fox News’ prime-time shows dusted off their playbook for analyzing apparent terror incidents by turning to a series of renowned anti-Muslim activists for commentary and insight.
According to The New York Times, on October 31, a man driving a rented pickup truck sped down a designated bike path in lower Manhattan, killing at least eight people and injuring at least 11 others. After striking a school bus, the driver of the vehicle was shot and apprehended by authorities.
In its virtually wall-to-wall coverage of the attack, Fox News hosted a series of hate group leaders and disreputable guests who have histories of making inflammatory and anti-Muslim comments, including Brigitte Gabriel, Pamela Geller, Sebastian Gorka, and Zuhdi Jasser. Viewers who tuned in to Fox to learn about what happened in New York City saw self-described “terrorism analyst” Gabriel scapegoating refugees as a threat to national security:
Meanwhile, Geller said on Hannity that “a rational response” to such an attack would be to “stop certain Muslim immigration from jihad nations”:
Gorka, who was also a guest on Hannity, claimed that the phrase “lone wolf” was “invented” and “made popular by the Obama administration to make Americans disconnect the dots” on terrorism:
And Jasser asserted on Tucker Carlson Tonight that Americans “are in denial if we don’t believe that nonviolent Islamism is a precursor to militant Islamism”:
Fox has a long history of providing untrustworthy coverage of terror incidents in part by following a pattern of hosting anti-Muslim hate group leaders or other controversial guests to further the network’s political agenda.
Far-right hate groups across extremist ideologies have united to attack and discredit their hate group designation by Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in an attempt to regain legitimacy and rehab their images. Many hate groups have attempted to delegitimize the SPLC’s hate group label over the years, but their efforts have dramatically ramped up in 2017 in reaction to a series of escalating events including SPLC designating anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and anti-immigrant group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) hate groups and media outlets accurately labeling these organizations as such in their reporting.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, and, according to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), it “specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally.” ADF operates on $48 million-plus annual budget and has what it refers to as a “powerful global network” of over 3,100 ADF-trained “allied attorneys.” SPLC designated ADF a hate group because ADF’s leaders and its affiliated lawyers have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” ADF’s influence is widespread. It has played a role in dozens of Supreme Court cases, including regarding abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues; it has special advisory status at the United Nations; it has at least 55 affiliated lawyers serving in influential government positions at the state and federal levels; and it has infiltrated local school boards across the country.
ADF formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. in 2003 when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas defending state sodomy laws which called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” ADF has also worked to criminalize gay sex abroad, including in Jamaica, Belize, and India, and is leading the national campaign for “bathroom bills” targeting transgender youth. One ADF attorney peddled the myth that Matthew Shepard’s violent murder in 1998 was not an anti-gay hate crime. SPLC designated ADF a hate group on February 15, but it wasn’t till early June that ADF started challenging the designation, attacking Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother, for penning an op-ed about groups like ADF that “bullying LGBTQ children.” Since then, ADF and its allies have successfully pressured the nonprofit database GuideStar to reverse its decision of putting the SPLC hate group label on 46 nonprofit groups on its website. In a series of media appearances, ADF has also relentlessly attacked ABC and NBC for accurately labeling it a hate group in news reports regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech at an ADF event.
The Family Research Council (FRC) is another anti-LGBTQ hate group that wields significant influence in the current administration; its senior fellow, Ken Blackwell, was officially appointed to President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which critics have called a voter suppression effort. FRC President Tony Perkins embraced and endorsed Trump as a candidate during the presidential election cycle (and met with him at the White House earlier this month). And at least four people, including Blackwell, who are affiliated with FRC were a part of Trump’s transition team. FRC has a budget of tens of millions of dollars and promotes the idea “that people can and should try to change their sexual orientation” or “just not act on it.” According to SPLC’s extremist file, FRC “often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science” in order to “denigrate LGBT people.” FRC’s official position is that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large” and “is by definition unnatural.” Former FRC Vice President Rob Schwarzwalder accused gay youth of joining the Boy Scouts of America “for predatory purposes,” and various FRC representatives and publications have repeatedly compared homosexuality to pedophilia. Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, asserted that LGBTQ youth suicide rates would drop if the teenagers were “discourage[d] from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual” and urged others “not to create a positive social environment for the affirmation of homosexuality.” In a 2010 appearance on MSNBC, Sprigg also said that the United States should “outlaw gay behavior.” In 2011, the FRC called for its supporters to pray for countries that had laws criminalizing sodomy and were being pressured by the U.S. to remove them, and it suggested that homosexuality “has had a devastating impact upon Africans,” citing the AIDS crisis as an example.
FRC has fought against its hate group designation since SPLC gave it the label in 2010. In that same year, the group launched a “Start Debating, Stop Hating” campaign in response to the label, which it called “slanderous.” FRC also took out a full-page ad in Politico as part of the campaign. After a gunman shot a security guard at FRC headquarters in 2012, Perkins blamed SPLC’s “reckless rhetoric” for the shooting and asserted that the shooter was “given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations” such as the SPLC. More recently, FRC joined other hate groups in sending a letter to GuideStar’s president demanding that he remove the hate group labels from its database and praised GuideStar when it decided to do so. FRC also led the “#SPLCexposed” hashtag campaign on Twitter, which attempted to delegitimize the hate group label and drew a number of hate groups to the campaign.
Liberty Counsel is an anti-LGBTQ hate group founded by Mat Staver, former dean of Liberty University School of Law, that “shares a close affiliation with Liberty University,” according to SPLC. Staver has called LGBTQ History Month a "sexual assault on our children," repeatedly warned that the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage would trigger a revolution and civil war, and claimed nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people will result in the "death of some individuals."
Liberty Counsel also famously represented Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in litigation after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same and opposite-sex couples in 2015; Talking Points Memo reported that Staver “compared Davis’ plight to that of Jews in Nazi Germany” during a radio interview. Staver has also compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles, once saying that allowing gay youth and adults in the Boy Scouts will cause “all kinds of sexual molestation” and create a “playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.” Liberty Counsel has called gay sex “harmful sexual behavior” and pushed the myth that LGBTQ people “can change.” Former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber said that LGBTQ people “know intuitively that what they are doing is immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive,” adding that they have “tied their whole identity up in this sexual perversion.” Barber has also called “disease, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide … consequences” of being gay.
Staver signed the letter that asked GuideStar to remove hate group designations and accused SPLC of using the label as part of its “aggressive political agenda.” On June 28, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against GuideStar, saying it and SPLC “are intent on destroying pro-family organizations,” and accused GuideStar’s CEO of “using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda.” Liberty Counsel’s blog post on the subject also linked to the personal Twitter account of the CEO and his wife. GuideStar’s decision to remove hate group labels was reportedly in part because of “harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a lobbying hate group founded by white nationalist John Tanton. Tanton is currently editor and publisher of the quarterly journal The Social Contract, which, according to SPLC, has “claimed that multiculturalists are trying to replace ‘successful Euro-American culture’ with ‘dysfunctional Third World cultures.’" During his time at FAIR, Tanton wrote a series of memos that warned of a “Latin onslaught” and “depicted Hispanics as hyperactive breeders,” which caused many high-level conservatives to flee his orbit. FAIR has ties to a number of other extremists, including white supremacists Peter Brimelow and Jared Taylor and Holocaust denier Kevin MacDonald.
Tanton currently sits on FAIR’s board but has retired from the limelight. He was replaced by current President Dan Stein, who frequently appears in right-wing and mainstream media to promote anti-immigrant policies and smear immigrants. In one such interview, Stein claimed that “many [immigrants] hate America, hate everything that the United States stands for.” Stein has defended Tanton and, according to SPLC, “celebrated a new ‘disdain’ in the media and among intellectuals for ‘the political agenda of those who openly attack the contributions of Western Civilization.’"
In 2009, FAIR published a report titled “A Guide to Understanding the Tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center in the Immigration Debate,” which smeared SPLC as a discredited entity and claimed that journalists have an unfavorable view of the organization. Since then, FAIR has attacked SPLC on Twitter. Dale Wilcox, president and general counsel of FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Legal Institute (IRLI), signed the letter calling on GuideStar to remove its hate group labels. Wilcox also wrote an op-ed in Breitbart titled “Why the Mainstream Media Must Stop Citing ‘Anti-Hate’-Crusader Southern Poverty Law Center,” and his group has attacked GuideStar on Twitter for including the SPLC’s hate group labels.
Tanton also founded FAIR’s sister organization, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). SPLC labeled CIS a hate group in 2017 for peddling work by discredited white nationalists and eugenicists. CIS works as the research arm of what SPLC has dubbed “the nativist lobby,” the anti-immigrant lobbying effort spearheaded by groups Tanton founded, including FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA. CIS frequently publishes skewed research meant to denigrate immigrants and promote anti-immigration policies, claiming, for example, that immigrants are taking jobs away from native-born Americans and disproportionately using welfare benefits.
CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian has actively disputed the hate group label by defending white nationalists and eugenicist pseudoscience. In an op-ed in The Washington Post in March, Krikorian complained that the SPLC “made a hate figure of John Tanton” and downplayed a CIS contributor’s assertion that Hispanic immigrants may never “reach IQ parity with whites” as merely “contentious.” He also called the “hate group” label “an attempt to delegitimize and suppress views regarding immigration held by a large share of the American public.” Krikorian and other CIS employees have repeatedly sought to smear SPLC, and Krikorian has used his platform to attack GuideStar for using SPLC’s hate group labels.
ACT for America has transformed into “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” according to SPLC, which labels it a hate group. The group’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has been fearmongering that Muslim immigrants and refugees from the Middle East have transformed Europe into “Eurabia” and has declared that a practicing Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” ACT often organizes conferences that convene anti-Muslim leaders and groups, including Frank Gaffney, head of hate group the Center for Security Policy. In 2008, ACT launched a campaign called Stop Shariah Now to fearmonger about Sharia “creeping” into western culture and, according to SPLC, “worked closely” with Gaffney “to push anti-Shariah legislation at the state level.”
Gabriel has attacked SPLC as biased against conservatives, and she was also one of the hate group leaders who signed the letter blasting GuideStar for using SPLC’s hate group labels. She has also penned her own letter to GuideStar defending her group and other hate groups.
February 15: SPLC included ADF and CIS in its list of active hate groups in 2016. ADF did not immediately respond.
March 17: The Washington Post published an op-ed by CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian, who condemned the SPLC list and wrote that the “blacklist” was “an attempt to delegitimize and suppress views regarding immigration held by a large share of the American public.”
April 18: After more than two months, ADF issued a statement in which it responded to the SPLC designation by not responding to it: “ADF doesn't have time to respond to organizations who do nothing more than call names, create division and incite violence across the country in order to raise money."
May 15: Judy Shepard, the mother of 22-year-old Matthew Shepard, who was killed in anti-gay homicide, wrote an op-ed in Time magazine about “multimillion-dollar ‘hate groups’” such as ADF “bullying LGBTQ children” in an attempt to ban transgender people from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity.
May 17: The Federalist published an attack on SPLC’s hate group designation, comparing it to the “burn book” from the movie Mean Girls. The post accused SPLC of using the hate group label “to manipulate the lives of others, smear reputations, control personal relationships, and reap the spoils,” as well as calling it an attempt to “control all speech.” Numerous hate group representatives, including Krikorian, and accounts tweeted out the story. In fact, retweeting this story became one of ADF’s first official attacks on SPLC’s designation.
June 7: Time magazine updated Shepard’s op-ed with a response from ADF defending its work and bringing up her son’s death:
True hate is animosity toward others, and it often takes the form of violence. Sadly, Ms. Shepard knows what that is. She lost her son to senseless violence. We at ADF condemn all such manifestations of true hate. They have no place in our society. We remain steadfast in affirming basic human rights and dignity through debate, dialogue, and principled advocacy.
June 9: ADF published a full response to Shepard’s op-ed on its blog, which more forcibly attacked Shepard and accused her of “name-calling and slander” and spreading a “lie.” The post also spread myths about transgender people and said that allowing them to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity “compromises the privacy and dignity of young students who do not want to share overnight facilities, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms with the opposite sex.”
June 21: Hate groups united to pen a letter to GuideStar asking the nonprofit to remove the hate group labels, writing that the designation is “a political weapon targeting people it deems to be its political enemies” and calling SPLC’s list of hate groups “ad hoc, partisan, and agenda-driven.” Co-signers of the letter included representatives from IRLI, FRC, Liberty Counsel, ACT for America, ADF, and numerous others.
June 21: On the day the hate groups sent the letter to GuideStar, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by The Weekly Standard’s Jeryl Bier attacking GuideStar and accusing the SPLC of “besmirching mainstream groups like the FRC.” Bier has appeared on FRC President Tony Perkins’ radio show. In the op-ed, Bier asserted that “SPLC’s work arguably contributes to the climate of hate it abhors” and lamented that journalists are citing SPLC’s designation.
June 26: A Washington Post report on GuideStar’s reversal quoted a number of hate groups sharing talking points about the designation, including that it was linked to the shooting at FRC and “the recent shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.” The report highlighted the hate groups’ letter accusing the designation of being “partisan” and wrote that Christians “said they’d been targeted as hateful for opposing same-sex marriage.”
June 27: Vice published a profile about ADF “stealthily seizing power in the nation's public school systems,” its “unmistakable effort to make schools hostile to queer students,” and its hate group designation. ADF refused to speak to Vice for the article.
June 28: Politico magazine published a lengthy article questioning whether SPLC’s hate group designation is “overstepping its bounds.” The article specifically lent credibility to hate groups CIS, which the report noted has “been invited to testify before Congress more than 100 times,” and FRC, which it called “one of the country’s largest and most established Christian conservative advocacy groups.” The right-wing Media Research Center highlighted the piece on its website the same day it was published.
June 28: Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against GuideStar, saying it and SPLC “are intent on destroying pro-family organizations” and accused GuideStar’s CEO of “using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda.” Liberty Counsel’s blog post on the subject also linked to the personal Twitter account of the CEO and his wife.
July 11: Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a closed-door speech to ADF at its “Summit on Religious Liberty” in California.
July 13: ADF demanded a retraction and apology from ABC for its report, calling it “defamatory” and “journalistic malpractice.”
July 13: Sessions’ speech, which the Department of Justice refused to release, was leaked to anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist. In the speech, Sessions compared the so-called battle for “religious freedom” to Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.
July 14: ADF began an aggressive media strategy, with its representatives appearing on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Tucker Carlson Tonight to attack the SPLC and attempt to discredit ABC and NBC. ADF’s representatives either repeated the “journalistic malpractice” line during the interview or called the outlets’ reporting “unethical” or “fake news.” Meanwhile, right-wing media also rushed to ADF’s defense.
July 16: FRC also launched a counteroffensive against the hate group designation aiming to “expose” the SPLC as “a left wing smear group who has become exactly what they set out to fight, spreading hate and putting targets on people's backs.” FRC urged supporters to use the hashtag #SPLCexposed. Hate groups such as white nationalist website VDARE, ACT for America, CIS, and FAIR, or their representatives, all joined FRC on Twitter using the hashtag.
July 19: The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Edwin Meese, who has worked with FRC and other groups, calling ADF “a respected civil-rights law firm.” In the op-ed, Meese also repeated ADF’s “journalistic malpractice” charge against ABC and NBC for giving “credence to the SPLC’s recklessly defamatory hate list” in their reporting. Meese wrote that their reporting “is a prime reason” for Americans’ distrust of the media and called on reporters to “stop spreading malignant propaganda.”
July 19: Forbes published an op-ed by Brian Miller of the Center for Individual Rights attacking ABC and NBC’s use of the “hate group” label and arguing that the use of the label was an attempt to “shut down conversation.” Miller concluded that “the very security that is necessary for diverse people to contribute to our social fabric” is at stake “in our climate of heated rhetoric.”
Brigitte Gabriel Is The Founder Of An Anti-Muslim Extremist Group
On February 9, Fox News hosted Brigitte Gabriel to give commentary on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ refusal to reinstate President Trump’s Muslim. Gabriel, the founder of an anti-Muslim extremist organization, used the opportunity to propagate Islamophobic lies.
Gabriel is the founder of ACT! for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says has "eagerly tapped into a groundswell of anti-Muslim rage and done what it could to fan the flames." She appeared on Fox several times after the Charlie Hebdo attack, despite her history of extreme Islamophobia. Gabriel was a guest on the January 7, 2015, edition of Hannity, where she said that Muslims in Europe "started multiplying" after World War II and did not assimilate and that Europe is "paying the price" because it "ignored the cancer growing within its body when it was at Stage Two." In her appearance on the January 8, 2015, edition of The Kelly File, she argued that the "Islamic religion" forbids Muslims to assimilate.
In September 2014, Gabriel told an audience at the Values Voter Summit that "180 million to 300 million" Muslims are "radical Islamists who are willing to strap bombs on their bodies and walk into this room and blow us all up to smithereens." In June 2014, Gabriel berated a Muslim student who had criticized members of a Heritage Foundation panel on Islam, calling her a liar and saying, "Your loyalty is somewhere else. It's time we see more patriotism from the Muslim community and less terrorism." During the 2016 presidential campaign, Gabriel accused Hillary Clinton of trying to “appeal to the Islamic vote” because the father of a Muslim mass shooter was seen at one of her rallies. In July 2016, Gabriel also claimed that “the majority of Muslims around the world … do not believe in man-made law” and are thus “not compatible with our constitution.” A prominent Middle East expert and editor of The Oxford History of Islam called Gabriel "a professional Muslim basher." From the February 9 edition of Fox News’ The First 100 Days:
In her past role at Fox News, new NBC News hire Megyn Kelly has invited onto her show a number of extremists and hate group leaders who spread and espouse anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant views, statements, and lies. Will she continue her practice of hosting bigotry in her upcoming daytime news and Sunday evening programs?
Media Matters partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Center for New Community, and ReThink Media to release a journalist's guide to the network of anti-Muslim activists and surrogates spreading vitriolic rhetoric in the media and the best practices for countering these extremists’ misinformation.
The report “profiles 15 prominent anti-Muslim extremists, many of whom are associated with organizations identified by the SPLC as hate groups,” who appear frequently in the media, “where they spread falsehoods that too often go untested.” Citing the “baseless” propaganda produced by these extremists who “have shamelessly exploited terrorist attacks and the Syrian refugee crisis, among other things, to demonize the entire Islamic faith,” the full report details the way television news networks and leading newspapers have allowed these extremists to “routinely espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods” about Muslims without providing any pushback. The report contends that the media have enabled these extremists to vilify American Muslims by accusing them of conspiring to “impose Shariah religious law,” thereby creating a false impression of the community and resulting in “hundreds of violent hate crime attacks” against them. From the October 26 report:
Ever since the Al Qaeda massacre of Sept. 11, 2001, American Muslims have been under attack. They have been vilified as murderers, accused of conspiring to take over the United States and impose Shariah religious law, described as enemies of women, and subjected to hundreds of violent hate crime attacks. A major party presidential nominee has even suggested that America ban Muslim immigrants.
Fueling this hatred has been the propaganda, the vast majority of it completely baseless, produced and popularized by a network of anti-Muslim extremists and their enablers. These men and women have shamelessly exploited terrorist attacks and the Syrian refugee crisis, among other things, to demonize the entire Islamic faith.
Sadly, a shocking number of these extremists are seen regularly on television news programs and quoted in the pages of our leading newspapers. There, they routinely espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods, all designed to make Muslims appear as bloodthirsty terrorists or people intent on undermining American constitutional freedoms. More often than not, these claims go uncontested.
This misinformation and hateful rhetoric have consequences. When huge numbers of Americans believe that a majority of Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, it can hardly be a surprise that some percentage of them engage in hate crime attacks. After all, they learned of the threat they believe Muslims pose from sources who were presented by the media as authoritative experts.
This country faces an array of complex and daunting problems, the threat of terrorism indisputably among them. Let’s not make them worse by allowing self-described “experts” to propagandize our fellow Americans with defamatory and frightening falsehoods. Our media, in particular, has the opportunity to present an objective picture that illuminates, rather than distorts, reality.
The 15 anti-Muslim extremists profiled in the report are Ann Corcoran, Steven Emerson, Brigitte Gabriel, Frank Gaffney Jr., Pamela Geller, John Guandolo, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, David Horowitz, Ryan Mauro, Robert Muise, Daniel Pipes, Walid Shoebat, Robert Spencer, and David Yerushalmi. The report lists various false and extreme claims from the extremists and calls on the media to stop presenting the extremists as “authoritative experts” and allowing them to “propagandize our fellow Americans with defamatory and frightening falsehoods”:
The anti-Muslim extremists profiled here have, between them, claimed that Islamic extremists have infiltrated the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other agencies; asserted that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where non-Muslims including police are afraid to enter; suggested that there is a Muslim plot to impose Sharia religious law on U.S. courts; and claimed that President Obama is a secret Muslim. These claims, along with many others, have been shown conclusively to be false.
According to the report, the media coverage of and interviews with these anti-Muslim extremists fail to contextualize their “defamatory and false rhetoric and their hate group associations” and thus don't tell their audiences that these extremists “are far outside the mainstream, and that their factual assertions are very often completely baseless.” The report includes best practices for media, noting that “too often, television networks, newspapers and other media organizations turn to these groups’ spokespeople as credible sources on national security, immigration and religious liberty, and valid counterpoints to real issue experts.”
The report’s best practices include:
Research the background of extremist spokespeople and consider other sources.
If you do use anti-Muslim spokespeople, point out their extremism.
Prepare to challenge hateful rhetoric and misinformation.
Don’t rely on opposing guests to challenge extremists.
This post has been updated. SPLC has since apologized and updated its guide to remove Nawaz.
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Fox News has repeatedly hosted representatives from ACT! for America and the Center for Security Policy, organizations designated as anti-Muslim hate groups in 2015 for the first time by the Southern Poverty Law Center in its annual census of hate groups and other extremist organizations.
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Fox News has responded to the attack on the satirical French paper Charlie Hebdo by inviting notorious Islamophobes to appear as guests in discussions about Islam, terrorism, and immigration.
In the week after the attack, Fox News hosts themselves produced shockingly Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric. For instance, Sean Hannity wondered if the U.S. should "insist" on assimilation from Muslim immigrants, and Bob Beckel admitted, "I'm an Islamophobe." But it's not just the hosts: Fox has given many media figures with a clear record of Islamophobia a platform in the week following the Charlie Hebdo attack, making the debate on the network drastically more extreme.
A self-styled "terrorism expert," Emerson prompted outrage and ridicule in Britain by claiming in a January 10 appearance on Fox News' Justice with Judge Jeanine that Birmingham, the second-largest city in the United Kingdom, is "totally Muslim" and a place "where non-Muslims just simply don't go in." Birmingham is, in fact, 22 percent Muslim. Emerson has also appeared on Fox News on at least three other occasions since the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, including an appearance on Hannity the night of the attack in which he declared Europe "finished" because of its supposedly high numbers of non-assimilated Muslims.
Even before British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Emerson is "clearly an idiot" because of his comments, Emerson had little credibility on terrorism. During coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Emerson claimed on Fox that the suspect was a Saudi national -- a claim that was later thoroughly discredited. After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Emerson claimed that it had "a Middle Eastern trait" because it "was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible." Emerson also said that Oklahoma City was "probably considered one of the largest centers of Islamic radical activity outside the Middle East."
Gabriel is the founder of ACT! for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says has "eagerly tapped into a groundswell of anti-Muslim rage and done what it could to fan the flames." She has appeared on Fox several times since the Charlie Hebdo attack, despite her history of extreme Islamophobia. Gabriel was a guest on the January 7 edition of Hannity, where she said that Muslims in Europe "started multiplying" after World War II and did not assimilate and that Europe is "paying the price" because it "ignored the cancer growing within its body when it was at Stage Two." In her appearance on the January 8 edition of The Kelly File, she argued that the "Islamic religion" forbids Muslims to assimilate.
In September 2014, Gabriel told an audience at the Values Voter Summit that "180 million to 300 million" Muslims are "radical Islamists who are willing to strap bombs on their bodies and walk into this room and blow us all up to smithereens." In June 2014, Gabriel berated a Muslim student who had criticized members of a Heritage Foundation panel on Islam, calling her a liar and saying, "Your loyalty is somewhere else. It's time we see more patriotism from the Muslim community and less terrorism." A prominent Middle East expert and editor of The Oxford History of Islam called Gabriel "a professional Muslim basher."
Farage is the leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), an anti-immigration party, and has appeared on Fox three times since the Hebdo attack. On January 7, the night of the attack, Farage appeared on Your World with Neil Cavuto, arguing that "the biggest mistake the governments have made" is "promoting multiculturalism" and that "we come from countries with Christian cultures and Christian constitutions, and it's about time we started standing up for that." On January 12, Farage joined the hosts of Fox & Friends to criticize "open door" immigration policies and defend his attacks on multiculturalism. Farage also appeared on Hannity that night, where he warned that Sharia law is being implemented in British Muslim communities.
Farage and the party he leads have a history of extremism on Islam. In 2010, Farage called for burqas to be banned, saying they were a symbol of "an increasingly divided Britain" and could pose a security risk. In February 2014, the party's immigration spokesman, Gerard Batten, said he stood by his 2006 charter for Muslims, a code of conduct that all British Muslims should sign stating they reject violence. The Guardian reported that the charter was once promoted on the party's website.
Gaffney, a Washington Times columnnist and founder of the Center for Security Policy, appeared on the January 12 edition of Justice with Judge Jeanine. He argued that President Obama is "engaged in basically trying to enforce Sharia blasphemy laws" and said that "most of those who are being brought here" -- apparently referring to Muslims -- are bringing "no-go zones" here as their "preferred practice."
Gaffney was once described by the SPLC as "the anti-Muslim movement's most paranoid propagandist." In 2011, he was prohibited from participating in the Conservative Political Action Conference after he claimed it had been infiltrated by Islamic extremists and accused prominent conservative Grover Norquist of being a mole for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Boykin, a retired Army lieutenant general and deputy undersecretary for defense under George W. Bush, was a guest on the January 9 edition of Fox & Friends to comment on a hostage situation at a printing press outside Paris involving suspects in the Charlie Hebdo attack. Boykin argued that these were "sophisticated terrorists" and that what they were doing is "a reflection of what's growing in these no-go zones."
Boykin has drawn criticism and faced consequences for making Islamophobic comments in the past. In 2010, Boykin called Islam a "totalitarian way of life," and in 2012 Boykin called Islam "evil."
Spencer, director of the Jihad Watch website, appeared on Hannity on January 9. Spencer claimed that a "core principle" in Islam is "the idea of emigrating to a new place to conquer and Islamize it, and that's exactly what we're seeing." He also cited the "much higher" birth rate of Muslim populations as evidence that "Sharia enclaves" will "inevitably grow and continue to grow until, finally, that's all there is."
Spencer once stated that it's "absurd" to think that "Islam is a religion of peace that's been hijacked by a tiny minority" and that there is a "doctrine of warfare" in Islam. According to the SPLC, Spencer "engages in fear-mongering through steady reference to theories like 'stealth jihad,' eminent 'Islamization of America,' and the infiltration of Congress by 'Muslim spy interns.' "
The annual Values Voter Summit will take place from September 26 through September 28 in Washington, DC. The convention is sponsored by hate groups like the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, and regularly features extreme rhetoric and hate from politicians and conservative media members. In 2013, Ben Carson said that Obamacare is "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery." Here is some of what you can expect at the 2014 event:
Media figures speaking at the event are scheduled to include: Lt. General William Boykin, Fox News contributor Oliver North, Rick Santorum, Fox News contributor Sarah Palin, David Limbaugh, Fox News host Mike Huckabee, Fox News contributor and Redstate.com Editor-in-chief Erick Erickson, Fox News contributor Sandy Rios, Mat Staver, Mark Levin, Star Parker, Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes, Brigitte Gabriel, and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.