Sean Hannity says it is no big deal that Trump tried to get dirt from the Russians in a Trump Tower meeting
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By lobbying on behalf of the British anti-Muslim troll Tommy Robinson, the Trump administration is carrying water for the international far-right
After months of relentless online (and occasional offline) hysteria, the far-right campaign #FreeTommy has found an ally in the administration of President Donald Trump. According to reports, Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, lobbied Britain’s ambassador to the United States on behalf of the British anti-Muslim troll known as Tommy Robinson. Robinson is imprisoned in the United Kingdom after pleading guilty for contempt of court for disrupting a trial.
As documented by Hope not hate, an organization that combats far-right extremism, Robinson was arrested for “breach of the peace” while he livestreamed about an ongoing case outside Leeds Crown Court in Britain. By livestreaming and sharing information regarding the case, Robinson violated restrictions on reporting about the case, a common legal practice in the U.K. to ensure that members of the jury aren’t influenced by media pressure or outside information. He pleaded guilty, and his legal representative said Robinson had “deep regret” for what he had done, but many in the online far-right ecosystem have painted him as a free speech martyr through the #FreeTommy online campaign and its offline, sometimes-violent demonstrations.
By lobbying for his freedom, the administration is putting its weight behind a troll whose prominence derives from his extremist anti-Muslim rhetoric. Robinson, whose actual name Hope not hate reports as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the co-founder of the anti-Muslim English Defense League (EDL), which he built “into the premier street protest group within the far right.” While addressing an EDL audience in 2011, he blamed “every single Muslim watching this video on YouTube” for theJuly 7, 2005, bombings in London, saying, “You got away with killing and maiming British citizens.” A 2013 guest appearance on Fox’s now-defunct show The O’Reilly Factor shows how American right-wing media helped elevate his extremist rhetoric; Robinson claimed on the air that “Islam is not a religion of peace. It never has been, and it never will be.”
Robinson was once refused entry into the U.S., but he still traveled to the country in 2013 on a friend’s passport. The stunt got him banned from the country. Twitter has also permanently banned Robinson from its platform for reportedly violating its “hateful conduct” policy.
Before the Trump administration picked up Robinson’s case, the #FreeTommy campaign found acolytes among the American MAGA universe and far-right conspiracy theorists. Alex Jones of conspiracy theory outlet Infowars (which has hosted Robinson as a guest on different occasions) has mischaracterized Robinson as a “political prisoner”; Lucian Wintrich, White House correspondent for the right-wing site The Gateway Pundit, which struggles with getting things right, warned that what happened to Robinson was “what is coming to the United States,” a take similar to that of opportunistic right-wing troll Mike Cernovich. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. once again displayed his well-documented love for the far-right internet trolls by commenting on Robinson’s situation. Fox host Tucker Carlson hosted anti-Muslim troll Katie Hopkins on his show to advocate for Robinson:
— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 31, 2018
The developments surrounding the #FreeTommy campaign are illustrative of two notable points: American right-wing media and their prominent online personalities provide a built-in amplification network for the messaging of the international far-right, and the Trump administration is extremely susceptible to its narratives.
Robinson’s rhetoric reportedly inspired a man to commit an anti-Muslim terror attack in Finsbury Park, London, that left one person dead and 10 others wounded in June 2017.
But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?
Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?
On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”
Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.
After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.
Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."
Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.
One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning.
Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.
Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.
Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:
If it was possible to make the Fourth of July any better I leave you with this:
CNN Loses In Quarterly Ratings To Home And Garden Television https://t.co/mvqtnbtkPM
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 3, 2018
He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:
A total disgrace. An embarrassment to themselves, to journalism, to their networks, and to anyone associated with them. https://t.co/OeDupG2bIr
— Dan Bongino (@dbongino) June 12, 2018
Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)
He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.
He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.
This Pruitt flap is absurd. Obama EPA officials spent as much or more on travel. And career EPA ethics officials say he paid "reasonable market value" for the condo, and leasor had no business in front of EPA. The press might at least try to pretend it didn't have two standards.
— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) April 3, 2018
He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.
Trump has done more good for the black community in 18 months than Obama did in 8 years
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) May 12, 2018
According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:
In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”
Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.
In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) November 10, 2011
Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.
In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:
Climate alarmists refuse to debate or leave their facts at home when they do....http://tinyurl.com/d2qs66
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) April 6, 2009
On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures.
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) December 2, 2009
And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) November 30, 2015
This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:
Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.
Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.
Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:
During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.
Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.
The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."
It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.
In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.
Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?
In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."
But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."
Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.
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In his latest defense of everything Trump, Sinclair Broadcast Group chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn claimed that Donald Trump Jr. “is the farthest thing from a racist or anti-semite” after the president’s son retweeted an anti-Semitic claim by comedian Roseanne Barr. Trump Jr. has promoted bigoted material online, given a radio interview to a white nationalist and anti-Semite, and retweeted a leading anti-Semitic writer.
Epshteyn is a former aide to President Donald Trump who now hosts “must-run” commentary segments that air on local news broadcasts on Sinclair-owned or -operated stations across the country. His tenure at the White House was brief and rocky.
His body of work at the White House included a statement he helped write commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day that “set off a furor because it excluded any mention of Jews.” (The White House defended itself by stating -- in a reference to Epshteyn -- that the message was written “with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendent of Holocaust survivors.”) He also gained, as Politico reported, a reputation at all three cable news networks “as someone who is combative and sometimes difficult to work with, even when he arrives at studios as a guest of a network. He has offended people in green rooms with comments they have interpreted as racially insensitive and demeaning.”
On May 29, Epshteyn defended Donald Trump Jr. after he retweeted Barr’s false smear that philanthropist (and prior Media Matters donor) George Soros “is a nazi who turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered.” That claim from Barr, who is Jewish, has long been part of an anti-Semitic smear campaign against Soros.
The New York Post’s gossip section Page Six wrote up Trump Jr.’s retweets with the headline “Donald Trump Jr. retweeted Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets.” Trump Jr. responded by claiming, “They know full well that I did not RT anything that was anti-semitic, but I guess facts don’t matter when you’re a dishonest, clickbait rag.” Epshteyn responded by tweeting that Trump Jr. is “the farthest thing” from a racist or an anti-Semite:
I am proud to call @DonaldJTrumpJr a personal friend. He is the farthest thing from a racist or anti - semite and is a great friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. For @PageSix to suggest otherwise is shameful. They are engaging in reprehensible click-bait here. https://t.co/qMinT8uQNT
— Boris Epshteyn (@BorisEP) May 29, 2018
But in reality, Trump Jr. has, as Vox.com’s Libby Nelson put it, “a white supremacist problem.”
In March 2016, Trump Jr. gave an interview to James Edwards, a white nationalist and anti-Semite. The interview aired on the Liberty RoundTable, which is hosted by Edwards’ syndicator, Sam Bushman. Edwards appeared on the program as a guest and questioner. During that interview, Trump Jr. agreed with Edwards that the media is "the enforcer of political correctness."
In August 2016, Trump Jr. retweeted anti-Semitic writer Kevin MacDonald, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described as “the neo-Nazi movement's favorite academic.” According to SPLC, “MacDonald published a trilogy that supposedly ‘proves’ that Jews are genetically driven to destroy Western societies.”
In September 2016, as The Washington Post noted, Trump Jr. posted an image celebrating “Pepe the Frog, a symbol that has been co-opted by white supremacists and nationalists.”
In September 2016, Trump Jr. told a radio program that the media had been letting then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “slide” on everything and “if Republicans were doing that, they'd be warming up the gas chamber right now.” The Anti-Defamation League criticized Trump Jr. for his “trivialization of the Holocaust and gas chambers” (Trump Jr. claimed he was referring to capital punishment).
In September 2016, as Talking Points Memo wrote, “Trump Jr. borrowed an analogy popular among anti-immigrant activists and white nationalists for his meme likening Syrian refugees to poisoned Skittles.”
Unsurprisingly, neo-Nazis hailed Trump Jr. during the campaign for his efforts.
Following the campaign, Trump Jr. has continued to embrace the far-right.
On 4chan, users call her "our girl." She tweets screenshots of content from the message board
Roseanne Barr, star of the now-canceled ABC sitcom Roseanne and prominent supporter of President Donald Trump, took to Twitter on Monday to make the racist suggestion that Valerie Jarrett, former adviser of President Barack Obama, was a product of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes. Her tweet prompted celebrations among right-wing trolls, in part because she has become a useful amplifier of the extremism, conspiracy theorizing, and racism that can be found in certain online platforms.
After receiving criticism on Twitter, Barr tried the defense right-wing media figures often attempt following racist remarks: claiming it was a joke. When that didn’t stop the backlash, Barr attempted another apology:
However, the apology feels empty, not only because Barr has tweeted racist comparisons of black people to apes before, but also because of Barr’s record of using Twitter to amplify far-right conspiracy theories, including Pizzagate and the pro-Trump fake narrative known as #QAnon. The #QAnon narrative claims Trump has a master plan in motion to kneecap members of the “deep state” and dismantle pedophilia rings with links to powerful politicians and celebrities. And #QAnon and Pizzagate aren’t the only insane right-wing talking points Barr is recycling. As recently as this morning, she broadcast a false, anti-Semitic attack on George Soros in an attempt to smear Chelsea Clinton, a “heinous lie” that earned her a retweet from one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr.
Right-wing trolls on the 4chan message board /pol/ (known as “politically incorrect”) are in the habit of calling people who they feel represent their values “/our guy/” or “/our girl/,” and a 4chan member celebrated Barr’s anti-Semitic tweet, referring to her as “our girl” (and not for the first time).
Barr’s tweets have proven she is “our girl” to 4chan trolls, not only because her tweets are reflective of the kind of content that can be found on these sites at all times, but also because she sometimes amplifies users’ narratives by literally disseminating the screen captures of actual 4chan posts. On a now-archived 4chan thread from May 15, users pointed out that Barr has tweeted screenshots clearly obtained from the message board:
And Barr’s Twitter feed isn’t the only pipeline to the mainstream for conspiracy theories and extremist and racist content from sites like 4chan. Fox’s Tucker Carlson has dedicated airtime during his prime-time show Tucker Carlson Tonight to defending a racist campaign that originated on 4chan. Trump Jr. also has a history of amplifying content linked to 4chan. And whether wittingly or not, de facto presidential advisor Sean Hannity has also amplified #QAnon content on his Twitter. The content of fringe message boards like 4chan and 8chan is seeping into mainstream narratives, and right-wing figures are to blame.
Apparently collusion isn’t “collusion” if you’re totally nonchalant about it
The common refrain across Fox News, talk radio, and the rest of the conservative media is that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia is a giant waste of time because there’s been no evidence of “collusion” yet unearthed. It’s a message that’s driven primarily by President Donald Trump, who seldom wastes an opportunity to append the catchphrase “No Collusion” to his frequent, manic Twitter assaults on the special counsel investigation.
The chief weakness in this narrative is the evidence lying everywhere that points to active and enthusiastic attempts by the Trump campaign to coordinate with Russians. Among the more damning incidents is the now-infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between several Russian nationals and senior members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, including the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
Trump Jr.’s position on that meeting has forever been in flux -- he went from denying it ever happened, to insisting that it was about adoption policy, to admitting that the real impetus for the meeting was an offer from sources linked to the Russian government to turn over damaging information about Hillary Clinton. At every step of this process, the president’s son (with some direct assistance from Trump himself) has lied and been determinedly vague in his recollections of what happened.
The particulars of how this meeting came to be and what the parties involved discussed were a chief focus of Trump Jr.’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a transcript of which was released yesterday. During his testimony, Trump Jr. tried to explain how it was that a meeting he participated in between Russian officials and senior Trump campaign officials (pitched explicitly as an offer from the Russian government to help his father’s campaign) wasn’t “collusion”: He was “skeptical” of the offer and barely even thought about it at the time.
Before we get too far into what Trump Jr. said before the committee, let’s quickly revisit what he wrote to Rob Goldstone, the publicist who pitched the meeting. Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.” The “very high level and sensitive information” was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone added.
Here’s Trump Jr.’s response, in full:
Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?
In his opening statement to the committee, Trump Jr. led off by saying: “As will become clear, I did not collude with any foreign government and do not know of anyone who did.” Recognizing the trouble this email could cause him, Trump Jr. specifically addressed it in his statement. He said he was “somewhat skeptical of [Goldstone’s] outreach” but “nonetheless, at the time I thought I should listen to what Rob and his colleagues had to say.” Referring to the “if it’s what you say I love it” portion of his response, Trump Jr. tried reframing it as a sort of polite brushoff, a courtesy to someone he didn’t really take seriously. “It was simply a colloquial way of saying that I appreciated Rob’s gesture,” he said.
Under questioning from Senate staff, Trump Jr. again insisted that “I love it” was actually a heretofore unknown New York colloquialism used to convey polite disregard. “As I said in my statement, it was a colloquial term used to say, hey, great, thank you. I didn’t want to deal with anything right now,” he said.
That’s obvious nonsense. The correct, plain reading of that phrase is that Trump Jr. was excited at the prospect of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton from a foreign government source, and he basically acknowledged as much when pinned down by a Senate lawyer:
LAWYER: All right, but more specifically you say "If it's what you say, I love it." What was the "it" that you loved in that e-mail?
TRUMP JR.: Potential information about an opponent.
LAWYER: Potential incriminating information on Hillary Clinton?
TRUMP JR.: Yes.
More inconsistencies abound. Asked if he was “surprised” or alarmed that someone had reached out to him with an offer of incriminating information sourced to a foreign government, Trump Jr. insisted he didn’t really take it seriously and barely even thought about it. “I don’t know that it alarmed me, but like I said, I don’t know and I don’t know that I was all that focused on it at the time,” he said. “I don’t remember thinking about it at the time.”
That’s when the Senate lawyer pounced:
LAWYER: So you responded in 20 minutes to an e-mail that on its face offered sensitive information but is part of Russia and you didn't think about it at the time?
TRUMP JR.: I may have thought about it at the time. I don't recall thinking about it at the time. And I responded in 20 minutes because if I get an e-mail I respond to it. If I see it, I respond. And, again, I didn't follow up. I don't know that I ever followed up other than in response to Rob following up with me three days later.
It gets still more confounding. After insisting that he was skeptical and not really invested in Goldstone’s offer, Trump Jr. acknowledged that a meeting was set up just six days later that involved the most senior-level staffers of the Trump campaign: himself, his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort. At the same time, though, Trump Jr. insisted that none of them knew what the meeting was about or who was going to be there, and no one really cared enough to figure it out, ask any questions, or even talk about it among themselves. “I then asked Jared and Paul if they could attend, but told them none of the substance or who was going to be there since I did not know myself,” Trump Jr. testified. “Because we were in the same building Paul, Jared, and I would routinely invite one another to attend meetings at a moment's notice.”
Once again, Trump Jr.’s explanation fell apart under the slightest pressure, and he had to retreat into claims of forgetfulness:
LAWYER: You got an e-mail with a title "Russia- Clinton, private and confidential," you didn't mention that to Paul Manafort?
TRUMP JR.: Other than I forwarded the e-mail to him to invite them to the meeting, I didn't discuss it with him to my recollection, no.
LAWYER: And you said you forwarded it. That was the only time you recall discussing it with him?
TRUMP JR.: That's the only time I recall, yes.
LAWYER: And Exhibit 1 which you reviewed with my colleagues indicates that you forwarded it on June 8, 2016. At that point there's just a reference to "Meeting got moved to 4:00 tomorrow at my office," Mr. Manafort responds "See you then." Had you not discussed the meeting with him before that time?
TRUMP: JR.: I don't recall discussing it with him at that time, but I may have.
LAWYER: How would he have known what this meeting was about if you had not discussed it with him?
TRUMP: JR.: I don 't know.
LAWYER: Did he ever ask you about it?
TRUMP JR.: Not that I recall.
Trump Jr. tried mightily to paint a picture of blithe disregard for the offer from Russia because he thinks it disproves the idea that the Trump campaign had any interest in or intention of colluding with Russians. But at each point logic and documentary evidence proved him wrong: He and the Trump campaign expressed clear interest and moved with alacrity to see what “very high level and sensitive information” they could get their hands on.
They also proceeded without much in the way of caution, requiring Trump Jr. and everyone else involved to attempt a rewrite of what the evidence shows. That’s left them and their conservative media allies in the strained position of barking “no collusion” at their rigorously documented attempts at collusion.
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Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon: The alpha male power duo is no more
Sebastian Gorka worked with Stephen Bannon at Breitbart.com both before and after his brief stint in Trump's White House. In numerous television appearances since leaving the White House, Gorka bragged that he and Bannon are “far more dangerous on the outside,” that “the alpha males are back,” and that he and "Steve" would be great at "the long game" of working outside the White House.
Bannon has since been fired from Breitbart after reportedly suggesting that Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a group of Russians in Trump Tower was treasonous.
Far-right trolls have long occupied the internet with their nihilistic sense of humor and taste for memes, engaged in sophomoric “shit-posting.” But for some, their impact has expanded beyond the fringe corners of the internet. They've shown they're able to influence national conversations, offering twisted narratives and conspiracy theories during major news events, injecting bigotry into the discourse, and challenging harassment policies of social media platforms, all while marketing themselves as legitimate torchbearers of the truth.
This didn’t happen overnight; rather, a combination of factors made it possible. The far-right trolls learned how to manufacture outrage to mobilize their audiences into action. Their memes transcended “shit-posting” and began shaping political conversations. They found a friendly presidential administration that gave them access and provided them with a veneer of legitimacy. The coverage media outlets gave them failed to cover them in proper context and allowed them to sanitize their extremist brands. And social media platforms were slow in cracking down on their hateful rhetoric, allowing them to gain attention and amass thousands of followers.
Here are five factors that fueled the influence of far-right trolls in 2017:
Trends of online discourse in 2017 showed that the far-right’s practice of using digital tools to affect change, exercise pressure, and punish perceived enemies is best understood as politics of manufactured outrage. Many trolls raised their profiles and gained relevance by criticizing what they saw as liberal over-sensitivity, seeking to provoke “snowflakes” for the sake of generating outrage and supporting Trump because his war against “political correctness” was an essential part of their ethos. Now they’re using social media platforms to command their followers to decry and condemn their critics over social justice issues they openly dismissed before.
Mike Cernovich, a leading right-wing troll previously known for misogynistic musings and tasteless tweets, including denying the existence of date rape, effectively manufactured outrage to get MSNBC contributor Sam Seder fired from the network for a tasteless joke Seder tweeted in 2008. Though MSNBC rehired Seder, this was not an isolated incident.
On another occasion, Cernovich targeted journalist Josh Barro and campaigned to get him fired from Business Insider by accusing the journalist of ableism after Barro made fun of Cernovich’s lisp, only stopping after Barro publicly apologized. But Cernovich’s own digital fingerprints make it impossible to believe that he suddenly developed a concern for ableism. In a similar fashion, “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec targeted New Republic’s Jeet Heer, accusing him of defending child pornography by taking a few of Heer’s tweets from 2014 and 2016 out of context. Posobiec also interrupted a play under the pretense that he was offended by its contents, and sued a theater for its all-female screening of the movie Wonder Woman. And when he couldn’t find something to be outraged about, he simply created the opportunity by reportedly planting a “rape Melania” sign at an anti-Trump rally. Right-wing trolls followed the same playbook to smear protesters and ignite outrage during protests of an event featuring Cernovich by planting a sign that featured the logo of a practically defunct pro-pedophilia organization.
The trolls are still freely deploying their playbook of haranguing their followers into more campaigns to force media outlets and social media platforms into doing their bidding -- whether to silence journalists and Trump critics by manipulating Twitter’s abuse report protocols and getting them suspended from the platform, or to “weaponize” their followers into harassment campaigns, or to pressure brands into advertising on shows they like.
As BuzzFeed’s Kate Notopoulos wrote, these trolls “have weaponized taking things literally.” These stunts are often just manipulation disguised as false equivalence, since trolls like Cernovich justify their actions by arguing that media “dictate policy and personnel decisions via social shaming/‘news coverage.'" Mainstream right-wing media also dismiss criticism of these harassment campaigns, claiming that they're legitimate because “both sides” do it (regardless of whether that's true).
Right-wing and “alt-right” trolls successfully weaponized memes in support of Trump throughout the 2016 presidential election in what experts documenting troll culture refer to as “The Great Meme War.” Message board users created memes and deployed them on social media daily to attack political candidates. During this phase of meme-ing their favorite candidate into office, factions like the “alt-right” and other right-wing trolls were indistinguishable.
2017 saw the meme warfare kick into high gear, with many meme campaigns transcending the message boards and becoming a source of harassment on college campuses, or turning into terrifying harassment campaigns against journalists. Such was the case with the “It’s okay to be white” meme, designed specifically to be “tame and inoffensive” yet elicit reactions that would portray any criticism or outcry as absurd. The meme quickly became a battle cry in the campus culture wars, culminating in professional troll Lucian Wintrich’s “It is OK to be white” speech at the University of Connecticut, which spurred disruptions, fights, and arrests.
Similarly, there was a meme campaign against CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski following his story that an anti-CNN meme tweeted by Trump had been created by a Reddit user with a history of “racist and anti-Semitic imagery.” The campaign quickly transcended the digital world and resulted in death threats against CNN staffers and Kaczynski himself.
Journalists have been complicit in aiding right-wing trolls who rose to prominence by riding coattails of the “alt-right” to rebrand away from its toxicity by either writing soft-focus profiles of trolls or by showing up woefully unprepared to interview them. After Richard Spencer -- the original “alt-righter” -- gained national media coverage due to his explicit white nationalistic views, many prominent trolls who were earlier happy to align with the “alt-right” commenced a rebranding campaign that was largely aided by media’s failure to hold them accountable.
Cernovich, who has shown an inclination for “pivoting” whenever it becomes politically expedient for him, was at the forefront of hijacking the term “new right,” which was quickly adopted by other trolls like Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, Posobiec, Wintrich, and Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent “Western chauvinist” organization Proud Boys.
But the figures of the so-called “new right” can’t sanitize their past adherence to the pro-Trump “alt-right” during the 2016 presidential election when they trafficked in anti-Muslim tropes, attacked transgender people, associated with Spencer, or openly pushed dangerous conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” -- which falsely claimed Democratic operatives close to Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign were running a child sex ring from a Washington, D.C., family pizzeria. More recently, the appearance of a known “alt-right” troll featuring a swastika flag and Adolf Hitler apologism on Wintrich’s Periscope illustrated that there’s little substantive difference between the “new right” and more extreme factions.
The White House has been complicit in fueling the trolls’ war on journalists and mainstream media. The Trump administration granted them access to White House press briefings that allowed conspiracy theory websites like The Gateway Pundit to present themselves as legitimate news outlets and provided them with a prestigious platform from which to perform stunts and explicitly troll journalists. Reportedly, Trump’s sons, Eric and Donald Jr., directly provide Cernovich with insider information. It’s clear from Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter activity that he has a penchant for far-right trolls and their content as he has used the weight of his name to promote right-wing trolls who defend his father and smear mainstream media.
Right-wing trolls largely owe their rise to social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter, which have allowed them to grow their platforms and reach massive audiences. In the process, Twitter was extremely lax in applying its anti-harassment policies, and allowed right-wing trolls’ harassment campaigns to successfully drive targets, like feminist writer Lindy West, off the platform.
Meanwhile, YouTube provided a platform to white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. Though YouTube launched a demonetization initiative so people wouldn’t be able to profit from uploading extreme content and vowed to take down explicitly extremist content, the platform still remains the “talk radio” for right-wing trolls, allowing the spread of misinformation to a massive audience, often without consequence.
Similarly, Twitter also just moved to crack down on its most toxic content creators. But it remains to be seen whether these policies will be successful in curbing the influence of MAGA trolls who often operate with the same harassment tactics as extremists. While Twitter removed the verification badges of many far-right personalities and expelled the most offensive users (some more than once), the fact that right-wing trolls remain in the platform only evidences Twitter’s problem with interpreting its own rules and applying them coherently.
While the right-wing trolls’ current influence is undeniable, it’s not all doom and gloom. Their online influence hasn't translated into other political victories following Trump’s election (the candidates these trolls put their weight behind, Republicans Ed Gillespie in Virginia, and Roy Moore in Alabama, both lost). It could also be an indicator that their influence, at least in electoral politics, might have reached its peak. But whether their influence in inserting divisive cultural and political narratives into the mainstream will wane at all is yet to be seen.
Right-wing and far-right media outlets and figures are falsely claiming that Beverly Young Nelson, who has accused Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 16, admitted that she forged a high school yearbook that contains Moore’s signature. Nelson actually said she added some notes next to the signature, but that it was Moore’s signature.
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Donald Trump Jr. has repeatedly liked tweets that link to prominent fake news purveyor True Pundit, which played a major role in pushing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. The president’s son also tweeted a True Pundit link on July 26, one of many times he personally promoted a serial misinformer.
On July 26, Trump Jr. tweeted a link to a story from the website.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 26, 2017
Last year, True Pundit fabricated NYPD and FBI sources to push the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which falsely alleged that a Washington, D.C. pizzeria was a front for a pedophile ring run by former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The lie eventually led a gunman to “self-investigate” the matter and he opened fire inside that pizzeria. True Pundit repeatedly invented and pushed wild stories about Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, including that she wanted to “just drone” Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, that she wore an earpiece at a debate, that she used hand signals to communicate with debate moderator Lester Holt, that she was potentially “suffering from a plethora of medical ailments, and that she was drunk the morning of a campaign rally. The website has also claimed that Coretta Scott King thanked now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a speech in the 1980s. She did not.
Trump Jr. has a history of personally sharing fake news and promoting conspiracy theorists and internet trolls. In May, Infowars host Alex Jones even claimed that Trump Jr. was one the main sources for right-wing troll and discredited media personality Mike Cernovich.
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