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  • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has become fully “red-pilled” by an 8chan conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It was concerning enough when in January 2018, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue encouraged followers to look into the allegations of an anonymous conspiracy theorist on the 8chan message board. Now, it appears that Operation Rescue, with its history of violent rhetoric and harassment, has become fully converted and is seeking to cultivate anti-abortion followers into believers in a far-right conspiracy theory.

    Headed by longtime extremists Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- Operation Rescue has been described as an organization dedicated to “shut[ting] down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.” Operation Rescue initially signaled that they’d been “red-pilled” -- a term popularized by the “alt-right” to refer to an ideological conversion to “seeing the world as it really is” -- in a January 7 press release, in which the group signal-boosted a series of posts from a far-right community on 8chan.

    8chan is a message board system -- similar to 4chan and Reddit -- that enables users to engage in discussions anonymously. This has made such communities hotbeds of racist commentary, misogyny, and politically motivated harassment campaigns, in addition to serving as fertile ground for those in the so-called “alt-right” or white nationalist movement. As Mother Jones’ Mariah Blake explained, “men’s rights forums on sites like 4chan and Reddit are awash in misogyny and anti-feminist vitriol” -- a trend that has turned such sites into what Vox’s Aja Romano called a “gateway drug” that leads people into the “alt-right.” 

    In the January 7 release, Operation Rescue focused on an 8chan conspiracy theory called “The Storm” in which a user who refers to himself as “Q” claims to be a “high-level government insider” secretly sharing clues to “inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has expanded to encompass all types of events, ranging from a fire at Trump Tower to a train accident involving Republican members of Congress. Most recently, followers of The Storm have joined a campaign calling for the release of a four-page classified memo drafted by House intelligence committee Republicans that allegedly shows illicit behavior by the FBI and Justice Department during the early phases of investigating connections between Trump associates and Russia -- a campaign organized around the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. According to The Daily Beast, right-wing figures as well as online message board communities “have since turned the hashtag into a rallying cry, imploring fans to tweet the hashtag.” On February 2, the President Donald Trump authorized the release of the memo, despite explicit warnings from the FBI about the veracity of its contents.

    In the January 7 press release, Operation Rescue acknowledged that "Q" is a conspiracy theorist -- or at least inspires conspiracy theories. Since then, the social media activity of the group and its leadership indicates that they’ve gone full Sean Hannity. Between January 7 and February 12, both Sullenger’s Twitter account and the official Operation Rescue account have increased their engagements with accounts promoting #ReleaseTheMemo and related hashtags (#Qanon, #TheGreatAwakening, #FollowTheWhiteRabbit). In the past month alone, Sullenger’s changed her account handle to “CherylS sez #ReleaseTheMemo” and followed a number of right-wing media personalities’ accounts, including Alex Jones, Jerome Corsi, Paul Joseph Watson, Mike Cernovich, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, and Sara Carter.

    Since January 2018, Sullenger and Operation Rescue’s social media accounts have demonstrated a precipitous slide into full-embrace of The Storm and #ReleaseTheMemo:

    Cheryl Sullenger

    • January 10 -- Sullenger tweeted a National Review article and included the hashtag #Qanon.

    • January 16 & 17 -- Operation Rescue sent a press release, calling on followers to participate in the “Mother of All Tweet Storms.” According to the release, followers of The Storm were “asked to create memes that express truths that have been misreported or ignored by the Main Stream Media (MSM) and call them out for their dishonest reporting.” Operation Rescue characterized the event as “a tweet war of Biblical proportions with folks joined together in a concerted effort to break through to the masses with the truth about governmental corruption, human trafficking, and even Planned Parenthood.” The Operation Rescue Twitter account then spent the better part of January 17 tweeting a variety of memes attacking Planned Parenthood and promoting hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 22 -- Sullenger tweeted #ReleaseTheMemo and included a screenshot from Fox News’ Hannity, in which host Sean Hannity was talking about it. Hannity has been an active promoter of so-called “deep state” conspiracy theories.

    • January 24 -- Sullenger reacted to news that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is leaving the organization sometime in 2018, by tweeting multiple memes of Richards depicted in prison with the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. The official Operation Rescue account also tweeted a press release about Richards’ departure using the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #FollowtheWhiteRabbit. Sullenger also tweeted a link to a YouTube video about #Qanon, calling it, “Must watch!” In addition to Sullenger’s Twitter activity, the Operation Rescue account also liked a tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 27 -- Sullenger retweeted a Jerome Corsi tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo, featuring a story from far-right blog The Gateway Pundit about Hannity and the memo. Sullenger additionally tweeted an explainer video about The Storm, writing, “#TheStorm is real. #ReleaseTheMemo.” Sullenger also tweeted @realDonaldTrump, asking him to read the memo during the State of the Union address because “Americans need to know the #truth.” Meanwhile, The Operation Rescue account liked a tweet about #GreatAwakening and #QAnon.

    • January 28 -- Sullenger attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) -- a frequent right-wing target -- on Twitter, citing a clip from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. This tweet included the hashtags #GreatAwakening and #ReleaseTheMemo. In addition to her own tweet, Sullenger also retweeted content from Jerome Corsi and Hannity about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 29 -- Sullenger quote-tweeted a claim from Corsi about the memo, writing that she would not “be happy until we can all see the memo with our own eyes.” In addition, Sullenger also tweeted about the resignations of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Democratic National Committee CEO Jess O’Connell from their positions -- linking each to #ReleaseTheMemo. Notably, Sullenger shared an image from an account (@Thomas1774Paine) about the memo supposedly being delivered to the White House -- writing in a public post on her Facebook that “we are on the brink of history!” The Operation Rescue Twitter account retweeted a user, @LadyStephC, calling the memo “the tip of the iceberg” and including a number of hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 31 -- After a train crash involving Republican members of Congress, Sullenger retweeted a conspiracy theory from Corsi that suggested the accident was part of a “deep state” plot to stop the Republicans from releasing the memo.

    • February 1 -- Sullenger tweeted several memes linked to the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign, suggesting that if the memo is released some Democratic politicians will go to jail. Another meme that she tweeted showed "Q" as a revolutionary standing up to the "deep state" and implied the only way Americans would be "free" is by following him. Sullenger retweeted “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec, in addition to tweeting a screenshot of an 8chan message board comment (allegedly from “Q”) and including the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon.

    • February 2 & 3 -- Retweeting a comment from Trump’s Twitter account about opposition research firm Fusion GPS, Sullenger argued that the same firm had “issued fake ‘forensic analysis’” in order to “cover up [Planned Parenthood]'s illegal baby parts trafficking” -- referring to a debunked allegation from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. In her tweet, Sullenger included the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #ThesePeopleAreSick. Sullenger also retweeted right-wing media personality Mark Levin. After the release of the disputed memo, Sullenger retweeted several of Corsi's tweets hyping allegations of widespread wrongdoing by government entities. On February 3, Sullenger retweeted Trump claiming that the memo "totally vindicates" him.

    • February 4 -- Sullenger tweeted a video alleging that Super Bowl LII attendees were at risk of being targeted by terrorists, commenting, "Better safe than sorry!" For good measure, Sullenger also tweeted a Life News article about Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards calling her "evil" and using the hashtags #LockHerUp, #AbortionIsMurder, and #GreatAwakening. 

    • February 5 -- Retweeting an account that previously shared screenshots from 8chan, Sullenger commented that both Clinton and Planned Parenthood "both must pay for crimes." Sullenger also shared a press release published by Operation Rescue further connecting the memo to the organization's typical talking points about Planned Parenthood. 

    Troy Newman

    Throughout much of this timeline, the social media accounts of Troy Newman did not engage as often with topics related to The Storm, #ReleaseTheMemo, or even right-wing media personalities. However, on January 31, a public post on Newman’s Facebook page directed followers to what appears to be a conspiracy theory blog for a man named Jim Stone.

    The site seems to house blog posts about a number of conspiracy theories, including one about an alleged plot by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to smuggle a gun into the State of the Union and assassinate Trump:

    Among other extreme conspiracy theories, Stone claimed the January 31 train accident occurred because Republican members of Congress had “received death threats over the memo, and were heading to a safe place when they were stopped by a staged ‘accident’”:

    Perhaps the most outlandish conspiracy theory of all: "If Trump gets killed, they can produce a fake Trump and have him say whatever they need him to say in real time." The blog continued that this technology had been used "with Hillary [Clinton] during the campaign" and that it was "critical information you cannot skip seeing": 

    After the memo was released on February 2, Newman tweeted and posted on Facebook, wondering if it was "too early to call this an attempted coup" against Trump. 

    One thing is certain: If Sullenger and other members of Operation Rescue have been fully “red-pilled,” they are not only exposing their audience to a wellspring of conspiracy theories, but also potentially becoming further radicalized themselves. And if exposure to rapidly misogynist online communities is truly a “gateway drug,” as Romano warned, the cross-pollination between these 8chan conspiracy theorists and anti-abortion extremists is an incredibly dangerous prospect.

  • Video: Right-wing media call Mueller's investigation a coup against Trump

    Since Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel, right-wing media have worked overtime to delegitimize the investigation

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR

    Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel on May 17. Since then, right-wing media have repeatedly called the investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election (and a few related issues) a coup against Donald Trump. Watch:

    Related:

    Jesse Watters Says We May ‘Have a Coup on Our Hands in America’

    Previously:

    Why the anti-Mueller sentiment on Fox keeps getting worse

    Sean Hannity has really gone off the rails lately, but it's earned him a new fan: Alex Jones

    Fox contributor Mike Huckabee claims FBI officials intended "to stage what essentially amounts to a coup d'etat" against Trump

    Rush Limbaugh revives conspiracy theory that Mueller investigation is "a silent coup" to get rid of Trump

    Lou Dobbs unhinged over Flynn: Russia probe is a "parade of nonsense," "subversion" by the left

    Rush Limbaugh: Former intelligence chiefs are conducting a "silent coup" against Trump

    Alex Jones: There is a plot to install Robert Mueller as “the first king of America”

    Pro-Trump One America News Network: Report reveals Obama aides "plotted a coup against President Trump

    Alex Jones: Trump needs to get into a bunker right now and declare himself the victim of a coup attempt

    Rush Limbaugh conspiracy theory: "Leftists" are soliciting retired generals to possibly "lead a rebellion"

    Rush Limbaugh: "We're in the midst of a silent coup" by the GOP establishment to try "to take this president out"

    Lou Dobbs: The media is aiding a "coup d'etat against Trump"

    Jesse Watters: "What's happening right now is a coup against the will of the American people"

    Sean Hannity: "A soft coup is underway" against Trump with "sinister forces quickly aligning"

  • Mark Levin boosted fake news about the Las Vegas shooting from a site made to look like CNN

    Levin has since deleted his Twitter and Facebook posts linking to the fake news story

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On October 12, right-wing radio host Mark Levin shared on Facebook and Twitter a fake news article about the Las Vegas shooting from a website designed to mimic a legitimate CNN page. The fake news article claimed the security guard at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas who was shot by the gunman had been arrested for “being an accomplice and second shooter in the Las Vegas massacre.” Levin later deleted the tweet, along with his Facebook post, which posited, “The security guard was in on it?” Levin has over 1.3 million Facebook followers and almost 1 million Twitter followers.

    The story Levin circulated was from “cnn-internationaledition.com” -- which is not affiliated with CNN -- and was headlined “Breaking News – Police Arrest Mandalay Security Guard Jesus Compos As Second Shooter In Las Vegas Massacre.” The fake news article alleged that “Compos” -- a misspelling of the security guard’s name, Jesus Campos -- was “involved in the initial shooting as a second gunman from the other broken window in [gunman Stephen] Paddock’s 32nd-floor room,” and that FBI agents “became suspicions (sic) by the extreme amount of gunpowder residue found on Campos’ hands and inconsistencies in his timeline of events.”

    There appear to be no author pages on this fake CNN site; bylines link back to the story page. The site’s contact page features no actual contact information, but rather a message submission form that collects names and email addresses. The site appears to be monetized, with ads provided by Content.ad, a serial offender in financing purveyors of fake news. 

    For his part, Levin is no stranger to fake news and misleading, unsubstantiated claims; he was likely one of President Donald Trump’s initial sources for his lie that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower to spy on him. Beyond that, Levin has diagnosed Obama with narcissistic personality disorder, denied climate change is caused by human activity, and, as recently as June, thanked Trump for “taking on the media” because “it’s a-damn-bout time somebody did.”

    The Las Vegas massacre has inspired a litany of outlandish conspiracy theories, among them allegations that the shooting was staged by “Bolshevik” revolutionaries and that the gunman was linked to antifa and/or ISIS. This fake CNN article will also fuel speculation around one of the more common conspiracy theories, that the gunman had at least one accomplice who could have been a second shooter.

  • Right-wing hosts like Sean Hannity get paid to pitch guns as a way to “survive a mass shooting”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Right-wing radio hosts such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin have been acting as paid pitch people for a company that promises to help train members on how to use guns to “survive a mass shooting.” Hannity has been especially vocal about the company and used the recent Las Vegas mass shooting to shill for it on his radio program.

    The U.S. Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) is a pro-gun company that sells membership plans featuring “education, training, and self-defense insurance” for gun owners. It also criticizes attempts to enact gun control laws and publishes Concealed Carry Magazine. The group claims to have over 250,000 members and has attempted to grow its membership over the years through numerous advertising buys with conservative media.

    Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Ben Shapiro are all part of the association’s latest advertising campaign for a “100% FREE Complete Concealed Carry & Family Defense Guide,” which includes tips on “how to survive a mass shooting” and “the safest AND most dangerous places to sit in a restaurant” (the sign-up takes people to a page that urges them to pay for a membership).

    The USCCA created dedicated landing pages for each individual host participating in the advertising campaign, including the following identical quote which was cut and pasted for each person:

    Prior to the Las Vegas shooting, these media personalities did advertisements for the campaign that aired in late September. Here are those ads, along with their dedicated website URL: ​Beck (ProtectAndDefend.com), ​Hannity (DefendFamily.com), ​Levin (DefendThem.com), and ​Shapiro (DefendMyFamilyNow.com) .

    Hannity has continued to tout USCCA as a solution to surviving a mass shooting following the Las Vegas tragedy. During his October 5 radio program, Hannity segued from talking about the mass shooting to introducing “our friends at the United States Concealed Carry Association,” saying, “I’m proud to be associated with them. They have offered a family defense guide. You’re going to learn -- and this is 164 pages -- how to survive a mass shooting. How to detect attackers before they see you.”

    Previously, Hannity used the shooting at a congressional baseball practice in June to push USCCA membership.

    The association, which did not respond to requests for comment, features a Hannity testimonial on its website under the headline: “Why Sean Hannity Joined The USCCA… Hear Why One Of The Most Trusted Conservative Voices In America Is A Proud Card-Carrying Member.”

    Hannity used his October 4 Fox News program to advocate for concealed carry while discussing the Las Vegas shooting. He praised right-to-carry laws and said that “having more citizens that are armed leads to a decrease in violent crime.” He did not mention he’s being paid by a pro-right-to-carry group during the program.

    Despite Hannity’s claim, as The Atlantic noted in June, “academic studies have strongly suggested” that right-to-carry laws “lead to higher rates of violent crime. The latest -- and, at least according to one of its authors, most comprehensive -- was released earlier this month by the non-partisan National Bureau of Economic Research.” The study concluded, “There is not even the slightest hint in the data that [these] laws reduce violent crime.”

    Media Matters previously documented that Hannity repeatedly used his Fox New program to push his radio sponsor’s concealed carry agenda without any disclosure about his financial relationship. He similarly used his Fox News program in 2014 to promote the fundraising efforts of the Tea Party Patriots, which sponsored his radio program.

  • Right-wing and fringe media falsely claim legal Manafort wiretap vindicates Trump's illegal-wiretap lie

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Right-wing and fringe media are claiming yet again that President Donald Trump was correct when he accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping in Trump Tower, now arguing that a legal wiretap targeted at former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is proof of Trump’s claim. However, said wiretap was pursuant to a warrant and targeted at Manafort, not Trump. This is at least the fifth time in six months right-wing media has attempted to validate Trump’s lie.

  • Right-wing media lash out at Sen. Kamala Harris after she was repeatedly interrupted by GOP men while questioning Jeff Sessions

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. & DINA RADTKE

    Conservative media figures lashed out at Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) after she was interrupted and chastised by her Republican male colleagues during her questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claiming she was interrupting Sessions and calling her “hysterical,” “a total fraud,” and rude. Women in mainstream media responded, pointing out the clear sexism in both the attacks on Harris and the double standard she was held to.

  • Right-wing media cheer Trump withdrawing United States from the Paris climate agreement

    Business leaders and experts agree decision to pull out of agreement “would harm every American” and "devastate [America’s] international credibility"

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media figures cheered President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris climate agreement, which sought to reduce international greenhouse gas emissions. But experts and business leaders condemned the decision, calling the move a “historic mistake” and “a gratuitous thumb in everyone’s eye.”

  • FBI Director Puts To Rest Two Weeks Of Fox Lies About Trump's False Wiretap Claim

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Since March 4, President Donald Trump and Fox News have been feeding each other evidence and defenses to back up Trump’s false claim that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, ordered a “wiretap” at Trump Tower. Fox figures, including Andrew Napolitano, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, have been backing up Trump’s claim, and Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have in turn recycled their comments in their attempts to substantiate the original claim. On March 20, FBI Director James Comey debunked Trump’s original tweet accusing Obama of wiretapping, unequivocally stating, “I have no information that supports those tweets. … The Department [of Justice] has no information that supports those tweets.”

  • A Short Guide To Mark Levin, Trump’s Likely Source For His Wiretapping Lie

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On March 4, President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama of ordering his phones in Trump Tower to be wiretapped during the 2016 election. Trump’s claim echoed points made by Mark Levin, a right-wing talk radio host with a history of anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ statements, climate denial, and racism. He also attacked Obama throughout his presidency, comparing him to dictators, accusing him of racism and anti-Semitism, and saying he had “planted the seeds of World War III.”