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  • After professor reports that Kavanaugh assaulted her, pro-Trump sycophants go after student reviews for wrong Christine Ford

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In a comically desperate attempt at opposition research, several right-wing supporters of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have sought to tarnish the reputation of Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students in the early 1980s, by citing what they claim are unflattering student reviews on RateMyProfessors.com.

    According to Jim Hoft, head of the conspiracy theorist website Gateway Pundit and the Dumbest Man on the Internet, Ford’s former students describe her as “dark, mad, scary and troubled.” An anonymously published story at Grabienews similarly highlights student reviews that describe Ford as “vengeful” and “unprofessional.” The stories went viral, with the Grabienews one alone receiving nearly 22,000 engagements according to BuzzSumo as of posting time. They were shared on social media by several prominent conservatives, including Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin.

    There are a few problems with their argument. First, it’s patently absurd to try to call Ford’s story into question on the grounds that her students don’t like her. Second, the idiots making this argument are looking at reviews for the wrong Christine Ford.

    Christine Blasey Ford is a research psychologist who teaches clinical psychology at Palo Alto University and in a consortium with Stanford University, according to The Washington Post. Kavanaugh’s defenders are citing student reviews for Christine A. Ford, who taught in the social work department at California State University-Fullerton. The Grabienews story has since been retracted.

    My God.

    These people.


    Are idiots.

    This pathetic attempt to smear Ford -- one of many the right-wing press has tried since she came forward -- recalls Breitbart.com’s 2014 attack on the wrong Loretta Lynch.

  • Right-wing media go all-out to denigrate Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh assaulted her

    Ford said Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were high school students, but many media conservatives attacked her or say Kavanaugh should be confirmed anyway

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Christine Blasey Ford had written a letter this summer to a Democratic lawmaker saying that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both high school students. Soon after Ford’s account was published, right-wing media figures and outlets began attacking her credibility, publicly discounting her story, or calling on Kavanaugh to be confirmed by Republicans anyway.

    Details from the letter, which she wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), leaked out several days earlier, and then Ford “decided that if her story is going to be told, she wants to be the one to tell it.” From the Post’s story:

    Speaking publicly for the first time, Ford said that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend — both “stumbling drunk,” Ford alleges — corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County.

    While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.

    “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist in northern California. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

    Ford said she was able to escape when Kavanaugh’s friend and classmate at Georgetown Preparatory School, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them, sending all three tumbling. She said she ran from the room, briefly locked herself in a bathroom and then fled the house.

    Ford said she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.

    Notes from an individual therapy session the following year, when she was being treated for what she says have been long-term effects of the incident, show Ford described a “rape attempt” in her late teens.

    Kavanaugh has denied the report after Ford went public, calling it “a completely false allegation.” He previously said, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation.” The immediate reaction from many conservative media figures was terrible: Many cast doubt on her account, others suggested they might believe her but said Kavanaugh should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice anyway, and others impugned her motives, suggesting a political or personal grudge.

    Conservatives who cast doubt on Ford’s account

    FoxNews.com’s Stephen Miller: “This was not a sexual assault. … Hold the vote. Confirm him. … It was drunk teenagers playing seven minutes of heaven.”

    Breitbart’s John Nolte: “GOP blows Kavanaugh, falls for this, they will be massacred in November.”

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones mocked Ford’s accusation: “Brett Kavanaugh in 1986 came to Dallas, TX, and I was in high school, and he raped me.”

    Trump ally and conservative political operator Roger Stone: “This is a woman looking for her Anita Hill moment. This is her 15 minutes.”

    Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens: “Nothing to see here, folks,” Ford is “just another woman who conveniently tripped and fell out of amnesia.”

    Conservative radio host Erick Erickson: “If the GOP does not stand up to this character assassination attempt on Kavanaugh, every judicial nominee moving forward is going to suffer last minute sexual assault allegations.”

    Erick Erickson: “I do not believe Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser. I do believe there is a Democrat PR firm working this story.”

    Erick Erickson: “People who want to keep killing kids really shouldn’t be throwing Jesus in the face of those who don’t believe the accusation against Kavanaugh.”

    Fox News’ Tomi Lahren: “Decades-old allegations against Kavanaugh come out just days before a vote….victim or opportunist?”

    Tomi Lahren: "Female empowerment is NOT using sexual assault allegations to torpedo someone you disagree with politically."

    Fox contributor Tammy Bruce: Report of assault by Kavanaugh is “an attempt at a political assassination.”

    Newsmax’s John Cardillo: “No, 35+ year old dubious allegations about a non-crime made by a left-wing activist … do not hold water.”

    NRATV’s Grant Stinchfield: “I have no idea if Judge Kavanaugh pushed this woman down on a bed at a high school house party where she wriggled free and ran away or not. What I do know is in the 35 years since, not one other woman has raised such an allegation. Sixty-five other women have, in fact, now come to his defense.”

    Fox Business host Dagen McDowell: “You have to press [Ford] on any potential bias that’s there” against Republicans.

    Fake news site TruthFeed: Ford’s story has “more holes than a slice of swiss cheese.”

    The despicable Democrats are pulling out all the stops to try and derail the Judge Kavanaugh vote for SCOTUS.

    They’re now claiming that Judge Kavanaugh attacked a woman in high school, nearly killing her. The woman, whose story has more holes than a slice of swiss cheese, claims there was a man in the room who witnessed the entire thing.

    One big problem. That man, says it never happened.

    Facebook page Silence is Consent posted a meme misleadingly claiming Ford was “so ‘devastated’” by incident “she contacted Feinstein 35 years later.”

    Fox Business host Bob Massi:The thing that’s remarkable to me” is that someone “with amazing credentials, amazing resumes, and an allegation like this comes out … and their entire career credibility is gone. … That’s the trouble with this.”

    Sean Hannity radio show guest David Schoen: "The real crime here that happened" is Sen. Dianne Feinstein "presenting this thing under ... this veil of mystery."

    Fox News host Sean Hannity cast doubt on Ford's accusation because of "everything else you see about Judge Kavanaugh's life ... this is a guy that spends a lot of time feeding the homeless."

    CRTV's Gavin McInnes: Ford is "clearly full of crap." 

    CRTV's Mark Levin on Ford's accusation: "This whole thing to me sounds like a sham and a setup. ... This is an entire political scam and sham as far as I'm concerned."

    Ethics and Public Policy Center Lance Morrow's Wall Street Journal op-ed likened Ford's accusation to Salem Witch Trials, diminished alleged rape attempt: "No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred."

    The Salem witch trials turned on what was called “spectral evidence.” That was testimony from witnesses—either malicious or hysterical—who claimed the accused had assumed the form of a black cat or some other devilish creature and had come visiting in the night in order to torment the witness with bites and scratches, or to rearrange the bedroom furniture, or to send the baby into paroxysms.

    ...

    Three hundred twenty-six years later, an anonymous woman—a spectral and possibly nonexistent woman, for all that one knew when the story emerged—accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her 36 years ago, when he was a high-school student. It seemed as if the American constitutional process might be drawn back to the neighborhood of Salem, Mass. According to this phantom testimony, 17-year-old Brett held the girl down, pawed her and tried to force himself upon her, and held his hand over her mouth when she screamed, until a second prep-school devil piled on top, they all tumbled to the floor, and the girl managed to slip away. The boys were “stumbling drunk,” according to the account.

    ...

    The thing happened—if it happened—an awfully long time ago, back in Ronald Reagan’s time, when the actors in the drama were minors and (the boys, anyway) under the blurring influence of alcohol and adolescent hormones. No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred. The sin, if there was one, was not one of those that Catholic theology calls peccata clamantia—sins that cry to heaven for vengeance.

    The offense alleged is not nothing, by any means. It is ugly, and stupid more than evil, one might think, but trauma is subjective and hard to parse legally. Common sense is a little hard put to know what to make of the episode, if it happened. The dust of 36 years has settled over the memory. The passage of time sometimes causes people to forget; sometimes it causes them to invent or embellish. Invention takes on bright energies when its muse is politics, which is the Olympics of illusion. 

    Conservatives who indicated that whether or not they believe Ford, Kavanaugh should be confirmed

    Federalist contributor Tom Nichols: “I’m good with the story being true,” but it shouldn’t “derail [his] nomination.”

    Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh: Ford’s report can’t be proven, “so he should be confirmed.”

    Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro: “The Senate should just vote” on Kavanaugh.

    The Federalist: Kavanaugh “should be confirmed” despite Ford’s report.

    Townhall.com editor Guy Benson: “Absent additional evidence, I don’t know how it would be remotely just to derail the nomination” of Kavanaugh.

    The Wall Street Journal editorial board suggested Ford possibly misremembered "in the cauldron of a therapy session to rescue a marriage," and stated that letting Ford's accusation "stop Mr. Kavanaugh's confirmation would ratify what has all the earmarks of a calculated political ambush."

    The woman accusing Brett Kavanaugh of a drunken assault when both were teenagers has now come forward publicly, and on Monday it caused Republicans to delay a confirmation vote and schedule another public hearing. Yet there is no way to confirm her story after 36 years, and to let it stop Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would ratify what has all the earmarks of a calculated political ambush.

    ...

    Mr. Kavanaugh denies all this “categorically and unequivocally,” and there is simply no way to prove it. The only witness to the event is Mr. Kavanaugh’s high school male friend, Mark Judge, who also says he recalls no such event. Ms. Ford concedes she told no one about it—not even a high school girl friend or family member—until 2012 when she told the story as part of couples therapy with her husband.

    The vagaries of memory are well known, all the more so when they emerge in the cauldron of a therapy session to rescue a marriage. Experts know that human beings can come to believe firmly over the years that something happened when it never did or is based on partial truth. Mistaken identity is also possible.

    ...

    This is simply too distant and uncorroborated a story to warrant a new hearing or to delay a vote. We’ve heard from all three principals, and there are no other witnesses to call. Democrats will use Monday’s hearing as a political spectacle to coax Mr. Kavanaugh into looking defensive or angry, and to portray Republicans as anti-women. Odds are it will be a circus.

    ...

    Letting an accusation that is this old, this unsubstantiated and this procedurally irregular defeat Mr. Kavanaugh would also mean weaponizing every sexual assault allegation no matter the evidence. It will tarnish the #MeToo cause with the smear of partisanship, and it will unleash even greater polarizing furies.

    Conservatives who attacked Ford’s motives

    Mike Cernovich: “Christine Blasey is a far left wing activist. ... this is straight activism on her part.”

    The Gateway Pundit: Ford is a “far-left activist.”

    Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft: Ford is an “unhinged liberal professor who former students describe as dark, mad, scary and troubled.”

    Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Apparently this accuser was fine with leaving Brett Kavanaugh on the second highest court of the land. … But it was when he was up for the Supreme Court that suddenly the stakes got higher.”

    Laura Ingraham: "This all has the whiff of a political smear masquerading as a sexual assault allegation."

    Fake news site RedstateWatcher: Ford is a "registered Democrat and Democrat activist.”

    Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh: Ford is "a political activist. She's an angry political activist. She's much more than just a victim of alleged attempted rape."

    Fox News host Tucker Carlson: "Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade? Of course it wouldn't have."​

    Right-wing Facebook meme pages and groups engaged in a smear campaign against Ford

    Many right-wing meme pages attacking Ford falsely painted her as a Democratic political operative. [1, 2, 3, 4]

    Some pages tried to undermine Ford’s allegations by questioning her timing in coming forward and her memory of the incident. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

    A woman from a Shuttershock photo of an anti-Trump protest in New York City was falsely attributed as Ford. [1, 2]

    Alex Kaplan and Natalie Martinez contributed research to this post.

  • After Rep. Ron DeSantis said Andrew Gillum would “monkey” up Florida, conservative media trotted out their playbook to spin away racist comments

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conservative media resorted to their tired playbook of spinning and obfuscating right-wing figures’ clearly racist remarks after Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), the Republican Party nominee for governor in Florida, said that his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, would “monkey” up the state. While a spokesperson for DeSantis said it was a term the congressman “frequently” uses, there is no evidence for that claim. Right-wing media figures frequently run defense for high-profile conservatives caught making racist comments.

  • No crime but a witch hunt: Pro-Trump media’s off-the-wall reactions to Manafort's conviction and Cohen's guilty plea

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen were found guilty and pleaded guilty, respectively, each on eight criminal counts, right-wing media immediately rose to President Donald Trump’s defense. Multiple media figures claimed that none of the charges had anything to do with Trump and that Trump’s former associates pleaded guilty to crimes that “don’t exist.”

  • Right-wing media attempt to distract from family separation policy by attacking abortion rights instead

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the Trump administration’s implementation of a policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the border, some self-described “pro-life” organizations and media figures have failed to denounce this policy. Others, though, have seemingly attempted to distract from the outrage about the policy by making outlandish and inaccurate comparisons to abortion.

    • Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh said the outrage over the Trump’s administration policy was a “manufactured crisis” and pointed to Democratic support for Planned Parenthood as a sign of hypocrisy. Limbaugh said, “You want to talk about separating families, look no further than the abortion mills of Planned Parenthood.”
    • On the June 18 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson attacked Democrats for opposing the Trump administration’s policy, saying that the “same people who support third-term, post-viability abortion for purposes of sex selection” were “lecturing” others about “the holiness of children.”
    • Liz Wheeler, host of One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, dismissed the focus on Trump’s policy during the June 13 edition of her show, saying, “If you care so much about exploited and abused children, where’s your outrage about the 1 million unborn children who are aborted every single year in our country?” Wheeler then pivoted to discussing a made-up story about Planned Parenthood, asking, “Where is your outrage that Democrats in Congress refuse to call for an investigation into this pattern of Planned Parenthood covering up the sexual abuse of children?”
    • On NBC’s Meet the Press, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, defended the policy by alluding to abortion saying that “nobody likes seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms, from their mothers’ wombs, frankly, but we have to make sure that [Department of Homeland Security] laws are understood.”
    • On Westword One’s The Mark Levin Show, host Mark Levin said that “suddenly the Democrats care about children.” He went on to claim inaccurately that “when it comes to abortion,” Democrats support it “right up to the last second. It can be eight months, 29 days, and they still support abortion.”
    • Anti-abortion outlet Life News responded to a tweet from Planned Parenthood saying children shouldn’t be separated from their parents by saying that Planned Parenthood was “ignoring how its own practices permanently and violently separate children from their fathers and mothers” and that the organization “does that 876 times a day in abortions.”

    • An article on CRTV’s Louder with Crowder website claimed that Planned Parenthood “separates babies from mothers every day. With surgical brutality. These babies are not being stored in chain-linked cages, waiting for processing. Planned Parenthood stores their children in jars. A calvarium in one jar, legs in another. Parts shipped, and sold, separately.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois attacked U2's Bono for supporting legalized abortion access in Ireland while criticizing Trump's policy of separating families at the border.

    • Yahoo! Lifestyle picked up the framing from anti-abortion outlets in an article headlined “Planned Parenthood called hypocritical for protesting Trump's 'zero tolerance' immigration policy.” The article highlighted several anti-abortion tweets suggesting that abortion is worse than the Trump administration’s policy.

    Anti-abortion organizations, politicians, and media figures also adopted this farcical comparison on social media

  • After the Michael Cohen reveal, revisiting the time Hannity bragged about the dirt he was gathering on Media Matters

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    After news broke that President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen provided legal advice to Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Vanity Fair reporter Gabriel Sherman reported: “Hannity hired Michael Cohen to help defend him against left-wing groups that were calling for boycotts.” This is a clear reference to Media Matters’ efforts to hold Sean Hannity accountable.

    Hannity’s appearance on Mark Levin’s radio show on May 30, 2017, gives some relevant context. The Fox host talked at length about a secret investigation on Media Matters that would later be revealed.

    MARK LEVIN (HOST): And as these things develop, we see it more and more and more. Well, of a sudden, I was a conspiracy nut, Media Matters put out this -- this grotesque smear job, where they try and destroy who you are, they cherry-pick things you’ve said out of context, things -- and they sent it to all the media, and the media were regurgitating it. Here’s my question to you --

    SEAN HANNITY: Mark, let me -- let me say something --

    LEVIN: -- among other things. Yeah, go ahead.

    HANNITY: We’ve done a very deep dive, and I don’t know when I’m going to release it, but I’m coming out with it.

    Number one, where the money’s coming from, number two, you want to talk about outrageous, insane, incendiary, over the top, vicious, vile hatred of -- and things that have been done and said?

    Oh, this guy that’s been on TV all week, I don’t even know his name, Carusone or something -- oh, you should see the things that I have on him, and what he’s said, and what this group is, and who funds -- remember, Hillary helped found this group, this Soros-Clinton group --

    LEVIN: Media Matters.

    HANNITY: Soros, and all these other people, it’s -- this is a concerted effort to silence talk radio, they want to destroy now the Fox News channel.

    The next day, Hannity talked with Melanie Morgan about Media Matters, saying he had talked to Media Matters’ President Angelo Carusone’s high school teacher.

  • Mark Levin thinks his new Fox show can prevent American decline. Too bad it’s glacially boring.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters 

    “We have to get busy now if we’re going to save ourselves from the fate of other great empires of the past. We need to get busy now with selling our fellow Americans on the moral superiority of personal liberty and its main ingredient, limited government,” the libertarian economics professor and columnist Walter Williams told Fox News host Mark Levin at the conclusion of Levin’s new show, Life, Liberty, and Levin, which debuted Sunday night. “And we need to make the case to our fellow citizens,” Levin responded, agreeing with his guest.

    Preventing the country from experiencing the imperial declines of Rome or the United Kingdom by preaching small government principles is a heady goal for a cable news program with a 10 p.m. weekend slot. And unfortunately for Levin, Fox, his audience, and, perhaps, the republic, the show’s first episode was a glacial slog, with Levin and Williams spending the hour trying to pass off warmed-over right-wing talking points as koans of wisdom.

    Levin, who served in President Ronald Reagan’s administration before embarking on a lucrative career as a conservative talk radio host and best-selling author, is new to the Fox lineup. But while his profile may be lower than those of Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham, who also turned radio tenures into Fox gigs, he nonetheless has extraordinary influence with the Republican Party’s rank-and-file activists.

    In 2013, The Daily Beast suggested Levin was “the Most Powerful Conservative You Never Heard Of.” He helped provide the intellectual architecture for the Tea Party movement with racially charged commentary stressing the purported radicalism of the Democratic Party and the need to return to the small-government roots of the nation’s founders.

    Now speaking every weekday to the fourth-largest talk radio audience in the country, Levin is popular with conservative Republican members of Congress and state legislators, the latter of which have been trying to enact his goal of triggering a constitutional convention of the states to cripple the power of the federal government.

    In his first Fox episode, Levin largely focused on well-trod territory. There was a constitutional convention shoutout for the Levinheads who might be tuning in, while those less familiar with his personal oeuvre could watch him and Williams (they never disagreed during their interview) toggle between conservative political philosophy (capitalism makes the country rich, taxation is theft) and banal talking points. This is the show for you if you think the height of political discourse is someone stating that more people are killed with knives than with rifles before asking without irony, “What do you want, knife control?”

    The premiere’s highlight was its discussion of slavery, which can be summarized as, “owning people is bad, but the real problems are people who criticize the founders for owning people and taxation, which is also slavery.”
     

    In an unusual turn for a Fox broadcast, President Donald Trump’s name was not invoked a single time over the course of the show. Levin has a complicated history with Trump: He initially stated that he could never support his campaign but reversed course as the general election loomed. And he’s been a staunch supporter throughout Trump's presidency, declaring during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference shortly before his Fox show aired, “I don’t care if you agree with this president on everything or not. They're trying to take him out, and it's our obligation to defend this man, and defend his office, and defend the presidency.”

    Levin chooses to ignore that Republicans control the White House -- and the House of Representatives, and the Senate, and the Supreme Court -- instead portraying conservatives as a rebel force beset on all sides by powerful foes. “Whether it’s climate change, abortion, gun control, it seems to me we’re always debating on the grounds and the terms set by the left. Why is that?” he asked Williams at one point during his Fox show.

    This sense of victimization, along with the invocations of slavery and the founders, the warnings that progressive Americans share the philosophy of the Nazis and the Soviets, and the pat philosophical musings remind me of Glenn Beck’s Fox show. That program was extremely popular at first, and lucrative for the network, before ratings and ad revenue plummeted as viewers got bored with his schtick and advertisers were no longer willing to associate themselves with his racist, insurrectionist, and conspiratorial commentary.

    But Beck’s show attracted an audience, at least at first, due to the host’s own substantial showmanship and decent production values. It’s hard to imagine Fox generating a phenomenon from a whiny-voiced conservatives radio host sitting across a table and bullshitting with people who agree with him at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night.

    For his part, Levin doesn’t seem too sure that the show will last. He repeatedly told viewers how to find his program on CRTV, an Internet streaming service that competes with Fox:

  • 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.