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Michael Flynn Jr.

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  • Right-wing media praise, justify Trump's decision to pardon Dinesh D'Souza

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Right-wing media figures were quick to defend and rejoice over President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon conservative author and pundit Dinesh D’Souza for his felony conviction for violating campaign finance law.

    On the morning of May 31, Trump tweeted:

    D’Souza was indicted in 2014 for violating campaign finance laws, and right-wing media figures also jumped to defend him then, portraying him as a victim of political persecution by the Obama administration, which D’Souza had criticized in a lie-filled book attempting to trace Obama’s liberal policy motivations and later in a lie-filled movie. But D’Souza pleaded guilty to the charges against him five years ago. His more recent missives have included tweets mocking students who survived the February school shooting in Parkland, FL and likening Democrats to Nazis.

    Following Trump’s announcement that he will give a full pardon to D’Souza, right-wing media figures celebrated the decision and claimed that D’Souza was indeed treated unfairly:

    Fox News host Jeanine Pirro: “Fantastic news @DineshDSouza to be pardoned by @POTUS. Obama’s political prosecution null and void.”

    Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano: Trump’s pardon of D’Souza is “a marvelous act of justice. Not mercy, justice.”

    Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “It’s about time”; pardon “was long overdue.”

    Right-wing troll Mike Flynn Jr.: “WOW! Incredible! @DineshDSouza totally deserves this! CONGRATS!”

    Pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones: “Good to see Trump using that power” to correct “a lot of these travesties of justice that are taking place.”

    Wash. Examiner’s Byron York and Ingraham agree D’Souza sentencing was a “travesty” and “outrage.”

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh: D’Souza was sentenced “so that Obama could flex his muscles and show what a tough guy he was.”

    Fox & Friends co-host Pete Hegseth: “I thought that was great.”

    Right-wing blogger Jim Hoft: D’Souza’s prosecution was an “Obama political hit job and “an obvious witch hunt.”

  • Russian accounts and a fake news site are reviving the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory

    Website baselessly claims Clinton is in a "pedophile sex tape" with aide

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A prominent fake news website whose Facebook page has been verified by Facebook and which has been accused by experts of being a Russian proxy has revived the debunked fake news conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate” in a new article. The article has also been promoted by Michael Flynn Jr., who played a role in generating significant exposure for the first iteration of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory.

    On November 4, YourNewsWire published an article headlined “NYPD: Hillary Clinton ‘Pedophile Sex Tape’ About To Be Released.” The article claimed that the New York Police Department had “confirmed that a ‘sickening’ pedophile sex tape featuring Hillary Clinton is about to be released to the public” that depicts “Clinton engaging in a sexual act with her aide Huma Abedin and an underage girl.” The article, which features a photo of Clinton eating pizza, cites a Right Wing Watch article about Liz Crokin, a columnist known for pushing conspiracy theories surrounding slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich and who called the October Las Vegas mass shooting a “false flag,” for the claim.

    The article is a continuation of the baseless “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Clinton and her presidential campaign were using a Washington, D.C. pizzeria to run a pedophila operation. The conspiracy theory was widely pushed by far-right media and fake news websites, including YourNewsWire, resulting in a gunman opening fire inside that pizzeria last December. Flynn Jr., the son of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had been a transition aide for President Donald Trump (and who could face criminal prosecution from special counsel Robert Mueller), quoted a Twitter user pushing the article, writing, “Oh…” and adding, “I’ll believe it when I see it......” Flynn Jr. was fired from Trump’s transition team last December after continuing to push “Pizzagate” following the pizzeria shooting.

    The YourNewsWire article, which was shared on a verified Facebook page run by YourNewsWire’s operators, had nearly 10,000 Facebook engagements and more than 4,000 Twitter shares, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, and was shared by a number of other fake news websites. The article was also being heavily pushed by Russian-linked accounts, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

    YourNewsWire has a history of pushing fake stories, such as making up that actor Morgan Freeman called for Clinton to be jailed and that Clinton bribed Republicans in order to “destroy Trump.” Experts in the United States and European Union (EU) have reportedly accused the website of being a Russian proxy whose misinformation seems to fit Russia’s aims, such as falsely claiming that the EU lowered the age of consent to 13 and that Austria's new chancellor had targeted billionaire George Soros.

  • Fake news purveyors regularly cited a Twitter account revealed to be Russian propaganda

    Articles from these websites, which have received more than 300,000 Facebook engagements, have promoted tweets from @TEN_GOP claiming a Muslim takeover, attacking the media, and denying Russian collusion


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fake news purveyors have repeatedly promoted tweets from a Twitter account that was run by Russian operatives, often framing their articles directly around the account.

    In September, Facebook announced that a Russian firm tied to the Kremlin, the Internet Research Agency, had bought at least $100,000 worth of advertisements on its platform during the 2016 election. Later that month, Twitter announced that it had found at least 200 accounts linked to the same firm. Several news outlets have also reported that Russian operatives used these social media platforms to push anti-immigration rhetoric, including organizing an anti-Muslim rally and impersonating a Muslim group to stir chaos in the U.S. In October, one of the Russian Twitter accounts was identified as @TEN_GOP, which had claimed to speak for the Tennessee Republican Party. The account previously had been repeatedly cited by media outlets, celebrities, and figures in Trump’s orbit.

    Websites known to purvey fake news also regularly cited the account, sometimes to push the same themes that Russian-affiliated accounts did on Facebook. For example, multiple fake news purveyors in February wrote pieces about “angry filthy Muslims tak[ing] over streets of NYC,” citing a video posted by @TEN_GOP that claimed to show “Muslims taking over streets in NYC.” One of the fake news purveyors was The New York Evening, which is based in Macedonia, a major hub for fake news writers. One of those articles drew more than 23,000 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. In turn, other Facebook pages shared those articles, with users claiming they showed that Muslims “are starting to make the move to take over the country” and that it was “more reason to ban them.” Other anti-Islam tweets from @TEN_GOP, such as those claiming a supposed riot in Paris justified Trump’s Muslim ban and attacking London’s Muslim mayor, were also written up by fake news purveyors and subsequently shared on multiple Facebook pages and on Twitter.

    Fake news purveyors also relied on @TEN_GOP for stories that pushed narratives they had already been promoting, such as attacks on mainstream outlets. Some of them cited the account to promote a supposed protest in front of CNN’s Atlanta headquarters -- so they could attack CNN as “fake news” -- and those articles in turn were shared on Facebook. Trump campaign digital director Brad Parscale also promoted the same rally on Twitter.

    Another fake news purveyor promoted the account’s claim that CNN removed a countdown clock chyron on the screen because it would help Trump, and another website featuring the same article was promoted on Reddit’s notorious “r/The_Donald” message board. That same claim was also pushed by Michael Flynn Jr., a former Trump aide and son of former national security advisor Michael Flynn. Fake news purveyors also promoted other @TEN_GOP attacks on CNN and MSNBC that were in turn shared and engaged with on social media by thousands.

    Fake news purveyors also wrote articles about tweets from @TEN_GOP that:

    These fake news purveyors' articles that cited @TEN_GOP combined had at least 330,000 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo.

    TruthFeed articles citing @TEN_GOP were also frequently pushed on Twitter by two pro-Trump handles, @3lectric5heep and @ThePatriot143. The handles have over 96,000 and 119,000 followers, respectively, and suspiciously high activity. Most of the TruthFeed articles that cited @TEN_GOP were also tweeted by a network of at least 28 handles operating through the automation platform dlvr.it.

    FBI agent Watts told The Daily Beast that Trump aides’ promotion of @TEN_GOP demonstrates that Russia’s efforts to push propaganda through social media works, “because Americans will use it against other Americans.” It’s clear that people are doing the same with Russian messaging pushed by hyperpartisan fake news purveyors, sharing and reacting to these articles on social media. Thanks to disguised accounts like @TEN_GOP feeding into narratives that these fake news websites support, Russia has been able to interfere in American domestic affairs and further polarize the country.

  • The fake news that spread about Hurricane Harvey

    As Hurricane Irma threatens to devastate parts of the U.S., social media may be inundated with fabricated stories about the new crisis

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Websites that traffic in fake news have taken advantage of Hurricane Harvey to widely circulate misinformation about the storm on social media. As Hurricane Irma follows close on Harvey’s heels -- it has already hit the U.S. Virgin Islands and is on track to reach Puerto Rico and Florida -- people’s lives may depend on receiving accurate information. Fake news about Hurricane Irma is already starting to pop up; one viral video that was purported to show Irma, actually showed a tornado hitting Uruguay from over a year ago, according to BuzzFeed. Fake news stories that sprung up after Harvey should serve as a warning for the coming days.

    False: Black Lives Matter blocked aid from reaching Harvey victims

    Our Land Of The Free, a website that claims to be satirical (yet has been used by fake news purveyors multiple times), published a piece headlined “Black Lives Matter THUGS Blocking Emergency Crews From Reaching Hurricane Victims.” The made-up piece subsequently reached multiple fake news purveyors who pushed it as a legitimate story.

    Flash American News’ repost of the story received more than 10,600 Facebook engagements according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo and was shared to over a million people across various social media platforms according to CrowdTangle, another analytics service. The story was also shared on Reddit forum "r/The_Donald" that has previously helped far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation, where one user encouraged the fake story “to be shared widely.”

    False: Houston’s mayor “vanished” during Harvey

    Multiple fake news purveyors falsely claimed that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner “vanished” when Harvey hit Houston. One of the posts was shared on Reddit forum “r/The_Donald,” while the post from Proud Patriots, which received one of the highest number of views, was shared to 1,717,368 people, according to CrowdTangle. Another version of the story on World Politicus received more than 6,000 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo.

    False: Houston mosque was refusing to shelter Harvey victims

    Multiple fake news purveyors posted as legitimate news a story from another self-identified satirical website called The Last Line Of Defense. Stories from the site have been used by fake news purveyors multiple times. According to the story on The Last Line of Defense, “Ramashan Mosque outside of Houston” refused to take in “any non-Muslim people” impacted by the storm. These posts used a photo of a Canadian imam as the face of their stories; the imam in question says he has never been to Texas.

    False: The Clinton Foundation was selling $7 water bottles to Houston victims

    Multiple fake news purveyors ran with another article from Our Land Of The Free claiming that the Clinton Foundation was charging $7 for bottled water to people in Houston who were impacted by Harvey.

    The fake news article from patriotusa.press that got the highest number of views, received more than 4,100 Facebook engagements according to BuzzSumo and reached 249,698 people according to CrowdTangle.

    False: Donations from some celebrities for Harvey aid

    Fake news purveyors made up donations from multiple celebrities, including boxer Floyd Mayweather, boxer Manny Pacquiao, Princes William and Harry, and athlete Usain Bolt. Some of these fake news stories were shared by TheBlaze host and frequent Fox News guest Lawrence Jones and by Michael Flynn Jr., son of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The fake Mayweather story in particular received more than 544,700 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo, and was shared with over 41 million people, according to CrowdTangle.

    False: A Navy ship hit a Houston building

    At least one fake news purveyor, American News (which has millions of followers on Facebook), pushed as legitimate a story from a satirical blog claiming that a Navy destroyer hit a Houston building due to flooding caused by Harvey. The satirical article was also shared on Reddit’s “r/The_Donald.”

    False: A secret Obama administration ammo deposit was discovered due to Harvey

    Multiple fake news purveyors pushed a story from satirical website Our Land Of The Free claiming that “a cache of weapons long suspected to be hidden in Texas during Operation Jade Helm 15 was uncovered by the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey” that went “missing during Obama’s tenure.”

    The repost of the story on Viral Feed, which had one of the highest number of views, had more than 14,100 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo, and was shared to 257,828 people, according to CrowdTangle.

    False: A Georgian mosque kept Harvey donations to send them to Syrian refugees

    Fake news purveyor As American As Apple Pie published a fake news story about a fictional Georgia mosque diverting aid meant for Harvey survivors to Syrian refugees. Multiple other fake news purveyors ran with the fake story. Patriotusa.press also published the post which became the most widely shared version of the original post.

    The Last Line of Defense then concocted a follow-up piece to the As American As Apple Pie article, claiming the imam of the fictional mosque in Georgia had been arrested. That article was also shared by multiple fake news purveyors.

    This post has been updated with an additional example.

  • "My Shirts Aren't Going To Iron Themselves": Conservatives Launch Attacks On Women’s March

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    Hundreds of thousands are protesting President Donald Trump’s administration and his hateful rhetoric during the campaign in the Women’s March on Washington and at numerous other marches across the United States and the world. Conservatives and other figures have attacked the demonstration with sexism and other demeaning comments.

    Erick Erickson: “Sorry For All The Ham And Cheese That Won’t Get Made Into Sandwiches” While “Those Women Are Marching.” Fox News contributor and conservative radio host Erick Erickson said, “I feel sorry for all the ham and cheese that won't get made into sandwiches while all those women are marching.”

    Piers Morgan: “Rabid Feminists” Creating “Global Emasculation Of My Gender.” Daily Mail columnist and former CNN host Piers Morgan wrote that he was “planning a 'Men's March' to protest at the creeping global emasculation of my gender by rabid feminists.” Morgan also labeled the demonstrations, “just an anti-democratic protest at Trump winning the presidency.”

    Michael Flynn Jr.: Women Marching For “Free Mani/Pedis.” Michael Flynn Jr., son of Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, wrote that “Women already have equal rights, and YES equal pay in this country. What MORE do you want? Free mani/pedis?”

    Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson: Protesters Are “Utter Morons.” Paul Joseph Watson, who works for  conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars, argued that “morons” at the protest should “go and protest against honor killings” because “women in the west have never had it better.”

    Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft: “Overweight Homely Women March In DC.” Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit said, “Overweight homely women march in DC with ‘pussy grab’ pink hats #Ugh.” Gateway Pundit has recently reportedly received White House credentials from the Trump administration.

    Radio Host John Cardillo: “My Shirts Aren’t Going To Iron Themselves.” Conservative radio host John Cardillo wrote, “Wrap this up girls. My shirts aren't going to iron themselves.”

    David Clarke: March Was "An Absolute Freak Show." Frequent Fox News guest Sheriff David Clarke described the march as "an absolute freak show." He added, "P-T Barnum should have delayed the announcement to shut down."

    Conspiracy Theorist And Trump Backer Alex Jones: Women's March Participants Were "Unattractive, Troll-Like Women." Jones recounted his experience observing the Women's March in Washington D.C., stating, "They were outside my condo, we were about to leave, so I went down to do a Facebook mentions, and they would walk by, they were mainly white women. Mainly, let's just say it, because they have been disenfranchised, they don't feel beautiful, unattractive troll-like women."

    NRATV Co-Host: "At Least Trump Got More Fat Women Out For A Walk In One Day Then Michelle Obama Did In 8 Years." Chuck Holton, who hosts a web series for the National Rifle Association alongside Fox News contributor Oliver North, wrote on Twitter that participants in the march were "fat women":

  • Conservatives Baselessly Blame Attack On Black Lives Matter Movement With “#BLMKidnapping” Hashtag

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    Conservatives are baselessly blaming the Black Lives Matter movement after a white man was kidnapped and attacked in Chicago. Four black people were arrested on January 4 after a Facebook Live video surfaced of a young white man with special needs being tied up, assaulted, and threatened. In the video, one of the assailants said, “Fuck Donald Trump, fuck white people.”

    Chicago police have filed hate crime and battery charges against the four suspects.

    Several conservatives and “alt-right” figures blamed the attack on the Black Lives Matter movement and used the social media hashtag #BLMKidnapping in discussions about the event. Yet the video does not reference Black Lives Matter and thus far, no connection between the assailants and Black Lives Matter has been established. CNN reported “police said they have not been able to make any connection to the Black Lives Matter activist group, contrary to some reports circulating on social media.”

    Paul Joseph Watson, editor-at-large for conspiracy theorist and Donald Trump ally Alex Jones’ website Infowars, was among the first to tie the attack to Black Lives Matter, with a Twitter post instructing others, “#BLMKidnapping is the hashtag to get this story trending.” Watson’s own write-up of the story on Infowars, which he linked to in his tweet, makes no mention of Black Lives Matter or a connection between the attack and the movement.

    Watson later described the victim of the attack as “the BLM torture victim” on Twitter.

    Rape apologist and “alt-right” figure Mike Cernovich wrote, “#BlackLivesMatter activists in custody after filming kidnapping video,” then used Watson’s hashtag to write, “#BLMKidnapping suspects are in custody.” He also described one of the suspects as a “#BLMKidnapping ring leader.” On his blog, Cernovich made the same assertion, without evidence to back it up.

    Lee Stranahan, a Breitbart contributor, questioned Cernovich’s assertions, particularly his claim that the attackers were Black Lives Matters supporters. Stranahan also pointed out that mainstream media reports on the attack had not mentioned Cernovich’s claims.

    In contrast to Stranahan, fellow Breitbart contributor Katie McHugh referenced “the victim of the Chicago #BLMkidnapping.”

    Fake news promoter and “alt-right” figure Jack Posobiec recorded a Periscope video about the attack with the #BLMKidnapping hashtag and claimed that the attackers were “members of Black Lives Matter in Chicago.”

    Trump supporter Bill Mitchell described the attack as a “#BLM atrocity” that “proves that given enough time, evil always shows its true nature.”

    Michael Flynn Jr., son of incoming Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, also labeled the event with the #BLMKidnapping in several tweets. Flynn was removed from the presidential transition team after it was reported that he helped to spread several fake news stories and conspiracy theories.

    Gavin McInnes, who has a history of making racist commentary, also used the hashtag.

    Conservative Steven Crowder wrote, “#BLMKidnapping and the media's reaction is proof positive that the left doesn't care about racism.”

    Conservatives have frequently, without evidence, blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for violence. Radio host Rush Limbaugh called them “a terrorist group committing hate crimes,” while frequent Fox News guest David Clarke called them a “subversive movement” attempting to “overthrow” the government. Fox host Sean Hannity compared Black Lives Matter to the Ku Klux Klan, Bill O’Reilly compared them to Nazis, and a Fox News graphic described it as a “murder movement.”