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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.

  • Mike Cernovich desperately wants to be taken seriously

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR
  • Here are the right-wing media figures defending Trump’s racist “shithole” comment

    ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    During a meeting on immigration policy in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump reportedly questioned the United States’ policy of accepting immigrants from, what he said, were “shithole countries,” such as Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations. In the aftermath of the president’s racist remarks, many in right-wing media rallied around him to defend his comments.

  • 5 things that emboldened far-right trolls in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    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.

    Even politicians have started noticing their reach, with some now imitating their style.

    Here are five factors that fueled the influence of far-right trolls in 2017:

    The politics of manufactured outrage that allow the far right to attract attention and drive narratives

    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).

    The rise of the meme warfare from fringe message boards

    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.

    Sloppy media coverage that allowed trolls to rebrand away from the toxicity of the “alt-right”

    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.

    A complicit presidential administration that gave these trolls further prominence

    In the Trump administration, right-wing trolls found powerful allies who admired and promoted their content and media appearances.

    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.

    The president, himself, retweeted a tweet by Posobiec to his more than 44 million followers, resulting in Posobiec celebrating the presidential validation.

    Twitter and YouTube dropped the ball on cracking down on harassment and extremism

    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.

  • 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"

  • Right-wing trolls hype “apparent effort to dupe reporters and smear” Chuck Schumer

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Right-wing media trolls Mike Cernovich and Chuck Johnson promoted a forged document that accused Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) of sexually harassing a former staffer, then quickly walked back their claims when the document was reported to police as a forgery.

    In a now-deleted tweet, far-right Twitter troll Mike Cernovich promoted claims by  Chuck C. Johnson, who has a history of harassing journalists, saying he was “currently reading the sexual harassment settlement documents of a major Democratic US Senator.”

    After posting and deleting the comment, Cernovich began walking back his claim, posting multiple videos on Twitter where he attempted to explain away his promotion of the document, arguing that he believed the story to be a “Big story or a Big hoax.” Cernovich later admitted that the document was apparently a hoax and claimed he has the “phone number of the hoaxer.”

    According to Axios, the document Johnson purported to be reading was a forgery and an attempt to “dupe reporters and smear” the Democratic Senator. After catching wind of the attempted smear, Schumer reported the forged document to the Capitol Police who are investigating the incident:

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was the victim of a fake news hit on Tuesday, and has turned over to Capitol Police a document that purports to detail lurid sexual harassment accusations by a former staffer.

    Why it matters: This was an apparent effort to dupe reporters and smear a senator — both symptoms of an amped-up news environment where harassment charges are proliferating and reporters have become targets for fraud.

    The former staffer told me in a phone interview that she did not author the document, that none of the charges ring true, and that her signature was forged.
    She said she had never heard of the document before Axios took it to Schumer's office for comment on Tuesday.

    Matt House, Schumer's communications director, told me: "The document is a forged document and every allegation is false. We have turned it over to the Capitol Police and asked them to investigate and pursue criminal charges because it is clear the law has been broken."

    House continued: "We believe the individual responsible for forging the document should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law to prevent other malicious actors from doing the same."

  • Right-wing media misrepresent interview with Moore accuser to claim she admitted to forging yearbook with Moore’s signature 

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    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.

  • Far-right trolls are manipulating Twitter into silencing journalists and Trump critics

    Twitter is getting played.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    In October, a notorious right-wing troll quietly launched an "operation" aimed at suspending progressive voices from Twitter. The plan was to use the platform’s mechanisms for reporting abuse in order to silence those he perceived as attempting to censor right-wing voices. With Twitter’s cooperation, and by taking out-of-context tweets that could have been made in sarcasm, the project has now become another successful entry in the playbook online trolls are using to silence progressives.

    On December 6, a user on Gab -- a social media platform resembling Twitter which has been dubbed a “haven for white nationalists” -- commented in a “live topic” dedicated to Roy Moore (a tool similar to Twitter’s trending topics) and reminded fellow Gabbers of “project Titty Twister:”

    A notorious right-wing, pro-Trump troll, known online as “Microchip,” launched Operation “Titty Twister” in late October, and called on his followers to report a list of progressive accounts to Twitter, which they claimed were “responsible for all bans and lockouts of Right wingers on Twitter.” Microchip planned to use Twitter’s blanket enforcement of anti-harassment policies to get those accounts suspended or banned:

    Around the same time as Microchip’s call to arms, Gab founder Andrew Torba also encouraged his followers to engage in fraudulently mass-reporting accounts on Twitter to “cause chaos:”

    The strategy seems to have intensified after Twitter announced major policy changes in late November and moved to suspend or remove verified badges from the profiles of users who had posted white supremacist rhetoric and other hateful speech. Though it is unclear how many accounts have been banned or suspended as a result of this far-right troll operation, Twitter did lock the account of Buzzfeed writer Katie Notopoulos for 10 days over a six-year-old sarcastic tweet. Other far-right trolls, like Mike Cernovich and Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, are now targeting comedian Michael Ian Black for tasteless jokes he made years ago.

    The fact that far-right trolls have succeeded in manipulating Twitter has undoubtedly emboldened them, as it signifies to them that their disinformation strategies work. And the problem will continue for Twitter especially because the social media platform has applied the same one-size-fits-all metric in the application of its anti-harassment policies. As Notopoulos noted while recounting her locked account saga:

    Twitter is getting played. They’re trying to crack down on the worst of Twitter by applying the rules to everyone, seemingly without much context. But by doing that, they’re allowing those in bad faith to use Twitter’s reporting system and tools against those operating in good faith. Twitter’s current system relies on a level playing field. But as anyone who understands the internet knows all too well, the trolls are always one step ahead.

  • MSNBC sides with rape apologist Mike Cernovich, fires contributor for 2009 tweet mocking rape apologists

    Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Cernovich once said, “A whore will let her friend ruin your life with a false rape case. So why should I care when women are raped?”

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update (12/7/17): Ryan Grim reports that MSNBC will be re-hiring Seder.

    MSNBC reportedly cut ties with contributor Sam Seder after far-right date rape apologist Mike Cernovich spread a 2009 tweet in which Seder mocked defenders of Roman Polański, a film director charged with raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. MSNBC’s decision to fire Seder comes on the one year anniversary of the shooting at Comet Ping Pong, which Cernovich helped spark by relentlessly pushing the “alt-right”-fueled “pizzagate” conspiracy.

    According to a December 4 report by The Wrap, MSNBC “has decided not to renew its contract with contributor Sam Seder after an old tweet emerged … brought to wide attention last month by the pro-Trump journalist and activist Mike Cernovich.”

    Seder explained Cernovich’s “smear involves the willful misinterpretation of a tweet that I posted in 2009” that was criticizing rape apologists, but MSNBC sided with Cernovich, who previously asked “Have you guys ever tried ‘raping’ a girl without using force? Try it. It’s basically impossible. Date rape does not exist,” and claimed “A whore will let her friend ruin your life with a false rape case. So why should I care when women are raped?”

    In a tweet, Media Matters Senior Fellow Matt Gertz added that the attacks against Seder ignored that when Seder made the satirical joke in 2009, he may have been responding to the media outlets and personalities that were inappropriately defending Polanski at the time.

    The reported termination of MSNBC’s relationship with Seder comes one year after a gunman walked into Comet Ping Pong, a popular family pizza restaurant, to investigate a fringe right-wing conspiracy theory that the restaurant was a cover for a pedophilia ring. Cernovich repeatedly promoted the false claim on Twitter.

    By severing ties with Seder, MSNBC has now made the same mistake that former New York Times Public Editor Liz Spayd made when she legitimized Cernovich’s harassment campaign against New York Times reporter Sopan Deb.

    MSNBC and The New York Times’ willingness to affirm a conspiratorial right-wing troll’s campaign to smear journalists and media figures sets a dangerous precedent. It threatens the credibility of serious media outlets when they choose to side with personalities like Cernovich who have a long track record of racism, misogyny, conspiracy theories, and misinformation.

    Language has been updated for clarity.

  • Video: The conspiracy theories of Alex Jones and Infowars

    Donald Trump praised Alex Jones’ “amazing” reputation when he appeared on his show

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR & JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    Alex Jones and Infowars have pushed numerous conspiracy theories over the years. Media Matters has compiled a vast number of them into one video:

    Some of the conspiracy theories in the video that Jones, his coworkers, and guests have pushed:

    • Jones claims that “Pizzagate” (that hacked Clinton emails referring to pizza orders were secretly about an underground child molestation ring) is real.

    • Jones claims that the Oklahoma City and 9/11 terror attacks were false flag attacks. Flight 93 was shot down by someone who refused to go along with the false flag attack; (Jones also claims that the person who disclosed that to him was subsequently murdered.)

    • Jones claims that mass shootings in Newtown, Las Vegas, and Orlando were either faked or part of elaborately covered-up conspiracies.

    • Jones claims that though American astronauts did go to the moon, there is secret technology there that has never been disclosed. Jones also agrees with his guest that the real moon landing was never shown to the public.

    • Jones claims that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both smell like sulfur.

    • Jones claims that the Rockefeller Foundation is secretly poisoning America through vaccines.

    • Jones claims that young women get breast cancer from being hyper feminized by artificial chemicals in the food and water.

    • Jones claims that Charles Manson was part of a secret CIA mind control program.

    • Jones claims that Donald Trump is being secretly drugged at night (and that he is risking his life by saying so).

    • Jones amplifies Chuck Norris’ claim in WND that “sky criminals” are using chemtrails to wage war on Americans.

    • Infowars’ Owen Shroyer claims that Adolf Hitler is still alive.

    • Jones claims that Democrats are going to kill people; he also claims that liberals want to put people in dungeons, cut skulls open, and eat their brains.

    • Jones claims that Google is going to force Americans into “self-contained bubble cities.”

    • Jones claims that “there is a signal being sent by women that is controlling men.”

    • Jones claims that Al Gore flies around with a refrigerator full of blood.

    • Jones claims that there are humans crossed with fish; he further claims that there are humanoids that are 80% gorilla, 80% pig and are talking.

    • Infowars contributor Mike Cernovich claims that we are approaching the singularity because time is becoming dilated.

    • Jones claims that the government has secret weather weapons that can cause natural disasters like hurricanes. He also claims that there is a secret volcano/earthquake weapon.

    • Jones claims that top Democrats are “into black magic.”

    • Jones claims that the Obama White House chiefs and chefs used satanic rituals.

    • Jones claims that the Canadian Parliament building was built to carry out Satanic rituals.

    • Jones claims that the Vatican is anti-Christian, and Pope Francis is “an upside down cross.”

    • Jones claims that the “black pope, the Jesuit general” is now in control.

    • An Infowars guest claims that the Rothschilds, the Jesuit black pope, the city of London, and Wall Street -- as part of the deep state -- use pedophilia and mind control to control the Free Masons, the Knights of Malta, and other secret societies.

    • Jones claims that Ted Cruz’s father is linked to the JFK assassination.

    • Jones claims that there is an alien force attacking humanity. He further says that while he does not bash those who do endorse UFOs, he personally sees it as an interdimensional force telling everyone to kill themselves.

    • Jones claims that what many people think are flying saucers are actually three jumbo jets projecting an image downwards to the ground.

    • Jones claims that Michelle Obama is actually a man and that Joan Rivers may have been murdered for revealing it.

    • Jones claims that there are secret death panels for veterans.

    • Jones claims that U.N. wants to bring back human sacrifice.

    • Jones and Infowars guest Billy Corgan allege that elites and mega-wealthy are preparing to secretly go off world.

    • An Infowars guest claims that children are kidnapped from Earth, transported secretly to Mars where they are enslaved in a Martian colony.

    • Jones and an Infowars guest allege that stargates are being built, including at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland (and that it is dedicated to Shiva).

    • Jones claims that exposure to artificial chemicals are turning people gay.

    • Jones claims that the Pentagon successfully developed a gay bomb.

    • An Infowars guest claims that a race of part-human, part-robots will replace humans and feed on human corpses.

    • Jones claims that pedophiles and psychic vampires are in control of an AI system.

    • Jones claims that outfits worn on MSNBC are uniforms meant to fool the public as MSNBC officials meet with the CIA and top government psychiatrists.

    • Jones claims that Katy Perry’s Super Bowl performance was part of an Illuminati ritual.

    • Jones claims that Beyoncé invoked urban terrorism in her video.

    • An Infowars guest claims that the government secretly has teleportation and time travel technology.

    • Jones claims that Satan is stealing the promised ability to travel through dimensions.

    • Jones claims that Russian sex operatives were sent to him whom he heroically declined even though they know that Marilyn Monroe look-alikes are what is in his mind’s eye.

    Donald Trump praised Alex Jones’ “amazing” reputation when he appeared on his show.

  • "Perfectly legitimate": How right-wing media figures tried to play defense for Roy Moore

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ZACHARY PLEAT

    After The Washington Post published a report alleging that Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore had initiated sexual encounters with a then-14-year-old girl in 1979, when Moore was 32, several right-wing media figures jumped to his defense, attacking the accuser, asserting that “Roy Moore Did Nothing Wrong,” and demanding that media cover the supposed misdeeds of others instead.

  • Here are the desperate excuses right-wing media are using to justify Ed Gillespie's loss

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST & DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Tuesday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam resoundly defeated Republican candidate Ed Gillespie to become the next governor of Virginia in a race that was largely viewed as a referendum on President Donald Trump. Right-wing media figures reacted to the election outcome by trying to distance Trump from Gillespie, arguing that Gillispie “didn’t embrace” the president’s agenda, labeling him as “the definition of the swamp” that Trump had promised to drain, and whitewashing his gravitation toward Trump’s extremism. Here’s a list of some of the excuses:

    1. On her radio program, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham blamed “mass immigration” by Muslim and Latino Americans into Virginia for Republican losses throughout the state.

    2. Fox’s Sandra Smith mentioned that Gillespie may have lost because he “didn’t fully embrace Trump,” saying, “There are questions this morning: had he [embraced Trump], would the outcome had been different?”

    3. Right-wing troll Mike Cernovich claimed Gillespie lost partly because his campaign and the Republican Party didn’t ask for Cernovich’s advice.

    4. Jack Posobiec suggested on Twitter that Gillespie’s ads weren’t extreme enough because he didn’t launch negative ads about sexual predators Harvey Weinstein and Anthony Weiner, or the anti-fascist group, Antifa.

    5. Right-wing website The Daily Caller and far-right website The Gateway Pundit blamed Gillespie’s loss on the fact that the former RNC chairman “did not directly campaign with Trump.” The Gateway Pundit also blamed the “lying liberal media” for “GOP elite” Gillespie’s loss.

    6. CNN contributor and Trump supporter David Urban speculated that Gillespie lost because Virginia voters “didn’t forget” that Gillespie didn’t “lift a finger” and come out in “full force” for Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.

    7. Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow slammed Gillespie as “the definition of the swamp” and “a lobbyist” who campaigned with establishment Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) -- “the exact people the Trump voter base rejected.” He also claimed that the “non-stop hot takes about how this was a rejection of the Trump agenda” were “farcical.”  

    8. Breitbart’s Joel Pollak claimed “most of the blame” for Gillespie’s loss “sits with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY),” adding, “calling Tuesday’s results a repudiation of Trump,” is “more than a stretch."

    9. Fake news website RedStateWatcher and conservative commentator Ann Coulter suggested that outgoing Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe restoring voting rights of convicted felons was the reason Gillespie lost to Northam as the ex-felons voted for the Democratic candidate.

    10. Right-wing blog RedState speculated that Gillespie’s rejection of Bannon's assistance during the campaign helped “sink him.”

    11. Coulter also seemed to blame Gillespie’s loss on undocumented Virginians illegally voting in the election, saying that if Gillespie’s “pals, George Bush & Haley Barbour, had been a little less enthusiastic about open borders,” he would have won. Coulter added that “what happened to [Virginia] will happen to the entire country” unless Trump builds his promised border wall and “deport[s] illegals.”

    12. Conservative radio host Steve Deace claimed that Gillespie “loathe[s]” the “cultural issues” that “Trump embraces,” ignoring ample evidence of Gillespie’s attempt to emulate Trump’s culture war.

    Correction: This post originally misidentified RedState as RedStateWatcher. We regret the error.

  • Right-wing trolls try to smear protesters as pedophiles by planting a sign referencing a reportedly disbanded organization

    This isn’t the first time right-wing troll Mike Cernovich and his allies have attempted to manipulate their followers into believing false narratives

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Last night, far-right troll Mike Cernovich spoke at Columbia University in New York City about the rise of alternative media, drawing protesters who oppose his far-right views and past dalliances with white supremacists and the “alt-right.” Later, on Twitter, Cernovich and his troll allies tried to smear the protestors by circulating a picture of a sign that they alleged the protestors were carrying, which featured a logo for a practically defunct pro-pedophilia organization. Many reporters pointed out the sign was likely a plant --  an attention-seeking tactic these right-wing trolls have used in the past to start false narratives, manipulate their audiences, and smear those who oppose them.

    The sign in the picture said “no white supremacy, no pedo bashing, no Mike Cernovich” and displayed logos of “antifa” and NAMBLA, which supposedly stands for the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Reporters who have attempted to contact NAMBLA in the past say either that it doesn’t exist anymore or that it has “only a handful of people ostensibly still involved.” Gothamist reporter Jake Offenhartz, who actually took the picture that Cernovich tweeted, mentioned in his original tweet that the sign was an “alt-right” plant. (Twitter apparently took down the photo in Cernovich’s tweet for infringing Offenhartz’s copyright.) An organizer of the protest later told Offenhartz that someone gave the sign to the protesters who held it for a short moment before they realized what it said and ran off the miscreant. Different reporters on Twitter agreed with Offenhartz’s skepticism regarding the authenticity of the sign

    But the damage had been done. Right-wing trolls including Jack Posobiec, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, MAGA Meetups Executive Director Will Chamberlain, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, and conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer joined Cernovich in tweeting about the sign, and the narrative quickly reached the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., who liked Cernovich’s tweet. Trump’s love for far-right internet trolls is well-documented.

    Pedophilia (or “pedo”) isn’t a new focus for these right-wing trolls, who, along with leading conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, pushed the false “Pizzagate” narrative during the 2016 election, claiming that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff operated a child abuse ring from a popular family pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. While Cernovich often presents himself as a warrior against pedophilia on his platforms, he doesn’t seem to mind it as much when it comes from his ally Milo Yiannopoulos, who has defended adult-minor sexual liaisons in the past. Only last week, Cernovich appeared as a guest on Yiannopoulos’ podcast.

    Far-right media and trolls have attempted to discredit protesters by linking them to NAMBLA in the past. MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) trolls have also taken a page from this tired playbook and have planted other incendiary fake signs among real protesters before: They reportedly planted a disgusting “rape Melania” sign at a protest in front of the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., and he was caught distributing fake flyers thanking lawmakers for protecting “ritual Satanic porn videos” and attributing the flyers to the organizers of the Women’s March.

    The strategy of right-wing trolls like Cernovich and his allies is transparent: They make a living out of creating content for their platforms, so it’s beneficial to manipulate their followers into believing false narratives to keep them engaged and outraged. In their need to create a demon for the audience to virulently oppose, they portray protesters and dissidents as monsters who sympathize with horrid things like pedophilia. It makes for compelling targets, which is what made the false “Pizzagate” narrative such a successful conspiracy theory, eventually inspiring a man to self-investigate the matter and open fire at the family restaurant.

    Cernovich, who has been trying to pivot toward becoming “more of a journalistic guy,” has also admitted that his approach to the craft isn’t necessarily based on facts but more on eliciting reactions and getting attention. While speaking at a Gateway Pundit gala celebrating the trolls during the White House Correspondents Dinner weekend in May, Cernovich said: “There’s this new form of media now which is part activism and part real journalism. And the way I put it is if there’s nothing happening, make it happen, and a lot of people say, ‘Well, that’s not real journalism. Real journalism is observing things,’ and I don’t really believe that’s true, actually. If you can get on a microphone and say ‘Bill Clinton is a rapist’ -- if the crowd reacts, that’s news.”

    The right-wing trolls also have another purpose for pulling the stunt at Columbia University protest:  It gives them an opportunity to try to discredit the mainstream media. If media outlets don’t fall for the stunt and refuse to cover it, the trolls can portray them as sympathetic to pedophilia. If outlets do cover the stunt uncritically -- as pro-Trump outlets like Infowars do  -- these trolls can also claim victory. In fact, Cernovich is already doing exactly that.