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  • The Infowars-White House pipeline is alive and well

    Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared an edited Infowars video to prop up the White House’s lies about CNN’s Jim Acosta

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared a deceptively edited video from Paul Joseph Watson, the editor-at-large at Infowars, as evidence for the administration’s false claim that CNN’s Jim Acosta assaulted a White House intern during a press conference.

    Infowars head Alex Jones has repeatedly claimed that his operation passes material to President Donald Trump and White House staff.

    Acosta and Trump had a contentious exchange during a November 7 press conference where a White House intern attempted to take a microphone from Acosta’s hand. During the exchange, “Acosta’s hand appeared to briefly brush her arm.” But Sanders subsequently accused Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman” and announced that his White House press pass was suspended.

    In an attempt to bolster her false claim, Sanders posted a video that purported to back her version of events:

    Observers on Twitter quickly pointed out that the clip in question originated from a tweet by Watson and that the video was altered. According to HuffPost, “The footage Sanders shared was missing the audio, zoomed in and repeated. Critics on social media said the speed of the footage was altered as well.”

    In recent months, several social media platforms have either outright banned Jones and his outlet or placed restrictions on his activities. But Jones and his Infowars colleagues still appear influential enough that their content can quickly reach the White House.

    Ever since Trump appeared on Jones’ show in 2015 and praised his “amazing” reputation, Jones has often claimed to have close access to Trump and administration personnel. One high-profile example of the Infowars-White House pipeline is when Trump pardoned disgraced former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As the pardon announcement neared, Arpaio appeared on The Alex Jones Show and thanked Jones and Infowars for getting his story to the president. As recently as September, Jones claimed on his show, “I have specifically had the White House and the president thank me recently for the fact that I’m covering the hard topics no one else will to hit the barbed wire.”

  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • Alleged Toronto attacker has confirmed links to misogynistic online communities

    While misogynistic online groups praised the attack and called for an uprising, right-wing conspiracy theorists and prominent far-right trolls blamed Islam and the alleged perpetrator’s ethnicity

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On April 23, Alek Minassian allegedly drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto, Canada, killing 10 and injuring 15. In posts on Facebook that the social media company has confirmed as his, Minassian alluded to online message board 4chan’s women-hating “involuntary celibate” community (whose members call themselves “incels”). The "incel" community, part of the broader "men's rights" community, has cheered the attack, while right-wing conspiracy theorists and far-right trolls have blamed it on Islam.

    In his social media posts, Minassian also used the terms “Chads” and “Stacys,” which are often used by online “incel” communities to mean “attractive popular men who are sexually successful with women” and their female partners.

    In the same post, Minassian praised Elliot Rodger, who went on a killing rampage in Isla Vista, CA, in 2014 that Rodger described in a note as a “Day of Retribution” for his virginity, which he attributed to “the cruelness of women.” The incel community often celebrates and discusses Rodger, and in his post, Minassian wrote, “All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

    The “incel” community celebrated Minassian online

    Sites linked to the “incel” community responded to Minassian’s attacks with violent memes, celebratory postings, and called for “More Trucks of Peace,” in apparent reference to the use of heavy vehicles to attack pedestrians. The most popular post had memes calling for a “Beta uprising” saying, “It’s now or never.” In the message thread, one poster complained about not having a “good enough weapon,” to which another member replied, “Get a car you cuck.”

    Far-right figures immediately connected the attack to Islam

    In the aftermath of the attack, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones scrambled to connect the attack to Islam during his live show. In a later video titled “Reporters Face Ten Years In Prison For Covering Islamic Truck Attack In Toronto,” Jones claimed that such truck attacks were “part of radical Islam” and said that the accent of the killer “sounds Islamic, sounds Middle Eastern.”

    Even after learning of the alleged killer’s ties to women-hating groups, Jones continued to link the attack to Islam during his April 24 broadcast, claiming that “he has an Islamic-sounding last name” and that “he’s a foreigner” and attributing the misogynistic aspects of the “incel” movement to Islam.

    Like Jones, prominent far-right internet trolls used the attack to smear Muslims and Islam on Twitter, mirroring conversations taking place on internet message boards Reddit and 4chan.

    Gavin McInnes, founder of the male chauvinist fraternal organization Proud Boys:

    Conspiracy theorist and online troll Laura Loomer:

    Infowars host Paul Joseph Watson:

    Leading anti-Muslim voice Pamela Geller:

    Troll account "Alba_Rising:"

    In a since-deleted Facebook post, the Canadian chapter of McInnes’ Proud Boys chimed in with anti-immigrant sentiments, stating, “The blood may be directly on the hands of the Trudeau regime for this latest terror attack.”

    Anti-Muslim and racist messaging quickly spread

    Fox News’ line of questioning suggested the attack had connections to ISIS. Immediately following a press conference in which authorities explained that the identity and motives of the attacker were still unknown, guest Howard Safir and host Maria Bartiromo discussed strategies to combat ISIS, suggesting to audiences a motive and connection that had not been confirmed by authorities.

    A Reddit thread connected the attack to Islam: “It's such a sad thing that civilized western nations are allowing this to happen. There's a reason why Islamic nations are in a constant state of tyranny or chaos”:

    A 4chan thread linked the tragedy to the QAnon conspiracy theory: A thread in the “politically incorrect” 4chan message board connected the attack to the Alex Jones-endorsed far-right conspiracy theory known as “The Storm” or QAnon. The conspiracy theory posits that President Donald Trump has a master plan to kneecap members of the “deep state” and that an intelligence officer with the highest clearance level is keeping people informed by posting anonymous messages and signing them as “Q.”

    4chan users called the attack “a government orchestrated false flag.”

    On YouTube, the channel ThePureVeritas claimed that the attacker was a “MUSLIM man.” The video is still up and has over 9,000 views.

    Hyperpartisan website Conservative Daily Post  also blamed Muslim immigrants for the attack:

    “While police have yet to reveal the motive behind the attack, the timing of the incident coupled with the cultural shift in Canada raises serious questions. … It also comes as Canada has become a hotbed for radical Islamic terrorism. Canada has not only allowed tens of thousands of Muslim migrants to assimilate to the nation, there has also been a dramatic uptick in crime against civilians. … [Trudeau’s] allowing Sharia Law to overtake Canada, and now innocent civilians aren’t even safe to walk down the street any longer.”

    Natalie Martinez and Alex Kaplan contributed research to this piece.

  • Complaints about Facebook selectively silencing conservatives are not based in reality

    Users across the political spectrum are feeling the effects of Facebook’s haphazard approach to battling fake news and hate speech

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Republican lawmakers repeatedly asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about alleged anti-conservative political bias on Facebook during two days of hearings on Capitol Hill this week. But this perceived bias has largely been fabricated or exaggerated by conservative media figures who complain that Facebook’s effort to address misinformation and online abuse is a front for suppressing conservative opinion. If anything, Facebook’s problem is its lack of transparency and inconsistent policy enforcement.

    Leading up to the hearings, which were initially billed as focused on Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s use of user data, conservative media figures had focused on supposed suppression of conservative views.

    Fox host Sean Hannity, Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, The Gateway Pundit, and others had complained about supposed censorship by Facebook. In recent days, far-right commentators Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, who go by Diamond and Silk, had also pushed the issue, appearing multiple times on Fox News and claiming that Facebook was trying to silence them by labeling their content “unsafe.”

    Facebook has said this was an enforcement error. Subsequent reporting showed that it was also a hoax: Think Progress has debunked their claim that they are being censored, citing data from CrowdTangle to report that their comments are “totally without merit.” Conservative commentator Erick Erickson published an email from Facebook contradicting what the two said on Fox News. In addition, their website -- diamondandsilkinc.americanewscentral.com -- is part of the same Young Conservatives LLC network that Media Matters highlighted in March. As BuzzFeed's Craig Silverman has previously explained, websites affiliated with Young Conservative "are using an increasingly popular tactic of quickly hopping from one domain name to another in order to blunt the impact of Facebook’s recent News Feed algorithm changes." 

    Despite these facts, during Zuckerberg’s testimony, multiple Republicans used a rare opportunity to question one of the world’s most powerful people to ask about Diamond and Silk. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in particular drew online applause from conservatives for pursuing this angle.

    Recent data from the social media analytics company NewsWhip found the overall claim of conservative bias to be unfounded as well: Conservative websites continued to get more engagements than left-wing websites even after Facebook changed its algorithm to prioritize news shared by friends over news shared by publishers. And there have been a number of instances in which Facebook has banned posts made by liberal and other non-conservative users -- or even suspended them:

    • Journalist and activist ljeoma Oluo was suspended from Facebook after she posted screenshots of racist comments and threats against her. Facebook  later apologized.
    • Facebook removed a quote from black blogger Layla Saad’s page and then censored a follow-up post. Facebook later apologized for the error.
    • Facebook wrongfully deleted a post from a black woman describing verbal abuse she and her sons encountered for her race at a grocery store (later restoring it) as well as posts from a Muslim activist detailing Islamophobic threats against a mosque (she later received an automated apology and one post was restored).
    • Facebook banned posts from a group of Rohingya Muslims fighting persecution in Myanmar. (The company has also drawn criticism from the United Nations for its role in the spread of hate speech in the country.)
    • Black and transgender activists organized a petition against Facebook’s often-unjustified censorship of minority voices.

    Conservatives have long alleged that there is an anti-conservative bias in the media, and their complaints about social media may well be an outgrowth of that perception. But another factor in their disproportionately loud outcry likely stems from Facebook’s efforts to crack down on fake news, conspiracy theories, and online harassment, which are more prevalent in conservative circles than in others. While Facebook and other media companies are still struggling to deal with these problems in a transparent and consistent way, there is evidence that some right-wing users may be using these platforms irresponsibly and thus feeling the impact more strongly than others.

    And there’s a real opportunity cost in focusing on this outcry. During the hearings, Zuckerberg was asked just one question about Facebook’s role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, according to The Daily Beast. Lawmakers also showed a reluctance to confront Zuckerberg over many other serious questions about the social media giant. Facebook and other tech platforms have serious problems to deal with; forcing them to focus on dubious issues distracts from efforts to solve them.

  • This is what it sounds like when right-wing media figures talk about Martin Luther King Jr.

    In the last year, they’ve compared King to Trump and misrepresented his legacy 

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & GRACE BENNETT

    On April 4, 1968, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN. Fifty years later, most of the United States remember King for his tireless efforts toward achieving racial equality and his leadership during the civil rights movement. But in the last year alone, various right-wing media figures have misrepresented King’s legacy and invoked his name to push for their own interests. Here is what they’ve had to say about the King in the last year:

    • Former CNN commentator Jeffrey Lord twice compared President Donald Trump to King. He told CNN viewers to “think of President Trump as the Martin Luther King of health care,” and then doubled down on that comparison, claiming Trump and King used similar “strategy.”

    • Lord then penned an op-ed for The American Spectator in which he claimed that identity politics -- “the grandson of slavery” -- “is merely the modern version of the segregation that King would give his life fighting to end.” Lord also scolded the NAACP for being insufficiently grateful to Trump after “black unemployment had hit its lowest level on record.”

    • Fox’s Pete Hegseth attacked King’s 9-year-old granddaughter, who spoke at the March For Our Lives: “Her grandfather, Martin Luther King, did so much for this country, but she's saying, ‘I dream of a world without guns.’ It's like, I dream of a world without Islamists, too.”

    • Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones compared himself to King, claiming, “I’m one of the biggest proponents of nonviolence [along with] Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.”

    • Fox’s Neil Cavuto questioned whether King would have recoiled at Confederate statues, asking King’s niece Alveda King, “Did your dad or uncle have anything to say about growing up in the Atlanta area and the South where there were a lot of these statues back then -- did they recoil at them? Did they hate them?” King’s niece replied, “There was never a recoiling.”

    • Pro-Trump writer Jacob Wohl compared Trump to King, tweeting: “President Trump, like Martin Luther King, is a civil rights icon.” Wohl also argued that “Martin Luther King would be a Trump Supporter” and recycled a favorite right-wing claim that the Democratic Party was the party that “opposed Abraham Lincoln, founded the KKK, supported segregation and attacked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

    • Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson tweeted, “Modern ‘progressive’ activists & #BlackLivesMatter supporters oppose everything Martin Luther King stood for. Judge people on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”

    • Fox opinion contributor Jeremy Hunt wrote, “Please stop politicizing Martin Luther King Day. It's a day for national unity, not political division. … On a day designed for public service and national unity, some in the media insist on making it about politics.”

    • The New York Post's editorial board wrote, “Race is no longer a barrier to elective office, let alone to voting,” and added that King would be “distressed by today’s hypersensitivity and growing political correctness that have made honest dialogue and discussions of race and other issues nearly impossible.”

    • During a white nationalist rant, Alex Jones compared King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech to the rise of Trump-ism in America: “It’s just incredible that we’re in the middle of this epic historical battle. And Trump’s right when he said this is the new American moment. This is like Martin Luther King 'I Have a Dream' speech.”

    • The Atlantic’s Kevin Williamson wrote, “Using King’s moral stature to promote socialism or global-warming legislation in 2018 is morally and intellectually dishonest.”

  • Tucker Carlson spent Women's History Month parroting YouTube's most extreme misogynists

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    On his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson spent Women’s History Month parroting some of the grossest views of YouTube’s fringe right-wing anti-feminists in a series of segments about “Men in America,” mainstreaming their misogyny on prime-time cable news. Here’s some background on the men Carlson has been promoting:

    • Jordan B. Peterson: An “obscure Canadian academic” before he became popular on right-wing YouTube, Peterson insists “gender and class hierarchies are ordained by nature,” as The New York Review of Books put it; considers advocates for social justice “morons”; and has speculated that “feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance.” His YouTube videos have been described as a gateway into the “alt-right” for men suffering from depression, and he has called Nazi sympathizer and infamous anti-feminist Milo Yiannopoulos “unstoppable” and “an amazing person.”

    • Stefan Molyneux: This YouTuber built his reputation by bemoaning feminism and complaining about the plight of men. He has asserted that young women should “look for security” from husbands, suggesting feminism destroyed Europe, and strongly championed James Damore, the Google employee who was fired after writing a memo contending that women’s underrepresentation in the technology field is due to biological reasons. To round out his extremism, Molyneux also traffics in white supremacist tropes like false narratives about the decline of white people, considers himself a “race realist” (euphemism for white supremacy) and has invited “‘alt-right’ extremists” on his show.

    • Gavin McInnes: Founder of the self-described “Western chauvinist” male fraternal organization Proud Boys, McInnes uses his online platforms to spew hateful vitriol. (Designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Proud Boys are specifically anti-women, as they embrace the belief that women’s primary role in society is to “stay home and make more babies” and explicitly ban women from their meetings.) He has called Oprah Winfrey a "slut" with a "ghetto mentality" who "was turning tricks" before becoming rich, described lesbians as “sexless, depressed old chubby dykes,” asserted that women should “probably not vote,” mocked women in the workforce, and made derisive comments about women’s looks.

    • Paul Joseph Watson: This Alex Jones lackey spends his time on the internet trolling feminists and Islam, mansplaining “things feminists need to understand,” and pushing nonsensical conceptions of masculinity -- like the idea that soy consumption drives testosterone levels down and reduces masculinity in men.​

    • Owen Shroyer: Also a Jones lackey, Shroyer hosts his own show on Infowars and has spewed the most asinine conspiracy theories, like claiming that Hitler is alive and the U.S. government is covering it up, or that London Mayor Sadiq Khan was somehow involved in the Austin, TX, bombings. As reported by Right Wing Watch, Shroyer also once asserted that former first lady Michelle Obama was a transgender woman with intentions of establishing a mainstream “demonic” culture in America.

  • 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.

  • Meet Peter Imanuelsen, aka Peter Sweden, the bigoted conspiracy theorist who is a frequent source for the American "alt-right" on Europe

    Imanuelsen is a xenophobic pseudo-journalist who has denied the Holocaust, called the moon landing a "hoax," and suggested that LGBTQ people be sent to camps

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Peter Imanuelsen (aka Peter Sweden), a bigoted conspiracy theorist and self-professed “Swedish journalist” who made a name for himself by reporting on so-called migrant crime in Sweden, was recently banned from PayPal. Far-right trolls consider getting banned from such platforms a badge of honor, and Imanuelsen’s ban is a stepping stone for him as he seeks their acceptance.

    Imanuelsen is a far-right vlogger who has worked to carve out a niche for himself at the intersection of pro-Trump trolls and the European far-right movement. Despite his Swedish persona, Imanuelsen is a British national born in Norway, who has spent time living in Sweden but has lived more than half of his life in the U.K. An August 2017 profile of Imanuelsen by the U.K. anti-extremism research group Hope Not Hate suggested that his family’s business appears to have committed tax evasion, which may explain their move from Sweden to the U.K.

    Though a relatively obscure figure during his first year on Twitter, Imanuelsen’s notoriety was boosted around August 2017, a month after he participated in a wildly unsuccessful “alt-right” stunt to disrupt refugee rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea (ironically, the group's ship itself had to be rescued on one occasion by a refugee rescue ship). And, recently, he managed to draw the ire of the current curator of the official Swedish Twitter account.

    Though Imanuelsen’s social media activity is now predominantly focused on blaming immigrants in Sweden for crime and complaining about “the left,” his older tweets, many of which have since been deleted, reveal an array of false, conspiracist, and bigoted beliefs. He has said he doesn’t believe in evolution, that feminism “goes against God’s order,” that people should get “capital punishment” as a “consequence” of “being homo,” that Jews are a “seperate (sic) race from Europeans,” that the Holocaust never occurred (though he claims he has revised his views on the Holocaust), and that the moon landing was a hoax perpetrated by freemasons.

    Since Hope Not Hate’s profile, Imanuelsen has pushed the types of stories, often misleading or outright fabricated ones, that serve as fodder for narratives about Sweden among American “alt-right” Twitter personalities and pro-Trump trolls. His Swedish persona affords him a measure of credibility and gives xenophobic comments a sense of legitimacy (whether or not his conclusions are valid), and he understands the American media landscape -- particularly narratives about President Donald Trump -- well enough to exploit them for his own benefit. In fact, two days ago, he appeared on a list of the 20 most retweeted accounts tweeting about antifa. 

    Imanuelsen regularly tweets unsourced or unsubstantiated claims that allege Sweden’s immigrants are responsible for sexual violence, bombings, gang activity, and other criminality, and that such activity is underreported or covered up by the Swedish police. It’s a two-pronged tactic: It provides a foundation for him to advance his ethno-nationalist arguments against immigrants, and it promotes a sense of distrust of mainstream institutions necessary for the continued relevance of Imanuelsen and people like him.


    Screenshot from Peter Imanuelsen's Twitter account

    More recently, Imanuelsen has promoted himself by fearmongering about government censorship and harassment to a level that could reasonably be considered paranoia. Since October, Imanuelsen, who now purportedly resides in Norway, has been claiming the police have visited his parents many times looking for him and have swarmed his house in the U.K. “probably looking” to arrest him for “hate speech.” On January 10, he also claimed (without evidence) that a “country” reported his January 8 tweet claiming (also without evidence) that Sweden is giving immigrants housing priority over native Swedes, writing, “I would guess it is Germany with their new ‘hate speech’ law that has reported me" to Twitter.

    Imanuelsen has, for months, been ingratiating himself into far-right and pro-Trump Twitter circles -- he once tweeted four times in response to a Breitbart article lamenting the lack of Christian symbolism in a supermarket holiday ad -- and it appears that his efforts have begun to pay off. Imanuelsen now has over 85 thousand Twitter followers, 24 thousand YouTube subscribers, and his Periscope videos regularly draw tens of thousands of viewers.

    Imanuelsen’s relationship with Paul Joseph Watson, an Infowars conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with the canard of Swedish migrant crime, illustrates his rise. Their Twitter relationship seems to have started in February 2017, when Watson quote-tweeted Imanuelsen’s tweet about an explosion in Malmo, which Imanuelsen later deleted. He started quote-tweeting Watson aggressively in March and started tweeting directly at him a few months later. Watson has quote-tweeted Imanuelsen many times and has interviewed him on Infowars. Most recently, Infowars.com reprinted a post Imanuelsen wrote for the anti-immigrant European news blog Voice of Europe. Imanuelsen’s* tweets parallel the content of several prominent far-right outlets that report on the subject of crime in Sweden, and an October 2017 post by the far-right Gateway Pundit was based entirely on his tweets. In November 2017, Imanuelsen was cited as a "journalist" who "keeps track of bombings in the country" in an article on the website of RT, a Russian media outlet which U.S. intelligence officials and experts have said is a propaganda arm for the Kremlin.

    Two days ago, PayPal permanently suspended Imanuelsen for violating the company’s user agreement, a veritable badge of honor for white supremacists since the August 2017 events in Charlottesville, VA. Though PayPal didn’t specify which part of the user agreement he had violated, the company has previously frozen the account of far-right group Defend Europe (with which Sweden was associated). Paypal also told a French outlet that it was the company's policy “to prohibit that our services are used to accept payments or donations for organizations whose activities promote hatred, violence or racial intolerance.” Since the ban, Imanuelsen has joined the trend of soliciting donations via bitcoin, a cryptocurrency white nationalist Richard Spencer calls “the currency of the alt-right.”

    Pamela Geller, America’s most notorious anti-Muslim extremist who has recently gravitated toward the “alt-right” in an attempt to maintain her own fading relevance, ran to his defense. Jihad Watch Director Robert Spencer, another vocal anti-Muslim propagandist, retweeted him.

    But Imanuelsen isn’t content with Infowars-level infamy. He is desperate for an invitation to Fox News prime-time shows (he has pitched stories to their hosts via Twitter), some of which have been increasingly friendly to white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, internet trolls, and the European far-right, leaving open the very real possibility that a bigoted, racist, anti-Muslim, internet conspiracy theorist masquerading as a journalist could be mainstreamed to Americans by a major cable news network.

    * This name has been updated with its correct spelling.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Far-right trolls and white nationalists defend Trump's anti-Muslim video retweets

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the far-right, ultranationalist Britain First political organization, who has previously been “found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment.” Trump’s retweets of three videos attempting to link Muslims to violent crime, one of which has been debunked and the other two of which lacked context, were praised by white nationalists and far-right ideologues on Twitter and by internet trolls on 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit message boards. At least one prominent fake news website also defended Trump’s retweets.

    Prominent white nationalist David Duke:

    Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson:

    Far-right vlogger and identitarian movement supporter Peter Sweden:

    White nationalist podcast host James Allsup:

    White nationalist associate of Richard Spencer, Evan McLaren:

    White nationalist congressional hopeful Grant J. Kidney:

    White nationalist group Defend Europa:

    Anti-immigration hate website VDARE:

    A poster on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board: “Trump just went full alt right.”

    Another 4chan/pol/ user wrote, “PRAISE TRUMP,” calling the videos Trump shared “/POL/-TIER MUSLIM CHIMPOUT VIDEOS” -- an indication that the videos were extreme enough to have been promoted by 4chan users.

    One user on the 8chan/pol/ message board, in reference to Trump’s tweets, wrote, “I'm still not tired of winning. Sieg fucking heil.”

    And on the pro-Trump subreddit “/r/The_Donald,” one user shared the videos Trump retweeted and directed other users to an online tool that can be used to download the videos, likely to share them through different mediums.

    Fake news website Conservative Tribune praised Trump’s tweetstorm in a post, writing, “Refusing to cower to political correctness, President Donald Trump went rogue Wednesday, taking dead aim at radical Islamic terrorists and the violence they sow.”

  • 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.