Alt-right and pro-Trump trolls

Tags ››› Alt-right and pro-Trump trolls
  • Trump voter fraud commission member Ken Blackwell has pushed fake news

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a member of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, has pushed fake news and false claims originating from fringe media and seems to rely at least partially on disreputable sources for news.

    On May 11, the Trump administration announced that it was forming a “bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Integrity,” and listed Blackwell as one of its members. Blackwell, a conservative columnist, a senior fellow at the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council, and a board member of the National Rifle Association, has previously claimed that climate change concerns could lead to forced abortions, suggested gay marriage was the reason for a 2014 California mass shooting, and suggested that then-Attorney General Eric Holder was “clear[ing] the path for shariah law.” He has also lent credence to Trump’s false assertion  that there is widespread voter fraud in the United States, saying the system creates “real potential for fraud” and that there may have been fraud in the last election.

    Since he was announced as a member of Trump’s commission, Blackwell has pushed multiple false allegations leveled by fringe media. On July 17, he posted on Facebook a link to a story suggesting a connection between the Clintons and a deceased former Haitian government official. The fake news, which was first published by a fake news purveyor and was widely hyped by the fringe and pro-Trump media, has been debunked. A week later, Blackwell posted on Facebook an article from fringe pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit, which is regularly wrong in its claims, stating that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered Robert Mueller, now special counsel on the Russia probe, to give uranium to Russia in 2009. The claim, pushed by Gateway Pundit and fake news purveyors, suggests nefarious action even though the uranium had been seized from the nation of Georgia and held in U.S. custody and was being transported to Russia for forensic analysis with authorization from the Georgian government.

    Additionally, Blackwell has repeatedly posted articles from the fringe blog Conservative Tribune, an outlet that fact-checkers have repeatedly criticized for pushing false and misleading claims. The website has also promoted far-right troll Jack Posobiec’s dubious claim that former FBI Director James Comey violated the Espionage Act by releasing the memos he wrote about his meetings with Trump before the president fired him.

  • Pro-Trump internet personalities throw tantrums after ADL identifies their hateful rhetoric

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Pro-Trump internet trolls claimed that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was a "terrorist organization" and compared the group to Nazis after ADL identified some of the biggest online personalities of the “alt-right” and “alt-lite” movements and called them out for spreading hateful rhetoric.

    The ADL recently published a list of “alt-right” and “alt-lite” figures, identifying key players in both the white supremacist “alt-right” and the fringe right-wing media landscape of media trolls and smear merchants it inspired, which the ADL called the “alt-lite.” It included internet troll and Infowars contributor Mike Cernovich; smear merchant Jack Posobiec, who once received a temporary White House press pass; disgraced Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos; The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich; and Rebel Media’s Gavin McInnes, using the “alt-lite” banner to describe their prior affiliation and promotion of “alt-right” figures and ideologies. In a Periscope live stream, Cernovich responded to the list’s publication by urging his followers to spread the hashtag “#ADLTerror” on Twitter. Cernovich also called ADL “a terrorist organization” that had “targeted” him and his family for “murder and assassination” by including his name in the list.

    Soon after Cernovich launched the hashtag, other alternative media personalities who were also mentioned in the ADL’s list rallied to attack the organization. Posobiec compared ADL’s members to Nazis and claimed the “death list” was being used to target Trump supporters; Wintrich called the ADL a “liberal terrorist organization” whose “only qualifier” to label people a hate group leader was support for Trump; Yiannopoulos accused the ADL of trying to get pro-Trump media figures like himself “hurt or killed by painting targets on our backs”; McInnes threatened to “sue the living shit out of everyone even remotely involved” with the list if he was attacked following its publication.

    Allies and supporters of those on the ADL’s list also joined in on the attack. The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft accused the ADL of publishing “a murder hit list” and stated that his website would take “further action” against the organization if it did not remove Wintrich’s name. Rebel Media’s Laura Loomer decried the ADL’s decision to publish a “hit list,” asking why the organization is “encouraging violent leftists to attack members of the right.” And “Ali,” a rising star among pro-Trump media personalities, also promoted the hashtag. Fans of these personalities created memes and videos and spread them on social media to show their support.

    While BuzzFeed technology reporter Charlie Warzel pointed out that the ADL didn't necessarily provide full evidence of the actions that earned these trolls a spot on the list, the ADL was right to include them based on their habits of engaging in hateful rhetoric and online harassment. The organization correctly identified them for using their platforms to spread vitriol and honestly documented their efforts to sanitize their movement’s prior affiliation with “alt-right” circles and differentiate itself from white nationalism.

    Warzel also correctly noted that these trolls are "more of a media arm than an ideological group of any kind." These individuals do not spread hate in the traditional way that has been the modus operandi of the “alt-right” figures also included in the ADL’s list. Rather than organizing community events and advocating for any specific policies, these figures have built a potent anti-liberal media apparatus that can be -- and often is -- mobilized to harass and smear any chosen target-of-the-day.

    Over the past several months, these right-wing media personalities and pro-Trump internet trolls have fueled and engaged in harassment and doxing campaigns against a variety of people. They misquoted pop star Ariana Grande after a terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester, smearing her as “anti-American.” CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski’s family received dozens of threatening phone calls following an article he wrote about the origin of an anti-CNN meme Trump tweeted. And the internet trolls falsely accused popular online satirist Vic Berger of being a part of an online cohort of pedophiles. They were also key proponents of the “Great Meme War” with CNN, during which social media sites were flooded with high volumes of anti-CNN memes and numerous CNN employees were doxed and harassed.

    Though these alternative media figures and internet trolls are now rebranding away from the “alt-right” leaders who once inspired them, they still deserve to be on the ADL list and should remain there until they cease using their platforms to incite harassment and encourage extremist rhetoric.

  • Pro-Trump outlets falsely suggest the Clintons murdered a former Haitian government official

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media outlets that favor President Donald Trump are claiming that former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were involved with the death of a former Haitian government official. The claim is just the latest in a long-running series of unsupported allegations that the Clintons have murdered people.

    On July 12, the Miami Herald reported that Klaus Eberwein, a former director of the Haitian government’s economic development agency, “was found dead Tuesday in a South Dade motel room in what the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office is ruling a suicide.” According to the Herald, Eberwein “had fallen on hard times” and "faced allegations of fraud and corruption," and he was scheduled to testify before a Haitian anti-corruption commission. While neither the Clintons nor the Clinton Foundation were mentioned anywhere in the article, some fringe outlets and figures and fake news purveyors drew a connection, claiming that Eberwein’s expected testimony would have implicated the foundation. Far-right troll Mike Cernovich tweeted that Eberwein was “Found Dead Before Testifying Against Clinton Foundation” (discredited filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza promoted the claim), and fake news purveyor YourNewsWire claimed Eberwein was going to “testify that the Clinton Foundation misappropriated Haiti earthquake donations from international donors” (which conspiracy theorist Kim Dotcom and pro-Trump radio host Mark Simone promoted).

    Those claims were, of course, false. According to Snopes, a quote attributed by YourNewsWire to Eberwein attacking the Clinton Foundation actually came from someone else, and before his death, “no reports said or even hinted that any probe in which [Eberwein] was involved targeted Hillary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation”:

    As it turns out, however, the article from YourNewsWire from which the Haiti Sentinel piece was written is suspect, containing a “quote” from Eberwein — the only part of the article that linked him to the Clintons to begin with — that was actually spoken by someone else:

    “The Clinton Foundation, they are criminals, they are thieves, they are liars, they are a disgrace,” Eberwein said at a protest outside the Clinton Foundation headquarters in Manhattan last year.

    Someone did say that outside Clinton Foundation headquarters in Manhattan in November 2016, but YourNewsWire appears to have, for some reason, confused one person of Haitian descent with another. The actual person who spoke this phrase is a community activist and New York area radio host named Dahdoud André, and this comment originally appeared in a BBC article[.]

    [...]

    Before news of Klaus Eberwein’s suicide was reported on 12 July 2017, no reports said or even hinted that any probe in which he was involved targeted Hillary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation. The claim originated on the frequently disreputable YourNewsWire.com, and was uncritically repeated and amplified by readers and blogs. However, we have found no specific information tying Eberwein to Clinton before his July 2017 death.

    Since the Snopes report, not only have outlets and figures not retracted their false reporting, but the claim has spread. Pro-Trump TV network One America News (OANN) claimed Eberwein was “due to appear in court this week to testify in the Haitian senate against the Clinton Foundation for alleged corruption.” OANN went so far as to link Eberwein's death to the suicide of a GOP operative who sought Hillary Clinton's emails from Russian hackers and the murder of a Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer, saying, "Now with three mysterious deaths all leading back to the Clintons in some way, it's only a matter of time before the authorities connect the dots and see the pattern of a Clinton cover up."

    Far-right conspiracy outlets Zero Hedge and Infowars both published the same piece claiming “deaths seem to follow the Clinton’s (sic) around, and this one especially is probably something – considering since the mainstream media is silent about this death.” Conspiracy outlet WorldNetDaily alleged Eberwein “told acquaintances he feared for his life for his fierce criticism of the Clinton Foundation,” and pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit suggested Eberwein was “another victim of Clinton Arkancide.” Fake news purveyors Right Alerts, American Today, Conservative Fighters, USA Politics Today, Global Politics Now, TruthFeed, and Right Wing News also all suggested or outright alleged a connection between the Clintons and Eberwein’s death. Their pieces have received hundreds to thousands of Facebook engagements apiece, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo: YourNewsWire (419,200), Infowars (7,800), Zero Hedge (20,400), WorldNetDaily (13,500), Gateway Pundit (11,000), Right Alerts (1,800), American Today (400), Conservative Fighters (10,400), USA Politics Today (1,400), TruthFeed (18,300), and Right Wing News (931).

    Conservative media figures have falsely alleged for years that the Clintons have killed several people, including then-White House deputy counsel Vince Foster, despite multiple investigations concluding that his death was a suicide. Recently, some in conservative media, including OANN, have baselessly suggested that the Clintons were connected to the death of the DNC staffer, Seth Rich, even though law enforcement has concluded he was likely the victim of a botched robbery.

  • Pro-Trump troll says he's doing "performance art" as Gateway Pundit's White House correspondent

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile shows Lucian Wintrich is an anti-media, pro-Trump troll

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich said he’s doing “performance art” as a White House correspondent in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile, reinforcing that his role is less of a journalist and more of a sycophantic troll.

    Wintrich, who was behind the “Twinks4Trump” photography exhibit, was hired by the far-right fringe (and often wrong) political blog The Gateway Pundit as its White House correspondent in February. Since then, Wintrich has adopted the Trump administration’s playbook for delegitimizing the media, including referring to anything critical reported about the administration as fake news and attacking media organizations like CNN. This coincided with the propaganda effort by the Trump administration to rely on pro-Trump shills to spread its message. Additionally, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Wintrich admitted that "Half of what I do — well, on social media specifically — is f—ing with people."

    The Post-Gazette’s July 14 profile noted that Wintrich “has yet to ask a question in a White House briefing” and that he “doesn’t have formal journalistic training” and “wears his [pro-Trump] allegiance on his sleeve.” The Post-Gazette also quoted Media Matters president Angelo Carusone, who explained that Wintrich "is not really doing what a White House correspondent does, but he wasn’t supposed to. They’re looking for that moment when they get a viral response." From the Post-Gazette:

    Mr. Wintrich, who previously worked for a New York advertising firm, has yet to ask a question in a White House briefing. But he’s already scored a different kind of journalistic coup: being confronted by another journalist.

    [...]

    When Mr. Wintrich gained White House credentials in February, The New York Times reported “concerns that the Trump administration, which has called the news media ‘the opposition party,’ is favoring outlets more sympathetic to its views.”

    For his part, Mr. Wintrich told the Times “We will be doing a little trolling of the media,” referring to the online practice of goading opponents into lashing out and making fools of themselves.

    [...]

    He wears his allegiance on his sleeve, penning stories like “Trump Administration: One of the Most Transparent in US History, Open to Media,” which countered media grumbling with reminders of secretive practices by President Barack Obama.

    [...]

    Mr. Wintrich has largely avoided such controversies. But few of his roughly 100 Gateway Pundit posts since January have drawn on his White House access: Policy issues, like a recent post on internet policy, “get minimal engagement,” he said.

    Many posts rely on material reported elsewhere. And often, Mr. Wintrich himself is the story.

    “I consider some of what I’m doing to be performance art,” he said, adding that “quote-unquote serious journalists are doing performance art themselves, but they don’t understand that.”

    [...]

    Angelo Carusone, president of liberal media-criticism outlet Media Matters for America, said Mr. Wintrich “is not really doing what a White House correspondent does, but he wasn’t supposed to. They’re looking for that moment when they get a viral response.”

  • Far-right media are now accusing Obama of spying on John Roberts

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Pro-Trump media websites are pushing the doubtful allegation that former President Barack Obama “hacked” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. These fringe websites, that often peddle fake news and conspiracy theories, have also previously alleged that Obama has surveilled and targeted Trump Tower and the Supreme Court overall, and some of these websites have claimed that Obama is trying to take down President Donald Trump by forming a “shadow government.”

    On July 12, the pro-Trump alternative-media blog Big League Politics claimed that Roberts “was ‘hacked’ by a Deep State surveillance operation overseen by Obama administration CIA director John Brennan and Obama director of national intelligence James Clapper.” The blog pointed to audio supposedly from a “real estate billionaire” explaining the program to former Maricopa County, AZ, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and associate Mike Zullo and saying, “John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, was hacked.” (Arpaio and Zullo are discredited figures who have pushed the false conspiracy theory that Obama’s birth certificate is fake). The author of the piece, Patrick Howley, also wrote that this supposed hack “by Obama officials provides some more context” for why Roberts voted in 2012 to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, suggesting the two are related. The blog, which also employs pro-Trump troll Cassandra Fairbanks, has previously pushed other dubious claims hyped by the alternative-media ecosystem.

    The report was picked up by pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit, which called the tapes “evidence” that Roberts was hacked. Following suit, fake news purveyors ran with the story, with Before It’s News and YourNewsWire republishing at least parts of the Big League Politics article, Conservative Patriot and The Washington Feed calling the report a “bombshell,” and American Today calling Roberts “the latest victim of the Obama hacking.” The Big League Politics, Gateway Pundit, and Conservative Patriot articles have received at least 1,900, 7,300, and 3,600 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

    The conspiracy theory comes after the pro-Trump fringe previously hyped Fox analyst Andrew Napolitano’s claim that Obama spied on the Supreme Court, and after fringe media outlets staunchly defended Trump’s false claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Fringe media outlets have also repeatedly charged that Obama is trying to thwart Trump’s presidency by forming a “shadow government.”

  • After emails are released, pro-Trump media launch flailing defense of Donald Trump Jr.

    Pro-Trump media figures can’t read

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Multiple pro-Trump far-right media figures falsely suggested that Donald Trump Jr.’s tweets in which he released a chain of emails about his meeting with a lawyer connected to the Kremlin somehow disproved The New York Times’ reporting on the issue.

    The Times reported on July 8 that Trump Jr. met with “a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin,” and the next day reported that Trump Jr. “was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing” to the meeting. Initially, Trump Jr. falsely told the Times that the meeting, which was set up by publicist Rob Goldstone on behalf of a Russian singer, was “primarily about an adoption program.”

    But on July 11, another Times report revealed details from email correspondence between Trump Jr. and Goldstone in which they arranged the meeting. Shortly before the Times published its July 11 report, Trump Jr. released emails between himself and Goldstone on Twitter to pre-empt the report, with the emails’ content effectively confirming he had lied to the Times earlier.

    Still, prominent pro-Trump media figures immediately jumped to Trump Jr.’s defense, absurdly suggesting that his released emails discredited the Times. Far-right troll Mike Cernovich wrote, “@DonaldJTrumpJr posted the full email, as suspected the lying NY Times fabricated another fake story!” Another far-right troll, Jack Posobiec, wrote, “NY Times story blown out of the water. Emails complete[ly] contradict their ‘anonymous sources’ yesterday.” Jim Hoft of the fringe website The Gateway Pundit wrote that Trump Jr. “beat the #FakeNews media to the punch and released the ENTIRE email chain of his conversation with Rob Goldstone on a meeting with a Russian lawyer.”

    Anyone who actually reads the emails that Trump Jr. released can see that they confirm the Times’ reporting. The emails show that Goldstone told Trump Jr. that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” offered to “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary … and would be very useful to your father.” Goldstone also wrote, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. replied to the email saying, “If it’s what you say I love it.” In a later email, Goldstone asked Trump Jr. about scheduling his meeting with a “Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow.”

    The response is yet another effort by pro-Trump media figures, some of whom have specifically lauded Trump Jr. in the past, to defend the president with false claims and smears against perceived opponents.

  • Report: GOP researcher who tried to collude with Russia for Trump campaign worked with far-right media figures

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A Republican operative who tried to get emails from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign and may have worked with people associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign worked with far-right media figures Chuck Johnson, Pax Dickinson, and, possibly, Daily Stormer writer Andrew Auernheimer, along with Russian-linked “Guccifer 2.0,” according to Politico.

    Chuck Johnson, the editor of fringe outlet GotNews, has a history of encouraging harassment and is currently working with fellow far-right troll Mike Cernovich on an effort to target journalists. He is also part of the far-right alternative-media echo-chamber that has worked in tandem with fake news purveyors to spread conspiracy theories and falsehoods. Trump himself is reportedly a reader of GotNews. Dickinson, with Johnson, ran the crowdsourcing platform WeSearchr, which has helped fund far-right causes, such as neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. Auernheimer, a hacker known as “weev,” has written for Daily Stormer, recently using the site to threaten CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski. And “Guccifer 2.0,” an entity connected to Russian hackers, previously communicated with Trump adviser and Infowars host Roger Stone.

    According to a July 11 Politico report, Republican operative Peter Smith, who worked to “track down copies of Clinton’s emails” from hackers that may have been affiliated with Russia and who may have worked with people associated with Trump’s campaign, asked Johnson and Dickinson “to help him understand the workings of the internet and make contacts in Trump’s orbit.” Johnson told Politico he and Smith “stayed in touch, discussing ‘tactics and research’ regularly throughout the presidential campaign, and that Smith sought his help,” along with Dickinson’s” “tracking down Clinton’s emails.” Johnson claimed he “put the word out to a ‘hidden oppo network’ of right-leaning opposition researchers to notify them of the effort,” and that he told Smith to get in touch with Auernheimer, although he “declined to say whether Smith contacted him.” Additionally, Johnson said that Smith “had people running around Europe, had people talking to Guccifer.” From the report:

    The activists, the journalist-turned-entrepreneur Charles Johnson and his former business partner Pax Dickinson, agreed to help [GOP operative Peter] Smith’s quixotic mission, which failed to track down copies of Clinton’s emails. Johnson is a polarizing figure who was banned from Twitter in 2015 after promoting an effort to “take out” a Black Lives Matter activist but maintains ties to White House officials. Smith also reached out to “Guccifer 2.0”—an alias the U.S. intelligence community has linked to Russian state hackers—and was advised to seek the help of a white nationalist hacker who lives in Ukraine.

    [...]

    Understanding Smith’s relationships could hold the key to the question of whether or not Trump’s campaign colluded with the Kremlin: Federal investigators are probing an apparent attempt by Russian government hackers to obtain the deleted emails and provide them to former national security adviser Michael Flynn through a third party, the Journal also reported. The paper was unable to identify the Russians’ intended intermediary, but suggested it may have been Smith, who had boasted of his ties to Flynn.

    The new details of Smith’s operation, which were shared with POLITICO Magazine by Johnson and others, paint a picture of a determined but ill-equipped activist casting about far and wide in a frantic but ultimately futile quest to get ahold of Clinton’s deleted emails and publish them ahead of Election Day.

    [...]

    Johnson said he and Smith stayed in touch, discussing “tactics and research” regularly throughout the presidential campaign, and that Smith sought his help tracking down Clinton’s emails. “He wanted me to introduce to him to Bannon, to a few others, and I sort of demurred on some of that,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think his operation was as sophisticated as it needed to be and I thought it was good to keep the campaign as insulated as possible.”

    Instead, Johnson said, he put the word out to a “hidden oppo network” of right-leaning opposition researchers to notify them of the effort. Johnson declined to provide the names of any of the members of this “network,” but he praised Smith’s ambition.

    “The magnitude of what he was trying to do was kind of impressive,” Johnson said. “He had people running around Europe, had people talking to Guccifer.” (U.S. intelligence agencies have linked the materials provided by “Guccifer 2.0”—an alias that has taken credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee and communicated with Republican operatives, including Trump confidant Roger Stone—to Russian government hackers.)

    [...]

    Johnson said he also suggested that Smith get in touch with Andrew Auernheimer, a hacker who goes by the alias “Weev” and has collaborated with Johnson in the past. Auernheimer — who was released from federal prison in 2014 after having a conviction for fraud and hacking offenses vacated and subsequently moved to Ukraine — declined to say whether Smith contacted him, citing conditions of his employment that bar him from speaking to the press.

  • Donald Trump Jr. loves far right internet trolls -- and they love him back

    The president’s son has used Twitter to promote media trolls and conspiracy theorists

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Donald Trump Jr., son of President Donald Trump, frequently uses his prominence on Twitter and proximity to the White House to promote right-wing media trolls who defend his father and smear mainstream media.

    Key voices in the incestuous right-wing alternative media ecosystem have found an ally in the younger Trump, who often retweets and favorites tweets from the echo chamber’s loudest voices, and who is rumored to serve as a White House source to at least one far-right personality. Like the far-right trolls he expresses admiration for, Trump spends his time on Twitter spreading debunked conspiracy theories, smearing mainstream media outlets, promoting bogus “alt-right” videos, and amplifying messages with white nationalist undertones. Trump’s behavior, in effect, validates the larger alternative media ecosystem and attempts to bring the fringe worldview into the mainstream.

    Mike Cernovich

    Trump has repeatedly indicated an affinity for right-wing troll and Infowars contributor Mike Cernovich. Cernovich gained notoriety during the 2016 election for promoting fake conspiracy theories such as the “Pizzagate” narrative, accusing Democratic officials of operating a child sex trafficking ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. Infowars’ Alex Jones told his audience that the president’s "sons, especially Donald Jr.," are Cernovich’s sources on White House affairs. And earlier this year, Trump claimed that “in a long gone time of unbiased journalism” Cernovich would “win the Pulitzer” prize for his faux scandal story that alleged Susan Rice, who served as national security adviser to then-President Barack Obama, was responsible for improper unmasking of Trump associates caught in surveillance of foreign officials.

    Stefan Molyneux

    The younger Trump also frequently retweets Stefan Molyneaux, a prominent far-right blogger who promotes right-wing trolls and conspiracy theories about “globalism.” Trump closely follows Molyneaux, boosting many of his tweets and favoriting one that featured a depiction of CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski in a Nazi uniform.

    Infowars’ Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson

    Infowars’ top conspiracy peddlers, Paul Joseph Watson and Alex Jones, also have Trump’s attention. During the 2016 election, Trump shared an Infowars article that falsely accused Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of wearing an earpiece during the first presidential debate. Trump has also liked tweets from Watson and recently attacked CNN while Infowars was pushing a “meme war” against the network.

    4chan

    While he was sharing anti-CNN memes, Trump also favorited a tweet from a Twitter account connected to the internet cesspool known as 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board (/pol/). The tweet contained a list of companies that advertise on CNN and encouraged people to tweet at the companies and ask them to stop advertising on the network. Alongside far-right ideologies, the board often features anti-Semitic, racist, sexist, homophobic, and white nationalist content.

    Jack Posobiec

    Trump also promotes right-wing troll Jack Posobiec on Twitter. Posobiec’s publicity stunts and bogus talking points have duped mainstream media sources and public officials. On July 8, Trump shared a video Posobiec posted that depicted protesters setting fires in Germany in response to the G-20 summit. Posobiec is a media troll who got “temporary White House credentials” to attend the press briefings. He is responsible for peddling hacked emails that were likely sourced from Russia, spreading the “Pizzagate” conspiracy, and orchestrating smear campaigns against people who opposed the senior Trump.

    Trump’s affinity for these far-right media personalities and his active promotion of their half-baked theories about the day’s news validates the alternative media ecosystem to its audience and furthers the far-right’s attempt to delegitimize longstanding journalistic institutions. By emulating and affirming these fringe figures, Trump furthers his father’s disdain for the press and stokes public distrust of legitimate news outlets.

  • Pro-Trump media claim “shadow President” Obama is violating the Logan Act

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fringe media supporting President Donald Trump have claimed that former President Barack Obama violated federal law and is acting as a “shadow president” because he has talked to former and current foreign leaders since the end of his presidency. The claims, which have at least partially been parroted on Fox News, are an extension of conservative media’s ongoing conspiracy theory that Obama runs a “shadow government.”

    Since Trump’s inauguration, conservative outlets have baselessly claimed that Obama is running some kind of “shadow government,” a conspiracy theory which has since been invoked by a Republican congressman and by one of Trump’s attorneys. The right-wing hysteria took on a new level of feverishness after Obama met with a handful of former and current world leaders, some of whom he worked closely with as president.

    Pro-Trump fake news purveyors were quick to attack Obama for his post-presidency activities. Several websites, including American Today, Patriots On The Right, US Postman, and USA Daily Time, claimed in June that Obama was “undermining President Trump” while “advertis[ing]” his “shadow government.” They suggested that Obama had “committed treason” and “violated” the Logan Act, a law barring private citizens from interfering with American foreign policy and for which no one has ever been prosecuted. The Federalist Tribune and The Washington Feed also asserted that Obama would get “a lengthy jail sentence” as a consequence of the law. Eventually, more fake news purveyors continued to push the false narrative, with Mad World News, USA Newsflash, GOP The Daily Dose, The Angry Patriot, Global Politics Now, Freedom Daily, US Advisor, ENH, and Before It’s News joining in.

    Additionally, “alt-right”-affiliated Infowars and fake news purveyors Conservative Fighters, TruthFeed, and Red Rock Tribune hyped a Daily Caller piece suggesting Obama was a “shadow president.” “Alt-right”-affiliated The Gateway Pundit also called Obama a “shadow president” who “may be breaking the Logan Act.” There has also been some discussion regarding Obama and the Logan Act on the “alt-right”-affiliated forum 4chan /pol/.

    According to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, these claims being peddled by the pro-Trump fringe ecosystem, including American Today, Mad World News, USA Newsflash, GOP The Daily Dose, The Angry Patriot, Freedom Daily, Infowars, Conservative Fighters, TruthFeed, and The Gateway Pundit, have drawn numerous Facebook engagements that rise well over the thousands, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. There were at least 380 engagements with American Today's article, 41,900 with Mad World News’ article, 122,500 with USA Newsflash’s article, 6,500 with GOP The Daily Dose’s article, 7,000 with The Angry Patriot’s article, 48,300 with Freedom Daily’s article, 58 with Infowars’ article, 10,200 with Conservative Fighters’ article, 8,700 with TruthFeed’s article, and 5,000 and 6,900 for The Gateway Pundit articles, respectively.

    Some of the narrative has now gained cable news visibility by reaching Fox News, with host Lou Dobbs on July 6 attacking Obama for “shadowing” and trying to "undercut" Trump, and Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade on July 7 wondering why Obama was “shadowing” Trump and wondering whether Obama was trying to “swamp him.”

    The spread of these baseless claims yet again illustrates how the pro-Trump "alt-right"/fake news ecosystem has been used to push lies, conspiracy theories, and falsehoods.

  • Yahoo News aggregates a right-wing fake news website

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Yahoo News aggregated a highly misleading article with fake news, raising the question of how the company ended up treating a fake news purveyor as a legitimate news source.

    On July 5, Yahoo News aggregated an article on its website from Conservative Daily Post (CDP) headlined “U.N. Chief Makes Stunning Paris Agreement Admission: ‘President Trump Was Right.’” The Yahoo News page linked to CDP for the full article, which does not include a mention of United Nations Secretary General António Guterres saying the phrase quoted in the headline. In fact, it appears that Guterres has never said “President Trump was right” at all; on the contrary, in May he stated, “We believe it would be important for the US not to leave the Paris agreement.”

    The CDP article aggregated by Yahoo News also claimed that people opposed to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement "are going to go to any lengths to convince you, even lie to you on CNN” because they “are losing a lot of money.” Additionally, the article pushed climate denial, falsely claiming that the agreement “aims at guilt tripping and deceiving people into believing that human CO2 is responsible for rising temperatures on Earth” and that “there is a very strong case that the sun is mostly responsible for rising CO2 levels, not human beings.”

    CDP is a serial fake news purveyor. During the 2016 presidential campaign, it falsely claimed that the FBI was looking into “at least 6 members of Congress and several leaders from federal agencies that partake in" a "pedophile ring, which they say was run directly with the Clinton Foundation as a front,” citing the “alt-right”-affiliated and conspiracy-driven 4chan forum /pol/. Later that month, the website falsely claimed that Trump would seek to criminally charge those who burn the American flag. Last August, it reported a satirical article claiming then-President Barack Obama would move to Canada if Trump won the presidential election as fact. And last July, it appeared to make up a story about an undocumented immigrant being fired from McDonald’s for telling police officers, “We don't serve pigs." The website recently also pushed a dubious claim from “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec that then-FBI Director James Comey dropped an investigation into former national security advisor Susan Rice for allegedly “requesting the ‘unmasking’ of ... identities” of “US individuals” who were connected to Trump and had been caught in surveillance. And it used photographer Laura Hunter’s name and photo as a byline for some of its articles, turning Hunter, who leans “a bit more to the liberal side,” into a “fake far-right blogger.” In response, Hunter sued the website.

    Yahoo News is a regular aggregator of other news sources, including The Associated Press and Reuters, but it would be a highly alarming and unfortunate editorial choice for Yahoo to aggregate fake news. As other platforms such as Google and Facebook continue to struggle in their fight against fake news, it is critical for major websites like Yahoo to not drive traffic and give credibility to websites that push fake news and misinformation.

  • No, the Redditor who made the Trump/CNN GIF is not 15 years old

    How a lie spread from 4chan to Fox News in less than 12 hours

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A false claim posted on 4chan that a Redditor who created an anti-CNN GIF, and who was tracked down by CNN, was just 15 years old made its way to Donald Trump Jr. and on Fox News within 12 hours. According to CNN and the reporter who helped identify the Reddit user, the man is actually middle aged. The fact that the claim (made to smear CNN for attacking a teenager) was able to spread so quickly exemplifies how misinformation from fringe sources can make its way through the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem and to outlets with a broader reach, such as Fox News.

    On July 2, President Donald Trump tweeted a video showing himself wrestling and punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his face. The video started as a GIF posted on the Reddit forum r/The_Donald by user HanAssholeSolo and was later turned into a video with music, which is the version Trump tweeted. The Reddit user expressed glee at his GIF being tweeted by the president. On July 4, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reported that CNN had identified the man but was “not publishing” his name “because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology … and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again,” adding, “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

    CNN and Kaczynski received a flurry of criticism, “simultaneously draw[ing] accusations of going soft and issuing a threat,” as The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers wrote. But among the accusations made by online trolls and figures affiliated with the “alt-right” was that CNN had threatened and blackmailed a 15-year-old. Responding to the allegation, Kaczynski tweeted, “HanAssholeSolo is a middle aged man. People claiming he’s 15 are wrong. Some are intentionally spreading this.” Business Insider previously reported that the user had "claimed to be 37 in another post."

    The claim seems to have first appeared right before midnight on July 4, when a user on the “alt-right”-affiliated 4chan forum /pol/ claimed that the “tough guys over at CNN” “doxxed a 15 year old kid.” Within an hour, in the early hours of July 5, Twitter user Kaiser Willy tweeted a photo of the 4chan user’s post, writing, “Potentially huge development in #CNNBlackmail Reddit user is believed to only be 15.” A couple of hours later, neo-Nazi and “alt-right” website The Daily Stormer pointed to Willy's tweet to push the claim, adding that CNN “must be made to taste their own medicine.”

    Shortly after 1 a.m., “alt-right” personality Rick Vaughn tweeted a photo of a 4chan post of supposed CNN advertisers, writing, “Would be a shame if we make this List of @CNN 's Advertisers a lot shorter after CNN blackmailed a 15 year-old... #CNNBlackmail.” Additionally, “alt-right”-affiliated Lucian Wintrich of The Gateway Pundit tweeted, “@CNN pushes propaganda for 1/2 a year, Trump calls them out, they threaten to doxx a 15 year old, now #CNNBlackmail is trending. Happy 4th!” Mike Cernovich, an online troll who dwells in the alternative media sphere, retweeted both Vaughn and Wintrich’s tweets. The claim then spread to Reddit’s r/The_Donald, with users highlighting the original 4chan post. Shortly after, “alt-right” figure Jack Posobiec tweeted, “I can confirm Reddit user HanAHoloSolo is 15 and is an LGBT Trump supporter.” Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars, also an “alt-right” figure, tweeted, “The poor kid that CNN threatened to dox is reportedly only 15 years old. #CNNBlackmail.”

    At around 7 a.m., fake news purveyor TruthFeed published a post, claiming, “Many are saying that the Reddit user is actually a 15-year-old kid, which looks even worse for CNN.” Not long after, Donald Trump Jr., who regularly pushes fringe claims, tweeted, “So I guess they weren't effective threatening the admin so they go after & bully a 15 y/o?”

    By 9:00 a.m., the lie had made its way to Fox News, as frequent Fox News guest Dan Bongino said CNN “out[ed] a 15-year-old” and added that CNN should find sources for its Trump/Russia stories before they “out a bunch of teenagers playing their Xbox, making giphys you don’t like.” In response, Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade said that CNN “made the kid apologize” and noted that the internet was “going to bat for the 15-year-old.”

    The evolution and dissemination of this claim shows an alarming trend: How fake news and misinformation can go from the fringe of the internet to Fox News within a short period of time. The speed with which this falsehood spread demonstrates the dangers of the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem, which has helped 4chan to attempt to impact a foreign election campaign and which regularly pushes conspiracy theories and falsities.

    UPDATE: During Fox News’ Fox News Specialists at 5:00 p.m. on July 5, host Eric Bolling repeated the lie, claiming the person being “threatened by CNN” was “a young kid.”

  • A Trump/CNN WWE video was posted on Reddit before Trump tweeted it

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump tweeted a video showing him tackling and punching a man with the CNN logo imposed over his face. The video appears to have come from forum frequented by “alt-right” Trump supporters who posted it days earlier.

    On July 2, Trump tweeted video that appeared to show Trump in a wrestling match attacking a man with “CNN” on his face, writing along with the video, “#FraudNewsCNN #FNN.”

    The Reddit forum “r/The_Donald,” where “alt-right” members supporting Trump congregate, posted a GIF four days prior that seems to be the same footage.

    Following Trump’s tweet, users on the forum took credit for Trump’s promotion of the footage, with one user telling the original uploader of the GIF that his “dankery has been tweeted by the President of the United States.”

    Trump’s tweet is the latest example of him promoting content that appears to have originated on online message boards such as Reddit and 4chan, which have regularly pushed conspiracy theories that some in Trump’s inner circle have sometimes promoted. During the presidential campaign, Trump’s campaign team monitored forums like “r/The_Donald” for content, and in May, Trump appeared to take messaging from “r/The_Donald” directed at Rosie O’Donnell. New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi noted this trend on CNN’s Reliable Sources, saying, “I think this has happened a number of times where something -- it goes from Reddit to one of Donald Trump's aides, and then to Donald Trump's Twitter account.”

    (h/t Brian Stelter and Bradd Jaffy)

  • Fringe media target new Minneapolis hate crime hotline as imposing “Shariah” and “fascism”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    “Alt-right”-affiliated outlets and fake news purveyors are targeting Minneapolis, MN, after the city installed a hotline for residents to report possible hate crimes, baselessly claiming it is imposing "Shariah" law, that the move amounts to "fascism," and that it’s related to a United Nations resolution.

    On June 19, the Star Tribune reported that Minneapolis had “set up a hot line for residents to report hate-crime incidents and other acts of intolerance.” Though the report mentioned that the hotline “comes amid signs of a recent surge of such incidents affecting Muslims and Jews across the country, many of which go unreported,” neither the news report nor the city’s press release suggested that the hotline is meant for people who subscribe to a specific religion.

    Nonetheless, “alt-right”-affiliated outlets and fake news purveyors jumped on the announcement to suggest the hotline was a front for a Muslim takeover. WorldNetDaily published a piece, which Infowars cross-posted, calling it a “Shariah hotline” for “snitches,” and The Gateway Pundit alleged that the hotline was set up in response to “false stories.” Fake news purveyor Freedom Daily called it the “anti-blasphemy hotline,” comparing it to blasphemy laws in other countries which “followers of Islam” can use to “have people who speak out or criticize their religion thrown into prison.” It said that the hotline was “only the beginning of Democrats’ plans for full-blown fascism in our country,” and also suggested that it is connected to a U.N. resolution pushed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “that encouraged nations to criminalize a person who defames or criticizes a person’s religious views,” a claim also suggested by WND.

    In addition, fake news purveyor USA Newsflash also claimed the new hotline is “fascism” against “opinions deemed forbidden by the state,” and fake news purveyor Conservative Daily Post called the hotline “Gestapo-like.” Fake news purveyor The Washington Feed accused the city’s “loony” mayor of “embrac[ing] … Islamic culture” at the expense of the First Amendment, and fake news purveyor TruthFeed criticized the idea of “taxpayer dollars and energy being wasted on this hateful, foreign religion.” A contributor for fake news purveyor Before It’s News accused the city of “surrender[ing] to the supremacism” of Muslims.

    The WorldNetDaily, Infowars, Gateway Pundit, Freedom Daily, Conservative Daily Post, and TruthFeed articles have drawn numerous Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. There were at least 2,200 engagements with WorldNetDaily's article, 140 with Infowars' article, 319 with Gateway Pundit's article, 65,400 with Freedom Daily's article, 7,200 with Conservative Daily Post's article, and 1,100 with TruthFeed's article.

    The absurd attacks come as the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem continues to push Islamophobic smears against anyone associated with Islam. This ecosystem has also repeatedly targeted brands and public figures who seek to promote unity, and it has amplified other dubious claims, baseless conspiracy theories, and lies.

  • Reporters fall into the “alt-right” trap with Julius Caesar stunt

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Ever since President Donald Trump hired then-Breitbart.com chief executive Stephen Bannon to run his presidential campaign, the press has been struggling to comprehend the “alt-right” movement that his website helped promote. While many journalists have done yeoman’s work catching up on the assortment of white nationalists, misogynists, and conspiracy theorists behind this new wave of fringe media outlets, they’ve been less effective in learning about the tactics those figures use to manipulate the press. That failing was evident over the weekend, as major news outlets reported on Friday night’s “alt-right” interruption of a performance of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

    That controversy, which triggered stories by The Associated Press, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications, demonstrated that the news judgment of mainstream news outlets has yet to adjust to the new reality. And it is a sad reminder that the “alt-right’s” greatest strength is its ability to exploit the media for its own ends.

    Conservative criticism of the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar in New York’s Central Park, which debuted in late May and concluded Sunday night, hit the public consciousness on June 11 after it came under attack from Fox News. In an appearance on the weekend edition of the network’s Fox & Friends morning show, TownHall.com Political Editor Guy Benson denounced the play for placing a Trump look-alike in the titular role of the Roman leader who is assassinated onstage.

    As other conservative media figures and Trump’s own sons joined the chorus, Delta and Bank of America ended their corporate sponsorship of the production. And after a gunman targeted Republican members of Congress practicing on a baseball field last week, wounding Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), right-wing commentators linked the attack to the play.

    These arguments are foolish and made in bad faith. Caesar’s assassination is not glamorized in the production -- indeed, the message of the play is that misguided political violence will inevitably breed disastrous consequences. “Likening Shakespeare’s monarchs and politicians to real-life figures is a long-standing performance practice, seized by directors with sometimes illuminating, sometimes boneheaded results,” Slate’s Issac Butler noted after the initial complaints, pointing out that performances of Julius Caesar have featured then-President Barack Obama in the titular role without incident.

    The controversy culminated in a "protest" at Friday night’s performance, when the production was interrupted for roughly a minute when the “alt-right” online outlet Rebel Media’s Laura Loomer stormed the stage, shouting, “Do you want Trump to be assassinated?” She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. Jack Posobiec, another “alt-right” figure, also interrupted the performance, yelling, “The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands” and comparing the audience to the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels before being removed from the theater. Posobiec taped the disturbance and posted it on Twitter, where it quickly circulated.

    Why did they do it? The incident has the hallmarks of a grift: The disturbances came after “alt-right” personality Mike Cernovich offered a $1,000 bounty to anyone who successfully interrupted the performance, and Loomer is seeking to crowdfund $25,000, supposedly for her legal defense.

    It’s not unusual for protesters to use civil disobedience to garner media attention for their cause. But this "protest" had no real aim other than the aggrandizement of its participants. It had all the moral force of a pair of drunken assholes running onto the field to halt a baseball game, and deserved a similar degree of attention from the media. Instead, mainstream reporters have been transfixed by the story, generating reams of coverage that bolster the profiles of Posobiec and Loomer. For the cost of a ticket, they were able to troll the public with their nonsense claims, with mainstream outlets regurgitating their trolling at the top of their stories and burying the reasons not to believe them.

    This manipulation of the mainstream press by subversive elements who don’t play by the traditional rules of journalism should be an ongoing concern. We’ve seen the press fall for these efforts time and time again -- indeed, NBC News spent most of last week getting outmaneuvered at every turn by Infowars chief Alex Jones.

    Mainstream reporters rightfully feel compelled to cover the rising tide of fringe-right outlets because of their close ties to the president, and the manner in which their seemingly-absurd conspiracy theories have translated into harassment. Their claims about a pedophile ring operating out of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor led to gunfire at the restaurant; Seth Rich’s family was hassled following their allegations that the murdered Democratic staffer was actually bumped off by Hillary Clinton’s campaign; their lies that the Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax turn the lives of the victims’ parents into waking nightmares.

    But the pro-Trump fringe has become adept at taking advantage of those inclinations to increase its own influence. As they come under more scrutiny, these “alt-right” figures are learning how to gin up grievances, manufacture new controversies, and troll the press to garner attention and make money.

    Reporters need to show better news judgment when they engage with the “alt-right.” When the movement’s media personalities are stirring controversies that have a real impact on people’s lives, they have earned national attention.

    But when the “alt-right” personalities are deliberately screwing with journalists to bolster their own profiles, the best thing journalists can do for their readers is refuse to play their game.

  • Pro-Trump media push conspiracy theory that acting FBI director is a “ringleader” in plot to take down Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    An “alt-right”-affiliated outlet and fake news purveyors are pushing a highly dubious conspiracy theory from a fringe blog that acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is a “ringleader” in a plot against President Donald Trump.

    Big League Politics, a fringe blog founded by former Daily Caller writer Patrick Howley, cited an “inside source” to claim that McCabe was the “ringleader” behind a collaboration “against” Trump by McCabe, former FBI Director James Comey, and Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller. According to Howley, the source also called the three men “creatures of the swamp.” The blog also employs “alt-right” figure Cassandra Fairbanks, and it previously helped revive a fringe smear that Comey was biased in his investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server due to his brother’s supposed connections to the Clintons. The McCabe article has drawn slightly more than 100 Facebook engagements so far, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

    Soon after it was published, the report was picked up by “alt-right”-affiliated blog The Gateway Pundit, which wrote that the revelations showed that Mueller is “in bed” with McCabe and Comey, that the three are working to “undermine” Trump, and that McCabe is the “real treat” of this “swamp fiasco.” Though The Gateway Pundit regularly pushes false stories, Fox News and Trump have regularly cited its content, the White House has given its correspondent press credentials, and the site is currently trying to get congressional press credentials. The Gateway Pundit’s McCabe article has received at least 6,200 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo.

    Thanks to the Gateway Pundit article, fake news purveyors then spread this dubious claim. Before It’s News wrote that the report meant “FBI directors past and present apparently have it in for” Trump, and The Political Insider said that it showed “the deep state is preparing for war.” Mad World News and Washington Feed wrote that McCabe was “execut[ing]” Comey’s “treacherous” “backup plan” and that Trump needs to “get rid of” these “deep state hacks.” Freedom Daily called the report a “bombshell” that showed a “treasonous plot” that “shady” McCabe was “execut[ing]," and that Trump needed to “act quickly” to “get rid of” him. The Political Insider, Mad World News, and Freedom Daily articles have received at least 2,000, 1,600, and 5,500 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.

    The “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem pushing this dubious new charge has essentially been a propaganda machine for Trump, and the network continues to target Comey and Mueller as they become potential threats to the president. Mueller is leading the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election, and Comey has testified that he believes Trump fired him due to the probe. The new claim also comes as Trump tweeted that he is “being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director” and that he is the target of a “witch hunt.”