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Alt-right and pro-Trump trolls

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  • White supremacist behind Charlottesville Unite the Right rally blames fellow racists for failure of his extremist crusade

    Jason Kessler says he won’t be organizing a Unite the Right 3 rally because of “the alt-right’s obsession with Jews” and suggests Covington Catholic episode is “a perfect example of what white identity activism should be”

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Jason Kessler, the white supremacist behind the 2017 and 2018 extremist Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville, VA, and Washington, D.C., announced he won’t be organizing a third iteration of his racist event. Kessler’s first rally in 2017 resulted in the murder of counterprotester Heather Heyer and injuries to dozens of other counterprotesters, and the second one was sparsely attended. While making the announcement, Kessler blamed “the alt-right’s obsession with Jews” for bad publicity surrounding his events, claiming that his motivation to go ahead with the second rally in 2018 was “to not back down to a heckler's veto.”

    In a February 26 Periscope session, Kessler said his decision to not organize the event a third time came down to him thinking that it is not “helpful to have a pro-white movement which is really just about anti-Jew activism.”

    Kessler also said his intentions for arranging the first Unite the Right rally “were noble,” but he hinted at the real reasons for his backpedaling on organizing public events as he bemoaned, “Every time I lowered myself to the alt-right’s level and started using that kind of sensationalistic rhetoric, I got slapped for it and I was made to look like a fool.”

    According to Kessler, there’s nothing wrong “with trying to make sure that white people get a fair shake” but instead of holding public rallies, he said white supremacists should endorse what he called “the Covington strategy.” Kessler was referring to the professional public relations campaign launched by students of Covington Catholic High School and members of their families to turn them into the victims of a tense encounter with a Native American activist.

    The encounter and its fallout -- which Kessler called “a perfect example of what white identity activism should be” -- has now been embraced by neo-Nazis, who have turned it into a 4chan meme rallying for white supremacy with the slogan “Stand Your Ground.” In the same vein, Kessler praised the effectiveness of white supremacist memes like the “it’s OK to be white” catchphrase that originated from 4chan, suggesting the dog-whistle racism in meme format as the way forward for white identity causes. (White nationalists like Richard Spencer and white supremacist darling Tucker Carlson have also praised and elevated the “it’s OK to be white” campaign.)

    Far from distancing himself from the toxicity of his “white identity” movement, Kessler’s Periscope video was another example of the “optics” strategy used by similar groups like Identity Evropa. In this strategy, extremists use sanitized language that substitutes explicit racism for pro-white “identitarianism,” thus allowing them to operate in the mainstream while opposing social justice initiatives and promoting white supremacist grievances. After all, Kessler clearly continues to believe in the premise that inspired his first rally: “My original purpose was to advocate for white people because I felt like we were being unfairly discriminated [against]. There’s one set of rules for white people and one for everybody else.”

  • Right-wing trolls attack Brie Larson and target Captain Marvel with negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

    4chan users called for a boycott of the film after Larson spoke out about the importance of representation

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Media Matters / Melissa Joskow

    Weeks before its release, the superhero movie Captain Marvel has already been targeted with negative reviews on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes after users on 4chan called for a boycott and attacks on the woman-fronted and -directed film.

    On February 12, Entertainment Tonight posted an article in which actor Brie Larson, who portrays the film’s superhero, said: “I had a meeting with Marvel and what we discussed is they wanted to make a big feminist movie.” The next day, The Hollywood Reporter posted a profile of Larson in which she discussed the movie’s significance for women -- in addition to it being the first Marvel movie led by a woman, it is also the first to be directed by a woman. Larson also said in an interview published on February 11 that the movie critic community “appeared to be overwhelmingly white male” and that she wanted the film’s press tour to be “more inclusive” for film critics of color and women.

    Some in far-right circles have responded by lashing out online at Larson, calling her an “idiot” and saying that a “big feminist movie” “sounds awful.” Right-wing writer Courtney Kirchoff wrote articles calling Larson a “rude, sexist, racist bigot” and an “insufferable sexist bitch” on the website of BlazeTV host Steven Crowder, who is part of YouTube’s far-right community and who has hosted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his show and vice versa. On Reddit’s “r/MensRights” subreddit, a user promoted a YouTube video calling Larson an “NPC superhero” -- a reference to a meme about people who supposedly parrot left-wing views without thinking for themselves.

    Users on on 4chan’s “/pol/” message board have been particularly angry, calling the movie “Captain SJW” -- short for “social justice warrior,” a far-right term criticizing those who support liberal causes such as feminism, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights. They also wrote that her “career needs to be destroyed for what she said about white men” and called for the movie to be boycotted. Some users also specifically urged others to “tank” the film’s ratings and “downvote” it on review sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, along with pushing users to start Twitter campaigns like #BoycottBrie and #BoycottMsMarvel:

    On February 18, another 4chan message board, "/tv/," had a thread in which a user asked, "#BoycottCaptainMarvel raids when?"

    Thousands of reviewers flocked to Rotten Tomatoes to tank the film’s pre-rating, which measures what percentage of people want to see it. The film's score dropped from 90 percent on February 11 to 59 percent as of the publication of this article.

    On February 19, some 4chan posters suggested message board users had played a role:

    This would not be the first time far-right trolls tried to impact reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. In 2017, some on the far-right took credit for tanking the rating for Star Wars: The Last Jedi because they were angry about the film’s “feminist agenda.”

  • The founder of this extremist armed militia had a front-row seat to Trump’s rally

    Stewart Rhodes and his Oath Keepers embrace white supremacist talking points and have provided security to far-right extremists while endorsing the use of “lethal force” against left-wing protesters

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and members of his far-right armed militia were spotted in the front row at President Donald Trump’s February 11 rally in El Paso, TX. Rhodes has advocated for training armed militias to do Trump’s bidding, embraced white supremacist conspiracy theories, endorsed using “lethal force” against left-wing protesters, and called on armed Oath Keepers to stand guard outside of schools and to spot unauthorized crossings at the U.S. southern border.

    Rhodes founded Oath Keepers “in the direct aftermath of the election of the nation’s first black president,” Barack Obama, in reaction to the baseless claim that the federal government was hellbent on destroying liberties protected by the Constitution. The militia holds radical anti-government beliefs and is made up of “current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders” claiming to uphold the oath they made to “support and defend the Constitution.”

    In reality, the group and its founder openly espouse radical beliefs. Some of these include calling transgender rights “nuts,” dismissing the racist use of blackface as “nonsense,” and claiming Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is using identity politics focused on “anyone not white” to “weaponize them against their own nation.” In the Obama years, the group promoted conspiracy theories such as "mass, forced internment into concentration camps" and claimed that they were operation to "prevent dictatorship" in the United States. In 2015, Rhodes reportedly said that Sen. John McCain "should be hung by the neck until dead"; Rhodes also was one of the far-right figures pushing the Jade Helm conspiracy theory. Rhodes also reportedly claimed that the Obama administration was using Ferguson riots and the Ebola virus to "spark a race war."

    Rhodes has repeatedly pushed baseless claims of massive voter fraud by undocumented immigrants and directed his armed militia to combat it. In the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election, he announced “Operation Sabot 2016,” and asked fellow Oath Keepers to “go out into public on election day, dressed to blend in with the public … with video, still camera, and notepad in hand, to look for and document suspected criminal vote fraud or intimidation activities.” While he asked that they not bring guns, the Oath Keepers are closely associated with open carry protests, including the open carrying of firearms during protests against police brutality in Ferguson, MO, in which armed members looked down from rooftops.

    After the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, Rhodes called on Oath Keepers to “post up armed outside your local school” and some members obliged.

    On December 5, Rhodes went on Alex Jones’ Infowars outlet to push the white supremacist talking point that a caravan of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border was evidence of “globalists” (a term with anti-Semitic connotations) executing what he described as “the latest tactic or assault in an ongoing war on the West to flood us with Third World people and then overwhelm us and kill our countries.” He called for the Justice Department to indict “all these NGOs that are assisting these illegal aliens coming into the United States.” A similar white supremacist conspiracy theory that migrant caravans are the result of a Jewish plot to replace white people was embraced by the shooter who went into a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, and killed 11 Jewish people in October.

    Two days after Infowars posted Rhodes’ appearance, his group issued a “call to action” on Twitter, asking members to head to the southern border “to conduct surveillance and to spot and report any suspected illegal infiltration of the U.S.”

    Rhodes has also talked about forming an armed militia to do whatever Trump wants. During one of his frequent guest appearances on Infowars, Rhodes announced the launch of “a new program called Spartan training groups.” Rhodes said that the program is for “the average American” to learn combat skills to be available if “called out by the president of the United States to serve as a militia of the United States to secure the schools, protect our borders, or whatever else he asks them to do.”

    He also talked about the group’s involvement in providing security for far-right rallies and advocated for armed militias to recruit retired police for their nationwide concealed carry privileges as a “final line of lethal force” against anti-fascist protesters in any jurisdiction. Rhodes alluded to working alongside other violent extremist groups such as Patriot Prayer -- the group responsible for a cache of firearms found on a Portland, OR, rooftop in preparation for a protest last summer -- and the self-identified gang Proud Boys.

    In another appearance on Infowars, Rhodes hinted at the Oath Keepers murdering anti-Trump protesters, saying that left-wing protesters were coming close to “forcing” militias like his to have “no choice” but to “kill them.”

  • Right-wing trolls are sharing a hoax version of the Green New Deal

    The hoax has spread enough to reach Google's search suggestions, and people are falling for it

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right trolls are attacking the Green New Deal by sharing a fake version of the proposal that includes a suggestion to use recycled urine.

    The Green New Deal is a comprehensive plan to fight climate change that has been championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). She and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a nonbinding resolution on February 7 that outlines policies for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within 10 years, including transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy and revamping transportation, agriculture, buildings, and other infrastructure.

    As the Twitter account Unfakery pointed out, right-wing trolls are parodying the contents of the Green New Deal in an attempt to fool people into believing it actually includes a proposal to recycle urine.

    Google’s search engine also picked up the disinformation: The hoax currently comes up as a suggestion when one types in “recycling urine.” (Media Matters searched for the term via an incognito browser.)

    Here’s how far-right trolls spread the hoax:

    YouTube conspiracy theorist Mark Dice posted the hoax on both Twitter and Facebook and admitted that he made up the language, urging his followers to “spread it around,” make it “go viral,” and “don’t give away the joke.”

    A YouTube user posted a video about the Green New Deal that mentioned Dice’s hoax as if it were a real point in the proposal. Dice wrote a comment under the video saying that he created the hoax as “satire,” again urging people to spread it:

    Reddit forum “r/The_Donald”:

    4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/” (an earlier 4chan thread also pushed the hoax, but it has since been deleted):

    Reddit’s “r/The_Donald”:

    Far-right troll and One America News Network host Jack Posobiec (who later wrote that it was “obvious satire”):

    Even though Posobiec noted that it wasn’t real, other far-right trolls continued to spread the hoax, including on /pol/:

  • On abortion and women in the workforce, Tucker Carlson sounds a lot like white supremacists

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a state legislator in Virginia proposed a bill to remove barriers to abortion access, right-wing media went on the attack. Fox News and other outlets have blatantly lied about the bill (which has since been tabled), calling it legalized “infanticide” and levying other false and misleading accusations, all as part of a campaign to delegitimize attempts to protect or expand abortion access. Fox host Tucker Carlson, himself a booster of anti-choice extremists, argued that “the investor class” pushes abortion on regular people because its members want women to “stop breeding” and join the workforce, adding that “pro-choice means pro-corporate.”

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): In other words, abortion boosts markets. It frees women from the tiresome demands of motherhood and allows them to fulfill their higher duty, which is to corporations. Childless women make more dutiful, obedient workers. They can work longer hours. They take less time off. They are loyal to company first. This is all great for GDP. Chelsea Clinton and the rest of the investor class strongly approve of it. Stop breeding and get to work. That’s how they feel.

    So this is the real reason our elites so enthusiastically support abortion. It doesn’t set you free; it won’t make you happier. But it will make companies more profitable and that’s what matters most to them. Pro-choice means pro-corporate. Whatever else he’s done, [Virginia Gov.] Ralph Northam has made that clear.

    His argument that liberal elites want women to have access to abortion so they can enter the workforce is false, sexist, and paternalistic -- and it overlaps with the rhetoric of racist extremists in the “alt-right” world online. Carlson’s misogynistic view that women should not have control over their own bodies also tracks with his efforts to mainstream white supremacist talking points, as there are clear connections between racism, anti-choice activism, and virulent misogyny. There’s significant overlap between Carlson’s rhetoric and the views expressed by white nationalist online media personalities, who, in turn, love Carlson for his on-air racism.

    After President Donald Trump lied about abortion and made a hollow appeal to women in the workforce in his State of the Union speech, Richard Spencer, a white nationalist credited with coining the phrase “alt-right,” lamented that increased employment meant fewer children will “be born and cared for.”

    Faith Goldy, an “alt-right” online personality who in 2018 ran a failed mayoral campaign in Toronto and earned Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) endorsement, quoted Trump’s comments on working women, then added, “Meantime, US birth rate has hit an all-time low” quipping sarcastically that it’s probably “unrelated.”

    White nationalist YouTube personality and men’s rights activist Stefan Molyneux claimed it’s “very sad” that more are women working -- which Carlson said is the result of abortion access -- because it leaves them “little time for play and connection” with children at home.

    Carlson also said that abortion proponents want women to “stop breeding,” which dovetails with a dog whistle meant to stoke fear of demographic change in America. Molyneux echoed this sentiment on Twitter earlier this month, saying that immigrants and their children are dependant on welfare funded by white people and this is driving down white birthrates.

  • Far-right figures push conspiracy theory blaming Obama for mass journalism layoffs

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right figures on social media, message boards, and fringe websites have been pushing a conspiracy theory that claims former President Barack Obama is behind the recent mass layoffs at media outlets. These figures include conservative actor James Woods and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

    The conspiracy theory seems to have started on Gab, a social media platform favored by white nationalists, where a user falsely claimed that the Obama administration had been funding journalists to push its propaganda via the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act and that the layoffs were due to the funding drying up. In fact, Obama signed the measure as part of a defense authorization bill, and it specifically aimed to fight foreign propaganda. The new conspiracy theory builds off of previous far-right hysteria that the 2016 law would target “alternative media.”

    The recent media layoffs -- which have hit numerous news outlets including HuffPost, BuzzFeed, McClatchy, and Vice Media -- are due to multiple factors, including their dependence on Facebook for page clicks (which decreased after Facebook made changes to its news feed) and struggles with ad revenue. Far-right trolls on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/” have helped coordinate a harassment campaign against those journalists based on a false claim that reporters in the past had flippantly urged working-class Americans to start new careers in tech. The 4chan campaign targeted journalists on social media with messages telling them to “learn to code” -- language that was repeated by some users pushing the new conspiracy theory.

    Here’s how the false claim spread from Gab through the right-wing fever swamps:

    QAnon believer Amber Merkel on Gab:

    QAnon believer Neon Revolt on Gab:

    Twitter account @outlawjw, which has also pushed the QAnon conspiracy theory, tweeted the false claim from Gab:

    Reddit forum “r/The_Donald”:

    4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/”:

    8chan’s "/pol/":

    Far-right website DC Whispers:

    Actor James Woods:

    Neon Revolt touted the important role Gab played in amplifying the conspiracy theory:

    Fake news site NewsPunch (formerly known as YourNewsWire):

    Conspiracy theory outlet Infowars posted on its website a video featuring Alex Jones pushing the false claim, and the video then spread on Facebook and YouTube:

    The false claim continued to spread online, such as on conspiracy theory site Natural News:

  • PragerU YouTube video features bigoted conspiracy theorist Owen Benjamin

    Benjamin says racial and homophobic slurs are “hilarious” and got kicked off of Twitter after going on a weird rant about the genitals of a Parkland shooting survivor

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    PragerU, the online operation peppering the internet with viral far-right propaganda, featured bigoted Owen Benjamin in its latest video. Benjamin was kicked off of Twitter permanently in 2018 following a bizarre rant about Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg’s genitals.

    In his February 4 video, Benjamin attempted to dissuade PragerU’s audience from arguing with leftists by calling “raising kids without a gender identity” “a form of child abuse” and by baselessly claiming white people are being demonized “for the world’s problems.”

    Benjamin is a right-wing comedian whose brand of “criminally unfunny” comedy includes using the N-word and homophobic slurs and calling it “hilarious.” He’s also a conspiracy theorist who has claimed to hundreds of thousands of viewers on his YouTube channel that the moon landing never happened.

    PragerU has a history of using its massive, wide-reaching platform to push misinformation and extremism. It has blamed racial disparities on "black culture," and on Columbus Day, it featured a video that showed a racist depiction of indigenous people as cannibals wielding salt-and-pepper shakers. On Facebook, the PragerU Brasil page has posted a Russia Today article to its over 14,000 followers falsely claiming that the American Psychological Association had stated it was “bad to be a man.” PragerU’s founder, Dennis Prager, has waged a dangerous, yearslong campaign against basic facts about AIDS, once calling heterosexual AIDS an “entirely manufactured” myth.

    And yet, PragerU’s propaganda and misinformation are being inserted directly into schools, as the company provides “content directly to teachers and students” and is “developing relationships with educators ‘in college, high school, middle school and homeschools.’”

    (H/t to @eyesontheright and @jaredlholt.)

  • Newsmax host elevates far-right conspiracy theory accusing two Democratic presidential candidates of staging a hate crime

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Editor’s note (2/21): Following the publication of this post, Smollett was arrested on February 21 by Chicago police “on suspicion of filing a false report about” the alleged assault.

    Newsmax TV and Rebel Media host John Cardillo amplified a far-right conspiracy theory that originated from message boards and social media accounts and accuses Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) of staging the alleged anti-queer and racist attack against actor Jussie Smollett. The conspiracy theory contends that the senators' intent in drawing attention to a case like Smollet's was to help pass their proposed anti-lynching legislation. The baseless claim connects with the far-right narrative that Smollett's alleged attack -- which reportedly included the attackers wrapping a rope around the Empire star’s neck -- was a hoax in efforts to minimize the importance of anti-lynching legislation.

    Harris and Booker, both of whom recently announced their 2020 presidential candidacies, introduced the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) last summer. The bill, which unanimously passed in the Senate, would classify lynching as a federal hate crime. Earlier attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation in Congress failed repeatedly during the 19th and 20th centuries when the act of racial terrorism was widespread across the country. Both Harris and Booker have called the attack on Smollett a “modern-day lynching.”

    Here’s how the conspiracy theory bubbled up from the fever swamps to Cardillo’s Twitter feed:

    Twitter account @hankentwhistle:

    4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as /pol/:

    YouTube:

    Reddit’s “r/conspiracy” forum:

    4chan’s /pol/:

    Reddit’s “r/The_Donald”:

    Voat, a Reddit clone populated mostly by alt-right trolls:

    Gab:

    Multiple Twitter accounts:

    Newsmax TV host John Cardillo:

  • Sexist right-wing smear against Kamala Harris moves from the fever swamps to Fox

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox’s Tomi Lahren embraced and amplified a sexist smear against Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) by accusing her of “using an extramarital affair to boost her political career.” The misogynistic smear has been gaining traction among anonymous message board users and right-wing influencers on Twitter.

    Lahren devoted the January 29 edition of her show Final Thoughts on Fox Nation to alleging that all of Harris’ professional accomplishments by claiming they were due to a past relationship, and calling the Democrats who support the #MeToo movement hypocritical. Newt Gingrich had made a similar allusion just the day before on Fox & Friends.

    As when Lahren spread a 4chan smear about Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), this misogynist smear about Harris was ripped from right-wing digital influencers and anonymous accounts in the fever swamps of the internet.

    The sexist narrative started gaining traction in Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit (a forum devoted to President Donald Trump) closely following Harris’ announcement of her intention to run for president. Reacting to Harris’ announcement, users of the subreddit upvoted misogynistic memes and awful smears of a sexual nature (screenshots may not be safe for work).

    In a January 26 San Francisco Chronicle column, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown addressed the press’s interest in his relationship with Harris. Brown stated that they had dated more than 20 years ago and that he had appointed her to political posts. Brown also wrote that Harris was the only one among “a host of other politicians” he had helped who “sent word” later that she would indict him if he “so much as jaywalked” while she was in office. Fox News spun Brown’s column in a sensationalistic article that amassed over 99,000 total interactions on Facebook; it then went viral on Reddit and inspired racist slur-laden posts on the anonymous message board 4chan.

    On the same day, popular right-wing Facebook pages also spread the narrative with click-bait headlines and misogynistic memes, and right-wing amplifiers picked up on the narrative.

    The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft accused Harris of launching “her political career in bedroom.” On his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh compared Harris to an adult entertainer. A host for conspiracy theory outlet Infowars went on a rant filled with demeaning accusations sexualizing Harris, saying she “basically sucked and ducked her way to the top.” (This show still livestreams on Facebook despite the platform’s supposed commitment to combating hateful speech from Infowars.)

    On Twitter, far-right users including  YouTube conspiracy theorist Mark Dice and actor James Woods joined the attack against Harris while pushing misogynistic hashtags. Woods, particularly, has been a major driving force in pushing the offensive #HorizontalHarris hashtag, which right-wing crank Dinesh D’Souza has also amplified.

    The barrage of crude memes attacking Harris is a clear reminder of the misogynistic double standard that applies to women who run for president. 

    Alex Kaplan contributed research to this piece.

  • Tucker Carlson's descent into white supremacy: A timeline

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Since the early days of his tenure as a Fox prime-time host, Tucker Carlson’s unabashed championing of white grievances earned him the accolades of neo-Nazis, who praised him as a “one man gas chamber” and complimented the way he “lampshad[ed] Jews on national television.” While Carlson claims to have nothing in common with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, he constantly echoes their talking points on his show and was very reluctant to condemn white supremacists following their deadly 2017 demonstration in Charlottesville, VA. In fact, Carlson’s racist roots can be traced back more than a decade.

    Here’s a timeline of the public devolution of Tucker Carlson’s thinly veiled racism into full-throated white supremacy (this list will be continually updated):

  • Twitter search suggestions promoted right-wing smear that attack against Jussie Smollett was a hoax

    Hoax allegations also neared top of YouTube search

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    CBS This Morning / YouTube

    Editor’s note (2/21): Following the publication of this post, Smollett was arrested on February 21 by Chicago police “on suspicion of filing a false report about” the alleged assault.

    Twitter’s search feature prominently suggested the right-wing smear that the alleged anti-gay and racist attack on actor Jussie Smollett was faked; it also featured a hashtag campaign that pushed the attack as a hoax.

    On January 29, TMZ reported that Smollett was attacked by two men in ski masks who allegedly put him in a noose while spewing racist and homophobic slurs. According to TMZ, the attackers also reportedly yelled, “This is MAGA country” during the assault. The Chicago Police Department originally denied the “MAGA country” remark, but later said Smollett did tell them about the comment in a follow-up interview.

    Anti-queer violence has been rising considerably, and the most recent FBI data shows that Black people are the most frequent victims of hate crimes. However, soon after TMZ’s initial report of Smollett’s attack, some right-wing media figures immediately started pushing that it was a hoax, before any further details were known. Far-right social media accounts and message boards also claimed that the “MAGA country” remark never happened or that the entire attack was a hoax, including Reddit’s r/The_Donald subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board /pol/.

    During the morning and early afternoon of January 30, Twitter users trying to search for Smollett’s name were met with suggested results like “smollett hoax,” “smollett fake,” “smollett fake news,” and “smollett lying.

    At one point, the search feature suggested the hashtag #SmollettHoax, even though that Twitter campaign only featured a handful of accounts pushing it.

    Two of the top six YouTube results for “Smollett” in an incognito search featured hoax allegations as well.

    Far-right social media accounts in the past have been able to manipulate algorithms on social media platforms like YouTube by acting in coordination to inauthentically game the results.

  • This is how a birther smear about Oakland-born Kamala Harris spread online

    QAnon followers and an Obama-era birther are behind the false claims about Harris' eligibility for the presidency

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right and QAnon trolls have used Twitter, YouTube, and other online platforms to spread the baseless claim that presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) heritage makes her ineligible to be president even though she was born in Oakland, CA. The false claim, which has since been picked up by far-right troll Jacob Wohl, was first amplified by a birther who has previously challenged former President Barack Obama’s citizenship.

    As early as July 2017, a user behind an anonymous Twitter account falsely claimed that Harris is ineligible to run for president because her parents were “foreign-born.”

    Charles Kerchner, a former military officer who unsuccessfully appealed a challenge to Obama’s citizenship status to the Supreme Court in 2010, published a blog and a document on Scribd pushing the absurd smear against Harris in August 2018. Soon after, fellow birther Sharon Rondeau wrote a blog post that cited Kerchner to suggest that Harris was not eligible for the presidency.

    In the following months, far-right accounts on Twitter and users of the white supremacist hotspot Gab amplified both Kerchner’s PDF and Rondeau's blog. The false claim was picked up by YouTube users and posters on the anonymous message board 4chan, and a discussion on Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit cited Rondeau’s blog explicitly.

    Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory have also played a significant role in amplifying the baseless smear. In December, an online radio host picked up one QAnon believer’s Twitter thread citing Rondeau. And in the hours following Harris’ announcement of her candidacy on January 21, widely followed QAnon account @WeAreOne_Q tweeted the baseless claim, which "r/The_Donald” users also picked up. Another major QAnon account tweeted the false claim and linked to Kershner’s PDF later that day. And on the morning of January 22, Wohl -- the QAnon-amplifying troll behind a sloppy scheme to smear special counsel Robert Mueller -- tweeted the false claim using similar language to @WeAreOne_Q’s tweet.

    BuzzFeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy, noting Wohl’s tweet, pointed out that the smear had been sent to her previously in what appears to be a clear effort to give it oxygen:

    Making birther attacks on Obama with the aid of Fox News was key to President Donald Trump’s political rise. Media should now be ready to nip similar smears in the bud. But CNN’s Chris Cuomo used the opportunity presented by the smear against Harris to tweet, "The longer there is no proof either way, the deeper the effect.” Cuomo subsequently deleted his original tweet and clarified that Harris “has no duty to justify any such accusation.”

  • Facebook took advice from a far-right figure who blamed gay marriage for hurricanes

    Twitter consulted with a right-wing operative with links to extremism

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In efforts to appease fits of manufactured conservative rage over the moderation of hateful content on social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter have relied on the advice of anti-LGBTQ extremists and far-right grifters “to help them figure out who should be banned and what’s considered unacceptable.”

    As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook sought out the advice of right-wing groups including extremists like the virulently anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council (FRC) and its president, Tony Perkins. Perkins has compared same-sex marriage to incest, blamed marriage equality and abortion for a destructive hurricane, and called pedophilia a “homosexual problem.” He is clearly not equipped to be an arbitrator on content that oppresses, harassed, and erases minorities. Perkins, along with FRC, has actively opposed LGBTQ equality around the world, supporting a law in Uganda that could have punished “repeat offenders” of same-sex sexual activity with the death penalty, and collaborating with a hate group that worked to pass Russia’s “gay propaganda” law. Domestically, Perkins also called for the State Department to stop supporting LGBTQ rights after President Donald Trump was elected.

    Moreover, FRC senior fellow Ken Blackwell has used his Facebook page to regularly push out links from right-wing propaganda sites that have a history of promoting anti-Muslim fake news and conspiracy theories. Blackwell also took part in what was seemingly a promotional campaign with Liftable Media, which owns right-wing propaganda sites like The Western Journal and relies on right-wing media figures to draw online traffic to its pages. And he has shared misleading memes and content from Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the company behind the 2016 presidential election interference on Facebook. Blackwell is also on the board of the NRA, and once blamed the mass shooting at UCSB by a men's rights supporter on marriage equality.

    The Journal’s article also reports that the Heritage Foundation, which has a long history of climate denial and gets funding from fossil fuel companies, has recently “forged a relationship with Facebook.” On Facebook, Heritage Foundation’s media arm, The Daily Signal, has put out anti-science garbage like “Why climate change is fake news,” contributing to Facebook’s climate-denial problem. In 2013, Heritage came under fire for hiring a researcher who wrote that Hispanic immigrants may never "reach IQ parity with whites."  (The researcher later resigned following outrage.)

    Twitter has also sought the advice of right-wing grifters and anti-abortion advocates. According to the Journal, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been in contact with Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, and Norquist has used that access to successfully lobby for conservatives who had trouble getting anti-abortion ads on Twitter. Anti-abortion groups have a habit of claiming censorship in order to bully social media platforms into allowing them to run “inflammatory” content.

    Dorsey also privately sought the advice of Ali Akbar, a right-wing personality with a prominent Twitter presence, when dealing with the question of whether to remove conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from the platform. (After a murky process filled with half-measures to address Jones’ many policy violations, Twitter and its streaming service Periscope finally removed Jones.) Akbar’s history of promoting hateful content on Twitter and Periscope makes him a poor choice for a consultant on hateful content. He once hosted Matt Colligan (“Millennial Matt”) -- a participant in the 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA -- for a Periscope video in which Colligan waved a flag that had a Nazi swastika. Akbar, who has claimed his talks with Dorsey have been going on for months, was recently briefly suspended from Twitter, seemingly after a tweet in which he accused media of egging on a “civil war in America” and urged his followers to buy guns and ammo. His account was reinstated within a couple of days.

    These examples show tech platforms’ tendency of caving to conservative whims in order to appease manufactured rage over baseless claims of censorship and bias. Evidence shows that right-wing pages drastically outnumber left-wing pages on Facebook, and under Facebook’s algorithm changes, conservative meme pages outperform all other political news pages. Across platforms, right-wing sources dominate topics like immigration coverage, showing the cries of censorship are nothing more than a tactic. And judging by tech companies’ willingness to cater to these tantrums, the tactic appears to be working.

  • Turning Point USA advisory council member pushes QAnon smear

    Turning Point USA leaders keep pushing QAnon conspiracy theories

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A member of Turning Point USA’s advisory council, Joel Fischer, pushed a baseless claim about Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) originating from believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. The claim had been circulating among far-right accounts and figures for a week prior to Fischer pushing it out.

    The smear goes back at least to December 9, when Twitter account @BSpinctor wrote in a since-deleted tweet, “BREAKING: According to congressional sources Representative Adam Schiff used tax payer (sic) money to reach a sexual harassment settlement with a 19 year old made in 2013. As to date there are dozens of settlements being hidden from the American people….developing.”

    The account’s avatar had an image of “Q,” the central figure of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Later that afternoon, another QAnon account, @WeAreOne_Q, tweeted the same claim, adding, “Congress has a ‘hush fund’ & WE THE PEOPLE demand the users be revealed. #QAnon #WWG1WGA.” The tweet went viral, getting tens of thousands of likes and retweets.

    Over the following week, the claim continued to spread on Twitter, along with Facebook, 4chan, the subreddit "r/The_Donald," a QAnon YouTube page, and by conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin on Gab. One Twitter account pushed a video of @BSpinctor’s tweet that received thousands of retweets, including from Breitbart columnist AWR Hawkins. The @WeAreOne_Q tweet and claim was also shared by conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl and his father.

    Fischer, a member of Turning Point USA’s advisory council, repeated the same claim in a tweet on December 17, writing: “According to congressional sources Representative you @AdamSchiff used tax payer (sic) money to reach a sexual harassment settlement with a 19 year old male in 2013. Congress has a 'hush fund' & WE THE PEOPLE demand the users be revealed. #FullOfSchiff.”

    The day before his tweet accusing Schiff of sexual harassment, Fischer also tweeted that CNN anchor Jake Tapper should question Schiff about the accusations.

    Earlier this month, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk falsely alleged in a tweet that protesters in France had chanted “We want Trump,” something President Donald Trump retweeted despite the false claim originating from a video uploaded by a QAnon-supporting Twitter account.

    Kirk also pushed a false human trafficking statistic from QAnon supporters in July.