Conspiracy Theories | Media Matters for America

Conspiracy Theories

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  • Citing far-right outlet OANN, Trump revives conspiracy theory that caused an international incident with the UK in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On April 24, President Donald Trump tweeted that former CIA analyst Larry Johnson has accused the United Kingdom's intelligence agencies of “helping Obama Administration Spy on the 2016 Trump Presidential Campaign.” Trump was apparently tweeting in response to a segment he watched on One America News Network, a conservative cable news channel. In doing so, the president has resurfaced a conspiracy theory from a discredited fraud that -- when Fox News promoted it in 2017 -- helped cause an international incident between the United States and the United Kingdom. 

    Larry Johnson is a conservative conspiracy theorist notorious for pushing the racist smear that there was a tape of former first lady Michelle Obama calling people “whitey.” Johnson appeared on Russian television network RT in March 2017 to argue that “there was some collusion overseas” between U.S. intelligence and the U.K. security agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and that British intelligence gathered information about Trump that it passed to Obama-era CIA Director John Brennan. None of Johnson’s allegations are true.

    Several days later, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano shared the theory (with anonymous attribution) on two Fox shows. It then spread over right-wing media and ultimately reached then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer. On March 16, 2017, Spicer cited Napolitano’s RT-sourced conspiracy theory in a press briefing to suggest that one of the United States’ strongest allies was illegally spying on Trump on behalf of then-President Barack Obama. The British government was displeased, and GCHQ issued a rare statement denouncing Napolitano’s “utterly ridiculous” claim. 

    After The New York Times confirmed Media Matters’ discovery that Johnson was one of Napolitano’s sources for the conspiracy theory, Fox News suspended Napolitano “indefinitely,” which turned out to be approximately two weeks. (Upon his return to Fox, Napolitano doubled down on the claim that got him suspended.) When the controversy blew back on Trump himself during a press conference, the president ducked all responsibility and blamed Fox News

    A few weeks after this incident, CNN reported that European intelligence agencies, including GCHQ, captured Trump campaign communications “during routine surveillance of Russian officials” and passed them on to U.S. intelligence. However, no agencies involved in this incidental collection were “proactively targeting members of the Trump team,” as Johnson, Napolitano, and Spicer had falsely alleged.

    Now, two years later, the president is pushing the same conspiracy theory that previously damaged the U.S.-U.K. alliance and which the British government has denounced as “utterly ridiculous” for the second time -- all because he was watching TV. 

  • Alex Jones goes to bat for employee Roger Stone, comparing judge in his criminal case to Hitler and attempting to connect Robert Mueller to Jeffrey Epstein

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Trump confidant Roger Stone is under a gag order concerning his upcoming criminal trial, but his employer Alex Jones’ Infowars outlet is still publicly litigating his case for him.

    Stone, who is a co-host of the Infowars program War Room, was arrested on January 25 and charged with seven felonies as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. On February 21, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing his case, imposed a near-total gag order on Stone after he posted an image on his Instagram account of her “next to an apparent rifle scope's crosshair.”

    According to the terms of the gag order, Stone is prohibited from publicly commenting on “the Special Counsel's investigation or this case or any of the participants in the investigation or the case.” Additionally, the order says that “the defendant [Stone] may not comment publicly about the case indirectly by having statements made publicly on his behalf by surrogates, family members, spokespersons, representatives, or volunteers.”

    Before the gag order was issued, Stone was using his Infowars platform to raise money for his legal defense and publicly litigate his case. During a February 18 appearance on The Alex Jones Show, Stone alleged that his prosecution came about as part of the machinations of a “globalist cabal.” Earlier, on February 8, Stone attacked media pundits talking about his upcoming trial, saying on War Room that he was reveling “in the hatred of these leftist retards.”

    While Stone is now severely limited in what he can publicly say about his case, his boss Alex Jones has taken the lead on Infowars’ defense of Stone. During a February 24 broadcast, Jones compared Judge Jackson to Hitler.

    While complaining about Mueller prosecutor Jeannie Rhee, who is part of the Stone prosecution team, Jones said, “I couldn’t hold a straight face in that judge’s courtroom when Jeannie Rhee is my prosecutor. It’d be like I was a Jew in World War II, hypothetically, and the head judge is Hitler. I’d be like, ‘Dude, you’re Adolf Hitler.’”

    Jones then turned to his guest, attorney Robert Barnes, to promote a conspiracy theory that attempts to connect Mueller to serial child molester Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein is currently in the news because a federal judge recently ruled that Trump Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta violated federal law in 2008 with his actions as a federal prosecutor in “concealing the particulars of Epstein’s [plea] deal from the girls who gave evidence” in his criminal trial.

    Barnes weaved a sloppy conspiracy theory to claim that “the common denominator” between the Epstein, Stone, and former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort cases is Mueller, who is “the deep state fix-it man” and is “still fixing things for the deep state.”

    The Stone and Manafort cases are both, of course, connected to Mueller because they arose from Mueller’s investigation. As for Epstein, Barnes claimed that Epstein was directly giving Mueller “blackmail files” -- presumably related to other alleged perpetrators connected to Epstein's sexual misconduct case -- in 2008 when his plea deal was struck and Mueller was the head of the FBI. In 2018, the FBI disclosed that Epstein “provided information to the FBI,” but there is no indication that Mueller was the recipient of the information. Still, Barnes attempted to conspiratorially cast doubt on Judge Jackson and the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation:

    ROBERT BARNES: So, there is one name that all those stories are connected to -- the Epstein case, the Manafort case, and the Roger Stone case, and interestingly enough it’s the one name that the judge in the Roger Stone case said that Roger Stone can never reference. Not only can he not reference it related to his case -- he can never talk about one name period while his case is pending in court, which could be years. And what name is that? Robert Mueller. And what is Robert Mueller to do with the Epstein case? Guess who was FBI director when that deal was done? Guess who was identified in internal FBI documents -- that were identified by a guy on Twitter called Techno Fog, a famous lawyer, that identified what, that the informant -- an informant for Robert Mueller was Mr. Epstein.

    In other words, he was giving blackmail files, potentially, on a wide range of people to Robert Mueller at the same time the sweetheart deal that broke the rules was being filed on behalf of Epstein. And so while Epstein gets to sit in a sweetheart deal, Paul Manafort’s supposed to go to prison for life. Paul Manafort’s supposed to be the most harshly punished individual in one of the most historied political prosecutions. So Paul Manafort, who has never been accused of anything connected to pedophilia, is going to go to prison for life and rot until he dies, but Epstein, who is running a blackmail ring of underage prostitution, gets to walk. And the only man that they all have in common is Robert Mueller, and it’s the one person the judge said Roger Stone can never talk about, even unrelated to his case. So that’s the common denominator between all three is that the deep state fix-it man is still fixing things for the deep state.

    Jones also defended Stone's Instagram post that got him sanctioned by the court. During his February 21 appearance before the court, Stone had acknowledged the post came about because of a brief lapse in judgement. But Jones stuck with Stone’s initial explanation for the image, describing the crosshair as “a little Celtic cross up in the corner” and showing the image to his viewers. Jones also falsely alleged that Jackson’s gag order prohibits Stone from speaking publicly about Epstein or President Donald Trump.

    Borrowing language that Stone used before he was subjected to the gag order, Jones alleged that Stone is being pressured “to bear false witness against the president” and also addressed Trump directly, saying, “And we can talk about how great Trump is all day, but he’s asleep at the switch. Tweets don’t do it, President; protect us.”

  • 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):

  • The Infowars-White House pipeline is alive and well

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

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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