Diversity & Discrimination | Media Matters for America

Diversity & Discrimination

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  • NY Times theater critic’s apology for misgendering a nonbinary character underscores the need for intentional writing about the trans community

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & BRIANNA JANUARY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters 

    One of The New York Times’ top theater critics had to apologize after his review of the Broadway musical Head Over Heels purposefully misgendered a nonbinary character played by a trans actress, demonstrating the need for journalists and writers to better understand how to cover these communities.

    Ben Brantley, the Timeslongtime co-chief theater critic, wrote a review of the new musical, which is based on the music of The Go-Go’s and which features “the first trans woman actress to create a principal role on Broadway.” The groundbreaking role, Pythio, is currently being played by former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Peppermint, and the character identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronoun “they.” According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, nonbinary people “don’t neatly fit into the categories of ‘man’ or ‘woman,’ or ‘male’ or ‘female.’” In his review, Brantley unnecessarily mocked the character’s preferred pronouns, writing that another character found “himself strangely drawn to her -- I mean them”:

    These assorted role reversals are overseen by the wise oracle Pythio (Peppermint, a contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” described in the program as “the first transgender woman to create a principal role” on Broadway). Pythio identifies as “nonbinary plural.” Dametas (Tom Alan Robbins), the King’s viceroy and father of Mopsa, finds himself strangely drawn to her — I mean them. 

    LGBTQ advocates and journalists criticized Brantley’s language and successfully called on the Times to make changes to the piece:

    Following criticism of the review, Brantley issued an apology and edited the report to remove the offensive language:

    Bentley’s review and subsequent apology demonstrate the need for writers and journalists to be intentional in the way they cover the trans and gender-nonconforming community. The Associated Press Stylebook has recommended the use of “they” when referring to nonbinary people as a best practice for journalists for more than a year, and LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD has written that misgendering in reports can cause the community to see “a part of themselves erased and devalued.” This kind of reporting stigmatizes an already marginalized community and can have negative impacts on its members' self-confidence and mental health. The community experiences disproportionately high levels of discrimination and violence, and homicides against trans folks spiked in 2017.

    This is the second time in a little over a month that the Times came under fire for publishing anti-LGBTQ content. On June 25, the paper published a homophobic cartoon video and accompanying opinion piece depicting President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a same-sex relationship and featuring an extended scene of their tongues intertwining while riding a unicorn through rainbows. The video drew criticism for mocking same-sex relationships and making LGBTQ people the punchline of a joke. Unlike with Bentley’s review, the Times defended the cartoon and claimed that the filmmaker “would have used the same format to satirize Trump’s infatuation with another politician, regardless of sexuality or gender.”

  • Maine newspaper editorial boards call on Gov. Paul LePage to protect LGBTQ youth from dangerous conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The editorial boards of major newspapers in Maine are urging the state’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, to sign a bill that would protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, a discredited and harmful practice that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

    In late June, lawmakers in Maine passed a bill that would protect LGBTQ youth from the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. If LePage signs the bill into law, the state will become the 14th (in addition to Washington, D.C.) in the country to ban the practice; dozens of municipalities across the country have also enacted similar policies. Governors from both sides of the aisle have signed conversion therapy bills, but according to the Williams Institute, the practice remains prevalent throughout the country: The organization estimated in January that 20,000 LGBTQ youth would “receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18” in the states that at the time did not protect youth from the practice. Conversion therapy is supported by national anti-LGBTQ groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom, and its advocates frequently appear in local news to spread dangerous lies about it.

    As LePage considers signing his state’s recently passed bill, two of the largest newspapers in the state are urging him to to protect LGBTQ Mainers.

    The Portland Press Herald’s editorial board urged LePage to protect LGBTQ youth in the state from conversion therapy in a July 2 editorial, noting that should he refuse to sign the bill, he would be the first governor to veto such a measure. The editorial highlighted the major medical and psychological associations that have denounced the practice and cleared up some common misconceptions associated with efforts to protect LGBTQ youth:

    The bill does not interfere with any religious tradition. Preachers can still talk about sin and redemption as they see it. Parents remain free to communicate their values to their children.

    The only thing that would change is that a practitioner in Maine could no longer hang a shingle and charge money for pseudo-scientific treatment with the state’s approval.

    Same-sex attraction is not something that needs to be cured. The government also should have no role in telling people that their gender expression is right or wrong. Ethical psychotherapists have long ago stopped attempting this treatment because it doesn’t help their patients – it harms them.

    Thirteen other states have passed a bill like this, and no governor has vetoed one. It’s time Maine joined them by taking this humane step.

    The Bangor Daily News’ editorial board drew similar conclusions in an editorial also published on July 2. In it, the paper noted that conversion therapy has been condemned by major medical associations and that the practice “doesn’t work.” It also noted its harmful mental and physical health outcomes, which can include “shame, depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide among those its practitioners seek to ‘convert.’” The paper further wrote that “LGBTQ youth are already vulnerable to family rejection and experience homelessness, substance use, depression and suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers” and urged LePage to sign the legislation into law.

  • Masterpiece Cakeshop was just the beginning. ADF is pushing several other license-to-discriminate cases through the courts.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post has been updated with additional information.

    On June 4, the Supreme Court granted a narrow ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case in favor of a Christian baker named Jack Phillips who refused to serve a gay couple. Phillips was represented by anti-LGBTQ hate group and legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is pushing several more cases that could determine whether public accommodations can legally discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    The Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop cited “hostility” against ADF’s client by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the commission’s original decision on the matter. At the same time, the court also reaffirmed protections for LGBTQ people in the marketplace. This means the Masterpiece ruling applies to only this specific case and has thus “left open the possibility that other cases raising similar issues could be decided differently,” according to The New York Times. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion:

    The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

    Kennedy’s prescient statement is reflective of the many similar religious exemptions cases -- in which businesses in the open marketplace seek to exempt themselves from serving LGBTQ people equally based on religious beliefs -- that are making their way up the courts. And those many cases almost all have one thing in common: Alliance Defending Freedom.

    ADF has been relentless in its work to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens in nearly every aspect of life, which includes leading the fight against transgender student equality in schools across the country and advocating for the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy, which seeks to alter LGBTQ people’s sexuality or gender identity. And in addition to Masterpiece Cakeshop, ADF in the last few years has been involved in several other religious exemptions cases, some of which could again bring ADF and its allies before the nation’s highest court. As Slate reporter Mark Joseph Stern noted, ADF’s strategy is to “target bakers, florists, photographers who might be anti-gay, find a case that had come up, and then encourage them to fight that case as far as they could.” What’s more, ADF's staff and its allied attorneys -- of which there are more than 3,200 -- are serving in high-up positions in the offices of state attorneys general and even on the federal bench, where they may increasingly play a role in cases such as Masterpiece Cakeshop.

    There are currently at least seven active or potentially active cases to watch -- all spearheaded by ADF and its allies -- that could eventually make discrimination against LGBTQ people in the marketplace the law of the land:

    1. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. Washington: In the case most likely to be heard before the Supreme Court next, ADF is representing a Washington state florist who refused to create floral arrangements for a gay wedding. In February 2017, the Washington state Supreme Court unanimously ruled against ADF’s client, and in July 2017, ADF appealed the case to the Supreme Court. According to The Hill, it now “has been re-listed for discussion at the court’s next conference on Thursday,” June 7, when the court may decide whether to hear the case. 

    2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes: ADF is representing a Michigan funeral home that fired an employee for coming out as a transgender woman, saying that its owner and other business owners have the right to “live and work consistently with their faith” and that the funeral home’s sex-specific dress code “is tailored to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one.” In March, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against ADF’s client, and ADF announced that it is “consulting with our client to consider their options for appeal.”

    3. Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix: In April, ADF argued before the Arizona Court of Appeals on behalf of its clients, the owners of a calligraphy business, who challenged a Phoenix, AZ, ordinance protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. The lawsuit is a pre-enforcement challenge, meaning that the business challenged the nondiscrimination protections “seeking permission to refuse service to same-sex couples without actually being found in violation of the law,” according to ThinkProgress LGBTQ Editor Zack Ford. On June 7 and in the wake of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled against ADF's client, affirming that the business must serve same-sex couples. In response to the ruling, ADF announced that it plans to appeal the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.

    4. Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey: In October, ADF filed an appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of its clients, videographers in Minnesota who wanted to add wedding videos to their business services. The business owners sued the state because of a provision in the Minnesota Human Rights Act that prohibits them from discriminating against same-sex couples, making the lawsuit a pre-enforcement challenge. Briefs to the court have been submitted, but it has not yet made a decision.

    5. 303 Creative v. Elenis: In September, ADF filed an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of its client, a Colorado graphic designer who challenged a state nondiscrimination law that protects LGBTQ people. According to ADF, a September ruling by a federal judge “placed her legal challenge on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.” The judge also said that the designer could not sue to challenge the law because she could not adequately prove that a gay couple requested her services. The court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in May but will now hear them in September.

    6. Cervelli v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast: ADF represented a Hawaii bed-and-breakfast owner who denied a room to a lesbian couple. In February, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled against ADF’s client, upholding a 2013 decision that said she could not discriminate against same-sex couples. ADF has not updated its web page about the case in the months following the ruling or announced whether it will seek to appeal.

    7. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals: In April, ADF attorneys filed a brief to the Kentucky Supreme Court in support of a “promotional printer” who declined to create custom T-shirts for the Lexington, KY, Pride Festival. The Kentucky Supreme Court has not yet decided the case.

    These are just seven of the many religious exemptions cases in which ADF has played a hand. It has also successfully pushed for federal Justice Department guidance that makes it easier for people, businesses, and government employees to discriminate against LGBTQ people using religious exemptions. And it successfully wrote, justified, and defended the most sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions bill in the country, which went into effect in Mississippi last year.

    Though the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop may not have clarified whether public accommodations have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is just the beginning of a fight playing out in courts across the country at the hands of ADF.

    Additional research by Rebecca Damante. 

  • Newt Gingrich taught me the secrets of Defending America™

    A scammy online adventure with baklava, Ben Franklin, and lots of grifting

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    How much money would you spend to defend America? Before you answer, remember that we’re talking about America here. The America. It’s in need of defense, and good soldiers like you and me must heed the call and quite literally pay our dues. So how much cash would you lay down? A thousand dollars? Ten thousand? Can you even put a price on something so vital and necessary as the defense of America?

    Even if you can’t, Newt Gingrich certainly can. For just $50 you can sign up for Newt’s online course called “Defending America,” which consists of six video lectures delivered by Gingrich himself that “provide patriotic Americans like you with the historical facts and arguments you need to debunk the Left’s agenda in your own community.” Newt’s been all over Fox News of late reminding its viewers that “Defending America” is something that they, as patriots, can spend their money on.

    As a patriotic American who loves historical facts, I convinced my bosses (suckers) to hand over the company credit card so I could spend $50 on America Defense lessons from Newt Gingrich.

    Here’s what I learned.

    Newt just wants to eat baklava

    “The left didn’t like the concept of a singular civilization called America,” Gingrich declares in his lesson on the evils of multiculturalism. And as part of its war on the American cultural monolith, “the left” is making it impossible for good patriots to eat the pastries of their choice.

    “Think about the problem this gives you with baklava,” Newt says as part of a determinedly obtuse harangue about cultural appropriation. “Can you only eat baklava if you’re Greek or if you’re Turkish? Or if you’re Greek, do you eat Greek baklava but not Turkish baklava? And if you’re not Greek or Turkish, why are you even allowed to have baklava?”

    But it’s not just about the freedom to cram one’s maw with endless varieties of honeyed pastry, Newt explains. The key question of who can eat which type of baklava goes right to the very heart of the leftist conspiracy to destroy America. “While I’m making fun of it, this is not funny,” Newt says. “This is at the center of the intellectual corruption of the American academic community, and the news media, and the American entertainment communities that grow out of and draw from the academic community.”

    “The left” is mainly student activists and professors at West Coast colleges

    The conceit behind “Defending America” is that there exists “a deliberate strategy by the left to instill anti-American values to fundamentally change this country.” The primary movers in the nefarious, country-ending cabal, at least according to Newt’s estimation, are campus activist groups and academics who write op-eds. And as the baklava example makes clear, Newt’s shtick involves tweezing out what he believes are the most extreme examples of their behavior and presenting them as what “the left” writ large stands for.

    Newt’s “lessons” on “Defending America from the Multicultural Disaster” and “Defending Free Speech from Left-wing Censors and Thought Police” focus almost exclusively on various perceived outrages committed by student groups and the occasional professor. “Universities are increasingly becoming havens of resegregation and reverse racism,” he declares in his lesson on the evils of multiculturalism. “There’s a school in Washington state that wants to kick all white people off the campus for a day.”

    The school in question, Evergreen State, became a brief focus of national controversy when a faculty member proposed that, as part of a longstanding annual “Day of Absence” protest for minority rights, white students who chose to participate in the protest leave campus for the day as a show of “solidarity.” After a biology professor objected to the idea, student protests erupted. Conservative media seized on the story, threats were made against the school, the biology professor resigned, the faculty member who proposed the idea resigned, and the school canceled the “Day of Absence” protest in the face of dwindling enrollment numbers.

    From this and a handful of other cherry-picked examples of campus activism, Newt concludes that there is “a psychosis across our entire academic, news media, and entertainment world, which is a mass hysteria involving people who believe things that are crazy because all their friends believe the things that are crazy, and they need to be crazy together or they’d be alone, and then their friends wouldn’t like them.”

    “The left” is both a ridiculous joke and an urgent threat to America’s existence

    “There is no better evidence of the weakness of the left than the fact that they can’t debate,” Gingrich says at the beginning of Lesson Four. “They can’t defend their positions. Part of it is because they don’t know anything,” he adds with a mocking smirk. “There is no capacity on the left to have a serious debate about their values, and so they scream.” This is a running theme of all the lessons: “The left” is full of ignorant dopes whose whacked-out positions are worthy only of mockery and sneering disdain. “We have these college campuses that are totally subsidized, with people there full time who don’t teach very much, don’t learn very much, and don’t do very much,” Newt explains, “and so they’ve been gradually vegetating into weirder and weirder positions.”

    Somehow, though, these same indolent pontificators and mock-worthy extremists are simultaneously a nefarious and altogether implacable force for American destruction whose influence drives the highest levels of politics and entertainment. Newt wants to have it both ways: The left is a feeble joke, and the left is also an existential threat to the country.

    Not surprisingly, this lazy thinking leads Newt into mistakenly dismissing genuine threats to conservative political power as little more than leftist tantruming. The 2017 Women’s March stands out as one of the most important moments for left-wing activism and candidate recruitment in the era of Donald Trump. But Gingrich dismisses it as “a collection of nutcakes, gathered together, made important because The New York Times and The Washington Post covered them. Otherwise it would just be, sort of, a gathering of random weird people, sort of like a family reunion on the Mall.”

    This isn’t so much education as it is marketing. Newt wants his “students” to feel that they’re standing up against a dangerous enemy, but also that the enemy can be easily vanquished. It’s a message that’s tailor-made for someone who is already apt to believe that “the left” can be defeated with fifty bucks and a few Ben Franklin quotes.

    “The left” can be defeated with fifty bucks a few Ben Franklin quotes (or “quotes”)

    The key to dismantling the anti-Americanism of “the left,” per Gingrich, is rote repetition of a carefully curated suite of quotes from the Founding Fathers. Over the course of the six lessons, Newt laboriously sifts through the collected utterances of America’s founding statesmen (and other historical figures) to demonstrate that the United States is supposed to be a land of unrestricted gun access with no separation of church and state and a functionally useless social safety net.

    Newt isn’t breaking any new ground here; cherry-picking the Founding Fathers is a grand tradition of conservative “intellectuals” who grasp for historical gravitas in their quest to choke off public assistance for the poor. What Newt brings to the affair is the laziness and basic errors of scholarship that you’d expect from a $50 scam history course.

    “Benjamin Franklin said it perfectly,” Newt proclaims in his lesson on free speech, attributing to Franklin the following quote, which appears on the screen like so as he reads it:  

    “Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it he does not hurt and controul the Right of another: And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know. This sacred Privilege is so essential to free Governments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech, always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of speech.”

    That’s great quote! But it’s not Benjamin Franklin’s. It belongs to English essayists John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, who wrote under the nom-de-plume “Cato.” Franklin quoted this passage in an essay he published in The New England Courant under his own pseudonym, Silence Dogood.

    Newt doesn’t actually read anyone on the left

    Given that the purpose of “Defending America” is ostensibly to instruct conservatives on how to effectively neutralize “the left,” it would be reasonable to expect that the person doing the instructing would be an expert and learned authority on what the left believes and how it operates. But, by his own admission, Newt Gingrich is not that expert.

    As part of a live Q&A session posted as part of the course last October, Gingrich was asked if there were “any liberal writers, any left-wing writers you would recommend reading to understand them.” After a moment’s pause, Gingrich responded: “No.”

    He went on to explain that he used to read liberal writers back when he was in grad school, but “the modern left is almost like a cancer that has metastasized” and has only “grown weirder and weirder and weirder, and so I think it’s really hard to look to the left to explain itself.” Instead, Newt recommended reading conservative pundits like Ben Domenech and Andrew McCarthy to understand what “the left” is all about.

    Newt wants to sell you other products by Newt Gingrich

    As a good American patriot, I paid my bosses’ $50 to Newt so he could teach me the secrets of how to Defend America. I assumed that would be the end of our financial relationship, but I was wrong -- embedded within these lessons for the preservation of American democracy were further opportunities for me to purchase additional products from Newt Gingrich.

    “I would urge you, if you come to Washington, take Rediscovering God in America, walk around to every single monument,” Newt says, hocking his 2009 book during the lesson on “Defending Faith-Based America from Secular Tyranny.” He also works in a plug for Five Principles for a Successful Life, which he co-wrote with his daughter, during the lesson on work and opportunity. “We developed the five principles and went out and talked to a number of people, a really wide range -- I mean, Gen. David Petraeus was one, Whoopi Goldberg was another.”

    A fulsome defense of America requires sending Newt Gingrich lots of money.

    Nothing

    Honestly there’s nothing that “Defending America” can teach you because it’s not actually meant to teach anything. It’s part of a scam that Newt Gingrich has perfected in order to make himself very rich. Like many other enterprising hucksters on the right, Newt understands that he can wring large sums of cash from conservative marks by nurturing and exploiting their senses of grievance and victimization.

    At no point throughout “Defending America” would you have any inkling that Republicans and conservatives have firm grips on the levers of power in this country. All the carping Newt indulges in about multiculturalism and attacks on “traditional” values pays no heed to the fact that the federal government (controlled by his ideological allies) is busily ramping up deportations, installing right-wing judges on courts, sabotaging social programs, and recklessly pursuing a hard-line conservative agenda. Rather, you’re made to believe that college professors and Hollywood are the real power in the country and are threateningly close to transforming America into a socialist dystopia.

    Newt evangelizes this fiction with the shamelessness of a man who has full confidence in the strength of his grift. Lesson Six of “Defending America” is titled “Defending ‘We the People’ From the Washington Swamp” -- a hilarious description given that Gingrich himself is the quintessential “swamp” denizen.

    “You have bureaucrats who are liberal,” Newt complains, “you have lobbyists and lawyers who are liberal, and you have the reporters who are liberal. That’s your national capital.” Newt has made a lucrative career in this supposed hellhole of swampy liberalism by monetizing his connections to lawmakers and collecting fees as an unregistered lobbyist. There are few people on this planet with less standing to rail against the corruption and “swampiness” of Washington, D.C., than Newt Gingrich, but here he is doing exactly that for $50 a pop.

  • Far-right activists are teaming up with white supremacists to exploit South African politics

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right activists and trolls have seized on proposals to expropriate land from South Africa’s white minority (including Dutch-descended “Afrikaners” and other people of European descent) to advance a myth of so-called white genocide. Meanwhile, they are conspicuously ignoring South Africa’s uniquely disturbing history of institutionalized racism and white supremacy.

    Lauren Southern and Katie Hopkins: Reporting on supposed white extinction because the mainstream media won’t

    Earlier this year, notoriously bigoted Rebel Media commentator Katie Hopkins and former Rebel Media far-right stuntwoman Lauren Southern announced separate but similar plans to travel to South Africa and report on crimes against white farmers. Their ulterior motive, a motive shared by white nationalists who have championed their projects, was to portray South Africa as a country disintegrating into warfare systematically perpetrated by “black extremists” aiming to eliminate the white minority.

    Katie Hopkins and Lauren Southern in Italy supporting a far-right campaign to disrupt refugee rescues in the Mediterranean

    Southern apparently arrived in the country sometime in early January, based on her appearance in a January 10 promotional video shot in South Africa, which promised “the most authentic news about this area, [which] is not being reported in the international press.” Trailing by about two weeks, Katie Hopkins announced on January 24 that she, too, was traveling to the country to expose the “truths that aren’t being told” by mainstream media about the supposed “ethnic cleansing of white farmers.” Their “reporting” took the form of sensationalistic, sometimes-graphic videos that they plan to turn into full-length documentaries. Southern claimed her documentary, “Farmlands,” will be the “world’s first comprehensive documentary on South Africa.” Hopkins is expecting her yet-unnamed documentary to be released this summer.  

    While Hopkins’ trip appears to be at least partially funded by The Rebel (she also asked for donations in her promotional video), Southern has relied on donations primarily through Patreon and PayPal. Patreon previously found Southern to be in violation of its terms of services, and PayPal has suspended the account of Defend Europe, a group whose attempt to disrupt migrant rescues in the Mediterranean she actively supported.

    South Africa: The far-right’s “flavor of the month”

    Rather than expose the supposed plight of white South Africans, Southern’s and Hopkins’ nationalist tourism does more to expose the fringe network of white supremacists and far-right trolls working in concert to advance a narrative of white victimhood. While the obsession with mythical white genocide in South Africa has long sustained the interest of white supremacists worldwide, interest in the topic among a younger generation of far-right online personalities is a newer phenomenon that people like Southern and Hopkins are clamoring to exploit. (Faith Goldy, also formerly employed by The Rebel, initially planned her own trip to South Africa in January but canceled it at the last minute as a result of “outside interference” and “a failure of guaranteed security.”)

    As others have written, there is little factual basis for the fear-provoking claims advanced by these activists’ videos, and tracking the incidence of farm murders isn’t actually their concern. These documentaries, which have been accurately described as “agitprop dressed up as a documentary,” are nothing more than attempts at self-promotion and bids for acceptance among the ranks of far-right trolls and white supremacist heavy hitters carrying a nostalgia for apartheid.

    Southern’s ties to white nationalist-affiliated Afrikaner activists

    For her documentary, Southern interviewed Simon Roche, the leader of civil defense force Suidlanders, which promises to protect South Africa’s white minority in what the group sees as an inevitable race war. (Roche has attended the white nationalist conference hosted by Jared Taylor’s racist American Renaissance think tank and plans to attend the group’s April 2018 conference.) Southern has also encouraged donations to Suidlanders, whose website predicts an “impending civil conflict” against South Africa’s white minority and features a viral anti-refugee video purporting to show Europe under siege. The page claims,“South Africa’s present is the west’s future if it continues down its current path.” The video has been debunked as deceptive xenophobic propaganda.

    A group of American Suidlanders supporters welcomed Roche for a six-month “awareness campaign” in the U.S. in 2017 (during which he also spoke with Mike Cernovich and Swedish white nationalist radio host Henrik Palmgren). In a speech to the group, Roche claimed his group is “at the heart” of a “global nationalist forum” planned for August 2018. In his interview with Palmgrem, Roche said he has been contacted by groups in countries around the world that are interested in Suidlanders’ work, naming Sweden in particular. And since his tour, Roche has appeared on Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory outlet InfoWars on at least three occasions, including as recently as last week.

    Another of Southern’s videos features Dan Roodt, the founder of a group that fights “for the rights of Afrikaners and other ... people of European descent in South Africa” and co-founder and former deputy leader of the National Front, a white separatist party in South Africa.

    Since her trip to South Africa, Southern has been invited to promote her race-baiting pseudo-documentary on the show of scientific racist and far-right vlogger Stefan Molyneux.

    Southern and Jonas Nilsson, a far-right Swedish political scientist appreciated by white nationalists

    In January 2018, Jonas Nilsson, a far-right Swedish “political scientist” and author of a “polemical pamphlet” about “how the West can regain control of its destiny,” interviewed Southern about her documentary in South Africa. Two weeks later, he published an interview with Roche in the form of a trailer for Nilsson’s documentary about South African murders (yes, Nilsson is also making a documentary). Nilsson has given interviews to far-right personalities, including Palmgren and American white nationalist YouTuber Bre Faucheux. His Patreon-crowdfunded film, which will premiere in Sweden in March, has been promoted by the violent Swedish neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement. Nilsson considers Marcus Follin, a Swedish nationalist vlogger slated to attend the April American Renaissance conference, “an old friend” and Follin has promoted Nilsson’s documentary on Twitter.

    Katie Hopkins’ videos: High on drama, low on information

    In contrast to Southern’s pseudo-documentary-style interviews and reports, Katie Hopkins’ videos about South Africa primarily take the form of on-screen reflection and acting by Hopkins herself, producing sometimes-bizarre results. In one video, she participates in an emergency drill featuring Afrikaner men dramatically shooting pistols into the distance while Hopkins is escorted into a getaway vehicle (the viewers find out it’s a drill at the end of the video). In another, standing outside in the dark for reasons never fully explained, Hopkins delivers an impassioned monologue about the white farmers’ “biblical” connection to their land and their willingness to “shed their blood” for it.

    That video also featured (but did not introduce) Chris van Zyl, assistant general manager of an Afrikaner agricultural union, and Ernst Roets, the deputy CEO of AfriForum, a group that advocates on behalf of South Africa’s “minorities” and has referred to apartheid as a "so-called historical injustice." Both men have been criticized for exaggerating the plight of South Africa’s white farmers. Fact-checking organization Africa Check has questioned the murder rates provided by van Zyl's and Roet's advocacy organizations because the rate is currently not "possible to calculate," called out BBC for using a claim cited by Roets that “grossly” overstated the number of “white squatter camps” in the country, and criticized Genocide Watch's credibility for its rating of South Africa on its "Ten Stages of Genocide" scale without "provid[ing] the sources or methodology" or "events in South Africa" used as evidence for the claim.

    In a February 6 video, Hopkins claimed she tried to meet with Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, whom she accused of “inciting hatred” against white farmers. In another video posted that same day, Hopkins reports that she was detained and her passport was “marked for spreading racial hatred.”

    Competing projects with the same goal

    It is perhaps unsurprising that, despite Hopkins’ and Southern’s slightly different approaches to South African “white genocide,” they made basically the same connections. Since Hopkins’ bizarre detention in the country, and her subsequent return, she has seized on Twitter updates from AfriForum national operation coordinator Marius Müller about farm murders and has begun tweeting directly at Roche’s Suidlanders. Meanwhile, Southern has tweeted a map of alleged farm murders, which seemingly drew its information from a database that far-right troll Nick Monroe created based on information from Müller, AfriForum head Ian Cameron, and other Afrikaner activists.

    It’s hard to see Hopkins’, Southern’s, and other far-right commentators’ burgeoning interest in South Africa as anything less than a cynical attempt to capitalize on a global movement of white supremacy, poorly disguised as independent journalism.

    UPDATE: Language in this piece has been clarified to reflect Africa Check's characterization of its fact-checks. 

  • Pamela Geller's anti-migrant video is a hoax. There's even a complete film crew in the shot.

    Geller was purporting to show anti-police violence by migrants in Italy, but the video was debunked in 2014

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: Geller removed the video from her YouTube channel and website, but doubled down on her claim of “Muslim migrant violence” in an update:

    "Left-wing propaganda sites and Muslim supremacist terror-tied orgs have taken issue with one of the videos I previously ran saying it wasn’t real. The fact is there are thousands of videos exposing Muslim migrant violence and destruction that elicit no response from the enemedia. Left-wing propaganda sites and Muslim supremacist terror-tied orgs continue to ignore those videos and the widespread horror these migrants have wrought on the countries they’ve invaded."

    Notorious anti-Muslim commentator Pamela Geller uploaded and shared an obviously staged video framing migrants in Italy as anti-police vandalizers in the context of Italy’s highly contested general election.

    On February 11, Pamela Geller’s “Morning News Report” newsletter featured a YouTube video titled “Migrants in Italy” which was uploaded on February 7 to Geller’s YouTube channel, and shared on her personal website. The video shows people (who are actors) vandalizing an Italian police car with bats and sticks. Geller presented the video as real without verifying its authenticity in a shameless attempt to smear migrant men.

    The video, in reality, is an amateur recording of an Italian film shooting. The drama Mediterranea chronicles two friends from Burkina Faso who experience hostility after immigrating to Italy. The allegation that the video depicts Italian migrants engaged in a criminal act has been debunked since as early as 2014, by Italian, French, and German language websites. (A directional microphone and light-diffusion panel are also visible in the frame, though Geller seemed not to have noticed them.) As of this writing, the video has over 5,000 views.

    Pamela Geller is the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible figurehead. Her recent shameless promotion of blatant xenophobic misinformation comes weeks before Italy’s general election in March which is being widely considered a referendum on immigration. After an Italian neo-fascist shot six immigrants in central Italy last week, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called for Italy’s 600,000 undocumented immigrants to be deported, calling them a “social bomb ready to explode.” Berlusconi’s coalition of anti-immigrant parties has a real chance of winning in the March election.

    In addition to spreading anti-immigrant bigotry, Geller is currently crusading against social media companies. In what has been described as one of “the dumbest lawsuits" ever, Geller sued the Department of Justice for social media companies’ “censorship” of her anti-Muslim rhetoric online. Though her meritless case was dismissed, Geller is now taking her so-called censorship stunts to far-right media platforms, like on the show of former Breitbart technology editor and white supremacist sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos. During her appearance as a guest on Yiannopoulos' podcast on February 11, Geller condemned what she claimed is the censorship of conservative views on social media.

    And, just last week, Geller appeared on a “social media neutrality” panel convened by right-wing trolls and conspiracy theorists who blamed social media censorship for their declining traffic rates. Despite using social media to spread obvious misinformation and hateful speech, Geller accused media of removing content critical of Islam because Sharia law, according to her, mandates that Islam not be criticized.

    Geller’s promotion of an obviously staged video is just the latest example of her exploitation of YouTube’s "radical free speech experiment" to spread racist misinformation in a bid for self-promotion, but this time, amid concerns in Italy about election-related fake news and rising anti-immigrant sentiment, her stunts could have larger consequences. 

  • "Alt-right" troll Peter Imanuelsen defended GOP congressional candidate Paul Nehlen's anti-Semitism

    Imanuelsen, who calls himself Peter Sweden, has denied the Holocaust and called Jews a separate race from Europeans

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right vlogger Peter Imanuelsen jumped to defend the anti-Semitic, “alt-right” congressional candidate Paul Nehlen after Nehlen tweeted that “Jews (and others) who do not acknowledge this fact [that Jesus is the Messiah] will burn in hell.” In two tweets, Imanuelsen argued that Nehlen’s comment actually was “very pro-semitic.”

    Imanuelsen has a well-documented history of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic commentary, but claims to have renounced those beliefs. But as recently as October, Imanuelsen attended an event held by the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement. The group reportedly gives press passes only to journalists they approve.

    He has also made a name for himself in bigoted and conspiracy theorist circles. He regularly tweets unsourced or unsubstantiated claims that allege Sweden’s immigrants and refugees are responsible for sexual violence, bombings, gang activity, and other criminality, and that such activity is underreported or covered up by the Swedish police. Imanuelsen has also previously said he doesn’t believe in evolution, that feminism “goes against God’s order,” that people should get “capital punishment” as a “consequence” of “being homo,” that Jews are a “seperate (sic) race from Europeans,” and that the moon landing was a hoax perpetrated by freemasons.

  • Right-wing media’s outrageous coverage of Muslims in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› SANAM MALIK & MILES LE

    Anti-Muslim hate crimes increased for the second consecutive year in 2016, according to the latest FBI numbers. During this climate of bigotry, the right-wing media figures used their platforms to blatantly spread fear and misinformation, demonizing Muslims all over the world. Some explicitly called for American Muslims to be put in internment camps, while others denied the existence of Islamophobia in our schools (Islamophobia actually increased in 2016), and claimed that Muslim immigration means more terrorism (there's no connection).

    Here is a glimpse of some of the most absurd things the right-wing media figures said about Muslims in 2017.