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  • 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. 

  • Breitbart promoted the work of an illegal website that smeared immigrants, harassed journalists and had neo-Nazi ties

    Breitbart used the site’s flawed data to bolster xenophobic content that blamed Sweden's immigrants for rape

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    For months, Breitbart has used the work of an anonymously run Swedish website that illegally published questionable crime data in order to fearmonger about an alleged wave of crime and rape committed by immigrants. Even after the now-defunct website, which was also publishing journalists’ personal information, was reported to the Swedish authorities for illegally disseminating personal data, Breitbart continued to promote its findings.

    Breitbart has promoted methodologically flawed findings from the now-defunct website, GangRapeSweden.com, several times over the past year, using the data to bolster its arguments about migrant crime. Gangrapesweden.com was an anonymously administered Swedish website that published detailed, sensitive records related to violent crimes, particularly rape, by over 83,000 individuals in Sweden between 2004 and 2014. The neo-Nazi site Nordfront took credit for delivering the data, which was allegedly verified and which purported to show a disproportionate level of crime by “non-Swedish” individuals. The site’s method for deciding whether a perpetrator was Swedish or non-Swedish was based solely on the individual’s name.

    In addition to disclosing sensitive records linked to criminal offenses, GangRapeSweden.com played a role in a coordinated campaign to harass progressive Swedish journalists. In September, the website doxxed, or published names and personal contact information of, 14 members of Jagärhär, an anti-harassment website administered by Swedish journalists, leading to threats and racist and homophobic attacks on the site’s members. Sweden Democrats, Sweden’s far-right nationalist party with ties to neo-Nazism, promoted the campaign on a local chapter of its official Facebook page, but later deleted the post.

    The site had been in operation since at least March 2017, but translated some of the content into English only recently. On December 1, it added additional information and made the information searchable. Three days later, a Swedish Holocaust-denier and pseudo-journalist who refers to himself as Peter Sweden drew attention to the posted records in a tweet, an image of which ended up on the message board 8chan’s “politically incorrect” board along with a suggestion that users “archive everything.” 8chan is notorious for its racist commentary and politically motivated harassment campaigns.

    On December 4, GangRapeSweden.com was reported to Swedish authorities, who found the publication of such data to be in violation of Sweden’s Personal Data Act. The next day, the site was taken down. According to information provided by Martin Tunström, the president of independent Swedish NGO Juridik Fronten (Legal Front), it appears the site’s registry was located on a server in the United States, which would make its publication of records pertaining to Swedish citizens a crime. Tunström called GangRapeSweden.com’s actions “probably the most extensive crimes against the Personal Data Act that has occurred.”

    Before its removal, GangRapeSweden.com touted Breitbart’s embrace of its work. The site promoted Breitbart content that cited its records and even had a subsection of its website (under “Artiklar,” Swedish for “articles”) dedicated to such Breitbart articles. In turn, Breitbart appears to be defending GangRapeSweden.com, implying in a December 5 post that the Swedish government’s potential move amounts to censorship and conflating LexBase, a controversial but legally licensed, Swedish subscription-based criminal and medical records database, with the illegally-published data made public by GangRapeSweden.com.

    Breitbart has been a key driver in promoting anti-immigrant narratives about migrants and refugees in Sweden, claiming they are a drain on Sweden’s economy, blaming them for gang violence, and hyping fears of a so-called Muslim “invasion.” The website has also played up bigoted tropes about Muslims to portray them as violent and separatist and their cultural and religious values as irreconcilable with those of native Swedes. Breitbart regularly makes these claims based on biased sources, misrepresentations of news reports, and exaggerations of legitimate studies.

    As Media Matters and others have documented, many influential far right websites, white nationalists, right-leaning tabloids and messageboards, and fake news websites have cultivated an obsession with the mythical violent crime wave in Sweden, posting content on the subject nearly every day. One of Breitbart’s favorite tropes has been to paint Muslim men as predisposed toward rape and sexual assault, a centuries-old tactic used to attack immigrants. It has also claimed the Swedish government and law enforcement dismiss and even excuse alleged rape committed by migrants and cover up an association between immigration and crime. Such claims are generally unsupported by evidence and contradicted by legitimate data.

    Breitbart’s promotion of xenophobic content related to Sweden is nothing new; and Chris Tomlinson, the writer responsible for Breitbart’s content promoting GangRapeSweden.com, is also almost exclusively responsible for Breitbart’s content tag attacking Swedish multiculturalism. Now, Breitbart is, in essence, not only signaling its support for a website tied to neo-Nazis and Sweden’s far-right political party, but also undermining Sweden’s rule of law and tacitly promoting the harassment of journalists to serve political ends.

  • Here’s how a 4chan hoax galvanizes, spreads, and creates chaos: Operation Swedistan edition

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    UPDATE: Avaaz has removed the petition from their website, telling BBC Trending: "This small petition is one of thousands started by individuals on the Avaaz platform. ...We've polled our members on it, and the overwhelming majority voted to take it down, so it's now been removed from our site."

    On Monday, November 13, a user on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” (/pol/) message board started a campaign to mock Swedish multiculturalism by ironically referencing a petition hosted by Avaaz, a U.S.-based global activism group that has not endorsed the online effort, to change the cross on the Swedish flag to an Islamic crescent. While the petitioner's motives are unclear, the 4chan post launched a corresponding campaign, which it called “Operation Swedistan,” encouraging users to “create significant traction” for the petition because it would “create the opportunity” to persuade an international audience that multiculturalism is a problem in Sweden, which the post called “the most Cucked nation on earth.” The campaign was a stunt, but it had a real, clear strategy: divide the left, outrage the right, and continue the drumbeat of xenophobic content targeting Swedish society.

    The campaign continued on Tuesday, when a poster on the message board gave additional instructions for users to spread the stunt on Twitter by showing their support for the petition and using the hashtag “#ForBetterSweden.” The objective, according to the message on the thread, was for “a movement [to] organically form defending the Christian flag of Sweden.”

    Twitter users dutifully obliged, tweeting the hashtag alongside memes created to give the movement an appearance of legitimacy.

    By Tuesday afternoon, the campaign had reached prominent conspiracy theory website Infowars and pro-Trump Reddit forum “/r/The_Donald.” Infowars author Kit Daniels acknowledged the petition might be fake, writing, “Some have alleged the campaign is a troll job by 4Chan, but Sweden is so cucked that the country might actually go along with it anyway.” Daniels basically admitted what we already know: The truth is of little importance. The dissemination of outrage is all that matters.

    The petition gained over 3,700 signatures in a little over three days. Twitter trolls promoted it and some, again taking cues from 4chan, even uploaded images of fake articles presented to look like they had been published by BuzzFeed and Slate, left-leaning outlets, in support of the campaign.

    On Wednesday, the campaign became even more complex when a new 4chan thread claimed that at least two foreign news outlets had picked up the story. The poster put up an image of an article from a Swedish outlet that said that 4chan users were behind a fake petition to change Sweden's flag. The thread also provided further instructions: “Any press claiming they have exposed the 'Alt Right Hoax' should be informed that 'the alt-right hijacked the movement to give it less credibility' and that the petition/ majority of the movement is real.” The comment was a clear attempt to abdicate responsibility for the campaign, sow confusion, and promote skepticism of mainstream media: right out of the pro-Trump media playbook

    The #ForBetterSweden campaign has not been promoted by prominent pro-Trump trolls and far-right websites (other than Infowars), but that could change. Moreover, while this particular xenophobic 4chan campaign is a stunt orchestrated primarily to elicit reactions, it’s worth noting that 4chan has previously launched sincere, anti-immigrant campaigns designed to harm real people. In January, users on the “/pol/” message board encouraged others to trick Twitter users who are undocumented immigrants in the U.S. into publicly outing themselves so they could be reported to the federal government for deportation.

    The 4chan message board is a notorious outrage machine on the front lines of the online culture wars. Users create politically relevant, emotionally salient troll campaigns with the intention of dividing progressive communities and distracting from real social issues. In this case, the issue is a real, growing anti-Muslim backlash to recent upticks of violence in Sweden, including an increase in hate crimes against Sweden’s Muslims and even those perceived to be Muslims.

    Sweden is a popular target of pro-Trump media, fake news websites, and even Fox News, and the country’s historic embrace of multiculturalism has been a source of meme-based bigoted mockery since at least 2012. Operation Swedistan is just one example of the ways various internet trolls and xenophobic ideologues converge to achieve their goal: in this case, by attacking Swedish progressives’ appreciation of diversity in an effort to promote white European ethnocentrism. As the American alt-right movement attempts to expand its reach into Europe, particularly in Sweden, a country with a small but well-connected and decades-old nativist movement, these campaigns, however disingenuous, become all the more dangerous.

    This post has been updated to include a statement from Avaaz on the petition and to clarify that the Swedish article calling the 4chan campaign fake was, in fact, published by the outlet. 

  • 5 examples of misinformation in one Fox & Friends segment about the NYC truck attack, debunked

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    The day after an Uzbek immigrant killed eight people and injured several more in a terror attack in lower Manhattan, Fox & Friends invited former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) to criticize the visa program through which alleged attacker Sayfullo Saipov was admitted to the United States. Here are five examples of Chaffetz and his Fox hosts’ misleading or inaccurate claims, debunked:

    First, Chaffetz claimed, “Bangladesh, they took literally everybody on their phone book and put them in for the lottery.” The source of this claim could very well be the 2011 testimony of Stephen Edson, former deputy assistant secretary of state for visa service to the House Judiciary Committee (of which Chaffetz was a member), in which he cited an example of a single Bangladeshi “agent” who was “reported to have enrolled an entire phone book so that he could then either extort money from winning applicants who had never entered the program to begin with or sell their winning slots to others.” Media Matters was unable to corroborate this claim, but a 2010 article in The Wall Street Journal reported that one Bangladeshi man submitted 2,800 entries that year. In 2016, the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh launched an anti-fraud campaign to curb exploitation of the program, for which Bangladesh is not currently eligible in the first place.

    Chaffetz then added, “And I see a mugshot. Now if you are coming here to this country, and you’ve got an arrest record, A. You shouldn’t get in. And if you’re here and you get arrested, then kick him out of the country. … And you should get rid of the family.” Co-host Steve Doocy also referenced “chain migration.” But Saipov’s mugshot was taken when he was arrested for failing to pay a traffic citation, a crime which does not constitute grounds for deportation. Spouses and children are perfectly eligible to accompany a diversity visa holder, though Saipov married his wife in the United States so likely did not bring any with him.

    Doocy’s fears of so-called “chain migration” are unsubstantiated. Saipov reportedly came to the United States on his own, and even if he had brought family members, they would have been subject to the same already thorough vetting procedures as any other potential immigrant.

    Chaffetz also exclaimed, “I want every governor in this state to go in front of the cameras today and justify why they give illegal aliens driver’s licenses.” But Saipov was not an “illegal alien.” He was here legally and had a valid driver’s license. The attempt to link this unrelated incident to some states allowing undocumented immigrants to acquire valid driver’s licences fits a long tradition at Fox of fearmongering about a group of people who are no more likely to commit crimes than anyone else.

    Last, Chaffetz agreed with Doocy’s suggestion that this incident makes “President Trump’s suggestion that we need to have a super vetting program more reality,” but Uzbekistan was never on any iteration of Trump’s currently stalled proposal to ban immigrants from mostly Muslim nations.

    From the November 1 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    JASON CHAFFETZ: What is the most ridiculous way to pick the next United States citizen? Not on merit, not on family, just literally a lottery. You had one country -- I think it was Bangladesh -- they took literally everybody on their phone book and put them in for the lottery. And you literally -- I mean, coming to the United States is a privilege. But how do you do this? And I see a mugshot. Now if you’re coming here to this country, and you’ve got an arrest record, A. You shouldn’t get in. If you’re here and you get arrested, then kick him out of the country. It is privilege to be here. You don’t need people like that here. And you should get rid of the family. This guy who committed this crime, assuming that he did commit this crime, his entire family should be deported. It’s that we’re so nice and so politically correct. Oh, let’s just keep them here.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Because of this program, you can automatically bring everyone in your family.

    CHAFFETZ: You get to bring in immediate family.

    DOOCY: Chain migration.

    CHAFFETZ: That’s right.

    [...]

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Well, when there’s a mass shooting, we always hear the Democrats are saying, “Get rid of the guns. We need gun control.” Now, when it’s a truck, or it’s ISIS, or it’s this visa program, why aren’t they screaming we need to get rid of that?

    CHAFFETZ: I want every governor in this state to go in front of the cameras today and justify why they give illegal aliens driver’s licenses. Because, guess what? You can’t rent a truck if you don't have a driver’s license. So go explain to me why it's a good thing, if you're here illegally, to give them a driver’s license. And if you go and you commit a crime, you're here on a visa and you commit a crime, maybe we should think about that. Maybe we should have an actual discussion about that.

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): You know sometimes when things happen there is an immediate legitimate response for lawmakers who are consumed with taxes and everything else. Do you think this might go into that category? That where there might be a bipartisan push to, for example, to put on hold this visa lottery program?

    CHAFFETZ: I would hope so.

    [...]

    DOOCY: Well, doesn’t this particular tragic case make President Trump’s suggestion that we need to have a super vetting program more reality?

    CHAFFETZ: Yes. And look at the countries we are talking about. Talking about places like Libya and places that, they have no -- and if you actually go, I’ve been to many embassies around the world, and you watch the vetting process, sometimes it’s just 10 minutes. It’s just a little interview.

  • Local Virginia TV station’s fact check misses major problems with Gillespie's anti-immigrant ads

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    WAVY News 10’s fact check of Republican Ed Gillespie’s ads in the Virginia gubernatorial race correctly identified one factual inaccuracy but failed to note the anti-immigrant falsehoods the ad pushed as well. The advertisements, which President Donald Trump parroted in his endorsement of Gillespie, have been called out as “racist” and “fear-mongering.”

    In an October 5 segment, reporter Andy Fox of Portsmouth, VA’s NBC affiliate WAVY News 10 fact-checked a series of advertisements Gillespie released attacking his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, over his support for sanctuary cities. Fox explained that while “Gillespie is correct that Northam voted for and supports sanctuary cities,” Northam’s nay vote on a bill, which was defeated, to outlaw sanctuary cities in Virginia “was not the deciding vote as stated in Gillespie’s ad.”

    The bill Gillespie referenced, House Bill 2000, initially failed in the Virginia state Senate earlier this year thanks to what The Washington Post’s editorial board called an act of “political trickery” in which Senate Leader Tommy Norment voted with Democrats against the bill, thus forcing Northam to cast a tiebreaking vote. Republicans later called for a revote, and Norment switched his vote to support the measure. The bill was defeated nevertheless when the Virginia state House failed to muster the votes to override Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s veto.

    While the fact check did correctly note that Northam’s vote “was not the deciding vote as stated in Gillespie’s ad,” Fox missed a few additional opportunities to fact-check Gillespie. Contrary to claims made in the ad, fewer crimes are committed in sanctuary areas compared to nonsanctuary municipalities. This is at least partly because, as NPR explained, witnesses and victims in sanctuary areas are more likely to aid police. Additionally, The Economist wrote that law enforcement found that sanctuary policies “allow [police departments] to fight MS-13,” a criminal gang that Gillespie brought up in his ad, “more effectively.”

    Those aren’t the only problems with Gillespie’s ads. As the Post reported, the men meant to portray MS-13 member in the ads “were not MS-13 members and were photographed in a prison in El Salvador.” Additionally, as Washingtonian pointed out, “there technically aren’t any” sanctuary cities in Virginia, although, as ThinkProgress noted, “some areas of the state do have sanctuary city-like policies protecting immigrants from deportation.”

    While Gillespie’s ad has been criticized for “fear-mongering” and being “super racist," it does seem to have at least one fan: President Donald Trump. Trump echoed the messages in Gillespie’s ad in an October 5 tweet announcing his support for the Republican, which was tweeted eleven minutes after the ad ran during Fox News programming:

    Even though Gillespie is trying to downplay Trump’s support, it’s difficult to ignore that both he and Trump are relying on right-wing media’s anti-immigrant playbook.