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Here’s who they have left
Right-wing media have consistently lined up behind Donald Trump to defend him against any and all allegations regarding Russian interference in the presidential election. Led primarily by Fox News and primetime host Sean Hannity, right-wing media figures have denounced, undermined, or maligned Department of Justice and FBI officials involved in the broader Russia investigation since it began.
President Donald Trump is newly frustrated with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to several recent reports, some of which suggest the president is contemplating firing him. While the president fumes, an array of his closest allies at Fox News are encouraging him to remove or even imprison the Republican longtime federal prosecutor who currently oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
The pro-Trump media’s attacks on Rosenstein are not new -- his appointment of Mueller last May and his refusal to countenance removing the special counsel has made him a regular target. Sean Hannity called for Rosenstein's resignation as early as June, while other network figures have described him as part of a Justice Department “cartel, the equivalent of the mob” engaged in “what essentially amounts to a coup d'etat” against Trump.
But the tempo of the criticisms has dramatically increased over the past 10 days, as Trump’s propagandists have focused on the need to release a memo drafted by Republicans on the House intelligence committee. GOP members claim the memo shows the FBI and DOJ were biased against the president during the early phases of their investigation into improper communications between Trump associates and Russia, while Democratic members call it a cherry-picked weapon aimed at dismantling Mueller’s investigation.
According to The New York Times, the memo focuses in part on Rosenstein’s actions, which the paper reports “indicates that Republicans may be moving to seize on his role as they seek to undermine the inquiry.” That could give Trump cover to fire Rosenstein and replace him with someone more amenable to either ending or curbing the special counsel’s investigation.
Since Republican members of Congress first began discussing the memo on January 18, the president’s friends at Fox have engaged in a withering drumbeat of Rosenstein criticism, at times calling for his firing or even his arrest.
Hannity, a sometime presidential adviser who has turned his show into a nightly assault on the rule of law in an effort to protect Trump from the Russia investigation, said the night after the memo story first gained credence: “Rod Rosenstein, you need to explain your role in all of this and specifically if you were involved in extending this FISA warrant. And, frankly, Rod Rosenstein needs to be fired.” Hannity again called for Rosenstein to be “fired and investigated” on January 22. He has described the deputy attorney general as “corrupt,” suggesting he was part of a “rogue group of Obama administration holdovers that despise Donald Trump” that were “abus[ing] the powerful, unmatched tools of intelligence that we give our government to protect us” in order to “influence first the election and then undermine the choice of the American people.” He also questioned whether Rosenstein might be part of a non-existent anti-Trump “secret society.”
Gregg Jarrett, a low-profile Fox News anchor who emerged last year as the network’s leading legal defender of the president, told Hannity on Wednesday night that Rosenstein had approved an “illegal investigation.” In an appearance on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business show the same evening, he claimed that Rosenstein has “serious political bias” and may have committed a federal crime that carries a 10-year prison sentence. Dobbs, who frequently suggests that various people have broken the law by not being sufficiently supportive of the president, replied, “So when do the arrests start?” After Jarrett said that should have happened long ago but “it was hidden for a long time,” Dobbs replied, “I hope that’s also a federal crime.”
Discussing the memo on Justice with Jeanine Pirro on Saturday, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton claimed that there needs to be “pressure on the FBI to clean out its ranks at the leadership level,” adding, “If Rod Rosenstein isn’t going to do it, they should find someone who will.” Pirro, who has repeatedly called for the arrests of DOJ and FBI leaders and met with Trump in the White House in November, responded, “I got to tell you I couldn’t agree with you more. That place is dirty.”
And in an appearance on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle, former Trump adviser Roger Stone said that Rosenstein “is not on the level” and should be fired.
Is Trump angry at Rosenstein and contemplating firing him because of Fox’s coverage? Is Fox providing so much negative coverage about Rosenstein because its hosts know the president wants him out? Are the two efforts happening entirely in parallel? Fox’s dual role as the president’s news source and the propaganda megaphone trumpeting his message to his base, as well as the propensity of several Fox figures to advise him privately, makes it difficult to draw causality arrows. But what’s clear is that if Trump does move against Rosenstein, his most loyal followers will already be primed to accept the effort as the logical response to a purportedly disloyal Justice Department official.
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Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Roger Stone, a conservative pundit who has advised President Donald Trump for decades, visited a shooting range to fire weapons in preparation for a civil war in the event Trump is removed from office.
The visit was documented in a nearly one-and-a-half-hour-long December 19 video posted to Jones’ YouTube channel with the title “Roger Stone Prepares For Civil War After Trump Is Removed From Office: LIVE AUTO GUNFIRE.”
Jones set up the video by explaining that when Stone “was recently asked by TMZ what happens if Trump is assassinated or overthrown, he said it would cause a civil war.”
Asked to spell out his comment to TMZ, Stone, who is a contributor to Jones’ Infowars website, said, “We do not advocate violence or foment violence, but if there is a coup d’etat, if there is an illegitimate unconstitutional effort to remove Donald Trump on trumped-up charges by a biased and partisan prosecutors (sic) or an illegitimate takedown by the 25th Amendment, there will be a civil war in this country.”
“The Trump constituency has been awakened and they will not be put to sleep,” added Stone. He then said that he was at the shooting range to practice self-defense for himself and his family, but also to “defend the Constitution” if it is necessary.
Jones and Stone then entered the shooting area and fired an array of semi-automatic and fully automatic firearms, including one equipped with a silencer. At one point, Stone violated a basic safety rule by putting his finger on the trigger of an Uzi submachine gun before he was ready to shoot, causing the instructor to repeatedly remind Stone to take his finger off the trigger before physically removing it. Stone also remarked that he couldn’t see where the safety was because of the glasses he was wearing. While firing the weapons, Stone and Jones joked about shooting “commie dogs” and making a “JFK throat shot,” and Jones joked that Stone is “our Rambo” to “take on the globalists.”
On his program, The Alex Jones Show, Jones has repeatedly and baselessly claimed that there is a plot by Democrats, globalists, and other forces to violently overthrow the Trump presidency, which would lead to a bloody second American civil war. While talking about the prospect of a civil war, Jones frequently indicates his willingness to personally participate in violence, including serving as an executioner for convicted traitors. In other contexts, Jones has also raised the spectre of violence, including threatening to “beat” a Democratic congressman’s “goddamn ass” and discussing his willingness to take up arms in a race war.
Twitter recently banned the main account of Roger Stone, a conservative pundit who has advised President Donald Trump for decades, after he targeted several CNN anchors and contributors with expletive-laden tweets. Stone had frequently used that account to tweet racist, sexist, and violent attacks.
Stone’s account was briefly locked in April after he threatened a Media Matters employee. While his main verified account has now been permanently suspended, Stone still has access to other Twitter venues such as @StoneColdTruth. Stone has recently claimed he has “retained one of the best telecommunications lawyers in the country and will be bringing a legal action against Twitter over the suspension of my account.”
Here is a sampling of some of the worst things Stone has tweeted from his now-suspended account over the years. (Note: These tweets were screenshotted over various points in time; as a result, the profile pictures and dimensions are not uniform.)
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Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said he was “told” that President Donald Trump “really liked” recent comments by his longtime adviser Roger Stone in which Stone predicted violence if Trump was impeached and said, “A politician who votes for it would be endangering their own life.”
On August 23, TMZ approached Stone at an airport and asked him about the prospect of Trump getting impeached. The next day, the website posted a video of Stone's reply in which he said, “Try to impeach him, just try it. You will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen.”
Adding that “both sides are heavily armed,” Stone continued, “This is not 1974. The people will not stand for impeachment. A politician who votes for it, would be endangering their own life. There will be violence on both sides. I will make this clear: I’m not advocating violence, but I’m predicting it.”
During an August 29 interview with former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Jones paraphrased Stone’s comments and said that he had been “told” that Trump “really liked” them.
From the August 29 edition of Genesis Communications Network’s The Alex Jones Show:
ALEX JONES (HOST): I was told the president really liked Roger Stone’s clip on TMZ when they confronted him in an L.A. airport saying, "We’re going to impeach Trump." And he said, “Well you better watch out because I’m not calling for violence, but the left wants a violent revolution.” They got CIA guys on TV saying they’re going to kill him on CNN. Stone said, “You better watch out because there’s going to be a revolution.” I think they’ve pushed too far.
After building good rapport with far-right media figures and pro-Trump trolls, Dr. Kelli Ward, a Republican who is running to represent Arizona in the U.S. Senate, has gained the support of Fox News host Sean Hannity. Leading up to Hannity’s endorsement, Ward made wild claims about undocumented immigrants, rubbed elbows with white nationalists and racists, and smeared Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, including, at one point, blaming McCain for the creation of ISIS.
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show to thank Jones, his staff, and Roger Stone for influencing President Donald Trump into potentially issuing Arpaio a pardon following his recent criminal conviction.
A U.S. District Court judge convicted Arpaio of criminal contempt of court in July. He faces up to six months in jail for his refusal to comply with a court order that said he could no longer direct the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to engage in racially discriminatory practices against Latinos. Arpaio was defeated in his re-election bid for a seventh term in November.
CNN.com reported today that “the White House has prepared the paperwork for President Trump to pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio when he makes the final decision to do so.” During an August 22 rally in Arpaio’s home state of Arizona, Trump suggested a pardon was imminent, telling the crowd, "I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine. Okay? But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. Is that okay? All right? But Sheriff Joe can feel good."
During his August 23 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones said that he had been told Trump would pardon Arpaio.
Jones teased an “exclusive” interview with Arpaio and described how his case reached Trump’s desk, claiming it started with Infowars Washington bureau chief Jerome Corsi. According to Jones, “It’s Dr. Corsi writing the articles, and it’s Matt Drudge picked him up, and the president saw it in Matt Drudge’s Twitter feed, and then said, ‘Is this true? I haven’t even heard of this on Fox.’ And he called [Sean] Hannity up, and said, ‘Why aren’t you covering this?’”
Since at least April, Corsi has been publishing articles advancing Arpaio’s interests. Corsi wrote an Infowars.com piece in June headlined “Why Trump White House and Sessions DOJ must help Sheriff Arpaio.” On August 18, Corsi published an article that said “Infowars.com has learned the White House counsel has prepared, at the request of President Trump, a pardon for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio that is ready for Trump to sign.”
Arpaio opened his comments on Jones’ show by saying, “I want to thank you, Alex, and your staff, Jerry Corsi, Roger Stone, for bringing this story out and reaching the president. I supported him from, what, two years ago at the same forum that he did yesterday and I’m with him and I’m with him to the end.”
Jones floated the prospect of Arpaio joining the Trump administration during the interview, and Arpaio replied that he wasn’t wasn’t looking to join the administration but said, “If he called me, it would be very difficult for me to turn him down because I will do anything to help him out.”
Corsi, the author of Where's the Birth Certificate?: The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President, has repeatedly teamed up with Arpaio over the years in an effort to prove the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and had released a “fake” birth certificate.
Arpaio also backed Trump during his campaign for president. As the Los Angeles Times explained, Arpaio “had introduced Trump in his home state during the campaign, ridden in his plane and formed what Arpaio described as a warm relationship.”
Fringe outlets and fake news purveyors claim Charlottesville was staged to make conservatives look bad
Hyperpartisan media outlets, fake news purveyors, and fringe right-wing media figures are promoting a conspiracy theory that suggests that one of the white supremacist organizers of the rally in Charlottesville, VA, was really a “liberal double agent” who staged the rallies in order to “depict conservatives as white supremacists.”
On the weekend of August 11, white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville for an “alt-right” “Unite The Right” rally protesting the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Throughout the weekend, the neo-Nazi and white supremacist crowd carried torches and weapons and shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans. The rally turned deadly on Saturday when a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman.
Jason Kessler, a white supremacist who has previously written for and appeared in right-wing and far-right media outlets, was one of the main organizers of the gathering. But pro-Trump media and fake news purveyors are now spinning a sentence from a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) profile of Kessler to question whether Kessler is really a “liberal double agent.”
After pro-Trump outlet The Gateway Pundit drew attention to the SPLC report, which noted that “rumors abound on white nationalist forums that Kessler’s ideological pedigree before 2016 was less than pure and seem to point to involvement in the Occupy movement and past support for President Obama,” fringe right-wing media figures and hyperpartisan fake news purveyors quickly jumped on the claim. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who is also a host at the conspiracy theory outlet Infowars, tweeted the Gateway Pundit article, writing, “Oops ! Charlottesville “White Supremacist" was an Obama Supporter/Occupy protestor (sic) #fishy #falseflag #SorosOp.” Fake news purveyor Conservative Daily Post suggested the rally was organized by the left to “shatter Trump’s base and depict conservatives as white supremacists.”
This conspiracy theory picked up more steam after Breitbart also highlighted the mention from the SPLC report on rumors about Kessler’s past political leanings and his role in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Discredited author Dinesh D’Souza tweeted the Breitbart article, asking, “Could it be that the organizer of the #Charlottesville rally is a left-wing fascist pretending to be a right-winger?” He additionally tweeted, “The whole rally may have been staged to feed the mainstream media’s big lie that racism & fascism are on the right.” Fake news purveyor Right Wing News questioned if Kessler was “a plant and this whole thing a set up to pit Americans against each other.” Fake news purveyor YourNewsWire claimed that Kessler may be “a plant, inserted into the Trump Movement to find a way to take it down,” and argued he was possibly a “deep state operative.” And fake news purveyor Freedom Daily posited that Kessler was either so fed up with eight years of Obama that he “sw[ore] off an entire race … or he’s a liberal double agent.”
Users on online forums popular among the “alt-right” also jumped on the conspiracy theory. People on Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as /pol/) that have helped spread conspiracy theories previously wondered if Kessler was “planted by Soros/deep state,” claimed that Kessler was a “PLANT/OBAMA SHILL” who helped create a “professional staged event,” and wrote that the Charlottesville events were “all false flag protests.” One Reddit user even claimed he was the reason the SPLC report had spread to begin with.
The spread of this conspiracy theory among far-right figures, forums, and fake news purveyors is yet another example of how the fringe as an ecosystem spreads dubious claims, conspiracy theories, and lies, while simultaneously attacking perceived enemies.
Stone was one of the first to push conspiracy theories about Rich’s murder, and he has called on Rich’s parents to be “charged with obstruction” of the investigation into their son’s death
Roger Stone is doing damage control following the filing of a lawsuit alleging a scheme by Fox News and Trump administration officials -- including possibly the president himself -- to use the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich to absolve the Trump campaign of accusations it coordinated with Russia.
During an appearance on Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory program, Stone said that officials he has spoken to at the White House are calling the lawsuit “bogus” and that he thinks the lawsuit will be dismissed “summarily.”
Wheeler alleges that Zimmerman published fake quotations attributed to him in a since-retracted May 16 story about Rich, and that Trump administration officials, including the president himself, were involved in crafting the story. The retracted story suggested that Rich, rather than Russia, provided WikiLeaks with emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged to NPR that he did meet with Butowsky and Wheeler prior to the story’s publication. The lawsuit also alleges that Trump himself reviewed the Zimmerman story before it ran.
Rich was murdered in Washington, D.C., in July 2016 in what local police believe was a botched robbery attempt. Conspiracy theories began spreading within weeks of Rich’s death and percolated throughout fringe right-wing media for nearly a year before finally exploding into the national conversation thanks to Fox News host Sean Hannity, who continuously hyped Zimmerman’s May 16 report.
During the August 1 broadcast of conspiracy theory program The Alex Jones Show, Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, said, “My sources at Fox and my sources in the White House tell me that the lawsuit filed by the black private investigator, former D.C. police officer, is completely and totally bogus.” Stone also added that he thinks the lawsuit will be quickly dismissed.
Stone was one of the first prominent figures to promote conspiracy theories about Rich’s death.
On August 9, 2016, less than a month after Rich’s death, Stone included Rich in a group of four murdered people for whom he blamed the Clintons:
— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) August 9, 2016
In recent months, Stone has turned his sights on Rich’s parents, first calling their behavior regarding the investigation into their son’s death “suspicious,” and most recently saying that Rich’s “parents should be charged with obstruction" of the investigation.
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The chairman of a Republican Party group that’s hosting Roger Stone for two events in Arizona thinks Stone should stop trashing Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as treasonous -- but he’ll say that only in an email he sent to Media Matters by accident.
The Pima County Republican Party in Arizona is sponsoring two events with Stone on July 26. Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, is a professional smear merchant who will soon host his own program for fellow conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars network.
Both before and after it was announced on the evening of July 19 that McCain has brain cancer, Stone informed followers that his speech will feature attacks against McCain.
During a July 18 appearance on a Glendale, AZ, radio program, Stone said that McCain will “die in disgrace as his antics are exposed for the American people. He’s not a hero, he’s a traitor. It’s very sad.” He also claimed that McCain is “mentally ill” and should be investigated for treason. Stone concluded by encouraging listeners to attend the Pima event because they “need to know that [McCain] is mentally unbalanced” and is treasonous.
On July 19 -- prior to the announcement about McCain's cancer -- Stone said during The Alex Jones Show that the Pima event would be “the John McCain truth tour. I am going to be exposing John McCain’s -- not only his treacherous and, yes, treasonous activity when it comes to his betrayal of President Donald Trump, but I’m going to be exposing his own campaign’s contacts with the Russians. In other words, John McCain is exactly guilty of the exact thing that Donald Trump has been accused falsely of by the Arizona senator. I want to focus on Senator McCain and his fitness to be the United States for Arizona (sic).”
On July 17 and 23, Stone sent an email to his mailing list stating, “Guests should prepare for a scorching analysis of John McCain’s involvement in the deep state attacks on President Trump.” That announcement was originally posted to Stone's website on July 14.
Media Matters sent a request for comment to Pima County Republican Party chairman David Eppihimer asking whether he thought Stone’s promotion of the event was appropriate. He replied, in part: “I DON'T believe this promotion is appropriate and should be ceased immediately.”
Eppihimer intended to send that email to his first vice chair but misdirected it to Media Matters instead. When asked about the email, Eppihimer said he did not want to give a formal statement.
The Arizona Republican Party did not reply to requests for comment about whether it thought Stone’s promotion of the event was appropriate.
While Stone is primarily focused on smearing Democrats, he has also viciously attacked Republicans throughout his long career. He has repeatedly attacked commentator Ana Navarro with sexist and racist tweets; mocked columnist Charles Krauthammer for being paralyzed; accused the Bush family of running drugs; claimed Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was tied to John F. Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; and tweeted: “Religious fanatic Rick Santorum will never be President- I will order a mail-order rifle first.”