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Donald Trump and his conservative media allies throw themselves a little premature celebration
Today the Justice Department announced the indictment of 13 Russian individuals accused of breaking a whole panoply of laws as part of the Russian effort to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. The indictment itself is a hell of read -- it details a sophisticated and multilayered operation spanning several years that waged information warfare as part of a conspiracy to sow discord and chaos within the American political system. The Russians stole identities, created fake social media accounts, staged protests, bought political ads, and attempted to coordinate with political groups within the U.S.
“By early to mid-2016,” the indictment reads, the Russian defendants’ “operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton.” Some of the defendants, the indictment notes, “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”
For Trump’s most slavish defenders in the conservative press, one little word in that passage -- “unwitting” -- is prompting a good deal of celebration. It proves, they argue, that no one in the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russia in the 2016 election, and that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is a farce that needs to be shut down.
Sean Hannity tweeted “No collusion” and linked to an article on his website with the blaring headline: “NO COLLUSION: Mueller Indictment Says TRUMP CAMPAIGN Unaware of Russian Meddling.” Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton tweeted: “Big Mueller indictment of Russians confirms ‘unwitting’ involvement of Trump campaign with disguised Russian operatives. No collusion. Shut it down.”
Republicans are also eagerly jumping on this line of argument. The White House put out a statement saying the special counsel’s investigation indicates “there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia.” During an appearance on Fox News, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said, “Today marks the day that the Democrats’ Russia collusion conspiracy theory unraveled.”
Of course, the indictment doesn’t demonstrate that at all, and the Justice Department was very careful in how it addressed the issue of American involvement in the Russian election conspiracy. In fact, everyone celebrating the exoneration of Trump very well may be spiking the football on the 25-yard line.
Conservatives from Hannity and the RNC on down are conveniently ignoring the fact that this is just one indictment from an investigation that is still ongoing. The indictment indicates that Trump-associated political operatives were unwitting participants in this specific series of alleged criminal activities. It does not say that the illegal actions it describes encompass the entirety of the Russian election-meddling campaign. There very well may be more indictments on the way, and they could be related to known instances of Russian interference that today’s indictment didn’t touch on at all: the hacking of the DNC’s emails, the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting, etc.
During his press conference announcing today’s indictment, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was extremely careful and unfailingly precise in how he described the involvement by Americans in the alleged Russian criminal conspiracy. “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said (emphasis added). When asked what relationship Trump campaign officials had to the Russian conspiracy, Rosenstein again applied the same precise language. “There’s no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge.”
And that’s to say nothing of the possibility that Trump-associated people could still be charged with other crimes discovered in the course of Mueller’s investigation: money laundering, obstruction, fraud, etc. Mueller is reportedly on the verge of flipping another senior Trump campaign official, which certainly indicates that Trumpworld could still be in for a whole lot of legal trouble.
Of course, no one has any real concrete idea of what will happen. Well, no one except Robert Mueller and his team, who are still investigating. Regardless, the president hopped onto Twitter this afternoon to join the (possibly premature) celebration and proudly transmit the fact that Russia’s “anti-US campaign” -- the existence of which he’d refused to acknowledge up to this point -- got rolling long before he even became a presidential candidate:
Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018
So, Trump is touting as good news the fact that Russia’s election interference campaign didn’t start with him, but rather identified his candidacy as an asset to be exploited. One starts to think that the president and his allies don’t really think too far in advance before they begin celebrating.
The Republican Party has increasingly created and used political microsites designed to look like local news sites as a political tactic. Here’s why that’s bad for democracy.
Last fall, Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward touted an endorsement from the Arizona Monitor on her Facebook page. Ward’s campaign must have really liked the endorsement because it reprinted it in full on her campaign website. But what is the Arizona Monitor? Is it a local news site? A blog covering local politics in Arizona? Or is it something else entirely?
A Politico investigation found that the Arizona Monitor “launched just a few weeks before publishing the endorsement, and its domain registration is hidden, masking the identity of its owner. On its Facebook page, it is classified as a news site, but scant other information is offered.” Inquiries to Arizona politicos didn’t turn up anything either, with some telling the outlet that “they could only scratch their heads” and were befuddled by the site’s background.
There’s nothing wrong with a local political blog supporting Ward’s campaign, or Ward’s team touting a friendly endorsement on her campaign website and social media. But political campaigns are notoriously overcautious about what they post on social media. Campaigns don’t normally highlight an endorsement from entities no one has heard of, especially when it launched just a few weeks prior. Politico noted that Ward denied any knowledge about the site on Facebook. Given that, there are two obvious questions: Is Arizona Monitor a phony news site meant to fool voters on Kelli Ward’s behalf? If so, who exactly is paying for it?
We may never know who was behind the Arizona Monitor, as the site crumbled quickly after coming under scrutiny. Initially, it posted an article defending itself, but as I was writing this the website was deleted, as well as the site’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Local political blogs don’t generally operate this way; they relish being attacked by larger media outlets (the posture Arizona Monitor initially took) and do not disappear suddenly when attacked. Given its hasty exit from the internet, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that Arizona Monitor was some kind of front.
Republican campaigns and entities creating campaign microsites designed to look like local news sites to support their candidates is nothing new. In 2014, the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) created a series of phony news sites meant to mimic local news sites. The sites included a disclaimer at the bottom but otherwise made no indication that they were the product of a Republican campaign committee. An NRCC spokesperson at the time called it a “new and effective way to disseminate information to voters.” And last year, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) tried its hand at running its own microsite disguised as news site. As Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz noted at the time:
FreeTelegraph.com resembles any of a host of hyperpartisan conservative websites that purport to share news. The website’s home page and articles emphasize social media sharing buttons and large photos; the pieces are brief and feature block quotes from other sources instead of original reporting or commentary. But while most right-wing hyperpartisan sites feature pieces supporting President Donald Trump and savaging his foes, FreeTelegraph.com employs a single-minded focus, with every article aiming to praise a Republican governor or gubernatorial candidate or criticize a Democratic one, with a particular focus on GOP targets in Virginia (24 articles), Connecticut (13), and Rhode Island (11).
The website is still active.
In Maine, the state Democratic Party recently filed a complaint with the state’s ethics agency alleging that the Maine Examiner, an anonymously owned news site covering Maine politics, made illegal expenditures in a local mayor’s race and that they might have coordinated with the Maine Republican Party as well.
More recently, Politico reported that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), apparently not content to let the NRCC handle his fake news needs, has a phony news site entirely paid for by his campaign committee. The website CARepublican.com, which Nunes refused to discuss with Politico, has a proper, if tiny, disclaimer but no other indication that it is a campaign website rather than an actual local news site or blog.
But my personal favorite political phony news proprietor is GOP political consultant Dan Backer, who’s turned fake news into a money maker for his pro-Trump super PACs by using them to drive email sign ups and donations. A BuzzFeed investigation last summer found:
Along with AAN [American Action News], Backer or his company, DB Capitol Strategies, is listed as the owner of conservative news domains AmericanUpdate.com, TrumpTrainNews.com, and GOPPresidential.com. Two other news sites — Truedaily.news and ICYMInews.com — link out heavily to the Backer-connected web properties, and use the same Google AdSense and Analytics codes as AAN and the three other sites. Truedaily.news and ICYMInews.com are also hosted on the same server as GOPPresidential.com — yet another piece of evidence to suggest they too are part of the network of sites connected to Backer. (The server in question hosts only those three websites.)
Backer’s political fake news game is a whole new level, combining grassroots digital engagement with clickbait to build lists of supporters his super PACs can message and activate.
Last week, I wrote about how Trump supporters share the most “junk news” online. Given that, it would seem predictable that Republicans would skip the middleman and just create the content themselves. Even better if they can use said content to raise funds for their political activities.
But what might work for the Republican Party in the short term is terrible for democracy. A recent Knight News/Gallup survey found trust in media and views on what is or isn’t fake news was increasingly viewed through a partisan lens. Whereas liberals and Democrats get their news from more mainstream media outlets, conservatives increasingly rely on only right and far-right sources in their news consumption. News sites -- run by the GOP about the GOP -- risk shrinking that filter bubble even further. If this trend continues, and phony GOP news sites increase in popularity, conservatives could reach a point where much of the political news they consume would come directly from the Republican Party and associated campaign committees.
Geller was purporting to show anti-police violence by migrants in Italy, but the video was debunked in 2014
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.
The conspiracy theory, which was debunked by WSJ and others, was heavily pushed by Fox News and other right-wing outlets
The latest right-wing media ‘scandal,’ has completely fallen apart after The Wall Street Journal and others debunked several facets of the story. Fox News spent the day pushing Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) claim that a text message between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok referring to preparing talking points that then-FBI Director James Comey would use to brief then-President Barack Obama, implied an interference by Obama in the FBI’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server. Right-wing media, heavily led by Fox News, and other mainstream outlets ran with the claim, despite the fact that there was no active investigation into Clinton’s emails at the time the text message in question was sent.
Far-right sympathizers are using 4chan to encourage people to distribute anti-immigrant propaganda and attend rallies in support of Sweden’s xenophobic political party
A post on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board contains instructions to help spread a campaign to influence the upcoming Swedish election by reaching out on Reddit to “redpilled Swedes” (the red pill is a popular “alt-right” meme to describe far-right ideological converts), attending rallies of the anti-immigrant nationalist party Sweden Democrats (SD), and distributing pro-SD propaganda both online and in Sweden.
Sweden is holding a general election in September 2018 to elect members of Sweden’s law-making body, the Riksdag, led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who hopes to win another term. Though Löfven’s party is ahead, his coalition partners are struggling, and the anti-immigrant Nazi-linked Sweden Democrat party, now polling third in Sweden, is slated to make some gains.
Though many 4chan campaigns are launched primarily to troll the left and create chaos with limited influence outside of the online message boards, this Swedish campaign resembles the far-right strategy to sow global discord through anti-globalist organizing. Last year, in what is now considered a cautionary tale of 4chan’s role in the disinformation ecosystem, a 4chan campaign that disseminated fake documents to smear Emmanuel Macron, the current president of France, was eventually referenced by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen herself. A similar campaign was attempted during the 2017 German elections, though to less effect. In addition to Sweden, 2018 is a crowded election year across Europe, with rising nationalist leaders competing in high stakes elections in Italy and Hungary later this year. Just last week, the Czech Republic elected its xenophobic, populist leader to a second term. His opponent’s campaign was marred by false accusations levied on social media and attacks on his pro-immigration stance with billboards like “Stop immigrants and Drahoš! This country is ours.”
The ongoing 4chan campaign is characterizing the upcoming Swedish election as “the last chance Sweden has to stop itself from falling over the edge,” stoking fears of immigration and multiculturalism. It’s calling for support of the Sweden Democrats because “we need the SD to start putting Sweden right and push the overton window.” Pushing the “Overton Window” (a concept that describes the spectrum of what’s acceptable to say) to make hate speech that targets ethnic groups or immigrants acceptable again, has become part of the crusade of white supremacists. The 4chan campaign also describes a plan to put up posters in “leftist strongholds and areas with high immigration” on January 31, as well as attend SD leader Jimmie Åkesson’s rallies to show support.
The post also included “resources” in the form of articles from Swedish hate sites Fria Tider and Samhällsnytt (a site previously known as Avpixlat and linked to Sweden Democrats) and a repository of anti-immigrant posters and memes like “It’s OK to be Swedish,” a take on the American white nationalist meme, “It’s OK to be white,” which was also born on 4chan. The propaganda mirrors the weaponization of memes that has become a popular tactic in the United States, where far-right and “alt-right” trolls have not only deployed memes to attack political candidates they opposed online, but started “meme wars” that translated into real-world harassment campaigns against journalists.
Although the most recent posting about the campaign is from January 31, a YouTube video embedded in the post discussing the campaign alluded to a similar, archived 4chan post from January 6. There are several additional archived posts on the subject, one of which indicates support for the NMR, the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, but ultimately identifies Sweden Democrats as a more politically viable choice. The initial campaign appears to have been launched December 16, 2017.
In the video entitled “Election year in Sweden,” a YouTube personality known as Angry Foreigner commented that the “information war will be taken to new levels” in the run-up to Sweden’s 2018 election, lamented the so-called censorship of “alternative media,” and called for his audience to “get more active in real life,” by spreading propaganda through posters and memes as laid out by the 4chan post. A January 24 edition of the 4chan thread acknowledged Angry Foreigner’s “shout out,” claiming that it’s “really helped the visibility of the campaign.” The campaign also seeks a partner in Swedish YouTube celebrity troll and far-right darling PewDiePie, though the hashtag #PewDiePieForSweden has gotten almost no traction on Twitter.
Less than three months ago, 4chan trolls launched a hoax campaign to change the Swedish flag in order to mock proponents of multiculturalism, consistent with the online far-right ethos of “triggering the libs.” That campaign spread to the pro-Trump subreddit /r/The_Donald and conspiracy website Infowars before the petition that spurred the campaign was removed.
Arpaio has repeatedly given interviews to the anti-Semitic American Free Press
Racist and disgraced former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is now running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican, recently gave an interview to a publication that’s pushed claims that the Holocaust is a “hoax” and 9/11 was a “Jewish” plot.
The American Free Press wrote in its January 29 & February 5 issue that Arpaio “spoke to AFP Jan. 21 in an exclusive interview about his recently announced bid” for Arizona’s Senate seat. During the interview with "roving editor" Mark Anderson, Arpaio promoted the viability of his candidacy and defended President Donald Trump’s agenda.
Civil rights groups have heavily criticized American Free Press over the years. The Anti-Defamation League described American Free Press as "an anti-Semitic conspiracy-oriented publication." The Southern Poverty Law Center stated that the outlet is "racist and anti-Semitic."
Media Matters has documented that American Free Press has repeatedly published blatantly false claims that the Holocaust is a “hoax” and other anti-Semitic content (the site scrubbed some of its posts about the Holocaust following Media Matters criticism). Headlines on the site have included:
The site’s bookstore has sold The Holocaust Never Happened & The CIA Killed JFK, a book that claims to “destroy the hoax of the 6 million Jewish victims of Nazi Germany,” and another book that claims, "The official narrative of the Holocaust cannot be sustained.”
Arpaio has repeatedly given interviews to American Free Press, including when Trump pardoned him last year after Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court for deliberately violating a judge's order regarding his racial profiling of the Latino community.
CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Chris Massie reported last week that Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), who is also running for Senate, gave an interview to American Free Press in 2006. Mark Anderson conducted that interview as well.
The FBI is investigating whether Russian money was illegally funnelled through the National Rifle Association (NRA) and spent on activities to support the election of Donald Trump as president.
Citing two sources, McClatchy reported on January 18 that “FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA.”
Noting that the NRA’s spending on the 2016 presidential race dwarfed the association’s previous efforts, McClatchy reported that at this time “the extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned.”
The McClatchy article also corroborated previous reporting by Bloomberg on Torshin’s involvement in money laundering in Spain, revealing that the news outlet has reviewed a summary of a “still-secret report” that “links Torshin to Russian money laundering and describes him as a godfather in a major Russian criminal organization called Taganskaya.”
Media Matters’ routine monitoring of NRATV, the NRA’s news outlet and chief messaging mechanism, has found that the gun group has largely avoided the Trump-Russia collusion issue. (One exception was in February 2017 when an NRATV segment claimed that the reporting on the issue was a “concerted effort with Obama loyalists” who are “trying to destroy America from the inside.”)
The NRA has, however, denied illegal ties with Russia. In a July 2017 video focused on attacking The Washington Post, NRATV host Grant Stinchfield said that “for years” the paper “has tarnished gun owners in an effort to take away our Second Amendment freedoms. The fake news outlet even went so far as to make the blatantly false claim that the NRA had illegal ties to Russia.” (The article in question described relationships between the NRA, Torshin, and other Kremlin-connected Russians, but did not allege illegality.)
Ladd Everitt, the director of gun safety group One Pulse for America, has written extensively about ties between Torshin, the NRA, and Trump. According to his research, Torshin attended the NRA annual meeting for four consecutive years beginning in 2013 after forging a relationship with past NRA president and conservative activist David Keene. In 2016, Torshin was introduced to and spoke with Donald Trump, Jr. during a private dinner at the NRA’s annual meeting where the gun organization endorsed Trump for president.
@i_korotchenko Д.Трамп сторонник традиционных семейных ценностей. Член NRA. Видел его в Нэшвилле (апрель с.г.).
— А.П. Торшин (@torshin_ru) August 23, 2015
Additionally, according to Everitt, “The NRA has also gone to Moscow, most notably in a December 2015 trip to meet with Torshin and Russian defense minister Dmitry Rogozin. The large NRA delegation included Keene, radical sheriff David A. Clarke and gun manufacturer Pete Brownell.” Brownell is now the president of the NRA.
The McClatchy report comes amid the NRA’s full-blown attack against Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who recently criticized Trump. Even though Flake has been a key NRA ally in blocking overwhelmingly popular gun safety legislation, after he criticized Trump in a speech, NRATV reacted by heavily promoting a video that labeled the U.S. senator a “turncoat” and called him the new “Dmitri Shepilov, Stalin’s leader of Pravda and head of the state propaganda division.”
The disgraced former sheriff recently announced he is running for Senate
On January 9, former Maricopa County, AZ, Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced a run for Senate, seeking to replace Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who is not running for re-election. Arpaio’s candidacy will undoubtedly be accompanied by controversy, given his long track record of incredible cruelty, racism, and extremism, as well as his clear failings as a sheriff and his criminal conviction for violating a court order regarding his racial profiling of suspected immigrants. But following Arpaio’s announcement, Arizona news programs failed to inform the voters of just how unfit Arpaio is to hold high office.
Media Matters reviewed the local 10 p.m. newscasts of nine stations in Yuma, Phoenix, and Tucson between January 9, when Arpaio announced his candidacy, and January 12. The results of the study reveal that the stations largely failed to report on Arpaio’s history of bigotry and abuse, with some not noting his connections to extremists and birtherism. Media Matters found:
Arpaio’s record as a sheriff is littered with ineptitude and lawlessness. He has a long history of treating prisoners in a “humiliating and inhumane” way, especially at his outdoor Tent City jail, which “stood within a larger jail compound” near Phoenix and has been repeatedly referred to as a “concentration camp.” Inmates at the jail were forced to live in searing temperatures of up to 141 degrees and fed rotten food, and female inmates were “denied basic sanitary items.” Arpaio used webcams to broadcast scenes from the jail including a feed “that showed female inmates using a toilet,” and singled out inmates of color for some of the most brutal abuse.
Outside of Tent City, Arpaio showed incredible disdain for victims of abuse and flouted the law himself. During his tenure as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arpaio’s department failed to properly investigate hundreds of sex crimes between 2005 and 2007, many of which involved children. In one city, El Mirage, Arpaio, who has described himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” neglected to follow through on at least 32 reported child molestations, “with victims as young as two,” even when “suspects were known in all but six cases.” In 2017, Arpaio himself was convicted of criminal contempt of court for deliberately violating a court order to stop his department’s racial profiling. President Donald Trump later pardoned him.
Arpaio’s commitment to systemic discrimination should come as no surprise to anyone with knowledge of his long history of racism and bigotry. Arpaio was an early pusher of birtherism, the baseless conspiracy theory which Trump also pushed, that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
Arpaio has also developed close ties to extremists and conspiracy theorists. Shortly before Trump pardoned him, Arpaio thanked conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for getting his story to the president. (Jones has claimed that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was an “inside job.”) And after he received the pardon, Arpaio gave an interview to a publication that denies the Holocaust and is edited by a 9/11 truther.
But Media Matters' review of the local 10 p.m. newscasts in Yuma, Phoenix, and Tucson found that the local TV news coverage largely failed to report on these past misdeeds.
Phoenix’s ABC15 News at 10:
The 10 p.m. newscasts of Yuma’s KSWT CBS 13, Tucson’s CBS affiliate KOLD and NBC’s 12 News in Phoenix did note that Arpaio’s conviction was related to racial profiling or mentioned his history of profiling, but none of these stations reported on his history of inmate abuse, his failure to investigate sex crimes, or his connections to extremists. Two stations, Phoenix’s ABC15 News and Phoenix’s NBC 12 News, did discuss Arpaio’s promotion of birtherism, but they noted Arpaio’s connection to the racist conspiracy theory only after he appeared on CNN on January 10 and reasserted his belief in it.
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More than a dozen Fox hosts and contributors have been raising funds for Republican Party organizations around the country since Donald Trump was elected president, according to a Media Matters review.
Fox hosts and contributors have been some of President Trump’s loudest supporters, using the network to push his agenda and attack his critics. Trump, in turn, has rewarded the network with regular interviews and praise.
While Fox personalities’ on-air support for Trump and his party is open and well-documented, many of those same hosts and contributors have also been working off-air to raise critical funds for state and local GOP organizations. In addition to aligning themselves with Trump, those organizations provide backing and resources to Republican candidates when they run for office.
The Fox personalities include hosts Lou Dobbs (Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight), Greg Gutfeld (Fox News' The Five and The Greg Gutfeld Show), Pete Hegseth (Fox News' Fox & Friends Weekend), and Jeanine Pirro (Justice with Judge Jeanine), and Fox News contributors John Bolton, David Bossie, Rachel Campos-Duffy, Jason Chaffetz, Sebastian Gorka, Mike Huckabee, Alveda King, Ed Rollins, Karl Rove, and Allen West.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham also headlined an October fundraiser for Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward. The New York Times reported at the time that “Fox News hosts are not usually allowed to stump for candidates, but Ms. Ingraham was granted an exception because her show had not yet begun” (Ingraham was a Fox News contributor and frequent guest host prior to starting The Ingraham Angle). But Fox's reported prohibition against hosts stumping for candidates is meaningless given that they're allowed to raise funds for political parties that help those very same candidates.
Keynoting fundraisers can be potentially lucrative for media personalities, according to available campaign finance data. The Larimer County Republican Party in Colorado paid Premiere Speakers Bureau, which represents Pete Hegseth, a total of $5,000 in speaking fees around the time of the event Hegseth was headlining. Jeanine Pirro has received fees ranging from roughly $5,000 to $15,000 from state and local branches of the GOP. The Manatee County GOP paid a $25,000 “fee” to Washington Speakers Bureau, which exclusively represents Dobbs, a few months before its event with the pro-Trump host. It also paid roughly $2,300 for travel expenses to the bureau shortly after the event.
A common theme among the Republican fundraisers is the use of Fox News’ branding and notoriety to sell tickets.
Fox considers these personalities as part of the network’s opinion side as opposed to its “news” side -- a largely meaningless distinction given how often the two sides blur together on the network. Trump himself treats Fox & Friends as a leading source of information. And Fox's opinion-side personalities have gotten numerous interviews with the president. For instance, both Hegseth and Pirro have interviewed Trump on their Fox News programs. Lou Dobbs also conducted a softball interview with the president. (Huckabee interviewed Trump though their talk aired on the former Republican governor's Trinity Broadcasting Network program.)
Media Matters has documented over the years how Fox News hosts and commentators actively help Republican-aligned groups grow their coffers at partisan events. In 2010, for instance, Sean Hannity keynoted a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner that “raised over $7 million.”
The following is a non-comprehensive list of Fox News personalities who have headlined or have been scheduled to headline 2017-2018 fundraisers for Republican Party organizations.
Republican Central Committee of Harford County (MD); St. Mary's County Republican Central Committee (MD); Washington County Republican Central Committee (MD); Wicomico County Republican Central Committee and the Salisbury University College Republicans (MD).
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In the December special election for Alabama’s open Senate seat, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore. Moore was singularly unfit for office and perhaps the only Republican capable of losing a Senate race in such a deep-red state, a privilege he earned not only due to allegations of child molestation, but also as a result of his long history of unfettered bigotry. Moore built a career on odious opinions, often taking racist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and misogynistic stances, sometimes doing so while flouting the law. And yet, despite Moore’s obvious and profound flaws as a candidate, he drew loyal and ferocious support from the toxic right-wing website Breitbart.com and its executive chairman, Steve Bannon.
Bannon was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Moore’s campaign, starting with the Republican primary in which Moore faced then-Sen. Luther Strange. Strange had the backing of the Republican establishment and the endorsement of President Donald Trump, but Bannon continued to stand by Moore, campaigning for him as Breitbart worked to paint Strange as the choice of the swampy Republican establishment.
On November 9, just over a month before the general election, Breitbart warned its readers that The Washington Post planned on “targeting” Moore by accusing him of “inappropriate conduct with four teenage girls 34 years ago” in an article descriptively titled “After Endorsing Democrat in Alabama, Bezos’s Washington Post Plans to Hit Roy Moore with Allegations of Inappropriate Relations with Teenagers; Judge Claims Smear Campaign.” The outlet functioned essentially as Moore's outsourced public relations partner, enthusiastically defending Moore up until election day, and Bannon even journeyed to Alabama to campaign for him. It was to no avail, of course. Bannon and Breitbart went to the mat for Moore, but they lost.
In the aftermath of the Alabama election, many conservatives blamed Bannon for the embarrassing loss. Yet Bannon’s attempts, however bumbling, to shake up American politics and wage a “bloody civil war” against the Republican “establishment” didn’t end with Moore. Here are some of the other racist, conspiratorial, and misinforming candidates Bannon has thrown his weight behind.
Former state senator and right-wing favorite Kelli Ward is running for the Senate seat in Arizona currently held by Sen. Jeff Flake, who announced his retirement in October. Ward challenged Sen. John McCain for his seat in 2016 but lost the Republican primary.
Ward has a long history of cozying up to far-right extremists, conspiracy theorists, and serial misinformers. In March 2016, she appeared on Alex Jones’ extremist show Infowars, where Jones often makes conspiratorial and revolting claims, including that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was an “inside job.” Ward promised to return to Infowars after her election as a U.S. senator. Several months later, Ward, as a guest on on Trunews, a radio show hosted by Rick Wiles, claimed that Americans living along the U.S. southern border were being “terrorized” by immigrants. Wiles is a conspiracy theorist who, according to Right Wing Watch, argued that the Ebola epidemic could “be a good thing if it ends up giving an ‘attitude adjustment’ to all the gays and atheists, along with people who use pornography or have had an abortion.” Wiles also attempted to cast former President Barack Obama as the “antichrist” and a “stealth jihadist.”
In July 2016, Ward appeared at the pro-Trump “America First Unity Rally” in Cleveland, OH. The rally featured speakers and hosts who, as Media Matters noted at the time, had previously made racist and sexist attacks against opponents, called for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ executions, openly discriminated against minorities, led the movement that claims the 9/11 attacks were an "inside job," and alleged that Obama and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) were not American citizens.
Beyond her associations, Ward has a history of supporting extremist policies and making inflammatory statements. While serving in the Arizona state legislature, Ward tried to prohibit enforcement of federal gun laws in the state and asked then-Gov. Jan Brewer to send the Arizona National Guard to the state’s borders to “prevent busloads full of illegal aliens from entering Arizona.” In 2015, Ward compared the Affordable Care Act to slavery.
In the aftermath of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, during which a neo-Nazi allegedly murdered a young woman named Heather Heyer, Ward called for “both sides” to stop the hate, violence, & rhetoric.” Ward’s failure to appropriately condemn white nationalist violence is particularly poignant given that William Johnson, a white nationalist political party leader, claimed that Ward called him during her 2016 campaign to ask for his support.
In October, Bannon endorsed Ward’s current run for Senate, and has appeared alongside her on the campaign trail. Ward also often appears on Breitbart’s bigoted and misogynistic morning radio show, Breitbart News Daily.
In April 2014, Grimm was charged with tax evasion in relation to a Manhattan restaurant he had owned. He initially pled not guilty and refused to resign, even getting re-elected that November. A month after his re-election, however, Grimm pled guilty to tax evasion and resigned from Congress. He served seven months in prison. Grimm has painted a conspiratorial picture of his indictment. In 2017, he suggested to New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch was offered that job in exchange for his prosecution. “Anyone who thinks it’s an accident or a coincidence that two months into my indictment, she’s the attorney general, is not realistic,” he told Nuzzi, who noted that Grimm first aired this theory on a Breitbart radio show. Before his indictment, in 2012, according to The New Yorker, Grimm also “publicly insinuated that political forces arrayed against him had broken into his office to gain access to computer files,” when the break-in was actually the doing of a teenager who did not touch the computers.
Despite his high-profile resignation, Grimm might be better known for a different controversy. In January 2014, following Obama’s State of the Union address, Grimm was caught on camera threatening to throw a reporter off the “fucking balcony,” saying, “You're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy.” Grimm later apologized to the reporter for “overreact[ing].” The New Yorker reported that years earlier, during his time as an FBI agent, Grimm had been accused of improperly flashing his weapon in a nightclub, and urging all “white people” to leave as things escalated.
Despite Grimm’s problematic history, Bannon endorsed him in October.
Former Rep. Tom Tancredo is running for governor of Colorado in 2018. Tancredo has close ties to white supremacists and has a long history of racist and bigoted behavior.
This will be Tancredo’s third bid for Colorado’s highest office. During Tancredo’s time in the House, he repeatedly proved himself to be a racist, anti-immigrant bigot. Tancredo once said that undocumented immigrants are “coming here to kill you and to kill me and our families” and proposed legislation that would have temporarily barred all legal immigration. In 2007, Tancredo suggested that the United States declare that if there was another terrorist attack in the country, the U.S. would bomb “the holy sites in Mecca and Medina” in Saudi Arabia. And during his laughable presidential campaign, he aired campaign ads that claimed “open borders” were responsible for “vicious central American gangs” and “jihadists who froth with hate” roaming freely in the United States.
Since leaving office in 2009, Tancredo has embedded himself into right-wing media circles. He is a columnist at Breitbart, and, according to Bannon, is “one of the top immigration experts in this country” whose columns “for Breitbart are just amazing.” The columns Bannon praised regularly demonize immigrants as dangerous and disloyal invaders, with headlines such as “Mexico Is Sending Us Colonists, Not Immigrants,” “European Colonization, Not Refugee Resettlement,” and “Illegal Alien? Congratulations! You Get a Get Out of Jail Free Card!”
In addition to his work at Breitbart, Tancredo has also written extensively for right-wing conspiracy site WND (WorldNetDaily), and has been published at VDare, an anti-immigrant site that multiple news outlets and the Southern Poverty Law Center have identified as “white nationalist.” Tancredo had also been scheduled to appear at two VDare conferences, but both events were canceled when the venues learned more about the organization. After the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado pulled out of an agreement to host VDare’s 2018 conference, Tancredo blasted the state's Republican Party for failing to speak out in defense of VDare’s right to “free speech.” Tancredo told the website Colorado Politics that he was “so mad” at Republicans for failing to speak out that he was mulling a run for governor, claiming that it wouldn’t “take much to push” him into the race.
While Bannon has not yet formally endorsed Tancredo, he did meet with him to discuss a run before Tancredo announced his candidacy. Breitbart noted the meeting in an article about Tancredo’s decision to run, referring to the former congressman and Breitbart columnist as a “strong advocate against illegal immigration.”
Republican Scott Wagner is running for governor of Pennsylvania in 2018 after spending his tenure in the state legislature attacking the media and spreading misinformation.
In May 2017, police were called after Wagner forcibly took the video equipment of a tracker (a person paid by opposition forces to shadow opposing candidates, a routine practice during campaigns) during a campaign event. After Wagner grabbed the camera, the tracker approached the candidate while filming on his phone. Wagner attempted to stop the man from filming him and the tracker accused Wagner of assault and claimed that the state senator had bloodied his finger. The police were called after the incident, but no charges have been filed. After receiving criticism for his actions, Wagner condemned the “fake news media” for “attacking” him and attempted to use the incident to grow his email listserv.
Wagner is also a climate change denialist. According to Wagner, climate change may be the result of the Earth “moving closer to the sun,” as well as, “heat coming off” human bodies. (PolitiFact has rated Wagner’s claims as false.) In 2014, the state senator also compared unions to Adolf Hitler and Russian President Vladimir Putin, later apologizing for the “unfortunate analogy." Wagner has also drawn ire for referring to Democratic donor George Soros as a "Hungarian Jew" with a "hatred of America.” Despite being called out for the anti-Semitic remark, Wagner refused to apologize, claiming he meant no offense and that “everyone's getting their knickers around their ankles.”
Bannon has openly supported Wagner’s run; he told a crowd in September that “we’re going to start taking” back the country “in November when Scott Wagner runs.”
Corey Stewart is running for Senate in Virginia after losing the 2017 Republican gubernatorial primary.
Stewart, who was Virginia state co-chairman of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, has heavily courted the “alt-right.” Shortly after he was fired from his position in October 2016 for taking part in a protest against the Republican National Committee, Stewart gave an interview to Mike Cernovich, a far-right troll who has a history of promoting conspiracy theories. During the interview, Cernovich said that “he calls establishment Republicans ‘cucks’ because ‘they like to see Trump get screwed over by the media, that's what they get off on.’” Stewart replied, “Yeah, I would agree.” The term “cuck,” short for “cuckservative,” is widely used within “alt-right” circles. Stewart additionally did a question-and-answer session on the subreddit “r/The_Donald,” a far-right forum. In February 2017, Stewart attended an event put on by “Unity & Security for America,” a group run by white supremacist Jason Kessler who would, months later, organize the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA.
Stewart himself drew condemnation for his response to the rally in Charlottesville. According to The Washington Post, Stewart “said white nationalists had been unfairly singled out for their role in the weekend chaos,” and “blamed ‘half the violence’ on counterprotesters.” Stewart also slammed fellow Republicans who he claimed “couldn’t apologize fast enough” after the rally. Stewart’s comments, which inspired local NAACP leaders to call for his resignation from the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors, are particularly noteworthy in light of his stalwart defense of the confederate flag and other confederate symbols. During his campaign for governor, he brought a confederate flag into a shot while recording a Facebook live segment, and declared, “Folks, this is a symbol of heritage. It is not a symbol of racism. It is not a symbol of slavery.” Stewart later claimed “ISIS has won” after a confederate monument was taken down in New Orleans.
Bannon has praised Stewart extensively. In November, Bannon claimed that “Stewart is the reason” Ed Gillespie, who defeated Stewart in the Republican gubernatorial primary before losing the general election, “is going to win” because “it was the Trump-Stewart talking points that got Gillespie close and even maybe to victory. It was embracing Trump’s agenda as personified by Corey’s platform.” Bannon also said, “The only way to beat [Virginia Sen. Tim] Kaine next year is with a full-on Trump agenda, and by nationalizing the race with a candidate like Corey Stewart.”
One soldier in Bannon's war on the establishment, Wisconsin congressional candidate Paul Nehlen, recently lost Breitbart and Bannon's public support after a series of explicitly bigoted tweets. Nehlen is running for Congress in 2018, the second time he has tried to unseat Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Breitbart and Bannon enthusiastically supported Nehlen, who has a long and well-established record of unapologetic bigotry and extremism, during his 2016 run against Ryan. In the run-up to that election, Breitbart published close to 30 pieces of content shilling for Nehlen, and Bannon referred to him as the “David to Paul Ryan’s Goliath.” In the aftermath of Nehlen’s overwhelming loss, Bannon hosted him on his radio show, treating him “like a hero” and literally professing his love for him. Breitbart’s love for Nehlen apparently ended, however, after Nehlen fired off a series of anti-Semitic tweets, drawing the condemnation of pro-Trump conservatives. Rebel TV host John Cardillo claimed he’d “spoken to Team Bannon” and said they "were shocked and disgusted.”
Despite the reported shock of his loyal supporter, Nehlen’s anti-Semitism was anything but sudden. His ties to white nationalism and the “alt-right” have long been clear, as reported by HuffPost and Salon. Nehlen has a habit of aggressively responding to his critics with arguments such as “eat a bullet” or “self deport,” and his bigotry can also be seen in his approach to national security policies. Nehlen even campaigned with Bannon for Moore in Alabama on the night before Moore's defeat.