Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
Fringe media figures and outlets that support President Donald Trump are trying to scandalize former General Loretta Lynch’s use of an alias in her government emails, even though government officials have used the practice before, Lynch’s use of the alias had been disclosed last year, and the emails are still subject to records requests.
Kim Dotcom, a dubious figure known for spreading conspiracy theories, claimed on August 4 that Lynch may have used the alias Elizabeth Carlisle “to communicate with DOJ officials.” Dotcom based his claim on emails given to the conservative group American Center for Law And Justice (ACLJ) — where Trump attorney Jay Sekulow is the chief counsel — as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In his tweet, he added, “Dear Internet, investigate!” The next day, a user on the pro-Trump Reddit forum “r/The_Donald,” a forum known in the past to spread conspiracy theories, claimed that a death certificate showed that Lynch “used her grandmother’s maiden name as alias.”
The implication of wrongdoing by Lynch then reached Jim Hoft of the pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit, who wrote that “internet sleuth” Dotcom “dropped a bomb on Twitter,” and pointed to the “r/The_Donald” user who “discovered that Loretta Lynch used her grandmother’s maiden name ‘Lizzie Carlisle’ as her alias.” He added that Lynch “told Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) under oath that she only uses official email in November 2016 — after these above emails were sent,” concluding, “Lynch committed perjury.” The allegation also reached far-right conspiracy theory outlet Zero Hedge, which claimed that Lynch “has been busted”; far-right trolls Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec; and discredited birther Jerome Corsi of the conspiracy theory website Infowars. A few also alleged that Lynch had committed perjury. Another forum known for pushing conspiracy theories, 4chan’s “/pol/,” also hyped the alias and perjury allegation.
According to the think tank Alliance for Securing Democracy, which has a tool to track Russian-affiliated bots on Twitter, the stories targeting Lynch have been popular among those bots, which pushed both of The Gateway Pundit’s articles and Zero Hedge’s post.
Despite the nefarious implications, it was already public knowledge that Lynch used an alias with her government email. Additionally, the practice was routine for previous government employees. In February 2016, a Justice Department spokesperson said that Lynch “uses a government email account but also ‘does not use her given name in the handle of her email address,’” according to The Hill. In 2015, the Justice Department revealed that then-Attorney General Eric Holder used multiple email aliases in his government emails, and noted that because it was still a government email, “it is still preserved for recordkeeping.” (Indeed, this Lynch alias allegation came about specifically because ACLJ received the emails in a FOIA request.) Aides in President George W. Bush’s administration also used “secret alternate” addresses for emails, some of which were nongovernmental, according to Mother Jones.
Multiple fake news purveyors also hyped allegations of wrongdoing, with Mad World News calling it a “smoking gun” against Lynch, TruthFeed writing that Lynch “lied under oath” in “a clear case of perjury, completely intentional,” America’s Freedom Fighters claiming Lynch is “heading to prison,” and Liberty Writers urging readers to “share this everywhere to help bring Loretta Lynch down.” Other previous purveyors of fake news hyping the allegation included RedStateWatcher, Freedom Daily, USA Politics Today, World Politicus, Patriots On The Right, and GOP The Daily Dose.
All of these articles drew attention on Facebook: The two Gateway Pundit articles had at least 15,900 and 9,100 engagements, respectively; the Zero Hedge article, 3,300; Mad World News, 1,000; TruthFeed, 4,100; America’s Freedom Fighters, 1,300; Liberty Writers, 12,800; RedStateWatcher, 809; Freedom Daily, 11,000; World Politicus, 1,100; and GOP The Daily Dose, 93, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.
The far-right trolls, fringe outlets, and fake news purveyors teaming up to spread this allegation (aided by bots) provide yet another example of how fringe sources work together to spread dubious claims, conspiracy theories, and lies while attacking perceived enemies.
Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters