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Right-Wing Media Echo Trump's Claim That FBI 'Planted Evidence' At Estate

The baseless claim that the FBI may have planted evidence while carrying out a court-approved search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence on Monday has surged through right-wing media, as the former president’s allies continue their effort to turn their audiences against the probe and shield Trump from accountability.

The FBI searched the premises after obtaining a warrant from a federal magistrate judge and “removed a number of boxes of documents” as part of a federal investigation into whether Trump had illegally “taken a trove of material with him to his home at Mar-a-Lago when he left the White House that included sensitive documents – and then, in the Justice Department’s view, had failed to fully comply with requests that he return the disputed material,” the New York Times reported. Politico concluded after consulting with legal experts on the handling of classified documents that “it’s highly unlikely the DOJ would have pursued – and a judge would have granted – such a politically explosive search warrant without extraordinary evidence.”

Trump could shed light on the events by releasing the copy of the search warrant his lawyers received at the time, which would detail what investigators were seeking and what laws they convinced a judge may have been violated, as well as the inventory they provided of what they seized. He reportedly has “no plans” to do so. Instead, Trump and his right-wing media supporters have responded with fury and conspiracy theories.

Trump’s propagandists began speculating on Tuesday that the FBI may have planted evidence at the scene. The notion first seems to have first surfaced in an interview with one of Trump’s lawyers, who suggested it was true, and spread rapidly throughout the day through the right-wing media ecosystem, including on Fox News. By Wednesday morning, Trump himself was nodding to it on his Truth Social platform.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; the conspiracy theory’s proponents have offered none at all. But the evidence or lack thereof is not the point — the theory serves as a hedge against the prospect that investigators eventually produce damning material gleaned from the search: They are priming their audiences to disbelieve the validity of that evidence.

The conspiracy theory first surfaced on Tuesday morning after Christina Bobb, a former host for the fringe-right One America News Network who now serves as one of Trump’s lawyers, said during an interview on the Trumpist streaming channel Real America’s Voice that she “was not allowed to observe” the search.

Host Karyn Turk returned to that point later in the interview, citing “people asking” in the stream’s chat whether anyone would have been able to see whether “something’s planted.” Bobb responded that “There is no security that something wasn't planted,” adding, “I’m not saying that that’s what they did.”

Over the course of the day, the theory was adopted by prominent right-wing media figures with close ties to Trump. Describing the search as evidence of “tyranny” and a “war on the American people,” Fox contributor and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told Trumpist influencer Charlie Kirk, “You'll notice they didn't allow anybody on the Trump side into Mar-a-Lago. So we have no idea whether or not they planted evidence.”

“Yes, that's exactly right,” Kirk replied. “ I have a couple of thoughts. Number one, I wish I trusted our law enforcement. You need some form of law enforcement to have a civil society, but I'm right with you. I say, oh, they're planting evidence. How disappointing of a place we are in our country where our immediate reaction is that our own law enforcement agency might be planting evidence against a former president.”

The notion also surfaced on Infowars’ The Alex Jones Show, where former Trump White House aide Steve Bannon suggested that the FBI had been on a “planting expedition.”

“I wouldn't put it past them to have planted stuff – that – this is a criminal,” Bannon continued. “The FBI and the DOJ are essentially lawless criminal organizations.”

Jones, a notorious conspiracy theorist, replied, “Exactly. How do we know a hundred agents in there with their long history of planting things, didn't plant something classified?”

By late afternoon, the totally baseless claim hit Fox’s most-watched program, The Five, with co-host Jesse Watters asking, “How do we know they’re not planting evidence right now?”

Watters went further that night on his 7 p.m. ET show.

“What the FBI is probably doing is planting evidence, which is what they did during the Russia hoax. We also have a hunch they doctored evidence to get the warrant -- again, what they did during the Russia hoax,” he said during his opening monologue Wednesday night. “So, this is a big fishing expedition, using anything they can against Trump to take him out of the race for 2024.”

Watters also described the FBI as “bloodthirsty savages who want to see you humiliated and violated” and the search as “a threat to anybody who opposes them.”

Trump lawyer Alina Habba further fueled the conspiracy theory, telling Watters later in the program, “Quite honestly, I’m concerned they might have planted something. You know, at this point, who knows? I don’t trust the government, and that’s a very frightening thing as an American.”

On Wednesday morning, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt also nodded to the conspiracy theory. “His lawyer said they brought in backpacks, what was in those backpacks?” she asked. “Did they bring those in to fill them up or did they have something in there?"

This is how a conspiracy-minded talking point is constructed in real time. It is reminiscent of how right-wing media figures, in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, attributed the widespread violence to antifa infiltrators. In that case too, the theory was floated without anything resembling credible proof. But that did not prevent it from becoming taken as gospel by a large swath of the right.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Smeared By Fox, Indiana Doctor Broke No Laws In Rape Victim's Abortion

Following an Indy Star report about a 10-year-old rape victim traveling from Ohio to Indiana for an abortion, right-wing media have tried repeatedly to disprove the story or attack the individuals involved, even since the story was confirmed to be true.

The source behind the story, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, has been under heavy scrutiny for being the sole source for the story. Washington Post columnist Glenn Kessler, while misspelling her name, dismissed her as an activist. Right-wing media figures were also quick to discredit Bernard, especially after President Joe Biden mentioned the story in a pro-abortion rights speech and the Ohio Attorney General said on Fox News that he was unaware of any report of the rape. After the story was further confirmed by the arrest of a suspect, right-wing media outlets continued unconfirmed attacks against Bernard, claiming that she had a history of not reporting underage rapes. Fox News’ Jesse Watters did not hesitate to pile on to the attacks, and he even invited on the Indiana attorney general, who declared that his office would be investigating Bernard.

Right-wing media figures have continued to target Bernard, repeating claims that she should be investigated for not reporting the crime to authorities, in a clear attempt to discourage other health care providers from coming forward with similar stories. The claim that Bernard failed to report the procedure has been debunked by a local Fox affiliate, which obtained Indiana Department of Health documents showing that she reported the incident. Right-wing media continue to promote the Indiana attorney general’s claims of an investigation into Bernard’s actions, as well as general claims that Bernard acted outside the law.

Following Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s appearance on Fox News’ Jesse Watters Primetime, cries for an investigation into Bernard’s response to the crime spread over right-wing news sites. The articles primarily quoted Rokita’s statements directly, with only one of them, from PJ Media, adding a later correction that Bernard had indeed complied with privacy laws.

Fox News host Jesse Watters

Watters, as part of his repeated attempts to undermine the story, claimed on the July 13 edition of Fox News’ Jesse Watters Primetime, that “this Indiana abortion doctor has covered this up,” and that “she has a history of failing to report child abuse cases.” Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita then appeared on the show to announce his investigation into Bernard, stating, “We have this abortion activist acting as a doctor with a history of failing to report. So, we're gathering the information. We're gathering the evidence as we speak, and we're going to fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure. If she failed to report it in Indiana, it's a crime for – to not report, to intentionally not report.”

Newsmax Co-host Bianca de la Garza

On the July 14 edition of Newsmax’s John Bachman Now, co-host Bianca de la Garza repeated that Indiana authorities are “not sure if she [Bernard] reported the rape, as required by law.” When asked why abortion providers allegedly sometimes fail to report rape, guest Abby Johnson claimed that “most abortion facilities do not report rape. They are a safe haven for abusers. The fact that she, from what we can tell, was not one of the people that reported this, is very very common. They protect abusers. We see that over and over again. We’ve seen that in undercover footage.”

YouTuber Tim Pool

Right-wing YouTuber Tim Pool repeated Watters’ claim that Bernard did not report the crime, stating on July 14 that “the people who were helping this little girl didn’t report it,” and claiming that “if they reported it, then maybe they would have gotten services, and that's where the hoax actually does come into play.”

BlazeTV host Glenn Beck and PJ Media writer Megan Fox

BlazeTV host Glenn Beck got the story wrong on his July 14 show as well, frequently mixing up Bernard and the Ohio doctor who referred the victim to her and claiming that “she instead reported it to the press. She's now also being investigated in Ohio for a violation of HIPAA. A 10-year-old – and tell me these people care.”. PJ Media writer Megan Fox, who has led the charge on Twitter in accusing those involved of protecting the girl’s rapist, later clarified that Bernard is being accused of failure to report rather than the Ohio doctor, but added that “I don't know if she reported to the Indianapolis police her mandated report.” She went on to say that Bernard “still won't answer directly what role she had in helping this investigation or not.”

The Daily Wire's Ben Shapiro

The Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro claimed on his July 14 podcast that “it does not look as though we have any information about the doctor or who this girl saw making a police report, which is actually required by law.”

Fox co-host Carley Shimkus

Fox & Friends co-host Carley Shimkus reported on July 15 that Rokita’s investigation “comes after it is revealed that the 27-year-old alleged rapist was listed as a minor in the report sent to authorities. Rokita saying the doctor in question has a, quote, ‘history of failing to report criminal incidents.’”

Fox co-hosts Kayleigh McEnany, Emily Compagno, and Fox contributor David Webb

In a July 14 group discussion on Outnumbered, co-host Kayleigh McEnany falsely claimed Bernard did not report, asking, “Why did you report this to a newspaper and not authorities?” Co-host Emily Compagno responded that “it's a crime to intentionally not report. … There are HIPAA violation allegations now. That could lead to criminal and/or also civil penalties. That could lead up to jail time.” Later on, Fox contributor David Webb accused Bernard of using the child for political gain: “Why was she used as a political tool? Why was the doctor not acting on it? Why was she first a political tool?”

One America News’ Kara McKinney

One America News’ Kara McKinney stated on the July 14 edition of her show Tipping Point that “Todd Rokita told Fox News yesterday that his office is investigating the aforementioned Dr. Caitlin Bernard for not reporting the rape of a 10-year-old to authorities, as she is required to do. Bernard faces a possible loss of her license.”

Babylon Bee Managing Editor Joel Berry

Babylon Bee Managing Editor Joel Berry shared a screenshot of Bernard’s work phone number in a tweet and claimed if the story was true then Bernard “helped cover up the rape, failed to report it to authorities, and sent the victim back to her rapist to be raped again.”

Townhall Media

Townhall Media, owner of both Townhall and PJ Media news sites, published articles on the affiliated sites repeating the claims that Bernard is under investigation for possibly not reporting the rape to authorities. The July 14 article published to Townhall included a quote from Rokita declaring his intentions to remove Bernard’s license if she did not go to the authorities. PJ Media’s article was updated at 8:13 p.m. on July 14 with a statement from Bernard’s employer saying that “IU Health’s investigation found Dr. Bernard in compliance with privacy laws.”

The Washington Times

The Washington Times published an article repeating Rokita’s statement and noting, “An Indiana abortion provider is under investigation over whether she reported the rape of a 10-year-old Ohio girl as required by law.”

Just the News

Just the News, a website run by misinformer John Solomon, repeated the claims that Bernard had previously had complaints filed against her for not reporting underage rape. The site quoted from Rokita’s appearance on Fox, where he said, “We have the rape, and then we have this abortion activist acting as a doctor with a history of failing to report.”

National Review

National Review published a July 14 article that discussed Rokita’s intent to investigate Bernard and continued to cast doubt on the original story, saying, “Many pundits and representatives were skeptical of the story.” It also implied there was no evidence Bernard reported the attack to the authorities, saying the original article “did not make any mention of a law enforcement probe, which should have been immediately triggered after a medical professional learned of the rape.”

Blaze Media

Blaze media covered Rokita’s Fox News appearance in a July 14 piece, noting that “Rokita said his office will investigate Bernard because she purportedly failed to disclose the case to law enforcement.” The article also included Bernard’s statement following Rokita’s TV appearance.

The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller published a July 14 article outlining Rokita’s intent to investigate Bernard for “potentially failing to report the rape of a minor to law enforcement.” The article goes on to reference Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who earlier this week claimed there was no evidence of the rape taking place. The Daily Caller stated, “Yost said Monday his office had no evidence that the rape of the girl had occurred as prosecutors had not been able to identify a report to law enforcement.”

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

The Question Right-Wing Pundits Won't Answer About 10 Year-Old Rape Victim

Should a raped 10-year-old girl be able to access a legal abortion? That is the central question right-wing media have desperately avoided grappling with in the days since a viral story about one such child broke.

On July 1, the Indianapolis Star reported that Indiana abortion providers had seen “a dramatic increase in the number of patients coming to their clinics from neighboring states with more restrictive policies” since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month. The article opened with an anecdote about a 10-year-old girl who was six weeks and three days pregnant and had been referred from a “child abuse doctor” in Ohio, where abortions became illegal after six weeks in almost all cases following Roe’s reversal, to Indiana obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who provided her with care.

The horrific story went viral and was ultimately highlighted by President Joe Biden a week later. “This isn't some imagined horror,” Biden said before describing the account at an event unveiling steps his administration is taking to preserve abortion access. “Imagine being that little girl,” he added. "I'm serious, just imagine being that little girl.”

Cases like these seem unimaginable, but they are actually an inevitable result of the right-wing’s ideology. In 2020, Ohio averaged one abortion a week performed on a child 14 years old or under. In states where the Republican Party is dominant, legislators have spent years passing trigger laws that would curtail abortion access as soon as Roe was overturned. That includes Ohio, whose abortion ban went into effect after the court released its opinion and which includes no exception in cases of rape.

Conservatives don’t want to publicly examine what a raped 10-year-old’s options should be if she is impregnated. Americans generally favor abortion rights, and all the more so in such cases: A recent Pew Reseach poll found that 69 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal if the pregnancy is the result of rape, a number that would presumably be higher in cases involving a 10-year-old.

If conservatives say that a raped child should be forced to bear a child of her own, they will sound like monsters to a wide swath of the country. But if they say she should be able to get an abortion if she chooses, they open themselves up to more questions: At what age should a rape survivor be stripped of that choice? What about an 11-year-old rape survivor? A 14-year-old? A 17-year-old? A 21-year-old? The end of Roe has opened up a Pandora’s Box of such quandaries for the right — and its propagandists would prefer not to face them.

Instead, right-wing media outlets focused on trying to debunk the girl’s existence as her plight gained increasing attention. They suggested Bernard had fabricated the story, criticized the Star’s reporters for running it without additional corroborating evidence, and went after other media outlets and Democrats like Biden for talking about it.

PJ Media writer Megan Fox launched the right-wing’s backlash with a July 5 viral tweetstorm, which claimed that the “TIMING of this horrific story is too on the nose” and described it as a “possibly hypothetical or made-up scenario,” and from there it spread through the ecosystem.

On Fox News, Jesse Watters devoted multiple segments to the case on Monday, suggesting that the story may be a “hoax” that fit a “pretty dangerous pattern of politically timed disinformation” and interviewing both Megan Fox and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, whose claim that he had heard “not a whisper” about such a rape from law enforcement triggered a new round of right-wing media chatter.

By Wednesday morning, the august Wall Street Journal editorial board was mocking the “Abortion Story Too Good To Confirm” as a “fanciful tale” and an “unlikely story from a biased source.” The board sneered: “The tale is a potent post-Roe tale of woe for those who want to make abortion a voting issue this fall. One problem: There’s no evidence the girl exists.”

The board’s argument collapsed just a few hours later when the Columbus Dispatch reported that Gerson Fuentes, a 27-year-old Columbus resident, had been arrested the previous day “after police say he confessed to raping the child on at least two occasions,” and that he had since been charged with rape.

But evidence confirming the terrible story did not force a broad reckoning in right-wing media about whether the survivor should have access to abortion care. When Fox hosts like Watters, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham discussed the case on Wednesday night, they mentioned that question only to dismiss its importance. Instead, they pivoted to different lines of attack in an effort to change the subject, smearing Bernard and those who championed her story while demagoguing over the alleged perpetrator’s reported status as an undocumented immigrant.

Watters offered no apologies when he returned to the story on Wednesday night. Instead, he suggested that his program’s coverage — which had suggested the lack of law enforcement action in the case meant the girl didn’t exist — was responsible for “illegal” Fuentes’ arrest.

Watters went on to accuse Bernard of attempting to “cover this up” by allegedly not reporting the rape to the proper authorities. This makes no sense — as the Dispatch revealed, the authorities were aware of the raped child’s case long before Bernard provided her with health care. The girl’s mother detailed the case to Franklin County Child Services on June 22 and it was then referred to the Columbus police department, while the girl underwent an abortion on June 30, according to police.

But Watters, who kept a photo of Bernard’s face front and center for his viewers throughout much of the segment, was determined to smear the doctor. “So is a criminal charge next? And will Dr. Bernard lose her license?” he asked, before turning to Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita. He concluded that interview by saying, “Thanks for coming on and please keep us posted on what's going on with this abortion doctor and whether or not she's going to face any sort of scrutiny.”

The Fox host’s primary concern is ensuring that Bernard pays a price for daring to tell her story. That story is politically inconvenient for him, and the more pressure he can bring to bear on Bernard, the more he can dissuade other doctors with similar stories from coming forward.

The following hour, Carlson criticized the White House for supposedly failing the vet the story, which he claimed was really about illegal immigration, not abortion.

“So the obvious headline here was not about abortion. It was about the crime committed against a child – ‘Who raped a 10-year-old?’ ” said Carlson. “Nobody seemed interested at all in learning who this person was. And maybe there was a reason for that. Apparently, the rapist was an illegal alien.”

The alleged rapist was also the sole person of import for Ingraham when she discussed the case the following hour.

“And as President Trump said in 2015, they're sending their rapists, including 27-year-old Gershon Fuentes,” she said. “He was just arrested for raping a 10-year-old girl in Ohio on at least two occasions. And according to an ICE source, he is here, of course, illegally.”

Left unmentioned by the hosts was whether the 10-year-old survivor should have had the option to have an abortion. They have nothing they are willing to offer her but punishment for her attacker. It won’t be the last time they shy away from the consequences their ideology inflicts.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Right-Wing Pundits Blame Weed, Not Assault Weapons, For Mass Shootings

Amid the ongoing crisis of mass shootings in America, conservative media are trying to deflect blame for mass shootings onto anything but guns. One particularly misleading scapegoat for gun violence is marijuana, with Fox News hosts and other right-wing media denizens falsely claiming that mass shootings are the result of heavy pot use.

The narrative has picked up in the aftermath of the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, that left seven dead and 46 injured. The next day, Fox News host Laura Ingraham claimed that marijuana use is a plausible cause of mass shootings, saying regular pot use in young men can trigger “psychosis and other violent personality changes,” and went on to link other mass shooters’ marijuana use with the extreme violence they carried out.

Fox host Tucker Carlson also blamed the shooting in Highland Park partially on a society full of young men “high on government-endorsed weed.”

Right-wing radio host and PragerU founder Dennis Prager said on his July 5 show that “something is different today and it’s not guns,” suggesting, “I think marijuana, maybe other drugs, but excessive use of marijuana” and “recreational use of marijuana, especially in young people,” may be associated with mass shootings.

Right-wing personalities have used research linking heavy marijuana use to psychosis and paranoia in some individuals to draw false conclusions about causality and dig in their heels to dismiss the role of firearms in gun violence, instead attributing mass shooters’ extreme violence to their marijuana use. In reality, a December 2021 literature review on the studies linking marijuana and violent behavior found that the link between violence and cannabis use is “strictly correlational, and the strength of this relationship varies depending on the population.”

Since 2019, accusations of direct causation between marijuana use and mass shootings have spread through conservative media such as Fox News, One America News Network, the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Daily Wire. These outlets frequently cite “COVID contrarian” Alex Berenson, whose book on marijuana use, mental health, and violence has been accused of cherry-picking data and “attributing cause to mere associations.”

Berenson appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight in August 2019 after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, to argue that “we know that mental illness accounts for an appreciable amount of the extreme violence, not just in the United States but all over the world. And we also know that cannabis can produce psychosis.”

“I don't think it's going way out on a limb to draw that connection then between cannabis use, particularly I assume chronic use, and acts of violence,” Carlson responded.

After the Uvalde shooting this past May, Ingraham reignited the idea of a purposefully hidden marijuana-to-mass-shooter pipeline. In reference to The New York Times removing an unproven reference to the Uvalde shooter’s marijuana use, Ingraham asked “was it bad information or is this the pro-marijuana bias that we've become accustomed to that's so powerful because billions are on the line with it nationwide?”

“The American people are hearing a lot about AR-15s and background checks, but they also deserve to hear about this as well,” Ingraham continued. “Respected medical studies for years now have demonstrated that pot use, especially among teens, can trigger psychosis and increase the chance that the young person will develop violent behavior.”

The next day, Ingraham hosted Dr. Eric Voth of the International Academy on the Science and Impact of Cannabis, who said, “The reality of it is, you know, legal AR-15 owners or handgun owners that are not stoned, that are not violent, are not killing people. If you look through the same information that the doctors are pointing out here, and you go case by case by case, you see a very clear pattern.”

Ingraham’s commentary set off a flurry of clickbait on conservative news sites and blogs, including The Daily Wire, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsmax.

The Daily Wire’s Ben Zeisloft also criticized attention given to gun control instead of marijuana and cited Ingraham’s segment, writing that “while the Left blames so-called ‘assault weapons’ and pushes for more gun control,” they “appear to be missing what could be a significant, yet underreported factor — the shooter’s marijuana use.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Allysia Finley cited Berenson to suggest The New York Times had covered up the Uvalde shooter’s marijuana use and claimed that the Tucson, Aurora nightclub, Pulse nightclub, Sutherland Springs, and Parkland shooters all “were reported to be marijuana users. It could be a coincidence, but increasing evidence suggests a connection.”

Writing for Newsmax, conservative author Ron Kessler criticized the attention given to gun control in the wake of mass shootings and pushed the claim that it should be put on marijuana instead. Kessler argued that “virtually everyone ignores the obvious reason for the dramatic increase in these tragedies: Democrats push legalizing marijuana, which has become three to four times more potent than it was only a few years ago,” and even quoted Ingraham directly: “Democrats who push stricter gun control measures as a solution to mass shootings are ‘completely oblivious to what the legalization of marijuana has done and is doing to an entire generation of Americans — with violent consequences,’ Ingraham said.”

Kessler appeared on far-right cable outlet One America News on June 4 and asserted that “pot has become much more potent” and “18 states have legalized pot because of Democratic legislatures, so you have these two forces coming together, and that has led to a lot of these shootings.” Kessler went on to mislead viewers that “the active ingredient THC creates psychosis, it creates paranoia, it creates schizophrenia, and all these things lead to some of these shootings.”

PolitiFact assessed these kinds of claims in 2019 and concluded that there is no clear causal relationship between marijuana use and mass shootings, writing that “for every study that’s declared a link between pot and violence, there are others that say the opposite.”

James Knoll, director of forensic psychiatry at Syracuse University, told PolitiFact that “marijuana use is higher in young men, people with serious adverse childhood experiences, antisocial personality, low income, low education, use of other illicit substances,” which are all “well known risk factors for violence in their own right.” In other words, while research shows that there is a correlation between marijuana use and some forms of mental illness, there are too many other factors linked to potential violence to clearly establish the causal relationship that right-wing media are pushing. .

While it’s “widely accepted that marijuana and psychosis are linked,” it’s unclear “whether the drug unmasks psychotic symptoms in predisposed people or whether it triggers the onset of psychosis entirely.” Further, PolitiFact noted that those with preexisting psychiatric disorders are more likely to use marijuana to self-medicate.

Most importantly, cannabis use is exceedingly common. As PolitiFact points out, overlap is inevitable “between people who commit violent acts and people who smoke marijuana because of how popular marijuana is. According to the United Nations, 192 million people worldwide used marijuana at least once in 2016.” As legalization has spread, this number has likely increased even more.

Blaming mass shootings on marijuana use is not only misleading and stigmatizing, but speaks to a larger effort to blame nearly unavoidable social and psychological phenomena rather than loosely controlled access to high-powered assault weapons in the United States. As these tragedies continue to happen, right-wing media will continue to use any excuse they can find to deflect attention from even the most minimal gun control measures, creating the opportunity for more mass shootings.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Dominion Lawsuits Are Terrifying To Right-Wing Media Outlets

Attorneys for Fox News have been hoping that a massive $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems would be thrown out in court. But that lawsuit, along with separate lawsuits filed by Dominion against Fox News competitors Newsmax TV and One America News (OAN), continues. And Fox News is claiming that its right to free speech is being violated.

“In the months following the 2020 U.S. presidential election, right-wing TV news in America was a wild west — an apparently lawless free-for-all where conspiracy theories about voting machines, ballot-stuffed suitcases and dead Venezuelan leaders were repeated to viewers around the clock,” journalist Adam Gabbatt reports in an article published by The Guardian on July 4. “There seemed to be little consequence for peddling the most outrageous ideas on primetime. But now, unfortunately for Fox News, One America News Network (OAN), and Newsmax, it turns out that this brave new world wasn’t free from legal jurisdiction — with the three networks now facing billion-dollar lawsuits as a result of their baseless accusations.”

After the 2020 presidential election, Sidney Powell and other far-right attorneys falsely claimed that that the election had been stolen from then-President Donald Trump with the help of Dominion — a false claim that Fox News, Newsmax and OAN were happy to promote. Fox News attorneys, however, have maintained that the right-wing cable news outlet was simply presenting a different point of view, and Dominion has countered that Fox News was reporting false information to drive ratings. Dominion has also filed lawsuits against Powell and attorney Rudy Giuliani, another promoter of the Big Lie.

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, who teaches constitutional law at Stetson University, told the Guardian, “Dominion has a very strong case against Fox News — and against OAN for that matter. The reason Dominion is suing is because Fox and other right-wing news outlets repeated vicious lies that Dominion’s voting machines stole the 2020 election from Trump for (Joe) Biden. But all of these conspiracy theories about Dominion’s machines were just pure bunk, and Fox as a news organization should have known that and not given this aspect of the Big Lie a megaphone.”

Torres-Spelliscy added, “What’s particularly bad for Fox is (that) Dominion asked them to stop and correct the record in real time, and Fox persisted in spreading misrepresentations about the voting machine company.”

When the U.S. Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, handed down its ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan back in 1964, it was clear about what does and doesn’t constitute defamation. The High Court made it clear that an honest mistake is not “defamation” — there has to “actual malice.”

Many years later, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin sued the Times for defamation. But she couldn’t prove “actual malice” and lost the case. Now, far-right Justice Clarence Thomas, often slammed as an authoritarian by his critics, is calling for the High Court to revisit the “actual malice” standard and make defamation easier to prove, which is ironic in light of how quick right-wing media outlets are to push outlandish conspiracy theories; if Thomas had his way, there could be a lot more defamation lawsuits against Fox News and its competitors.

Torres-Spelliscy stressed that there are major differences between Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the Times and Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox News.

“In the Palin case, the New York Times quickly corrected the mistake about Palin that had been added while an article was edited,” Torres-Spelliscy told the Guardian. “By contrast, Fox News kept up the bad behavior and repeatedly told myths about Dominion’s voting machines. This is likely why judges in several of these Dominion defamation cases have not dismissed them.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Counter-Terror Agency Sees 'Heightened Threat' From Violent Right-Wing Extremists

With public hearings about to resume from the House Jan. 6 committee, and midterm elections coming up in November, the Department of Homeland Security is warning that there is an increased threat of violence from those who believe Republican lies about the 2020 election.

On Tuesday, the National Terrorism Advisory System put out a bulletin warning of a “heightened threat environment” with possible targets, warning that “[t]hese targets could include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, schools, racial and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, U.S. critical infrastructure, the media, and perceived ideological opponents.”

In other words—the threat is everywhere. Apparently, a whole lot of America needs to be hardened and a whole lot of doors need to be locked over the coming months

The upcoming midterms are the first nationwide elections to take place in the wake of January 6. While most Republicans had an immediate reaction of both condemning the events of that day, and blaming those who supported lies about the election, it took only days for Republicans to swing back into the orbit of Donald Trump. Only two months after the attack on the Capitol, a Monmouth poll showed that 65 percent of Republicans believed that President Joe Biden had only been elected because of “voter fraud.”

In spite of all evidence—including Republican-led “audits” in states like Arizona—which found no evidence of such fraud, by November the number of Republicans saying that Biden had not been legitimately elected had grown to 73 percent of all Republicans.

A May NPR article showed that many workers who should be preparing for the upcoming midterms, are still spending a lot of their time facing hostile calls about the 2020 results, demands for more audits, and personal threats. Across the country, Republicans have put in place officials and boards who campaigned on the theme that the 2020 election was illegitimate.

With nearly three-quarters of Republicans buying into the right-wing claims that the election was fraudulent, it’s not hard to believe that some fraction of that group would believe that any action is justified to remove what they see as an illegitimate government. These extremists are building a tower of grievances, pushing the idea that violence is the only answer.

Individuals in online forums that routinely promulgate domestic violent extremist and conspiracy theory-related content have praised the May 2022 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and encouraged copycat attacks. Others have seized on the event to attempt to spread disinformation and incite grievances, including claims it was a government-staged event meant to advance gun control measures.

In particular, claims about the election are being welded to the anti-immigrant, anti-Black “great replacement” conspiracy theory that has been pushed not just in the torch-bearing ranks of white nationalists, and not just in 4Chan-inspired online sewers, but by commentators like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.

The shooter in Buffalo New York was motivated by these claims. So was a man who shot six members of a Taiwanese church in California last month. Like the false narrative about the election, the great replacement conspiracy has become standard fare in the Republican Party. When tens of millions of people buy into a theory that claims there is a plot to strip them of their livelihoods, or even lives, some of them will react violently. Fox and others are doing everything they can to make sure that tens of millions believe.

We assess that there is increased risk of domestic violent extremists using changes in border security-related policies and/or enforcement mechanisms to justify violence against individuals, such as minorities and law enforcement officials involved in the enforcement of border security.

In fact, almost every false claim being pushed by the right—ideas that Democrats have ‘thrown open the borders,’ lies about critical race theory in schools, fear-mongering about gay and trans people, a demonization of Democratic officials, and government in general—are likely to find traction among people with access to an AR-15. Which is, of course, anyone who wants one.

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos.

Right-Wing Gunman Murders Unarmed Woman At Portland Protest

Following the George Floyd Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, violence being committed against peaceful protestors has become more common. Bigots are not only driving their cars into crowds in an attempt to harm protestors but shooting at them in anger.

A 43-year-old Portland man and right-wing terrorist identified as Benjamin Smith was charged with murder on Tuesday after firing his gun during a weekend protest against police killings, The New York Times reported. The protest was organized to address the violent killing of Amir Locke and Patrick Kimmons. At least one woman was killed, and five others—including Smith—were wounded when he confronted a group protesting at Normandale Park, a space near his home.

During a news conference Tuesday, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said that the shooting arose from a confrontation between “an armed resident of the area and armed protesters.” According to the arrest affidavit, when someone asked that Smith leave, he told them to “make” him and then got aggressive. This led him to draw his handgun and fire at multiple people. He only stopped shooting when he was shot near his hip.

Smith remained hospitalized in serious condition on Tuesday, the Portland Police Bureau said.

"Several participants asked Smith to leave them alone," officials said. "Moments later, Smith drew a firearm and fired at the crowd, striking five people."

According to officials, Smith was charged with one count of murder in the second degree with a firearm, four counts of attempted murder in the first degree with a firearm, two counts of assault in the first degree with a firearm, and two counts of assault in the second degree with a firearm.

Some of the victims who were shot were not part of the protest but instead were volunteers to help to set up a safety plan and reroute traffic ahead of the demonstrations.

Police identified the woman who was killed as Brandy Knightly. The 60-year-old woman was unarmed and died at the scene after being shot in the head, according to the affidavit. As of Monday, two of the other victims were hospitalized, with one of them in critical condition after being shot in the neck and paralyzed from the neck down. The other was shot multiple times, including in the abdomen.

One victim, Dajah Beck, told the Times in an interview that while she and some of the other victims were volunteering, Smith approached them and called them “violent terrorists” and used misogynistic vulgarity. He allegedly even threatened them, saying, “If I see you come past my house, I’ll shoot you.” According to Beck, Knightly responded with: “You’re not going to scare us. You’re not going to intimidate us.” After this, Smith shot her, Beck said.

Smith allegedly has always had inclinations towards violence. In an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting, his roommate Kristine Christenson said that his political views had become increasingly hostile.

“He talked about wanting to go shoot commies and antifa all the friggin‘ time,” Christenson said. “He was just a sad angry dude … He talked about wanting to do this for a while. He was angry at the mask mandates, he was angry at the ‘damned liberals.’”

Police officials described the shooting as "extremely chaotic" in a press release Sunday. "Most people on scene left without talking to police," the Portland Police Bureau said in a news release. "Detectives believe a large number of people either witnessed what happened or recorded the incident as it unfolded. This is a very complicated incident, and investigators are trying to put this puzzle together without having all the pieces." Because some witnesses were “uncooperative with responding officers,” police officials are requesting anyone with information to contact detectives as they believe “critical evidence” may have been removed.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

An Inside Look At Patriot Front’s Clownish Fascism

A data leak of internal communications for the explicitly fascist group Patriot Front published by Unicorn Riot last month did more than simply expose its members to public identification on social media—though that has been happening apace, much to the chagrin of both the people whose identities have been revealed as well as those who haven’t but are in line to be.

Most of all, it opened a window into the world of these young, white male extremists, and how they are working to establish their organization within the American body politic. Besides revealing embarrassing personal details such as their porn habits and the amateurish combat “training” sessions for members, it also gave researchers a clear view of their recruitment methods and targets, as well as the breadth of their reach within the mainstream—including the military.

The leak—published by Unicorn Riot, a journalism collective focused on right-wing extremism—featured thousands of pages of internal conversations within some 400 gigabytes of data. This data originated on Patriot Front’s internal Rocket.Chat boards for members and prospective recruits.

The portrait that emerges, as Gizmodo observes, is of an organization “highly focused on the recruitment of ardent nationalists and segregationists, and of Hitler-worshiping fascists who’ve grown tired of concealing fantasies of enacting his Final Solution.”

Patriot Front grew out of the now-defunct neofascist Iron March online forum, which spawned a range of violent neo-Nazi offshoots, from the murderous Atomwaffen Division and the domestic terrorist group “The Base“ to the West Coast-based Rise Above Movement, to the Vanguard America organization. That organization marched at Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, where one of its members, James Alex Fields, mowed down an antifascist counterprotester, Heather Heyer, with his car afterward.

Patriot Front’s founder, Thomas Rousseau, was photographed standing with Fields and other Vanguard America marchers. He was a Vanguard America member at the time. However, Patriot Front grew out of a desire to reorganize and dedicate white supremacists after Charlottesville, with an open embrace of fascism along the way.

One of Patriot Front’s fliers—its primary recruitment tactic—reads “Fascism: The Next Step for America.” Its manifesto declares: “Our national way of life faces complete annihilation as our culture and heritage are attacked from all sides.”

A report examining the data from Michael Edison Hayden of the Southern Poverty Law Center found that one in five of the young men applying to join Patriot Front have ties to the U.S. military. Of the 87 applicants on the chat, 18 of them (21%) claimed to have current or former military experience; one of these, claiming to be an ex-Marine, told the chat that he is currently employed by the Department of Homeland Security.

The chats showed that the applicants were drawn to the organization for a variety of reasons:

The Patriot Front applicants, listed by number, who claimed ties to the military expressed a variety of motivations for seeking entrance to the group. Applicant 441215, who said he lived in San Diego and served as a former Marine and current DHS employee, told Patriot Front that he “found out about the Jews while in the marines.” … Applicant 252979, who claimed to be a member of the Army Reserve, used derogatory language about LBGTQ people and stated he “first saw” them while in the military. Applicant 681985 claimed to have served in the military from 2005 to 2013 and live in Salt Lake City. He said that he started as a Republican, but after his first deployment he started watching Alex Jones and entertaining conspiracies related to 9/11. After his second deployment, he said he “shifted focus and questioned things” while becoming a national socialist.

As we’ve explored recently, one of the primary dangers of commingling far-right extremism with military service is that the people who by training and nature are skilled at handling weapons and materials and are knowledgeable about engagement tactics are being radicalized into their seditionist extremism, the kind we saw on display at the Jan. 6 insurrection. The chats revealed this danger explicitly: One applicant who claimed to have served as an Army Ranger listed “great land-navigation, great physical fitness, able to clear rooms” as well as “basic medical training” as skills he would bring to Patriot Front.

Another applicant boasted of experience in “Marine martial arts,” adding that he had been “trained in firearms.” Others claimed they had worked in military intelligence, had backgrounds in computer networking and programming, and were conversant in signals intelligence. One who said he was an ex-Marine claimed to be a leader of a hate group, the Kansas Active Club.

Rousseau and senior members called “network directors” oversaw the chats, organized by region. They organized real-world “actions” in the chatrooms, such as pasting propaganda stickers and fliers around the downtown areas of cities where they lived, as well as hoisting banners with their slogans and logo over freeways on overpasses.

The “actions,” as Gizmodo notes, included a number of criminal acts of vandalism, such as defacing memorials, statues, and murals in highly public places. These included a memorial to George Floyd in New York City, as well as other works of public art that provoked their ire, such as a mural supporting Black Lives Matter in Olympia, Washington, and depictions of Black heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman.

They also clearly believed they could do so with impunity. “As our recent actions have shown we can walk down busy avenues at prime time in Seattle and deface the largest most well protected mural in shitlib Olympia without so much as being accosted once,” one member who apparently participated in the Olympia vandalization wrote.

Most recently, on Jan. 21, Patriot Front organized a march in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the anti-abortion “March For Life.” About 40 of them formed a phalanx that eventually was forced to separate from the main crowd by counterprotesters and police.

Unicorn Riot reported that Patriot Front secured a police escort for that march by placing a “false” 911 call about themselves:

Thomas Rousseau directed member ‘Benjamin WI‘ to call police “from a burner [phone]” as Patriot Front left their nearby camp for D.C., pretending to be a concerned citizen. Rousseau said this step was taken to “soften the police up before our big visual contact on the bridge, and provide a little confusion and misinfo that’s within the realm of honest dialogue.”

Rousseau and his lieutenants set quotas for members to engage in various “actions,” including regional group quotas of at least “10 big actions a month.” Acts of vandalism were recorded in a spreadsheet.

The group also monitors its roughly 220 members’ personal lives and is fanatically controlling. Members are required to regularly log their weight and fitness regimen, follow an apparently disordered diet obsessively, and update their superiors on their “bad habits,” such as pornography and junk food. Leaders pointedly chastised members for failing to participate in enough chats or meetings or to file their mandatory fitness updates.

This kind of routine humiliation was evident in several of the “training” videos that were uncovered in the leak:

Another leak unrelated to the data—published this week by Daily Dot—also reveals that Patriot Front members toured Europe in 2019, connecting with other far-right groups there and participating in several marches, including the anniversary of Poland’s Independence Day in Warsaw. A man who says he infiltrated the group for three years provided Daily Dot with a document detailing the excursion.

Among the groups Patriot Front leaders connected with in Europe were the National Independence in Poland; CasaPound and Forza Nuova in Italy; Verrogs in Latvia; Nordic Resistance Movement in Sweden; and the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany and its affiliate, Junge Nationalisten.

Patriot Front members recorded how they ate at regional restaurants and visited such tourist destinations as the Vatican. When they were in Sweden, members of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement served them a traditional Swedish Christmas dinner. A Junge Nationalisten member also gifted the American fascists with Nazi paraphernalia.

This is how the unapologetic young fascists of Patriot Front, offspring of the white nationalist alt-right, are planning their long-term future: recruiting and organizing in remote corners of the internet, spreading propaganda, and building an authoritarian army of willing dupes—some of them with serious military training—while connecting globally with fellow participants in the rising tide of far-right extremism.

On paper, it sounds frighteningly impressive. However, the data leak revealed their amateurish clownishness both in their personal lives and as an “operationally secure” organization. The members who are having their associations with the organization exposed to the world are finding that out now.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos