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Far-Right Outlets Promote Kremlin ‘Bioweapons’ Propaganda Claims

After the State Department reconfirmed the existence of biological research laboratories in Ukraine and expressed concern Russia may seize them, far-right media accused the United States of both controlling the labs for nefarious purposes and orchestrating a false flag operation against Russia. In reality, the idea that these facilities are controversial, much less a threat to Russia, is a Kremlin-backed conspiracy theory.

During a March 8 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland if Ukraine has “chemical or biological weapons.” Nuland responded that Ukraine has “biological research facilities,” adding that the U.S. government was “quite concerned” about the facilities falling into Russian hands. When Rubio noted the existence of a Russian disinformation campaign already in-effect to blame Ukraine for a future release of biological weapons, Nuland replied that “it is classic Russian technique to blame on the other guy what they're planning to do themselves.”

Russia isn’t the only state actor helping spread this conspiracy theory, which was also promoted by a spokesperson from the Chinese government — following a pattern of Chinese disinformation established during the pandemic.

The conspiracy theory that there are U.S.-funded bioweapons labs in Ukraine, and that they have been directed to destroy whatever pathogens are inside, has been floating around fringe and far-right media for several days since the conflict began. This burgeoning conspiracy theory has followed closely behind what the British Ministry of Defense described as “a notable intensification of Russian accusations that Ukraine is developing nuclear or biological weapons,” which the Kremlin hopes could provide “a retrospective justification” for its unprovoked war.

Ukraine does have biological research labs that were modernized as a result of a pact between its Ministry of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense. The U.S. and Ukraine entered into the agreement in 2005 — brokered, in part, by then-Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) – to jointly-prevent the spread of deadly pathogens developed as part of the former Soviet Union’s expansive biological weapons program. As part of the agreement, the U.S. provided funding for security upgrades to the Soviet-era facilities to support the “peaceful research” of infectious diseases.

The DOD’s Biological Threat Reduction Program was designed as part of an arms control program to secure “pathogen strains and sensitive biological knowledge within Ukraine," specifically to prevent those resources from being released or weaponized. In fact, the agreement governing these facilities evolved from the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which assisted Ukraine with the removal and decommissioning of Soviet nuclear weapons.

Some variations of the conspiracy theory go even further to claim that the labs are being run by the U.S. In reality, the labs are funded and operated by the Ukrainian government. But claims to the contrary have existed for years and are part of a Russian disinformation campaign to discredit the U.S. in the eyes of former Soviet republics. Indeed, FactCheck.org produced a full article debunking a previous iteration of this conspiracy theory on March 2, nearly a week before Nuland’s testimony.

Despite the abundance of evidence showing that these are not weapons facilities, far-right media personalities pounced on Nuland’s testimony about “research facilities” in Ukraine to hype Russia’s narrative justifying the invasion and to falsely claim she “confirmed every conspiracy theory about the existence of those labs”:

  • During the March 9 edition of Real America Voice’s War Room: Pandemic, host Steve Bannon claimed that Nuland was let “off the hook” and told all Florida residents to contact Rubio and ask him if the CIA, Defense Department, or DIA gave him the questions to ask. Bannon went on to play a clip of the hearing and said Rubio should have asked, “Is that a lab? What are they creating? Are we involved in any way? Have we financed it? Are we partners? Do we actually know what’s going on?” Bannon later said that “no Republican should vote for any money on Ukraine, zero dollars,” until we know exactly what is going on with the labs.
  • On March 9, the Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft shared a video that he said was of the “Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation” telling the U.S. that Russia has “found your biological weapons” after Nuland’s testimony.
  • In a March 8 Gateway Pundit article, Hoft repeated China’s claim that there are “26 US biological labs in Ukraine alone” before running through the conspiracy theory that there was “biological testing in Ukraine near the Russian border.” Hoft went on to call Nuland’s comments an “explosive development.”
  • In a March 8 Telegram post, former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn shared a post claiming, “I was told that biolabs in Ukraine was a conspiracy theory yet here we are. They are now admitting it openly.”
  • Former 8kun administrator, QAnon influencer, and GOP congressional candidate Ron Watkins shared an Epoch Times article in a March 9 Telegram post that questioned whether Vice President Kamala Harris will “negotiate the cover up of the US Biolabs in Ukraine.”
  • A March 8 post on the far-right forum TheDonald shared a video of Nuland’s comments and added, “Another win for conspiracy theorists: the biolabs in Ukraine exist! CONFIRMED!”
  • A March 8 post on the QAnon forum The Great Awakening shared a video of Nuland from the Russian state media outlet RT and called her comments “Narrative Spin 101.”
  • In a March 8 Gab post, QAnon influencer Anonymous Patriot shared a post about Nuland’s comments and wrote, “And there it is. PANIC.”
  • Human Events’ Ian Miles Cheong:
  • Human Events’ Jack Posobiec:
  • Far-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich:
  • The Epoch Times’ Hans Mahncke:
  • Big League Politics:
  • Far-right commentator Chuck Callesto:


Reprinted with permission from Media Matters


How Far-Right Agitators Justify Putin’s War With Disinformation

After Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, several far-right media figures and fringe outlets offered subtle support for the invasion, often repeating Russia’s own propaganda justifying the attack.

On Wednesday, February 23, Russian leader Vladimir Putin announced what he called a “special military operation” in Ukraine and proceeded to launch a series of missile attacks near the capital of Kyiv. Over the next two weeks, Russian air and ground forces pummeled Ukrainian civilian and military targets as they pushed further into Ukrainian territory. Ukrainian forces have displayed stiff resistance against the Russian military, which managed to take only the city of Kherson as the invasion force struggled to gain ground.

Following the invasion, an international alliance led by the United States announced targeted sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs, a growing list of companies stopped operations in Russia, and the U.S. is now set to ban all imports of Russian oil.

Before the war, Putin spent years insisting that allowing Ukraine to join NATO — something the country has pushed for consistently since 2019, and had previously pursued in 2008 — would be a “menacing” and existential threat to Russia. In the days leading up to the invasion, Russian state media promoted false stories of a network of American labs creating biological weapons in Ukraine. And when Putin announced his “special military operation,” he claimed it was to target Nazis in the government and protect Ukrainian citizens from genocide.

These excuses, of course, are baseless. While Ukraine has been angling to join NATO for some time, the country has never threatened Russia with weapons of mass destruction. Ukraine willingly gave up the third-largest nuclear stockpile in the world in 1994 as part of the Budapest Memorandum, in exchange for an explicit security guarantee from the world’s other nuclear powers, including the Russian Federation.

There is also no proof of any U.S.-run biological weapons labs in Ukraine. And Putin’s claims to be protecting Ukrainians from Nazis, and protecting ethnic Russians from genocide, are nonsense. Putin’s argument that far-right nationalists and Nazis control the government of Ukraine ignores the reality that President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish. Meanwhile, Putin’s trumped-up concern for native Russian speakers is based on a January 2022 provision requiring Ukrainian media publications to use the Ukrainian language. There is no proof, however, of any genocide against native Russian speakers in Ukraine.

Those facts have not stopped far-right media figures and fringe outlets from furthering Russia’s disinformation campaign, defending the invasion, and declaring Ukraine to be a “client state of the US.”

  • In a March 6 Telegram post, QAnon influencer Jordan Sather shared a tweet from ASB News – an account which claims to share breaking military news and analysis on Russia – which alleged that “Ukraine was working on biological weapons near russian borders” in “US funded labs."
  • In a March 6 Gab post, the account OutLawJWshared the ASB News tweet and added, “The truth is coming out of what's REALLY going down in Ukraine, and it sure doesn't mesh with the garbage narrative the fake news media and the DC swamp want everyone to buy into."
  • During the March 2 edition of One America News Network’s Real America with Dan Ball, host Dan Ball baselessly claimed that “there’s questions about biolabs being set up in that country by America and other corporations — you’re talking biotech-type weaponry.”
  • In a March 6 article, the Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft repeated the claims of “biological testing in Ukraine near the Russian border.” Hoft noted that one of the documents that he says corroborate the existence of these biolabs comes from the Russian outlet RIA Novosti.
  • In a March 6 Telegram post, QAnon-associated account The Patriot Voice, run by a conspiracy theorist influencer known as QAnon John, shared a screenshot of Russian state media outlet RT claiming Ukraine was destroying “plague, anthrax and other pathogens” at a U.S.-run lab. The Patriot Voice added the comment, “Whatcha got to hide, Ukraine? I thought the US funded BioLabs were ‘FaKe NeWs’???”
  • In a March 6 Telegram post, far-right podcaster Stew Peters said, “There appears to be a LOT of Nazis in Ukraine."
  • Also on March 6, Human Events Daily’s Jack Posobiec tweeted “Oops…” in response to unverified photographs supposedly showing NATO equipment in use by a right-wing Ukrainian nationalist group.
  • BlazeTV host Elijah Schaffer:
  • The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens:
  • Far-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich:
  • American Majority Founder Ned Ryun:

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters


Networks Blame Both Parties For Relief Fiasco — And That’s Wrong

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

President Trump signed four executive orders following a congressional gridlock over negotiations about the second COVID-19 relief bill, which Republicans refused to enter into until the eleventh hour. Sunday political broacasts, however, continued with their false equivalency that both parties are to blame and forced the president's hand.

The economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic have been devastating for millions of Americas. The Census Bureau estimated that sometime before July 21, nearly 30 million Americans did not have enough to eat. Millions are still unemployed, and the Congressional Budget Office expects the unemployment rate to remain "elevated" through 2021. Forty million people are reportedly at risk of being kicked out of their homes due to the pandemic, especially as eviction moratoriums across the country come to an end. The ending of enhanced unemployment benefits looks set to become an economic catastrophe.

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Gun And Anti-Vax Extremists Fuel Shutdown Protests

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Investigative reporting has illuminated connections between pro-gun activists and the fringe protests demanding that various states prematurely end stay-at-home orders and allow nonessential businesses to reopen. Local gun activists in Wisconsin and Virginia, some well-known national gun rights extremists, and pro-gun message boards are cheering on the protests too.

The nationwide anti-quarantine protests started with what was dubbed "Operation Gridlock" on April 15 in Lansing, Michigan, one of states that has been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of cars drove up to the capitol to demonstrate against the state's stay-at-home order, and protesters led chants to "recall" Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who had recently extended the order and added more restrictions. Similar protests quickly cropped up across the country and featured signs that expressed anti-government sentiments -- resisting vaccines, comparing the stay-at-home orders to tyranny, and emphasizing freedom over safety.

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Lawsuit Highlights Feuding Inside Gun Lobby Over NRATV

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

The National Rifle Association has filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma City-based Ackerman McQueen, which has been the group’s ad agency for nearly 40 years and produces the pro-gun extremist network NRATV.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the lawsuit was filed on April 12 and claims that Ackerman McQueen “was obliged to provide access to to records underlying its bills” but that as of halfway through 2018, some such requests had been “rebuffed or baldly ignored.” The lawsuit also zeroes in on NRA President Oliver North, who has a contract with Ackerman McQueen to host the NRATV show Oliver North’s American Heroes. The NRA says it is required to disclose and approve its top officials’ pay, but that neither North nor Ackerman McQueen will share all the details of their contract.

The article highlights a split between the “pro-Ackerman McQueen faction” of the NRA’s board, who think that Brewer Law, the firm leading the lawsuit, is charging too much, and those who think it is “money … well spent, because it’s for the survival of the NRA,” which reportedly includes Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

Ackerman McQueen and the NRA have long had a symbiotic relationship. The NRA’s lawyer who is handling the lawsuit is related to two top Ackerman officials, and some employees have worked with both organizations, either alternating or at the same time. The ad agency was responsible for some of the NRA’s darker videos and helped former NRA President Charleton Heston hone his image as he led the organization.

This latest bout of infighting, however, comes a little over a month after NRA board member Marion Hammer went on record to The New York Times questioning “the value of” NRATV network and less than six months after layoffs hit the network.

The gun lobby’s media platform has been a cesspool of bigotry and extremist talking points for over a decade. Those characteristics were on full display last month when NRA spokesperson and NRATV host Dana Loesch shared an image of the trains from the children’s TV show Thomas & Friends wearing KKK hoods to protest the show’s focus on diversity. The move reportedly left LaPierre “livid and embarrassed.”

Sunday Talkshows Ignore Devastating New Hurricane Maria Reports

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

Following a new study estimating that almost 5,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, Sunday news shows completely ignored the devastation and death toll that is 72 times higher than the government’s official number of 64.

Written up by the Washington Post, a May 29 Harvard University study “estimates that at least 4,645 deaths can be linked to the hurricane and its immediate aftermath,” and noted that “health-care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impact.”

If the Harvard study is accurate, Maria will be the second deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. Thousands are still waiting for power. It is already estimated to and have caused $90 billion in damages in Puerto Rico alone. The devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands from Hurricanes Irma and Maria has caused billions more in damage. And 2018 Hurricane season is officially underway as of June 1.

Despite this less than a week old study, the major Sunday political talk shows — which include CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday — were all silent on the subject.

MSNBC’s AM Joy and CNN’s Reliable Sources both noted the discrepancy between coverage of Hurricane Maria’s devastation, and Roseanne Barr’s racist and anti-Semitic tweets that resulted in her eponymous show being canceled.

CNN’s New Day Sunday highlighted the Harvard study’s reported death toll and noted Puerto Rico is “still recovering” and that “11,000 residents still do not have power” as the country enters the official 2018 hurricane season.

The media has routinely ignored the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, dating back to just one week after the storm made landfall when these Sunday shows covered the devastation for less than a minute. Cable news quickly turned away from Puerto Rico following the hurricane as well. The day the Harvard study was released, cable news gave it 30 minutes of coverage that was drowned out by ten hours spent on Roseanne.

NRA Quietly Moves To Help Roy Moore Win The Alabama Senate Election

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

The National Rifle Association has discreetly spent almost $55,000 against Democratic candidate Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate special election, effectively supporting reported child molester and Republican candidate Roy Moore.

Public Integrity’s Ashley Balcerzak reported that the NRA spent a total of $54,772.03 in December 2017 on postcards opposing Jones, according to Federal Election Commission filings. But there’s no mention of the NRA being involved in the race on its Political Victory Fund and Institute for Legislative Action websites, the two groups the NRA uses for election spending. According to the Political Victory Fund, the NRA is currently endorsing two candidates: a Republican in an Oklahoma State Legislature special election, and a Republican in the Tennessee General Assembly special election.

The website claims there are “no current elections” the NRA is involved with in Alabama.

Searching for both “Doug Jones” or “Roy Moore” on the Political Victory Fund’s media center page yields “no results.” The only recent mention of “Alabama” was in September 2017, plugging for NRA-endorsed Luther Strange in the special primary election. Running the same search terms on the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action website similarly yielded no results pertaining to the Alabama Senate election.

Moore is accused of having inappropriate sexual relationships with multiple underaged girls, as young as 14, while he was in his 30s, including attempting to rape a 16-year-old girl.

Through regular monitoring of NRATV, the NRA’s broadcast platform, Media Matters can report that the Alabama Senate election has not been a regular topic of discussion.



Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Here Is The NRA’s Latest Attack Against The First Amendment

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

The National Rifle Association’s broadcast platform NRATV has launched its latest attack against freedom of the press, this time targeting The Washington Post, calling the newspaper a “fake news outlet” and claiming it is where “journalism dies.”

On July 11, the Post published an article calling an NRATV video about political unrest in the U.S. “dark.” The article noted that the video condemned “Democratic politicians, the media and activists as the catalysts for political upheaval” in this country, “with one glaring omission: firearms.” According to the article, the video focused on “political discussions” around public safety during civil unrest, “with less clear connections to Second Amendment rights.”

On July 17, NRATV released a response video featuring NRATV host Grant Stinchfield, who called out the Post reporter by name and slammed him for “tell[ing] us we can’t have an opinion unless it’s about guns.”

The video also accused the Post of “spreading lies about those who disagree with their radical agenda” and said the newspaper is pushing “organized anarchy” that is “destroying our country.” Stinchfield went on to claim, “You people do more to damage our country with a keyboard than every NRA member combined has ever done with a firearm.”

Less than one day after the video’s release, The New York Times’ Max Fisher tweeted that the video is “edging right up to the line of endorsing violence against journalists,” while HuffPost called it “disturbing.”

Despite the mounting criticism, Stinchfield doubled down on his video during the noon edition of NRATV’s Stinchfield on July 18, claiming the newspaper uses its “keyboards as weapons of destruction”:

 

GRANT STINCHFIELD: The Washington Post is out of line. They claim to uphold the standards of journalism when, in fact, they use their keyboards as weapons of destruction as they try to tear apart the Trump administration in an effort not just to destroy him, but to destroy America, and it is wrong.

This video is just the latest in a growing number of attacks the NRA has launched against both the press and freedom of the press since Donald Trump won the Republican nomination for president and was ultimately elected. During an October 26, 2016, broadcast, Stinchfield characterized dissent against Trump as an “assault against … the Constitution.” A month later, during a November 29 broadcast, Stinchfield called “mainstream” media “dishonest and downright dirty,” suggesting that it is “anti-patriotic” to report critically on Trump and his transition team, and said that the media instead “needs to get on board.”

After The New York Times ran an advertisement during this year’s Oscar awards about the importance of journalism, the NRA fired back with its own 75-second ad claiming Americans have “stopped looking to The New York Times for the truth.” And in April, the NRA announced a “series of messages” against the newspaper, which the organization claims has “gone on the offensive to take away your liberties.”

Header image source.