Right-wing media influencers have spread narratives denying the Russian military’s involvement in reported war crimes committed in the town of Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, Ukraine.
Following the withdrawal of Russian troops from the region, mainstream media outlets have reported on satellite images from the region that show mass graves, bodies that show signs of execution, and streets of the once-quiet town “littered with burned-out tanks and corpses.” PBS and The Associated Press have identified four potential war crimes committed by the Russian military since April 3, and their collaborative War Crimes Watch Ukraine resource has verified 113 potential war crimes overall.
The Russian government has denied responsibility for these atrocities. An official Russian Telegram channel denied accusations that Russian soldiers killed Ukrainians in Bucha and claimed that “the photos and video footage from Bucha are another hoax, a staged production and provocation by the Kiev regime for the Western media.”
Far-right influencers took to podcasts, interviews, and social media to boost the Russians’ denial that the massacre was staged or faked, blaming a number of different countries and global organizations.
Conspiracy theory site Infowars has been a hotbed of conspiracy theories related to the atrocities in Bucha. On April 5, Alex Jones took to the show to promote articles on the Infowars site that “clearly show a lot of this was fake.”
The next day guest host Robert Barnes continued to spout similar claims. Barnes asserted that the Russian forces did not control Bucha while they stayed in the city and did not “cut off any civilian infrastructure.” He then repeated assertions that atrocities in the area were not reported until days after Russian forces exited, claiming that fact showed the massacre was a false flag.
On its website, Infowars touted remarks by Tucker Carlson foreign policy muse Douglas Macgregor. Macgregor told a YouTube podcast that he was “extremely suspicious” at the “brilliant timing” and unanimous condemnation in the media of Russia's actions in Bucha, likening the condemnation to the lies used to sell the Iraq War. In the same podcast, Macgregor later said of the Bucha massacre that “it’s hard for me to believe that this was a deliberate act done by the Russian military” and that “I looked at both sides of this and I couldn't come away with a certain conclusion one way or the other. There were things that didn't make a lot of sense.”
During the April 4 broadcast of Human Events Daily with Jack Posobiec, the Pizzagate conspiracy theorist claimed “we can’t tell what happened” in Bucha and “both sides have their grievances.” The comments were boosted by The Post Millennial, a right-wing blog. Posobiec has a history of boosting Russian-backed conspiracy theories about the war in Ukraine.
Former presidential candidate Ron Paul claimed on the April 5 edition of the Ron Paul Liberty Report that he’s “very suspicious of what we're hearing, just who has been doing what.” His co-host Daniel McAdams repeated denial narratives, saying, “We do not know what happened in this small town,” and went on to describe a timeline of events that implied Russian forces were not behind the massacre.
During a livestream on Rumble, the right-wing alternative to YouTube, militia-linked radio host Pete Santilli claimed the massacre was faked and the CIA was behind it. The episode also included a video sourced from Infowars that supposedly proved the massacre was faked.
On CrossTalk, a Christian nationalist show hosted by QAnon conspiracy theorist Lauren Witzke and Edward Szall, the co-hosts claimed Russian forces in Bucha were “helping the Ukrainians; they weren’t abusing them, they weren’t doing terrible things to them,” as evidenced by images of food packaging alongside the dead.
Witzke also claimed to have heard rumors Ukrainians are accepting help from Russian forces and said she has “nothing but respect for Putin. And you know what, it’s a daggum shame that they’re doing this crap to people, that they’re murdering people, just so they can paint him as this horrible leader, this tyrant.” The episode, which was cross-posted to the “Stew Peters Network” page on Rumble, is titled “Ukrainian War Crimes in Bucha Exposed: Zelensky’s MI6 Nazi False Flag Murdered Kids.”
The Russian-backed misinformation problem extends beyond far-right media in the English language. The Venezuelen-owened TV outlet Telesur shared a video to its 1.5 million YouTube subscribers on April 4, that called the events in Bucha a farce and included the claims the images were taken following the exit of Russian forces as proof of the falsehood.
In right-leaning private Facebook groups, users have both expressed skepticism about the atrocities in Bucha, suggesting that they have been staged by the “Kiev regime” or “a Liberal faction.” Some posts linked to Infowars and Summit News (an affiliated project of Infowars), while others linked directly to Russian state media sites RT and TASS. We found only one instance where Facebook flagged such posts as “False Information.”
Far-right communities on fringe social media platforms have also spread Russian denial.
Gab CEO Andrew Torba posted to his platform a video from RT that implied the images and videos coming from Bucha were faked. The post amassed over 1,800 likes, comments, and reposts. Another post shared to Gab, known as a haven for white nationalists, on April 5 by @Corvid1984 also questioned the reality of the massacre based on the images and videos coming out of the region. The post received over 1,500 engagements.
A post on the QAnon forum GreatAwakening.win claims, “The National Guard of Ukraine filmed its entering into the town north of Kiev where the alleged massacre took place. They were first in the town after the withdrawal of Russian troops. The video clearly shows no dead bodies on the streets.”
Messaging platform Telegram was also rife with the narrative that reports of potential war crimes in Bucha were Ukrainian propaganda. QAnon-affiliated Telegram channel We The Media reposted a different video originally published by Intel Slava Z, a Russian Telegram news aggregator, and claimed it shows “staged footage of the Ukrainian psyop unit from Bucha.”
On April 4, holocaust denier and leader of the fascist “America First” movement Nick Fuentes posted a link to his cozy.tv livestream decrying the “Fake ‘Bucha’ massacre.” During the stream, Fuentes also said the West “needs an excuse to escalate the war just as much as the Ukrainians, and how do they do that? Well they do a handshake deal, and the Ukrainians fake the massacre and the Western media eats it up, they feed that to the population.”
Printed with permission from Media Matters.