Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
A major report from BuzzFeed News notes that Macedonian authorities, with the assistance of the FBI, are investigating multiple people in Macedonia involved with creating fake news sites, including an attorney who created one of the country’s first fake news sites, usapoliticstoday.com. The authorities are also looking into whether the attorney has any connections to the Russian government.
Here are some notable findings from the report and some context to them:
- Investigators are examining whether Anna Bogacheva, a Russian official who was recently indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for involvement in Russian interference during the 2016 election, was involved in creating the Macedonian sites. Records indicate, according to BuzzFeed, that Bogacheva was in the country in 2015.
- The authorities are looking at at least 20 people, including attorney Trajche Arsov and Bogacheva, in “two overlapping investigations.” The FBI is assisting with the investigations and is sharing relevant information with Mueller.
- Arsov created numerous fake sites, including usapoliticstoday.com in 2015, which influenced others in Veles to follow his footsteps, helping the city become the main hub for fake news in Macedonia.
- Arsov recruited the one of the American creators of the fake news site Liberty Writers, Paris Wade, to write for usapoliticstoday.com, along with Wade’s brother Alex. The other Liberty Writers co-founder, Ben Goldman, also had what BuzzFeed called a “relationship” with the site, where he and Arsov “shared each other’s content on their respective Facebook pages.” Liberty Writers had a verified Facebook page, which Facebook later took down. (Facebook also blocked links to the site.) Paris Wade, who is currently running for the Nevada Assembly as a Republican, has used Facebook’s actions to gain support for his campaign.
- Another site, usapoliticstoday.org, is currently active and shares a Facebook App ID, Revcontent Widget ID, and Google Analytics ID with usapoliticstoday.com, according to the analytic tool Trendolizer, evidence suggesting that it is controlled by the same entity as usapoliticstoday.com. UPDATE: BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman, who co-authored the report, has confirmed that usapoliticstoday.org is also Arsov’s site.
Yes, that’s his site as well. He moved to that domain from the .com and ported over all of the archives.
— Craig Silverman (@CraigSilverman) July 19, 2018HED/ US CONSERVATIVES LINKED TO MAJOR FAKE NEWS SITE WITH SUSPECTED RUSSIAN TIES [MEDIA, RUSSIA, FAR RIGHT, FEATURED]
- Arsov also recruited writer Alicia Powe to write for usapoliticstoday.com. During the 2016 campaign, Powe repeatedly shared false stories from usapoliticstoday.com on her Facebook page, urging people to share the articles. The posts she shared included articles claiming then-Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton “betray[ed] our country to terrorists,” that then-President Barack Obama planned to “allow ISIS into America,” and that Obama and billionaire George Soros were behind the 2016 police shooting in Dallas. Powe now writes for the conspiracy theoryblog The Gateway Pundit. She has recently pushed conspiracy theories about the death of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
- A British writer recruited by Arsov to write for him, Oliver Dollimore, is a former contributor to The Gateway Pundit. An Oliver Dollimore is listed as one of the writers on usapoliticstoday.org. Some of the pieces Dollimore is listed as writing there include the baseless allegation that Obama spied on Chief Justice John Roberts, a claim that CNN is “fake news,” and the false claim that Obama directly wiretapped Trump Tower.
- Arsov falsely told BuzzFeed News that his sites “did not publish hoaxes.” Usapoliticstoday.com published fake stories that Pope Francis said the “Koran and Holy Bible are the same,” that former President Bill Clinton was on his deathbed, that the Supreme Court banned teaching Sharia law in schools (now a long-running fake story), that Hillary Clinton ordered former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s arrest, and that 2016 Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump.
- The fake stories were not just limited to USA Politics domains: Guerilla.news, a site that BuzzFeed said Arsov created, pushed a fake story that Obama canceled and Trump revived “police week.” And New Conservatives, another site connected to Arsov, pushed fake stories that the NFL suspended three teams for protesting the national anthem, that Trump made Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) “the most powerful man on Capitol Hill,” that Hollywood celebrities were going on strike until Trump resigns, and that an Iranian Muslim was arrested for fires in California.
- Arsov “repeatedly denied … that his publishing business had any connection to Russia or anyone who might have operated as a proxy for the country.” Usapoliticstoday.com and usapoliticstoday.org have published multiple pieces undermining Mueller’s probe and attacking former FBI Director James Comey.
- Usapoliticstoday.com repeatedly pushed dubious and false claims from American right-wing media and far-right circles. That includes Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s claim that Obama wiretapped the Supreme Court, The Gateway Pundit’s claim that Hillary Clinton knew before the 2016 election that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower (he didn’t), and the far-right’s claim that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch had committed wrongdoing by using an alias in her government emails. The site also defended the Trump administration’s false claim about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, and made the baseless allegation that Soros was funding all anti-Trump protests early in Trump’s term.
- On Twitter, figures that shared material from usapoliticstoday.com include Fox News host Harris Faulkner; former Trump campaign adviser and New Hampshire state GOP Rep. Al Baldasaro; right-wing radio host Michael Berry; Marco Gutierrez, who ran “Latinos for Trump” during the 2016 campaign and is a former California GOP congressional candidate (Gutierrez famously warned of“taco trucks on every corner” should Trump have lost the election); a reporter for CBS’ West Palm Beach affiliate; Breitbart host Curt Schilling; former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik; and right-wing radio host Mark Simone. Massachusetts GOP Senate candidate Shiva Ayyadurai has shared material from usapoliticstoday.org.
Header image by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters