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This Week in Misinformation: Hispanic Nazi Shooter, Drones Over Moscow, Biden Bombshell Dud
11 May 2023
We’re doing a double this morning, folks! I know you missed it soooo much last week.
Is this the week you’ll forward this to a friend? Would be ever so grateful.
Reliability scores for media outlets cited in the summary are in parentheses for each, courtesy of the terrific folks at Ad Fontes Media.
Now, on to our top stories.
The extreme ideology of the Texas mall mass shooter was so clear to see that it sparked a backlash.
The carnage in Allen, Texas took the lives of at least nine people, including gunman Mauricio Garcia (New York Times, 42.00). Before his name was known or the victims even counted, rumors quickly proliferated about the tragedy, for example that he was a Black man or was a member of Central American gang MS-13. His motive was, of course, a central question.
It turned out that this shooter was in the thrall of hateful far-right ideas, including literally branding himself as a Nazi before his killing spree (CBS News, 44.09), wearing a “right wing death squad” patch (PBS, 47.01), and leaving pages upon pages of his writings praising Hitler posted to a no-follower account he created on a Russian social media site known as OK. He hated Jews and women and racial minorities (NBC News, 45.07) and embraced white supremacy (ADL). We know this because an enterprising Bellingcat researcher found the OK profile and reported its contents.
Then a few things happened. First, conservative culture warriors, including ones Garcia said influenced him, got mad. Second, right-wing accounts started churning out all kinds of conspiracy theories saying the OK site information was fake, in part because of their (incorrect) certainty that a person named Garcia could never identify as a white supremacist. Third, Elon Musk himself endorsed the allegation that Bellingcat had pulled a “psyop” with its quick, straightforward findings. (Musk has been much more open of late about his agreement with racist sentiments and conspiracy theories generally, and even subscribed to pay a major QAnon influencer for his content, so maybe this isn’t too surprising!)
A small flying thing exploded above the Kremlin in Moscow.
That’s all we know for sure about this incident (BBC, 46.15)! The rest--like who did it and why--are not at all clear.
Russia has variously claimed that either Ukraine or the United States (Reuters, 47.27) was responsible for the attack, maybe for the purpose of assassinating Vladimir Putin (NPR, 43.29). (Both Kyiv and Washington have denied it.) Important to note that there are reasons to believe Ukraine couldn’t have done the deed, including that some experts think a drone of that size would probably have had to be launched from inside Russia to reach the center of Moscow (Reuters). A successful assassination was not remotely within reach, either.
Whatever the truth behind the Kremlin attack, Russia took the opportunity to barrage Ukrainian territory with its sizable drone arsenal (BBC). If this turns out to be the first of a series of escalations, I will probably interpret the Kremlin event as being a false flag to serve as pretext for what would otherwise be clear provocations.
House GOP leaders put forward a bold, so far unsubstantiated, set of corruption allegations against the “Biden family.”
As The Wall Street Journal (43.65) implies in its headline, Rep. James Comer is using the supposed discovery of bank records showing payments to nine members of President Biden’s family receiving payments from foreign countries, including while he was VPOTUS under Obama, to jumpstart his flagging investigation into Hunter and others.
While we can’t say now if the entire thing is a nothingburger, one thing Comer pointedly has not claimed to have is evidence Joe Biden himself did wrong or was even involved (New York Times). Without this, it’s a stretch to paint this as bribery or influence peddling, even though I think it’s unseemly for officials’ relations to profit from their positions of public trust.
One aspect working against Comer’s credibility is that in the press conference he deployed a number of logically weak, conspiracy-theorist rhetorical devices, for example turning the question back on anyone who requests he prove his claims. Don’t do this kind of thing, people; critical thinkers can see right through it.
Not your parents’ grab bag: Meghan Markle 'doesn't go to coronation in disguise, hilarity ensues; Taylor Swift doesn't publish her memoir under a different name, someone else’s book becomes bestseller; Alex Jones doesn't realize he is talking to not Tucker Carlson, warns of the dangers of misinformation; a Republican official subjected to threats for 2020 election role now has PTSD; Tucker Carlson doesn't keep contract with Fox, says he will set up new show on Twitter; migrants from Latin America don't have correct information about U.S. immigration policy and enforcement; verified Twitter accounts share entirely baseless rumors about supposed Russian nuclear strikes; Congressional Republicans are taking another pass at bombshell-ifying the October 2020 former intelligence officials letter about Hunter Biden story; and one of the groups pushing back on Trump’s town hall false claims might surprise you.
All that, and a lot more, below. This is This Week in Misinformation.