Dozens of people, many of them children, died in a nerve-gas attack in a rebel-held city in Syria this week.
Reporters who visited the town talked to residents who “described a scene of utter horror at the attack site. The wounded were shaking and convulsing on the ground, foaming at the mouth, their lips blue, passing in and out of consciousness.” They talked to people who watched Syrian government aircraft drop chemical munitions, which they thought were ordinary bombs until rescue workers started collapsing.
As horrifying pictures of poisoned children started to surface in the world’s media, U.S. president Donald Trump called the attacks an “affront to humanity,” and said that it crossed “many, many lines.” The next day, U.S. warships launched missile attacks on a Syrian air base.
In an “undisclosed location” in Austin, Tex., however, Alex Jones knew better, or claimed he did — the attack, the Infowars host argued, must have been staged by aid workers backed by financier George Soros, since Syria no longer had chemical weapons. (Why the aid workers, or Soros, would have access to chemical weapons if the Syrian government doesn’t was left unexplained.)
“No one questions how the Syrian government could possibly use a weapon it doesn’t have, nor what motive it could possibly possess,” Infowars argued.
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(The New York Times explains Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s logic here: attacks of this kind are a display of power, and make the regime’s enemies miserable.)
Trump’s links to Jones have made many uneasy. In a 2015 appearance on Infowars, he told the conspiracy theorist: “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”
Over the years, Jones has called a bewildering variety of incidents “false flags” — the 2016 Brussels attacks, the London attacks in March, the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, Dylann Roof’s Facebook page, the Boston Marathon bombing, the 2011 mass shooting in Norway, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, a case of Ebola, the Orlando, Fla., nightclub shooting in 2016, a coup attempt in Turkey, the 2015 Paris attacks, 9/11 and more.
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As a rule of thumb, any act of political violence in the present century that you’ve heard of has probably been labelled a “false flag” by Alex Jones.
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In fake-news news:
- Local school board officials in Newtown, Ct. (some of them Republicans) quietly wrote to the White House in February with a strange request — they asked Trump to acknowledge that the Sandy Hook school massacre of 2014 had actually happened. It doesn’t seem like something that should be necessary, but Jones’s assertion that the murders were “completely fake” had added a level of misery to the community’s already unbearable burden. “The town is bedeviled by visitors convinced that the murders were a meticulously staged government hoax carried out to justify new gun-control laws,” the Columbia Journalism Review explains. To date, there has been no response.
- Did drunk and rowdy American students on vacation in Mexico in February chant “Build the wall”? It was widely reported at the time, but the Guardian can’t find any evidence that it actually happened, and the Facebook account where the story originated has vanished.
- The fact-checking site Snopes, finding it challenging to verify or disprove stories about crime committed by immigrants in Sweden, sent a reporter there. She looked at three assertions: that Sweden has Europe’s highest rate of sexual assault (false); that recent arrivals are behind most of the country’s crime (mostly false) and that the country has ‘no-go’ zones for police (false).
- Russia is asserting that Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, shouldn’t be in the country at all, since at one time it was in Poland. (National boundaries in that part of Europe have moved around quite a lot.) Lithuanian officials, who say Russia took a similar position about parts of Ukraine before invading, fear that the claims are part of a buildup to eventual military force.
- Fake news sites are still making money from ad networks, Buzzfeed finds. Sites kicked off Google’s AdSense system just move on to other ones.
- During the Democratic primaries last year, Hillary Clinton supporter Leah McElrath was startled by the amount of venomous social-media attacks on her, apparently from Bernie Sanders fans. “The experience was confusing and deeply concerning,” she writes. “I worried if my generation of feminists had missed huge numbers of young men self-identifying as progressives who so clearly hated women. I worried for my daughter’s future as she grows up and enters into a world populated by such supposed allies.” In retrospect, however, it’s clear that she was targeted by bots — bots with an oddly limited grasp of English, which she now believes were in Russia. With the election over, thousands of Twitter accounts she had blocked vanished altogether.
READ: As always, fake news festered in the aftermath of the London attack