An Alternate Jan. 6 Universe; Hand-Me-Down Monkeypox Myths; How Sarcasm Turns To Misinformation
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Alternate Universe: ‘Voter Fraud,’ ‘False Flag,’ ‘No Firearms’
Newsmax is presenting a counter-narrative to the Jan. 6 hearings that is so steeped in falsehoods that it reads like Russian state television’s account of the Ukraine war
By Jack Brewster, Coalter Palmer, and Lorenzo Arvanitis
Former President Donald Trump has expressed frustration that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy withdrew pro-Trump Republicans from the Jan. 6 House committee. However, on Newsmax, Trump is getting strongly pro-Trump coverage.
Since June 9, 2022, the first day of the House committee’s public hearings into the attack, the Newsmax television channel has spread approximately 40 false and misleading claims about the 2020 presidential election, the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and the House committee itself, a NewsGuard review has found.
What follows is a summary of the false and misleading claims identified by NewsGuard that were aired on Newsmax by its journalists or guests between June 9, 2022, and June 30, 2022. In cases where the claims were made by guests, NewsGuard only included them if the channel’s host did not challenge the claim.
The Jan. 6 rioters were ‘unarmed’
NewsGuard found that Newsmax advanced this claim six times on-air between June 9, 2022, and June 30, 2022:
- During a June 15, 2022, segment of “John Bachman Now,” guest Kelly Sadler, a commentary editor at The Washington Times, said, “Was it [an] insurrection? No. I mean, none of these folks were armed.”
- During a June 29, 2022, segment of “Greg Kelly Reports,” anchor Greg Kelly said of the Jan. 6 attack, “There were no firearms at this event. At the Capitol or at the Ellipse.”
- During a June 29, 2022, showing of “Day of Outrage,” a Newsmax special report, Kelly, who was interviewed for the documentary, said of the riot, “There was no coordination, there was no prior planning, there were no weapons.” At another point in the episode, guest Jessie Jane Duff, a retired gunnery sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps, said, “The mainstream media ran with the word insurrection, which gives the impression that we were having a violent revolution right here in the city of Washington, D.C., when in fact nobody was caught with firearms.”
❌ Debunk: NBC News reported one week after the attack that police had seized 12 guns, including an assault rifle, and thousands of rounds of ammunition from seven protesters attending the Jan. 6, 2021, rally. In one case, the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department arrested a man who was alleged to be carrying a fully loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6. According to a database maintained by NPR, as of July 1, 2022, three of the people facing federal charges for their alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 attack had been charged with possessing a gun on Capitol grounds. Moreover, the Jan. 6 House committee has now heard firsthand evidence that the president was told that hundreds of people who ended up marching to the Capitol did not gather close to the stage to hear the president speak at the earlier rally on the Ellipse because they feared going through Secret Service magnetometers, where their weapons would have been detected and confiscated.
Then-President Trump summoned the National Guard to the Capitol, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocked his request
NewsGuard found that Newsmax advanced this claim 11 times on-air between June 9, 2022, and June 30, 2022:
- During a June 10, 2022, episode of “Wake Up America,” co-host Alison Maloni said that the Jan. 6 House committee “didn’t talk about … the fact that President Trump called for the National Guard and then it was up to Nancy Pelosi and the mayor of D.C. to activate them and they chose not to.”
- During a June 11, 2022, segment of “Saturday Agenda,” guest Republican U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne of Texas said, “Nancy Pelosi and Mayor [Muriel] Bowser had information they didn’t share with the rest of us. They had offers by President Trump to be able to help bring in the National Guard. They denied it.”
- A June 11, 2022, segment of “The Chris Salcedo Show,” included a clip of Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia saying, “What amazes me is the overwhelming amount of evidence that the National Guard was requested to be here, and it was continuously turned down … [by] Chuck Schumer in the Senate, Nancy Pelosi in the House, and Mayor Muriel Bowser.”
- During a June 19, 2022, segment of “Huckabee,” host Mike Huckabee, a former Republican Arkansas governor and presidential candidate, said that it was an “irrefutable fact that [Trump] urged Pelosi, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, as well as others, to allow him to supply up to 20,000 troops for security on that day, but they all turned him down.”
❌ Debunk: There is no evidence that Pelosi, Schumer, or Bowser denied a request for National Guard assistance before or during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. In fact, the D.C. National Guard is controlled by the U.S. president and the executive branch, not by the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, or the mayor of Washington, D.C. The president does not need approval to deploy the National Guard in the nation’s capital.
Jan. 6 was a ‘false flag’ event
During a June 22, 2022, episode of “Wise Guys With John Tabacco,” a series of man-on-the-street interviews were played in which one unnamed interviewee claimed, “[It] seems like [Jan. 6] was somewhat of a fraudulent event — false flag event — that was organized. Nothing about it seems real.” The interviewer, co-host Cara Castronuova, did not challenge the man’s comments, which were aired at least three other times on the channel.
❌ Debunk: There is no evidence that the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was a false flag event, as demonstrated in part by the approximately 40 people who have been identified as members of pro-Trump and far-right extremist groups who have already pleaded guilty to charges arising from the riot.
There were only ‘a few hundred’ rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6
During a June 13, 2022, episode of “The Chris Salcedo Show,” anchor Chris Salcedo said that “a few hundred folks walk[ed] through the Capitol, harmed police officers and broke some windows where Cheney and Kinzinger and other Democrats work.”
❌ Debunk: The U.S. Justice Department estimates that between 2,000 and 2,500 people entered the Capitol on Jan. 6. Approximately 850 people have been charged, and 327 have already pleaded guilty to their charges.
Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to send electoral votes back to the states for certification
During a June 21, 2022, episode of “Greg Kelly Reports,” anchor Kelly stated, “you had discretion, Vice President Pence. You could have sent these votes back to Harrisburg, back to Phoenix, back to Atlanta and say ‘we need this straightened out.’ ”
❌ Debunk: In fact, the vice president does not have such a power, according to numerous constitutional scholars from across the political spectrum, including Bill Barr, who was then-President Trump’s attorney general.
Alleged FBI informant Ray Epps was not interviewed by the Jan. 6 House committee
During a June 11, 2022, segment of “Saturday Agenda,” guest Ken Timmerman, president and CEO of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, posed leading questions about Capitol rioter Ray Epps, including, “Who is Ray Epps? What was he doing leading the charge? How come he has never been arrested? Is he an FBI informant?” Timmerman added, inaccurately, “That has never been asked by the January 6 committee.”
❌ Debunk: The Jan. 6 select committee conducted an interview with Epps in November 2021, during which he told committee members that “he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency,” according to a spokesperson for the panel.
The movie ‘2000 Mules’ proves the 2020 election was ‘very suspicious’
During a June 28, 2022, episode of “Spicer & Co.,” former Trump administration White House press secretary and show anchor Sean Spicer interviewed Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Babin of Texas, who stated, “Elections have consequences, and that’s what happened in 2020 in a very strange, very irregular — and if you’ve seen ‘2000 Mules,’ very suspicious — election that has been foisted upon the American people.”
❌ Debunk: Experts have told numerous news outlets, including Reuters and The Dispatch, that “2000 Mules” relies on geolocation data with major limitations, and therefore cannot be used to prove the occurrence of fraudulent activity in the 2020 election. The film only speculates on the motives of people captured on surveillance footage dropping off ballots, rather than proves that these individuals rigged the election for Joe Biden. Testifying before the Jan. 6 House committee, former Attorney General Barr described the findings of the documentary as “singularly unimpressive.”
More generally, the 2020 election was ‘stolen,’ ‘rigged,’ or characterized by widespread fraud
NewsGuard found that Newsmax advanced this claim 12 times on-air between June 9, 2022, and June 30, 2022:
- In a June 14, 2022, segment of “Prime News,” guest Kari Lake, a Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, said, “Because of Joe Biden, and frankly because of a corrupt, stolen election, they put Joe Biden in the White House, and now we have a disaster at our border.”
- In a June 23, 2022, segment of “The Chris Salcedo Show,” guest Ken Paxton, the Republican attorney general of Texas, said: “I know for a fact there was voter fraud in Texas. I know what they tried to do in Texas, trying to mail out illegal ballots literally by the millions in several different Democratic counties, and those would have affected the election. Now I know that’s not a popular talk, but that’s the reality of what happened in my state and it appears to me that it happened in other states like Georgia and Arizona and Pennsylvania.”
- In a June 29, 2022, segment of “John Bachman Now,” guest Lake said that the Jan. 6 House committee “should be talking about the stolen election, and they refuse to talk about that. They could bring forth real evidence to show people what happened on Nov. 3 when our vote was stolen from us, but they refuse to do that.”
- In an interview that aired on the programs “Wake Up America” and “John Bachmann Now” on June 30, 2022, former President Trump described the election as “rigged” and “stolen.”
❌ Debunk: There is no evidence that the 2020 election was “stolen,” with top election officials in all 50 states having affirmed the integrity of the election, according to The New York Times, and numerous federal officials and independent observers having reached the same conclusion. In a Nov. 12, 2020, statement, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the Department of Homeland Security, called the 2020 election “the most secure in American history,” stating, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” Then-Attorney General Barr told The Associated Press on Dec. 1, 2020, that “we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
Newsmax did not respond to NewsGuard’s inquiry about the claims cited above. In response to a separate inquiry from NewsGuard in April 2022, Newsmax CEO and Editor-in-Chief Christopher Ruddy responded: “[W]e are asking that Newsguard stop sending any emails to Newsmax. We believe Newsguard holds a very liberal bias and we don’t see your ratings as neutral or fair. Please alert your team to no longer send us questions. We will not respond.”
In a press release issued before the first Jan. 6 committee hearing on June 9, 2022, Newsmax said, “This is an important news event and the reason Newsmax will carry it live, but it will also be important for us to make sure the public is aware of any and all partisan bias that results from the hearing.”
While having only a fraction of the reach of Fox News, Newsmax runs on most major cable and satellite providers, including Comcast, DirecTV, Verizon Fios, Optimum, AT&T, and Dish. The network is also available through streaming services Roku, Sling TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Pluto TV, among other platforms.
Misinformers Recycle COVID-19 Myths for Monkeypox
Monkeypox misinformation has echoed existing coronavirus myths, including false claims tying vaccines and Bill Gates to the outbreak
By John Gregory
Well-known purveyors of health misinformation have found a sure-fire way to produce false claims about the ongoing monkeypox outbreak — take a false claim about COVID-19 and simply apply it to monkeypox.
A NewsGuard review found that five top false claims that are now circulating about monkeypox closely mirror claims that have been spread about COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.
For example, a pair of false claims holds that both disease outbreaks were “predicted” in simulations — which is cited as evidence that the outbreaks were planned. For COVID-19, the claim centered around an October 2019 pandemic-preparedness exercise called Event 201, co-hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Monkeypox’s simulation took place in March 2021 at the Munich Security Conference, in an exercise hosted by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a Washington-based nonprofit.
Coincidence, however, does not prove conspiracy, and the exercises differed significantly from real-world events — and neither proves anything about the two viruses. Event 201 imagined a coronavirus that originated on Brazilian pig farms, not in China like the COVID-19 virus. The NTI scenario said it involved “an unusual strain of monkeypox virus that first emerged in the fictional nation of Brinia,” caused by a terrorist attack and using a virus engineered in a laboratory. The real monkeypox outbreak involves the known West African strain of the virus.
Other monkeypox myths identified by NewsGuard with parallels to existing COVID-19 misinformation include:
- The claim that a Portuguese study found that the monkeypox outbreak was caused by a lab-manipulated virus: This resembles a false claim that the COVID-19 virus contained “HIV-like insertions.” The COVID-19 claim had originated with a non-peer-reviewed study posted on the site BioRxiv.org that was withdrawn two days after it was published — but not before it was cited by misinformation purveyors such as Natural News and the Iranian propaganda outlet Press TV. The claim that monkeypox was altered in a lab was even flimsier: A NewsGuard Red-rated site in the U.K. called The Expose based the claim on a May 23, 2022, post on Virological.org, a message board for virus researchers. However, the post never stated or even suggested that the virus had been manipulated.
- The claim that Bill Gates predicted the 2022 monkeypox outbreak: If this, too, seems familiar, it’s because it is. The Microsoft co-founder, billionaire, and vaccine advocate has been a frequent target of misinformation in recent years, including an early 2020 false claim that a group he funded had patented the COVID-19 virus before the pandemic even began. For monkeypox, the French-language websites Le Courrier Du Soir and SOTT.net, both rated Red by NewsGuard, falsely claimed that Gates “predicted” the outbreak in a November 2021 interview with Policy Exchange. In fact, Gates mentioned a hypothetical smallpox bioterrorism attack at airports as the kind of fictional scenario that countries should conduct to test their preparedness for addressing health crises.
- The claim that monkeypox cases are a “cover-up” for autoimmune disease caused by COVID-19 vaccines: This claim also appears to have originated with The Expose. In a May 25, 2022, article, the site mixed an accurate claim — that blisters are a symptom of monkeypox — with the false claim that other blister-causing conditions, such as herpes and autoimmune blistering disease, are proven side effects of the Pfizer vaccine. The site’s conclusion was that monkeypox is therefore “an attempt to cover up the consequences of the damage that has been done to the natural immune system by Covid-19 vaccination.” In fact, vaccines do not cause immunosuppression. This exemplifies serial misinformers’ penchant for falsely blaming COVID-19 vaccines for every health issue in the headlines — everything from Justin Bieber’s facial paralysis to an outbreak of severe hepatitis cases in children, most of whom were unvaccinated.
- The claim that monkeypox cases are linked to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine: The Times of London reported in 2020 on a Russian disinformation campaign that falsely claimed that the AstraZeneca vaccine would turn people into monkeys, playing off the fact that the vaccine uses a weakened adenovirus that causes colds in chimpanzees. (It should be noted that chimpanzees and monkeys are not the same.) The monkeypox claim similarly relied on misrepresenting the vaccine technology. To be clear, the AstraZeneca jab cannot cause an adenovirus infection, much less an infection from a different type of virus.
NewsGuard found that from May 21, 2022, to June 13, 2022, these five false claims have been shared in English, French, Italian, and German to over 2.9 million people on Facebook (pages and groups) and Twitter.
From Sarcasm to Misinformation: Left Twists Sen. Cornyn’s Tweet About Dobbs
A sarcastic comment turned into fodder for misinformation, showing how sarcasm is sometimes lost in this frenzied political environment
By Jack Brewster and Sam Howard
A sarcastic tweet from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization turned into false and misleading claims that the Texas Republican lawmaker was calling for the country to bring back racial segregation, underlining how online sarcasm can be distorted during intense political moments.
After the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, issued its decision in Dobbs, overturning Roe v. Wade, former President Barack Obama tweeted that “the Supreme Court not only reversed nearly 50 years of precedent, it relegated the most intensely personal decision someone can make to the whims of politicians and ideologues—attacking the essential freedoms of millions of Americans.”
In a reply to Obama, Cornyn then tweeted sarcastically, “Now do Plessy vs Ferguson/Brown vs Board of Education.” In the Brown decision, the high court overruled the “separate but equal” doctrine conferred by Plessy, which had been decided nearly 60 years before, in 1896. A chorus of left-leaning news sites and social media accounts then claimed that Cornyn was calling for the Supreme Court to reverse Brown v. Board of Education, not that he was making the point that some precedents deserve to be overturned.
DefenderNetwork.com, a weekly newspaper serving the Black community in Houston, published an article on June 30, 2022 — credited to the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a Black press group that also runs a newswire — that said “Cornyn echoed what many in the GOP and the high court’s conservative majority have always whispered: a desire to overturn Brown v. Board of Education and resurrect the 1800s doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ to re-establish racial segregation laws that inherently imply that Black people are inferior.” Versions of this NNPA wire story also appeared on Black newspaper websites based in Tennessee and California.
In fact, Cornyn was echoing the argument of the court’s majority decision in Dobbs, which noted that some of the “most important constitutional decisions have overruled prior precedents” and that upholding precedents is “not an inexorable command.”
Like Cornyn, Justice Samuel Alito, in the majority decision, invoked the court’s decisions in Plessy and Brown, stating: “In Brown v. Board of Education, the Court repudiated the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine, which had allowed States to maintain racially segregated schools and other facilities. In so doing, the Court overruled the infamous decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, along with six other Supreme Court precedents that had applied the separate-but-equal rule.”
Cornyn clarified his tweet in a follow-up post published five hours later, writing, “Thank goodness some SCOTUS precedents are overruled.” Asked about Cornyn’s tweets, a spokeswoman for his Senate office, Natalie Yezbick, told NewsGuard that Cornyn “has used [Plessy] as an example of cases that were overturned in the past and rightfully so.”
Although many news websites covering Cornyn’s comments acknowledged his subsequent clarification, several articles buried this key fact, or dismissed it. One story, published by The Black Wall Street Times, a left-leaning, Black-oriented news site in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was titled “Senator John Cornyn wants segregation in response to Pres. Obama tweet.” The article stated that “Cornyn wants to go back to the olden days, when racial segregation was implemented and African Americans had no freedom.”
Readers had to scroll down to the article’s second-to-last paragraph to see any acknowledgement of Cornyn’s true argument. Before quoting Cornyn’s clarification tweet, The Black Wall Street Times characterized the statement as “an attempt to cover-up his last statement, after receiving major backlash and criticism.”
NewsGuard sent one email each to DefenderNetwork.com, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, and The Black Wall Street Times in July 2022, seeking comment on the sites’ coverage of Cornyn, but did not receive a response.