A strange rumor caught the attention of one of our contributors recently.
An idea has been making the rounds that the apocalyptic wildfires in Northern California were started by the Mexican Mafia, in an iron-fisted attempt to eliminate competition from the marijuana industry.
He thought little of it at first. But it just kept coming up, and now it’s turning into an accepted part of the narrative in the area.
Rumors are common, of course. But in this day and age, when even the most innocuous aspects of American culture, e.g. Pokemon Go and the #DontShootUs hashtag have been poisoned and used against us by the Russians, nothing can be taken for granted.
So when you hear a widespread rumor, especially regarding anything that might be employed to raise racial tensions and turn neighbor against neighbor, it’s a good idea to look at where it came from.
The problem started when right-wing blog Got News claimed an exclusive bombshell in the ongoing wildfire story. They did not cite any of their alleged law enforcement sources. No quotes of any kind appear in the story. It fails to present any evidence beyond the fact that the fires damaged marijuana crops.
Breitbart News got ahold of it shortly thereafter.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. GotNews is run by a guy named Charles C. Johnson, the white nationalist infamously known as “Trump’s Troll”. He reportedly acted as an adviser to the Trump administration’s transition team. Johnson has recently been implicated in the Russia investigation, according to a recent piece by Ben Schreckinger in Politico.
Johnson also arranged and attended a meeting between Assange and Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who has consistently argued for closer ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government.
In other words, Charles C. Johnson is probably on Putin’s payroll. And he’s definitely on his side.
Although the likes of the slovenly Charles C. Johnson seem like random wingnuts, these stories are not random at all. They are part of a carefully coordinated and worldwide disinformation campaign, financed by Russia and inspired by fascist ideology.
The utmost attention must be brought to the way that this is done. Believe it or not, propaganda specialists are telling the truth 9 of 10 times. That’s the whole point. If all of it was nonsense, it would be written off right away. So most of it isn’t. Lying blatantly isn’t what they do. What they do do, is actually very clever. They will take that one lie, break it up into chunks, and then feed it back to people in a way they often don’t notice.
The method employed in this article was an associative trick. They take two things that could plausibly be related and simply discuss them, side by side. The lie comes in so smooth, you barely notice it. Watch carefully the Breitbart article’s opening paragraphs for a good working example. It’s down there in italics and it includes the link.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Tom Homan confirmed on Thursday that a man arrested in connection with setting a fire in Sonoma County Wine Country is an illegal alien from Mexico who has been twice returned to his “home country.”
Three claims are being made here. First, that a man has been arrested by ICE. Second, that the man is an illegal alien from Mexico. Third, that his arrest was made IN CONNECTION with setting fires. The first two are true; the third is patently false. It is a complete and total lie.
Many Americans, however, will swear on the lives of their families that the opposite is true. This is because they have been brainwashed so totally by conservative media that they truly believe what Breitbart writes is the gospel truth. Studies on the subject indicate this type of person will defend a story like this to the end.
In direct contravention of this statement, Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano directly addressed the false claim at a press conference held at the time.
The Breitbart article was flat out called “false and misleading.”
“There is no indication he is related to these fires at all,” Sheriff Giordano said. “Cal Fire is doing an investigation to see how these fires started. We don’t even know if it’s arson.”
The simple fact is, it’s wildfire season.
Long fire seasons are normal for California. Rain is usually absent for half the year. Thirteen of the 20 most devastating fires in California history, as measured by the number of buildings destroyed, have started on Oct. 1 or later, according to Cal Fire records.
The wildfires this year were the worst in state history, an unparalleled tragedy. The callousness needed to use an event like this for political purposes can only belong to Putin.
This is the face of fascism. Manufactured incidents, news used as a tool to mislead and obfuscate. Propaganda, dishonesty, and confusion become the new and accepted norm. This is the face of their new authoritarian ideology. That ideology will be gradually dripped into the heads of the people by the likes of Sebastian Gorka, who was recently hired by Fox News.
This concept is not abstract, or something that only happens elsewhere. Companies like the Sinclair Broadcasting Company, which is said to be in talks with conservative TV show host Bill O’Reilly, will soon be threading pro- Trump messaging into every aspect of television. Their virulent brand of right-wing commentary and so-called “classic propaganda” may soon reach three-quarters of US households.
Going forward, the Mexican Mafia wildfire slander serves as an excellent case study for the examining and reverse-engineering of Republican propaganda. There will be more of this to come than we can imagine; Russian ads alone reached over 120 million on Facebook this year.
By thinking critically and staying alert, however, we can spot the fake news virus as it spreads. We can dismantle them, dissect them, and lay bare their innards to the light. In this manner, we will come to see how they work.
Our job is to expose lies and bear witness. So please, when you see a story that looks like it could be suspect, let us know. Send it in so we can get to the bottom of it, and send it packing once and for all. Those who seek to educate will always stand as defenders of the truth. And that is the purpose of the Millennial Democrats DissectFake project.
Beneath, we are gratefully borrowing a crucial production of the International Federation of Library Associations(IFLA), which describes itself as the global voice of the library and information profession.
IFLA has made this infographic with eight simple steps (based on FactCheck.org’s 2016 article How to Spot Fake News) to discover the verifiability of a given news-piece in front of you. Download, print, translate, and share – at home, at your library, in your local community, and on social media networks. The more we crowdsource our wisdom, the wiser the world becomes.