MD DissectFake- Mexican Mob and NorCal Wildfires Rumor Debunked

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.

How to Spot Fake News

 

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A Case Study in Fake News- Uranium One, The Scandal That Wasn’t.

The Uranium One story is a prime example of fake news.  It is a GOP talking point known to be false. That knowledge, however, is not very important to the Republicans, who have gone to great length to keep America talking about it this week.  The opposition has spent an awful lot of money to kick off the conversation.

The whole thing is a cheap attempt to shift the Russiagate narrative by blaming it all on Hillary Clinton.

As this was being written, the first news came back that Paul Manafort and his sidekick Rick Gates were indicted on money crimes going back to their Ukraine days. A jubilant Trump tweeted out a statement distancing himself from these activities.

But Mueller wasn’t finished. The true bombshell was yet to come.

It turns out that former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, had admitted lying to the FBI about contacts with foreign officials close to the Russian government who discussed “dirt” relating to emails linked to Clinton. He was quietly arrested on July 27. He’s been fully cooperating with the government ever since. 

This is why we’ve spent the week hearing about the Uranium One deal.

The relation of truth to a given subject is not a considered factor when we’re talking about the Trump administration. This story was manufactured conservative disinformation from beginning to end. It has been threaded back into the national narrative as a political countersuit against Democrats.

It’s just Trump’s old Manhattan real estate strategy in his new role as president. This is the political equivalent of a countersuit. The ghost of Roy Cohn has got to be gnashing its teeth in glee, down there in hell.

Joy Reid recently summed up the Trump strategy by quoting from the presidential debate last summer. “I’m no puppet. You’re a puppet”.

The idea is that to relieve the pressure on him, Trump will attempt to shift the nation’s attention and anger toward Hillary Clinton.  Accuse your enemy, of that which you are guilty of. The concept is called swiftboating. Its purpose is to scare Democrats into shutting up and going home. To make us tap out due to fear for the safety of our leader. “You leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone. If not, there will be trouble.”

This is the face of fascism.  Manufactured excuses. Rampant what-aboutism. Legitimate science is either discarded or adapted. It all becomes part of the new authoritarian ideology. It is then gradually dripped into the heads of the people by the likes of Boris Epshteyn and Sebastian Gorka.

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 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.

Insofar as Democratic involvement is concerned in the U1 deal, there’s nothing controversial at all. It’s an attempt to shift the national narrative back against Trump’s enemies and give his supporters some new and soothing lie to hold on to.

The important issue here is why this ordinary transaction was cooked up into a scandal in the first place; and the troubling implications that it has for the future of American democracy.

As to the details of the controversy surrounding Uranium One, they are not very controversial.

The company is a subsidiary of Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear technology corporation. In 2010, while Hillary Clinton was secretary of State, Rosatom wished to acquire a majority share of Uranium One. In order for it to share in the control of uranium mines in the United States, the sale had to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment In the United States (CFIUS).

Because the deal would ultimately place Uranium One in control of 20% of U.S. uranium production capacity, the transaction required federal approval. During the 2016 election campaign, Trump asserted that Clinton “gave 20% of our uranium — gave Russia for a big payment.” This is untrue on every level.

The mining licenses remained with U.S. subsidiaries controlled by U.S. persons. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviewed the transaction and gave its approval. All nine members of the CFIUS board voted for it with a clear conscience and say today they’d do the same again.

Uranium One does not hold the proper export license, so none of its uranium can be exported. It can never be taken to Russia and turned into nukes.

All the committee members have told everyone Clinton was not involved in the decision.

This “scandal” consisted of a Canadian company, the Northern Uranium Corporation,  selling a Russian company some stock in uranium.

The nuclear recycling angle, specifically the Koch Industries interest in the valuable uranium that comes out of them, is likely of tantamount importance here. The educated guess of one expert who spoke with Millennial Democrats under the conditions of anonymity is that the Kochs did not want the competition from recycled uranium.

Most likely, this was why they needed a reason to keep recycled uranium politically unpopular. They also needed a reason to keep Hillary Clinton unpopular. It would seem they put two and two together.

These two things have nothing to do with one another, but it proved easy to make it seem otherwise. This is where the slanderous spin on Uranium One came from.

This libel has no basis in any historical record. It comes out of a wingnut book called Clinton Cash. Its production was financed by an organization called the Government Accountability Institute. This is a conservative nonprofit founded by the book’s author, Peter Schweitzer. They teamed up with Breitbart’s Steve Bannon to conduct the research for the book. Billionaire Robert Mercer, the same guy who is still paying the bills for Breitbart News, signed the check on this one, too.

Needless to say, it has been thoroughly dismantled by experts.

The story was ridiculous and crooked back then, but its revival in the national dialogue at this particular time is troubling in the extreme. It means the RNC is willing to drag a private citizen into government affairs, for no reason other than to deflect attention from the truth. You don’t prosecute your political opponents using show trials and Congress in order to attack anything but the fabric of our democracy.

Going forward, the Uranium One 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 these things as they come. 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.

Then we hold them up as examples of the disingenuity of our opponents. Our job is to expose lies and bear witness.

There’s still a lot we can do. We still have everything it takes to fight the attempts of Trump and Putin at tyranny. The time-honored power of the vote can still save us. Make a specific plan for voting, and do what you can to get others to do the same. Once we take back the Congress, we can rid ourselves of Trump. In short, #RiseAndOrganize.