Fact Check: Fact Check: Distortions and Fake News in Virginia Shooting
Alex Jones accused the left of “publicly embracing homicide as a political solution” with a raft of out of context statements.
Alex Jones knows exactly whom he wants to blame for the Wednesday shooting on a Virginia baseball field: “the left” and its calls to violence. In a five-minute video produced by his conspiracy-laden website, InfoWars, Mr. Jones runs through a list of offenders on “terroristic social media,” distorting and cherry-picking comments, to make a wildly misleading case.
His video is among the most flagrant examples of an emerging trend of partisans repurposing old statements from lawmakers — or simply fabricating quotes — to place blame for the shooting. Here’s an assessment.
Mr. Jones accused the left of “publicly embracing homicide as a political solution.”
It is structured like a news report, ticking off the facts of the shooting on Wednesday morning. It correctly lays out details of the attack, identifies the shooter as James T. Hodgkinson, and highlights his social media activity in support of Senator Bernie Sanders’s anger toward Republican policies.
But it veers far from the truth with this sweeping, conspiratorial video presentation:
First, it shows a bright graphic of the words “terrorist social media” framing a handful of tweets praising the attack or verbally assaulting Republicans. These tweets are from random individuals, media personalities or freelance writers who have no affiliation to a political party or organization.
Next, there is a quick cut to a still image of Kathy Griffin from her controversial photo shoot as a voice-over claims that “the left is collectively and publicly embracing homicide as a political solution.” Prominent Democrats like Chelsea Clinton and Senator Al Franken of Minnesota chastised Ms. Griffin for her actions.
The video then transitions to a misleadingly edited clip of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch saying, “They’ve bled and yes, some of them died. This is hard. Every good thing is.”
This statement is taken wildly out of context.
It comes from a video Ms. Lynch made for the Senate Democrats in February in which she talks not about violence incited by protesters but about past violence against them, like the deaths and beatings of civil rights activists.
The full quote: “It has been people, individuals who have banded together, ordinary people who simply saw what needed to be done and came together and supported those ideals who have made the difference. They’ve marched, they’ve bled and yes, some of them died. This is hard. Every good thing is. We have done this before. We can do this again.”
Other inflammatory sites like WND.com, the American Mirror and the Gateway Pundit have repeated the distortion of Ms. Lynch’s quote as a call to violence. A Google search for the phrases “Loretta Lynch” and “some of them died” finds over 13,000 pages that are a mix of reports of the original video, distortions of the statements and fact checks.
Additionally, the video includes older InfoWars clip that misleadingly suggests a Guardian columnist called for President Trump’s assassination “just last week.”
The person in question, Monisha Rajesh, did tweet “it’s about time for a presidential assassination,” but in November, several months before the Virginia shooting occurred. Ms. Rajesh, a freelancer who last wrote for The Guardian in March 2016, also deleted the post.
The Young Turks characterized Representative Steve Scalise as a white supremacist.
A video posted by the Young Turks, viewed about 441,000 times, impugns the political right for the heightened political and violence. It accurately portrays Mr. Scalise, the House majority whip from Louisiana, as a supporter of gun rights before highlighting a comment the Republican lawmaker made some 20 years ago.
Stephanie Grace, a political reporter in Louisiana, told The New York Times in late 2014 that Mr. Scalise once said he was “like David Duke without the baggage,” referring to the white supremacist and former Klansman. The Times also reported that Mr. Scalise accepted a speaking engagement to a group founded by Mr. Duke in 2002.
But the Young Turks video leaves out Mr. Scalise’s response to the controversy. He apologized in 2014 and has repeatedly disavowed Mr. Duke.
“One of the many groups that I spoke to regarding this critical legislation was a group whose views I wholeheartedly condemn,” Mr. Scalise said. “It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.”
Ms. Grace also wrote a column placing Mr. Scalise’s comments to her in context, speculating that the then-new state lawmaker had meant he shared Mr. Duke’s “actual governmental philosophy” but not his racist views. (Mr. Scalise suggested as much to Roll Call in 1999.)
Claims of Mr. Scalise’s ties to white supremacy were starting to bubble up in liberal circles on the internet the day after the shooting. Prominent Facebook accounts like those of D.L. Hughley, a comedian and political commentator, and advocacy groups spread these claims to tens of thousands of additional Facebook users as well.
Activists are falsely suggesting Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, “ordered his followers” to “take down” President Trump.
After it was revealed that Mr. Hodgkinson, the shooting suspect, supported Mr. Sanders’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, some distorted Mr. Sanders’s speech at a gathering of progressives in Chicago on Saturday night to impugn him for the shooting.
In a widely shared tweet that was echoed elsewhere online, the conservative activist Jack Posobiec claimed that Sanders “ordered his followers to ‘take down’ Trump.” But those words refer to a CNN headline that summarized his remarks.
“During his campaign, Trump posed as a friend of the working class,” Mr. Sanders said. “Do not tell us that you are a friend of the working class when you throw 23 million Americans off of health care, and make devastating cuts to education, senior needs, nutrition, housing, and environmental protection.”
At no point did Mr. Sanders call for violence against Mr. Trump or Republican lawmakers. And on Wednesday, Mr. Sanders condemned the shooting, which he called a despicable act, and emphasized that “real change can only come about through nonviolent action.”
Others are distorting remarks from Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, to suggest he “wanted” the shooting.
Similarly, the insinuation that Mr. Kaine endorsed violence against Republicans hinges upon four words — “fight them in the streets” — taken out of context by activists from a lengthy explanation about how the party could recover from its electoral loss.
In an MSNBC appearance in January, Mr. Kaine said he was “excited” by the energy from the public. “Fight in the streets” referred to peaceful protests, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kaine said. And the full text of the statement backs her up.
During the televised segment, Mr. Kaine pointed to peaceful demonstrations against the Trump administration like the Women’s March before he said, “What we’ve got to do is fight in Congress, fight in the courts, fight in the streets, fight online, fight at the ballot box, and now there’s the momentum to be able to do this.”