The American far-right, Europe, and the spread of disinformation

We are a group of five graduate student reporters at NYU working on identifying and explaining the process by which far-right misinformation (particularly about immigration, ideology, and religion) is laundered and amplified by North American publications (Breitbart, InfoWars, Fox News, Daily Stormer, etc) and spread throughout Europe.

Our team is made up of reporters from France, Turkey, Pakistan, Canada, and Malaysia and is part of a collaboration with TPM members. If you missed our initial thread on the project you can learn more here.
Thank you to all the members who have already contributed!

For this story we will look at and identify:
How the North American far-right media and political figures are fueling misinformation in Europe.
Specific examples where news about/from Europe is picked up by American news sources and then is amplified and misinterpreted.

How this has benefitted the far-right movements in both Europe and North America.
The mechanics of how this process works.

We would like to know:
Are conservatives in your network(s) sharing misinformation about Europe?
How are they getting that information?
Have you seen specific examples of misinformation about Europe being picked up by the American far-right going mainstream in the US and Europe?

Group members reporting on this project:
@aalabdul @alitufankoc @mayuriml @julesdrmnn @naqviha

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The first thing that jumped to my mind was the RW hysteria over European no-go zones back in 2015: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/sharia-law-muslim-no-go-zones/

I don’t know the exact manner in which these falsehoods spread, but there does seem to be a distinct UK-US-Australia anglosphere pathway, at least in english-language media.

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Hey
Thanks for sharing this intriguing example.
An interesting thing is that the article says the controversy started after Steve Emerson’s controversial Fox News segment on 11 January 2015 while the oldest Breitbart article mentioning “no go zones” in Europe was published on 10 January 2015 they wrote about Breitbart’s National Security editor Dr. Sebastian Gorka interview on Fox & Friends Weekend where he said such places exist across Europe.

After that they have been publishing a lot of articles on the “no go zones” even Breitbart London Editor-in-Chief Raheem Kassam wrote a book on it which was featured multiple times on the website. The last article they published on no go zones was on 21 September 2019.

Its certainly an interesting case to look at, its origin and how it was taken up by far-right in Europe.
This is a good example thanks for sharing let us know if you have seen something similar like this.

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Thanks @noonm, I do remember the first no-go zone controversy! At the time Fox News apologized for this, which now seems quaint. And Sweden’s no go zones became a pretty frequent talking point for Trump.

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This is a worthy project. Thank you for taking it up.

And though they are not a media organization, I would keep an eye on Judicial Watch.

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In 2016 I had several right wing relatives on opposite sides of my family (mom’s relatives, dad’s relatives) pumping the same weird obscure pro-Russia stories. I believe Kate Starbird at UW has looked into networks of how those kinds of stories spread.

https://www.hcde.washington.edu/starbird

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Thank you so much for sharing information regarding her work, we will try contacting her for our story.

I like to listen to the BBC World Service, a habit I developed during Gulf War II. Over the past couple of years, they seem to have a pro-russian bias given all the puff-pieces on Putin’s dystopia they run. Odd being as the Brexit referendum was the test-run for russian election meddling yet the BBC says zip about this.

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Not really sure what to do about the previous post so as not to feed it. My memory suggests otherwise. One Google suggests otherwise. It is tough these days sorting out facts from crap. Your project is excellent.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You might right about that. It tends to work both ways. A far-right media ecosystem maintains almost the same way in most countries. They share a similiar agenda.

Feel free to share if you are able to remember any specific example. We’d love to search and see if the misinformation spreading is mutual. It might helps us to add a different layer to the story.

Thanks for the tip. Judicial Watch acts as a media platform in some way. We’re searching if they have any influence on Europe media. Feel free to suggest more media outlets/platforms or any specific example that you think proves misinformation spreading in/about Europe by American far-right media.

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Hi all!

I wanted to post an update on how our deep-dive is going. Here’s what we found so far (from our conversations with fact-checkers in different European countries and media experts/scholars):

1. We can’t ignore the Trump effect. Trump’s 2016 campaign, presidency and approach to news/media grants credibility to far-right media EVERYWHERE (North America, Europe etc.). Because of this, there is now somewhat of a merge between far right political figures and far right media outlets, who wish to repeat Trump’s success (for their respective far-right political figures) by creating the news/information sphere that allowed Trump to get elected.

2. Because far right media in North America and Europe now have shared values and ideology, and also common political goals, there IS some sort of cooperation between American and European far right media. This cooperation has two important dimensions:

- Through information: Translate, share and publish content which originates on North American media (Breitbart etc). Specific nature of this content (news, articles) may be broad, but there’s definitely a link there that is based primarily on common values or political views. We are continuing to look for specific examples from different European countries (i.e. Sweden, Poland, Italy etc.) to illustrate this. One story that keeps coming up in our conversations is the ‘Stockholm/Sweden is the rape capital of Europe’ claim that spread like wildfire in America and Europe, after Trump spoke about it at a rally and tweeted about it after watching Tucker Carlson (who brought a Swedish, somewhat far right figure to talk about how the rape rate had dramatically increased in Sweden after the country took in migrants, which was inaccurate).

- Through modus operandi/the way they operate: There’s been a rise in “independent media” in Europe who are replicating the editorial/business models of North American far right media… all in an effort gather more viewers based on radical, right-wing content. Generally, it is built around some Youtube channel and website.

What do you guys think of these findings? Are these obvious/not obvious?

We’ve found a few solid examples so far that illustrate this phenomenon. We’ll give you guys a breakdown of the most interesting examples over the next few days, but please feel free to share if you have come across any!

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I’m not sure if this is an example that fits into your thesis because it’s less about popular media and more about connections between right wing think tanks and movements, but here’s an article from Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, one of America’s foremost boosters of Islamophobia. Pipes visited Eastern Europe a couple of years ago and decided that even though they may be a little rough around the edges (tendencies towards anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, etc.), there’s hope to be found in the white supremacist nationalist groups rising up there. Instead of calling them the neo-Nazis they are, he refers to them as “civilizationists”:

http://www.danielpipes.org/18301/the-rise-of-western-civilizationism

"Enlightened opinion generally reacts with horror to civilizationist parties, and not without reason, for they carry a lot of baggage. Some have dubious origins. Staffed mainly by angry political novices, they feature dismaying numbers of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim extremists, Nazi nostalgists, power-hungry cranks, economic eccentrics, historical revisionists, and conspiracy theorists. Some proffer anti-democratic, anti-European Union, and anti-American outlooks. Far too many – and especially Orbán – have a soft spot for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

But civilizationist parties also bring critical benefits to the political arena: realism, courage, tenacity, and a civilizational critique necessary if the West is to survive in its historic form. Therefore, contrary to many friends and allies, I favor working with most civilizationist parties, advocating critical co-operation rather than rejection and marginalization."

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Seems like there could be a lot of important angles to explore there. A scary thought for me is that the shared values and information would seem to allow for an international alignment, organization and coordination of far right forces that could support one another across borders, and gain advantage over other groups within borders which don’t benefit from any kind of international alignments.

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Judicial Watch, Judicial Crisis Network and the Federalist Society -

three separate “groups”, with apparently separate executive leadership and funding sources that have somehow managed to provide a single converged, coherent messaging, advocacy and promotion source on behalf of RW judges. A three-legged stool, if you will, and I have no clue it’s assembled or held together. Perhaps there’s a connection? Perhaps they work together in a way that is not apparent to us mere mortals? I don’t want to be all Q-Anon about it, perhaps I’m seeing ghosts where none exists - but I’ve always been impressed how three ostensibly independent and separate organization are able to so expertly align and dovetail their efforts for such a singular cause.

Sorry if this is OT, or not on point for what you were originally asking about.

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Is this the new euphemism for white supremacists?

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I find what’s going on in Poland and Hungary especially disturbing. Italy a little less so and now that the Five Star movement has been stalled by corruption, even less.

Bannon’s finger-prints are all over the reich, err right-wing power-grabs in Poland and Hungary and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if gestapo Gorka was involved in the latter too.

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I think your first point, the Trump effect, is an important part of the story because it strikes me as a pivot point - Right-wing media was already a thing and already beginning to coöperate across Europe. In fact the right-wing movement has become a global phenomena that seems to have a reasonable degree of coördination. More than just Bannon and Murdock, anyway. But Trump’s rise is both a consequence and accelerant, it was growing in menace but now it has real influence. One thing that I wonder about is the role of Russia in this rise. Certainly Moscow is implicated with all the major movements (Brexit, Trump, they have established ties with Le Pen’s National Rally). So, is Russian money backing some of these smaller ‘independent media’ you are identifying?

Thanks for the update post - it does seem like you are onto a valuable topic.

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“Civilizationism” does indeed seem to be an effort to create a euphemism for terms like “white supremacism” and “nationalism.” As often as the far right rails against the political correctness that makes it difficult for them to use racial slurs and demonizations in the public forum, they often adhere to a political correctness all their own to appeal to a broader audience. Maybe we’re still a little too close to WW2 (in the US and Western Europe) for “nationalism” to catch on in a big way, especially among the academic types Pipes sees as his peers. So civilizationism would seem to work nicely…who’s against civilization? The term also seems linked to the Great Replacement Theory (which is how we came to hear the Charlottesville neo-Nazis chanting “They will not replace us”).

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Do you mean, “speaking in code”? Such as using “state’s rights” as a euphemism for “The right to discriminate”, or “color-blind constitution” as a rationale for why civil rights laws should not be passed or enforced?

Perhaps that’s on the “things you don’t say in polite company” side of political correctness, but it’s not the sort of sensitivity toward the feelings and perceptions of others that, albeit sometimes overdone, drives the right-wing antipathy toward the concept.

A few years back there was a lot of right-wing commentary about nationalism vs. patriotism, the former being bad (and what most other nations do) and the latter being what we do in the U.S. – but as explained the distinction to me seemed rather contrived and self-serving. I think that our experience with the rise of Trump casts that sort of “ours is better than yours” analysis into serious doubt. But it does appear that the origin of the discussion was with commentary by George Orwell,

Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longeur , and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word , we have the thing in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation – that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly ­– and this is much more important – I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

If you adopt Orwell’s definitions you’re not likely to want to be regarded as nationalist, but at the same time you may not see your own nationalist tendencies or those of groups that you endorse or defend.

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