Friday, June 12, 2015

Right-Wing Sites Snookered by Fake Stories About SPLC Hate Group Designations

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

The headlines — widely circulated on social media and a variety of right-wing websites — certainly are attention-grabbing: “Fox News Designated Hate Group by Southern Poverty Law Center” and “Juggalos Classified As Hate Group By Southern Poverty Law Center.” And many of the posts promoting the pieces on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere clearly seem to take them at face value.

There’s a big problem, though: The stories are complete fakes.

The Fox News piece was published earlier this week at a satirical “news” site called the Free Wood Post, where the motto is: “News That’s Almost Reliable.” The post contained no links to any such SPLC report because, of course, none existed.

That didn’t stop the Free Wood Post from doing its thing. “Their hatred was tolerated for a long time as freedom of expression,” the site said dramatically of the news channel, “which they are still free to do, however, the time has come to no longer ignore their obvious bigotry broadcast to millions of like-minded folks, and label them what they are — a hate group.”
Needless to say, Fox News has never come under consideration for hate-group status by the SPLC, nor is it ever likely to. A news channel, by definition, includes many voices with many different opinions — even if those displayed on Fox are virtually all conservative — and so it is fundamentally different from a group whose members all sign on to the same ideology. Nonetheless, by Thursday, the post about Fox News had garnered over 30,000 shares on Facebook.

You’d think folks might have figured out that the story was a spoof. After all, the site carries a pretty clear disclaimer: “Free Wood Post is a news and political satire web publication, which may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within are fiction, and presumably fake news.” But enormous numbers didn’t.

Similarly, the Juggalos piece, which ran before the Fox News tale, first appeared in a post at another satirical “news” site, the National Report. That site uses a url beginning with “,” leading many to assume that the story actually originated with The New York Times, whose url is similar but not the same.

Juggalos is the name used by members of the fan club of the hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse, who are known for making controversial comments.

The story said, in part: “The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified Juggalo’s [sic] as a hate group among 17 states including the entire Midwest (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio), in addition to California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oregon.”

That, too, was laughably false. While the members of Insane Clown Posse do indeed make incendiary and insensitive remarks, they fall far short of the behavior — namely, having “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics” — that earns a hate-group designation by the SPLC. Moreover, there were some pretty obvious clues. The story claimed the SPLC was asking citizens to “keep an eye open” for a list of behaviors including “Making or responding to a ‘whoop whoop’ call” and “Drinking or spraying their enemies with Faygo (an inexpensive soda).”

However, at least one right-wing blogger — Jay Syrmopoulos at the Free Thought Project — initially succumbed to the hoax and published a breathless post that swallowed the entire tale whole.

Afterward, upon learning that the piece was satire, he edited the story to indicate that the source of information was a spoof, but redirecting his ire at the FBI, which had classified the Juggalos as a gang. “This is the level of absurdity to which our government has risen,” he raged. “They have criminalized an entire fan base with a blanket label over anyone displaying typical rabid fanatic behavior… hence the term fan, short for fanatic!”

Contacted by the SPLC, Syrmopoulos, who is described in his author summary as an “investigative journalist,” was defiant: “The reality is that the SPLC isn't an unbiased research organization, but rather a leftist anti-hate activist group masquerading as a center of legitimate, academically sound research,” he huffed. “Sadly your group is so extremist that the story, as farcical as it was, seemed totally plausible given the SPLC's track record, hence me being duped. On a side note, upon realizing the story was satire I changed the title to state that it was satire and added an update apologizing to my readers and explaining how I was duped. Any other changes made to the piece or title after that did not involve consultation with me.”

“We have no beef with people writing satirical articles, and in fact enjoy satire as much as anyone,” said Mark Potok, the SPLC senior fellow who wrote Syrmopoulos. “But it says something important about today’s right-wing media that so many are snookered so easily, and by such transparently false and ridiculous narratives. The ‘investigative journalist’ and others who credulously repeated these fairy tales as if they were actually true really ought to take up a different line of work, one that doesn’t require such mental effort.”

Sites such as National Report and Freewood Post are symptomatic of what many observers see as a growing problem on the Internet: the proliferation of fake news sites that, as the Washington Post put it, “profit — handsomely, in some cases — from duping gullible Internet users with deceptively newsy headlines. Their business model is both simple and devastatingly effective: Employ a couple unscrupulous freelancers to write fake news that’s surprising or enraging or weird enough to go viral on Facebook; run display ads against the traffic; gleefully cash in.”

And it helps, of course, to have gullible “journalists” out there to help them along.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sovereign Citizen’s Video Shows Texas Officer Breaking Out Window After Repeated Requests For ID

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

A self-described “sovereign citizen” recently posted a video of his May arrest in Addison, Texas, by a local police officer, ostensibly to display police misbehavior as the policeman breaks out his car’s window and handcuffs him.

What the video actually seems to demonstrate instead, however, is how delusional the sovereign citizen worldview really is, and how police are ultimately driven to harsh measures in order to simply enforce traffic laws in ordinary encounters with these “true believers.”

The video shows the May 2 arrest of 49-year-old Scott Richardson after being pulled over for allegedly driving 50 mph in a 40 mph zone. Recorded by Richardson on his cell phone, it shows him arguing with the Addison officer for over four minutes before the policeman gets out his baton and breaks the driver’s side window and pulls the man from the car. At that point, the phone appears to fall onto a seat, recording the sounds of Richardson being put in handcuffs and the officer who made the arrest discussing the matter with a fellow officer.

During the course of the interchange, the officer requests the man show him his driver’s license and proof of insurance a total of 15 times before he gets out his baton, makes the same request a final time, and begins breaking the window.

Throughout the exchange, Richardson refuses the request, instead attempting to interrogate the officer.

“Mmkay, let me ask you a question,” Richardson says. “As a man, what right do you have to stop another man?” When the officer explains that the state of Texas gives him the authority, Richardson goes on to claim that speeding is not illegal in the state.

“I’m speeding? Did you realize that in the State of Texas, speeding in and of itself is not illegal?” he says.

As the Houston Chronicle notes, that is not what Texas law says: the Texas transportation code allows government to enforce speed limits.

Richardson also claims in the video that the 1979 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Texas, established that law enforcement officers are not allowed to demand a citizen's identification unless he was seen committing a felony. Actually, the case established that officers needed probable cause to detain and ID a citizen, and speeding qualifies as such.

The officer again asks for his ID, and again warns Richardson that he is facing arrest for failure to identify himself. Instead, Richardson keeps trying to question the policeman.

“Mmkay, I’m still having to ask you a question here,” Richardson says.

“That’s not how this works,” the officer responds.

“That is how this works,” Richardson insists.

Eventually, the officer shouts at the man to demand he identify himself or he will break the window open, drawing his baton and raising it. When Richardson keeps babbling into his phone, the window is broken open, the officer opens the door, and the phone falls to the floor. You can then hear the officers telling the man to stay down and then applying handcuffs and telling him he is being charged with failure to identify.

After a few more minutes, the officer can be heard conversing with another policeman, explaining that the matter was just a simple traffic stop: “All he had to do was give me his driver’s license! He was giving me that Republic of Texas crap, saying I had stopped him illegally and I don’t have the right to detain him.”

“This was for speeding?” the other officer asks.

“Yeah, that’s all it was,” the officer says. “All it was.”

A little later, he muses: “I should have known when I saw the back window. All the stickers. All that stuff.”