FACT CHECK: POTUS’ ‘Sweden Incident’ sparks CBN Trump apologists to cite fake statistics from Islamophobic blog

Donald Trump’s most recent public gaff at a rally in Melbourne, Florida has generated a chain reaction among his “friendly reporters.”[1] Among those anti-“MSM” publications viewed as a favorite of the president’s is the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), demonstrated by Trump choosing a CBN Chief Political Correspondent David Brody as one of only two—both conservative leaning news outlets—to be called on during the February 15th Netanyahu press conference.[2]

Trump’s Sweden comments were meant to grant justification for his anti-refugee, anti-immigrant positions. Instead, his blunder drew negative attention to the ban’s dubious legal foundation, and the deeply engrained xenophobic prejudices underlying the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim policies. The president stated,

“When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden — Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”[3]

These comments drew immediate criticism from former Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, who wrote on Twitter, “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”[4] The Swedish Embassy in Washington later contacted the White House asking for clarification on Trump’s remarks, and one Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Catarina Axelsson told the Associated Press that she was unaware of an “terror-linked major incidents.”[5] The reaction from the Swedish government prompted Trump to state on Twitter that his comment “was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”[6]

Today, CBN’s Dale Hurd and Gary Lane discussed the president’s controversial Sweden comments on air, staunchly defending Trump’s statements. Hurd argues that Sweden, which likes “to think of itself as a Humanitarian superpower,” has “brought in all of these refugees, and it’s a mess” and that crime has “become a regular occurrence in Sweden.”[7] Lane followed with a report from a blog that goes by the name “Muslim Statistics,”[8] which claims, “est 77% of rapes [in Sweden] committed by 2% Muslim male population.”[9],[10]

This blog is explicitly and unapologetically anti-Muslim. It reposts statistics from reputable sources such as the Pew Research Center, with misleading headlines beside gory photos of beheadings meant to manufacture fear of Muslims as violent jihadist rapists, which are utterly inimical to Western ideals.[11] However the blog also includes “reports” based on skewed data and all out fabrications. This Sweden report is one example. Below I will highlight the faults in this report, and comment on the reckless reporting of CBN, which not only cited this malicious lie on television, but reproduced it on an online article[12] as the only counterexample to a Washington Post article that reported a decline in the average crime rate in Sweden in recent years, including for lethal violence and sexual assaults.[13]

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INSIDE: Holocaust “Revisionists”

This post comes to you on the heels of International Holocaust Remembrance Day—a day when the world comes together to acknowledge the vicious state-sponsored genocidal extermination of an estimated six million Jews and millions more “racially inferior” and politically dissident Europeans and Soviets POWs.[1] Typically, providing a citation for that claim would be unnecessary, as these facts are deeply rooted into our collective historical memory, and yet, there are some who doubt them.

For this growing minority, modern tributes to the victims of the Holocaust do not serve to help heal old wounds or learn from the past; rather they mark a grand institutionalized manipulation reaching across all social, academic, and political spheres. According to these self-described “Holocaust Revisionists,” the world has fallen pray to a malicious and highly elaborate lie. Holocaust Denial—as it is more commonly called—is the belief that the Holocaust never really happened, or that the “facts” of the Holocaust are deeply flawed. Through decades of “research,” this political subculture has collected a vast library of information around which they view a legitimate field of study has been established. They are quick to assert what they see as an objective basis to their viewpoint, not an ideology or belief system, but an indisputable scientific reality to which the rest of the world is naively unaware.

I started my quest to pinpoint the social, psychological, and religious backstory to this belief system a few weeks ago. A close friend (let’s call him “Rick”) expressed the he had been dealing with a great deal of emotional distress and insomnia following a disturbing revelation from a childhood friend (whom let’s call “Paul”). During a heated conversation about politics, Paul confessed that he did not believe the Holocaust happened. Rick said he was in shock, and wasn’t really sure how to respond. He asked his longtime friend for more details about how he came to this conclusion. Paul told him that he had been researching it for many months; he had read information on the Internet, including sitting through hours of YouTube videos, and he had come to the conclusion that the Holocaust narrative as we know it is a complete hoax.

That same day, an article was published by the Guardian, titled, “New online generation takes up Holocaust denial.” The piece reports on research by historian Dr. Nicholas Terry, the UK’s “foremost academic on the subject” of Holocaust denial. Dr. Terry claims that denial is currently enjoying a period of growth thanks to “‘gateway’ conspiracy theories,” confusion stemming from a thriving divergent news market, anti-Semitism, and the Internet “free-for-all” that naturally gravitates users toward far right ideas.[2]

I decided this couldn’t be a coincidence. Rick’s story seemed to confirm Dr. Terry’s claim that Holocaust denial was on the rise, and based on the online origins of Paul’s “evidence,” and what I know of Paul’s online presence prior to his introduction to Holocaust Revisionism (he’s a heavy 4chan user), I decided that there must be something to this theory. After all, I routinely forage the dark depths of the Internet for xenophobic lies to debunk. In its ability to bring together like-minded people in complete anonymity, I have come to view the web as the ultimate emboldening instrument for hateful ideologies.

I ended up posting a question on a forum for the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH),[3] which was founded in 1990 by Bradley Smith, known as a “principal architect” of American Holocaust denial.[4] As of today, I have received replies from eight different individuals sharing their experiences with and motivations for entering into this belief, and how it has impacted other lives. In the commentary that follows, I will quote these individuals to provide some insight into how this movement recruits and sustains its membership.

This post is another deviation from fact checking; instead, I’ll be profiling a group of political extremists, whose dismissal of the historical trauma of an entire religious community represents its own odd system of belief. From a purely socio-psychological perspective, Holocaust Revisionism and post-World War II Judaism offer their adherents similar rewards. Both provide members with a solid community foundation, a bond that is strengthened by a feeling of collective persecution.

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FACT-CHECK: Breitbart, ‘Fake News’, a fire at a church in Germany, and a ‘1,000 man-mob’ chanting ‘Alluha Akbar’

On January 3rd, a story appeared on Breitbart’s website titled, “Revealed: 1,000-man mob attack police, set Germany’s oldest church alight on New Year’s Eve.”[1] Since then, multiple US and international news outlets have hit back against the conservative-learning news site with claims of false or distorted reporting of the event, branding the story under the topical “fake news” rank, with some even going so far to label it a work of, “hate and propaganda”.[2]

Breitbart’s critics included Tehran’s AFP News, the Guardian,[3] the Independent,[4] POLITICO, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post,[5] and a few German-language papers. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, in reference to the article, stated (as translated by the Straits Times), “Breitbart has used exaggerations and factual errors to create ‘an image of chaotic civil war-like conditions in Germany, caused by Muslim aggressors.”[6] This idea is at the core of my interest in this story—and so many other like it—and the more broad relationship between so-called “fake news” what some, including myself, identify as the existence of an increasingly false perception of hostility, even downright “culture war” between religious groups, leading to actual acts of discrimination and violence.

I will not go into great detail here about what does or does not constitute “fake news;” that discussion is beyond the scope of this post. However, I will say that I am conscious of the concerns many have raised about the misleading nature of the term, and I will avoid using it in my writing. Instead, I prefer to label misleading or inadequate reporting individually and with more nuance, on a case-by-case basis.

A fuller discussion of Breitbart’s ideological viewpoint and professionalism may be warranted at a later time. Briefly however, I would like to draw your attention to a New York Times op-ed published on January 7th, which profiles an environmental science professor named Nathan Phillips, whose criticism of Breitbart is fierce, labeling it “hate news,” that which the Times defines as “a toxic mix of lies, white-supremacist content and bullying that can inspire attacks on Muslims, gay people, women, African-Americans and others.”[7]

My analysis is unqualified to come to any similarly definitive conclusion. Instead, I will identify and evaluate only the “facts” reported and language employed by Breitbart in their coverage of this New Years Eve event. I will present the points of contention within the original article, highlight responses from critics as well as Breitbart’s defense of the piece, and make a decision about the informational value of the article, and the implications of any misinformation presented by this increasingly popular news platform.

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