RCMP has announced charges against a Burlington, Ontario man, saying he claimed to have gone to Syria to fight with ISIL in 2016, but was instead involved in an elaborate hoax.
On Friday, RCMP O Division’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (OINSET) announced the arrest of Shehroze Chaudhry, 25, “in connection with a hoax regarding terrorist activity.”
OINSET investigates people who have left Canada to join terror groups, or who later come back to Canada after being involved in terrorism overseas.
According to a release, Chaudhry did “numerous” media interviews with outlets, in which he claimed he went to Syria to fight for ISIL, and committed terrorist acts. Now, RCMP says it was all a hoax, and says Chaudhry was arrested for causing alarm in this country.
“The interviews were published in multiple media outlets, aired on podcasts and featured on a television documentary, raising public safety concerns amongst Canadians,” RCMP said.
The last two journalists working for Australian media in China have left the country after police demanded interviews with them and temporarily blocked their departures, the Australian government, and their employers said Tuesday.
Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s Bill Birtles and The Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith landed in Sydney after flying from Shanghai on Monday night, both news outlets reported.
Both had sheltered in Australian diplomatic compounds in recent days.
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Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the closing session of China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing in May. (AP)
The journalists left after Australia revealed last week that Australian citizen Cheng Lei, a business news anchor for CGTN, China’s English-language state media channel, had been detained.
Both journalists were told they were “persons of interest” in an investigation into Cheng, The Australian Financial Review reported. Seven uniformed police visited each journalist’s home in Beijing and Shanghai at 12:30 a.m. Thursday, the newspaper said.
Australian Embassy officials in Beijing told Birtles last week that he should leave China, ABC reported.
Birtles was due to depart Beijing on Thursday and was holding a farewell party on Wednesday when police came to his apartment and told him he was banned from leaving the country, ABC said. He was told he would be contacted on Thursday to organize a time to be questioned about a “national security case,” his employer said.
Birtles went to the Australian Embassy, where he spent four days while Australian and Chinese officials negotiated. Smith had similarly holed up at the Australian Consulate in Shanghai.
Birtles and Smith both agreed to give police a brief interview in return for being allowed to leave the country.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed that her government had provided consular support to the two journalists to assist their return to Australia.
“Our embassy in Beijing and consulate-general in Shanghai engaged with Chinese government authorities to ensure their well-being and return to Australia,” she said.
Australia’s travel warning of the risk of arbitrary detention in China “remains appropriate and unchanged,” she added.
ABC news director Gaven Morris said Birtles was brought back to Australia on the Australian government’s advice.
“This bureau is a vital part of the ABC’s international news-gathering effort and we aim to get back there as soon as possible,” Morris said.
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“The story of China, its relationship with Australia and its role in our region and in the world is one of great importance for all Australians and we want to continue having our people on the ground to cover it,” he added.
The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Michael Stutchbury, and editor, Paul Bailey, described the situation as “disturbing.”
“This incident targeting two journalists, who were going about their normal reporting duties, is both regrettable and disturbing and is not in the interests of a co-operative relationship between Australia and China,” they said in a statement.
Relations between China and Australia were already strained by Australia outlawing covert interference in politics and banning communications giant Huawei from supplying critical infrastructure. They have worsened since the Australian government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of and international responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia’s journalist union, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said China was no longer safe for foreign reporters.
“These outrageous attacks on press freedom place any foreign correspondents reporting from China at risk,” union president Marcus Strom said in a statement.
Birtles told reporters at Sydney’s airport that his departure was a “whirlwind and … not a particularly good experience.”
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“It’s very disappointing to have to leave under those circumstances and it’s a relief to be back in a country with genuine rule of law,” Birtles said.
Smith told his newspaper: “The late-night visit by police at my home was intimidating and unnecessary and highlights the pressure all foreign journalists are under in China right now.”
Smith said at the airport that he had felt “a little bit” threatened in China.
“It’s so good to be home, so happy, I can’t say any more at the moment, it’s such a relief to be home, so really happy,” Smith said.
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“It was a complicated experience but it’s great to be here,” he added.
The plane departed for Germany early Saturday and a convoy of ambulances under heavy guard by German police delivered him to Berlin’s Charité hospital at 8.47 a.m.
Navalny was comatose and in critical condition when he was admitted to the hospital Saturday. The hospital said late Saturday that no new information on Navalny’s health would be available before Monday.
Navalny’s emergency evacuation to Berlin followed days of wrangling as Alexander Murakhovsky, chief physician at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1, denied permission for his transfer to German care. Navalny’s colleagues and supporters accused authorities of endangering his life and trying to cover up a proper investigation of the suspected poisoning.
Navalny collapsed on an early flight from Tomsk to Moscow early Thursday after visiting Novosibirsk and Tomsk. The flight was diverted to Omsk. Associates of Navalny say Omsk doctors initially seemed willing to cooperate with his evacuation but then plain clothes officials and security agents swarmed the hospital and doctors denied permission for him to leave.
Only after intense international scrutiny and expressions of concern from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron was permission granted. Supporters fear the delay might have compromised his chances of survival.
A Russian newspaper cited sources in Russian security agencies who said Navalny was subject to an intense plainclothes surveillance operation during his entire trip.
The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets published details of the surveillance of his every movement, including where he stayed, what he and his associates ate, whom he met, his credit card records, shopping receipts and the vehicles in which he traveled, down to a sushi order and a nighttime swim in a river.
Navalny was extremely cautious when he traveled, according to the security agents cited by the newspaper, keeping a low profile and taking safety precautions. He stayed in safe houses in Novosibirsk and in a hotel in Tomsk. In the hotel, Navalny’s team took more rooms than they required, according to the newspaper; Navalny did not stay in the room that was registered in his name.
Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, called the report “amazing stuff.” She said Navalny knew he was under constant surveillance.
“The scale of the surveillance does not surprise me at all,” Yarmysh tweeted Sunday. “We were well aware of it before. But it’s amazing that they did not hesitate to tell everyone about it.”
Leonid Volkov, another Navalny aide, questioned the need for such surveillance. “A huge number of employees in civilian clothes are involved, routes are tracked, all movements, hotels, meetings,” he wrote on Facebook. “Excuse me, but actually why? Is Navalny a wanted criminal?”
Navalny’s party left Novosibirsk in two vehicles; agents set up a tracking operation.
“The entire tour of the oppositionist was well-concealed and even the ‘federals’ did not know about his plans,” Moskovsky Komsomolets reported. “Therefore, covert surveillance was established for the cars. In the highway there was a fork in the road to Kemerovo and Tomsk. The convoy was accompanied by law enforcement officers disguised as civilians from both cities.”
The Omsk region Ministry of Health said Saturday that no signs of known toxins had been found in Navalny’s system — only traces of alcohol and caffeine. Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Alliance of Doctors, an independent group aligned with Navalny, said he never drinks alcohol.
Yarmysh said Saturday that Navalny’s stable condition throughout the flight confirmed that nothing had prevented Navalny from being evacuated when he urgently needed it.
Kirill Martynov, policy editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, wrote that there was no explanation for Navalny’s sudden coma other than poisoning, which was apparently intended to kill him or disable him and remove him as an effective opponent. But he doubted Russian law enforcement would find the culprits.
“We learned the hard way that cases of assassinations and murders of public figures in Russia, critical journalists and opposition politicians are not investigated,” Martynov wrote.
“For a full two days, all the power of the Russian state was thrown into hiding the traces of what happened at the Tomsk airport,” he wrote. “Omsk doctors took up combat duty — under the close tutelage of the competent authorities — and for two days gave out more and more contradictory and absurd versions of what had happened, ranging from poisoning with a substance that is found in plastic cups, to a sharp spontaneous drop in blood sugar levels.”
Navalny is one of Russia’s sharpest Kremlin critics, known for his scathing YouTube exposes of corruption and graft by Russian politicians, bureaucrats and oligarchs.
He was barred from running in a presidential election in 2018 and has been jailed frequently for organizing unsanctioned protests. In July, he shut down his Anti-Corruption Foundation after it was crippled by fines. He pledged to immediately start a new organization that would do the same work.
In March, authorities froze his bank account and those of family members including his parents, daughter and 11-year-old son Zakhar.
Navalny is the latest in a succession of Kremlin critics to suffer suspected or confirmed poisoning.
Journalist Anna Politkovskaya fell ill on a flight in 2004 after drinking tea. She survived but was shot dead outside her apartment in 2006.
Former intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko, living in exile, was poisoned with Polonium-210 while drinking tea in a London hotel. A British inquiry concluded that Putin probably approved his murder.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia nearly died in 2018 when Russian agents poisoned them with the deadly Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok (or The Newcomer).
Pussy Riot member Pyotr Verzilov, who ran onto the pitch dressed as police with other members of the group at the World Cup soccer final in front of Putin and other world leaders in 2018, fell ill with suspected poisoning just weeks later.
Verzilov, like Navalny, was evacuated to Berlin’s Charité hospital for treatment. Doctors there said it was “highly plausible” that he had been poisoned.
Other Kremlin opponents, including prominent opposition leader Boris Nemstov, have been assassinated. Nemtsov was shot dead on a Moscow bridge near the Kremlin in 2015 while walking home from dining out.
The Metropolitan Police have urged the Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams and her partner to get in touch – and discuss an incident where they were stopped and searched while driving in west London.
The couple claim they were racially profiled – and while the police say each stop is made on its own merits, they are confident there were no misconduct issues but want to consider what they could have done differently.
This programme has also learnt that the Met have made a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct – following a separate complaint by a 21-year-old key worker accusing the same unit of racial profiling.
The journalists at BuzzFeed News are proud to bring you trustworthy and relevant reporting about the coronavirus. To help keep this news free, become a member and sign up for our newsletter, Outbreak Today.
On May 14, Italian politician Sara Cunial uploaded a video to her Facebook profile calling former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates a criminal and demanding he be tried for crimes against humanity.
It was a speech she made in the Italian Parliament in early May, in which Cunial, who represents a district in northern Italy, claimed Gates was developing a vaccine for COVID-19 to enslave the world’s population.
“The real goal of all of this is total control,” Cunial said, “absolute domination of human beings, transformed into guinea pigs and slaves, violating sovereignty and free will. All this thanks to tricks disguised as political compromises.
Cunial’s speech has been viewed on her page over 500,000 times and shared 30,000 times, and it’s been uploaded to countless other pages on Facebook and YouTube channels. Despite Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers marking the video “partly false,” one version of it has been watched almost 1 million times.
Cunial is wrong about Gates using a vaccine for COVID-19 to commit genocide — but she is far from alone in believing it.
The online campaign against him encompasses a myriad of alternate realities created by anxious and isolated social media users, including debunked claims about 5G cellular technology, anti-vaccination rhetoric, QAnon content, and the conspiracy theory du jour, like the idea that sunlight can kill the coronavirus. And it’s not just limited to the fringe: According to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll released Friday, 44% of Republicans in the US believe that Gates plans to use a COVID-19 vaccination as a way to implant microchips in people and monitor their movements.
“We’re concerned about the conspiracy theories being spread online and the damage they could cause to public health,” Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told BuzzFeed News. “At a time like this, when the world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis, it’s distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives. Right now, one of the best things we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 is spread the facts.”
There’s little chance Gates will be arrested by the Italian government — he lives in Washington state, for one — but the backlash against him reflects a very real and dangerous refusal to accept a COVID-19 vaccine if one were to become available. Even before the pandemic, between 10% and 22% of people in countries across Europe didn’t trust that vaccines were safe.
The paranoia around the former Microsoft CEO has been building for months, festering in Facebook Groups and YouTube comment sections. Here’s how the conspiracy theorists, panicked and ignorant people, and technology platforms that allowed the hoaxes to grow turned Bill Gates into the villain of the coronavirus pandemic.
The most popular version of the rumor stems from a tabloid in Ghana, as Kathryn Joyce, an investigative journalist with Type Investigations documented in a groundbreaking series of stories on the roots of the Gates population control conspiracies in HuffPost and Pacific Standard.
As Joyce reports in HuffPost, “In 2010, a former staffer with a government health initiative in Ghana made a shocking claim: a project partially funded by the Gates Foundation had tested the contraceptive Depo-Provera on unsuspecting villagers in the remote region of Navrongo, as part of an illicit ‘population experiment.'”
The staffer, Mame-Yaa Bosumtwi, “was the Ghanian-born, U.S.-educated communications officer for another Gates-funded initiative by the Ghanaian government and Columbia University to use mobile phones to improve health care access for rural women and children,” according to Joyce. Bosumtwi had clashed with another team member, James Phillips, a demographer at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health; when her contract was not renewed, she took her professional gripes with Phillips to the Ghanaian press and filed a lawsuit against Columbia for millions of dollars in damages.
After the lawsuit was dismissed, Bosumtwi went back to the press with a much more shocking claim: Without evidence, she said that Phillips’s project in rural Ghana had experimented with Depo-Provera on women as a test run for a broader population control campaign. Patients had been abused. Some had died.
Wanted posters with Phillips’s face sprouted across the country. Protesters mobilized outside Columbia’s research center in Navrongo. Ghanaian health officials called her claims libel, and community leaders and women from the rural area condemned them as false. But death threats escalated so badly that two members of Phillips’s team had to be evacuated across the border to Burkina Faso.
As Type Investigations’ Joyce revealed, while Bosumtwi’s allegations of Gates-funded genocide were spreading throughout Ghana, “in 2011, a U.S. women’s rights group called the Rebecca Project for Human Rights published a report, ‘Non-Consensual Research in Africa: The Outsourcing of Tuskegee,’ outlining what it claimed were a series of unethical medical experiments undertaken by U.S. researchers in Africa.” The report claimed, without evidence, that unethical medical experiments had been undertaken by US researchers in Africa — focusing on Phillips. “Researchers allegedly injected thousands of impoverished and illiterate Ghanaian women with a Pfizer contraceptive, Depo-Provera, and administered other unidentified oral contraceptives during human research experiments to reduce population and modify health care,” the report read.
The report was written by Kwame Fosu, the Rebecca Project’s chief financial officer and policy director. But Fosu left out a key detail — that he was the father of Bosumtwi’s child. Although that connection might have undermined his credibility if it were made public, in 2013 Fosu released a second report, titled “Depo-Provera: Deadly Reproductive Violence Against Women.” The report, as Joyce documented in Pacific Standard, claimed there was “a massive conspiracy involving international organizations, including the Gates Foundation, USAID, the United Nations Population Fund, and Pfizer, to push a dangerous contraceptive on poor black women.”
“Melinda Gates announces her four-billion dollar contraceptive strategy featuring Depo-Provera as the optimum choice for women of color,” Fosu wrote. “These beautiful females, oblivious that they are being insidiously exploited as diversionary cynical props to mask Gates’ egregious intent, are in an unprecedented Depo-Provera campaign with serious racist implications to prevent their very births.”
In the US, Fosu’s white papers circulated among right-wing groups that claimed “abortion was a form of black genocide.” And they had an impact within Africa as well. In 2014, Joyce wrote, Zimbabwe’s registrar general, Tobaiwa Mudede, “warned women to avoid modern contraceptives because they caused cancer and were a Western ploy to limit African population growth.” That same year in Kenya, Joyce also reported, “all 27 members of the nation’s Conference of Catholic Bishops declared that a WHO/UNICEF campaign to administer neonatal tetanus vaccines to women of childbearing age was really ‘a disguised population control programme.'”
In the years that followed, the allegations of a Gates Foundation–led black genocide in Africa may have subsided, but the conspiracy theory that Gates could be using vaccines to depopulate the planet has stuck around.
At their core, these conspiracy theories revolve around the idea that Gates is using his wealth to control the planet. As old as baseless claims that the Illuminati or the Freemasons control the world and as new as the digital revolution, they blend imaginary concerns about the hidden masters of the world and basic misunderstandings of science.
Named for the Microsoft cofounder and his wife, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in 2000 and is the largest private foundation in the world. In 2008, Gates transitioned out of his role with Microsoft to give himself more time to its programs and grants, which primarily focus on enhancing healthcare, reducing extreme poverty, and expanding educational opportunities and access to information technology.
While it’s completely false to say the Gates Foundation is trying to depopulate the planet, the work the foundation does is in fact influenced by overpopulation concerns popularized in the ’60s and ’70s. Gates himself has publicly acknowledged several times over the last decade his debt to the work of biologist Paul R. Ehrlich, whose 1968 book The Population Bomb brought the concept of global overpopulation into the public consciousness and was mentioned in the Gates Foundation’s annual letter in 2012.
Gates wrote about Ehrlich again in 2013, calling him “the country’s, and perhaps the world’s, most prominent environmental Cassandra” and lauding his work, even if the foundation’s cofounder concluded it was too fatalistic:
“We know now that Ehrlich was extremely wrong and that following his scientific certainties would have been terrible for the poor.”
So while Gates is not spending his retirement trying to commit eugenics on a global scale and is in fact actively opposed to the wing of the environmentalist movement that advocates for such a thing, it’s a connection that has been hard to shake. Spend enough time in online fever swamps and you’ll start seeing the same words over and over again — “Bill Gates,” “population control” — skipping right over the fact that Gates is against the idea.
Gates has remained a popular target for those with attenuated ties to reality. In 2016, Infowars connected him to a conspiracy theory that Zika fever could be a bioweapon. In 2018, Infowars wrote that Gates was “indirectly responsible for both Ebola and Zika outbreaks” and was planning a global pandemic known as “Disease X.” The same year, conspiracy theory site NewsPunch published an article with the headline “Bill Gates Admits ‘Vaccines Are Best Way to Depopulate,’” which went viral enough for fact-checking site Snopes to debunk it. Conspiracies about Gates have proliferated on Facebook and YouTube as well. In January 2019, a now-debunked and -deleted article from Transcend International, a nonprofit media outlet, went viral, claiming Gates believed vaccines were too dangerous to give to his own children.
These claims have often taken a political valence: In 2018, footage leaked of Gates mocking President Donald Trump for not knowing the difference between HPV and HIV. But beyond partisanship, Gates — with his tech-made money and philanthropic efforts to improve public health — has become an avatar of populist rage at those who possess technical fluency, an elite education, and well-stamped passports.
The first rumor connecting Gates to COVID-19 was spread at the very beginning of the outbreak by QAnon YouTuber Jordan Sather. In January, when the virus was still localized in Wuhan, China, Sather claimed that the novel coronavirus was a “new fad disease” that had been “planned” by Gates.
The QAnon community believes Trump is waging a secret war against a deep state, secret messages about which are leaked out on anonymous online message boards like 8chan by an insider with “Q-level” security clearance. Gates and other wealthy liberals like George Soros are believed to be part of a global cabal of Satanists who secretly control the world.
The crux of Sather’s conspiracy hinged on a 2015 patent filed by the Pirbright Institute in Surrey, England, which covered the development of a weakened form of a coronavirus that could be used as a vaccine to prevent respiratory diseases in birds and other animals. This is a standard way that vaccines are made, for everything from the flu to polio.
As the virus spread out of China, hoaxes about Gates did as well, with social media companies only attempting to limit their reach weeks after they began. Melanie Smith, a cyberintelligence analyst at Graphika, a network analysis company, told BuzzFeed News: “I think social media platforms only really stepped up to the plate to deal with coronavirus disinfo in March.”
In the early months of the outbreak, Smith said, many mainstream users were exposed to seriously fringe ideas, including one that falsely claimed that Gates was depopulating the planet. “Gates has created a vaccine and it will be tested in African countries before it’s tested anywhere else,” she said, explaining the conspiracy theory.
Regardless of how Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have battled conspiratorial content about COVID-19, it wasn’t enough. By April, Gates had become the main target.
In April, the “black genocide” narrative was reignited, reports Joyce. Diamond and Silk, pro-Trump influencers and former Fox News personalities, declared they would never take a COVID-19 vaccine created by Gates because he had used African people as “guinea pigs.” Conservative commentator Candace Owens tweeted the same month that “vaccine-criminal Bill Gates” had used “African & Indian tribal children to experiment w/ non-FDA approved drug vaccines.”
A petition calling for Gates’ arrest was posted on the White House’s page for citizen queries on April 10. As of Friday, it had 572,723 signatures, thanks in part to being shared on Facebook Groups like “Refuse Corona [email protected] and Screw Bill Gates” and a Bulgarian conspiracy theory group called “Hidden Knowledge 2.” The petition received even more attention after it was covered by NewsPunch.
That same month, a now-deleted YouTube video full of misinformation about Gates, titled “Dr. SHIVA Ayyadurai, MIT PhD Crushes Dr. Fauci Exposes Birx, Clintons, Bill Gates, And The W.H.O” was watched more than 6 million times, with close to half a million shares on Facebook. At the same time, many explicitly anti–Bill Gates groups formed on Facebook, the biggest of which was “Collective Action Against Bill Gates. We Wont Be Vaccinated!!” According to social metrics site CrowdTangle, its 100,000-plus members regularly post some of the most-shared content on the platform about the former Microsoft CEO. “This is the shit eating grin Bill has on whenever talking about the coronavirus,” one recent post read.
A petition calling for Gates’ arrest was posted on the White House’s page for citizen queries on April 10. As of Friday, it had 572,723 signatures.
But “Collective Action Against Bill Gates” is hardly the only group. The pushback against him is a focal point for several previously unlinked misinformation communities, such as anti-vaxxers, 5G truthers, New Agers, and QAnon supporters. These groups, which range in size, have names like “#SayNoToBillGates,” “STOP BILL GATES: He’s A Treasonous Murderous Psychopath & Must Be Stopped,” “TAG DONALD J TRUMP: STOP BILL GATES,” and “Fauci & Gates to prison worldwide Resistance.”
A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that many groups featuring anti-vax content have a pop-up warning when a user joins them, warning them of harmful misinformation.
“Anyone who searches for and joins a group related to COVID-19 or vaccines is then directed to accurate information from health organizations,” the spokesperson said. “Additionally, we are working to remove these types of groups from the recommendations we show people.”
In early May, as Cameron Wilson reported, “a little over 100 people met on the steps of the state Parliament building in Melbourne, Australia, and began chanting ‘arrest Bill Gates’. … One speaker, Fanos Panayides, is the founder of an extremely active Facebook group called 99% unite Main Group ‘it’s us or them’ that has rapidly become one of the biggest hubs of resistance against Australia’s coronavirus response. … Since it was started on April 8, the group has grown to more than 37,000 members who have made more than 900,000 posts, comments and reactions, according to social media analytics site Crowdtangle.”
Conspiracy theories have also appeared on Indian social media. Drawing on a false claim that dates back to at least 2014, Health Impact News, a pseudoscience website that promotes conspiracy theories about 5G and vaccines, claimed on May 19 that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had been sued and “put on trial” before the Supreme Court of India regarding the deaths and injuries caused by trials of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine. One version of the claim featured a photo of Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci together with text that read, “Well, well, well, Globalist population control Bill Gates shortly after his trip to India with Dr. Fauci.”
Although there was in reality no lawsuit, there really was a study in India funded by the Gates Foundation. In 2010, the trials, conducted by the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, was canceled after local media reported that seven girls had died after taking part in it. Investigations carried out by the Indian government determined that the deaths were unrelated to the vaccine.
So when Cunial stood up in the Italian Parliament last week and demanded Gates be arrested for “crimes against humanity,” it wasn’t random. It was a crossover win for the COVID-19 conspiracy theorists. Amid heckles and jeers, Cunial called upon other Parliament members to defy any plans for a compulsory vaccination against COVID-19.
Cunial is a former member of the Five Star Movement (M5S), an antiestablishment party that won the most seats in Italy’s 2018 general election. Her Facebook page is full of anti-vax, anti-5G, and COVID-19 misinformation. She’s also a supporter of the ID2020 microchip theory: the belief that the ID2020 Alliance, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for digital IDs for undocumented people and refugees, is working with Gates to build a surveillance state with tracking devices in the COVID-19 vaccine.
She’s far from the only anti-vaxxer among the M5S or its former members. The party campaigned on objections to vaccinations. Observers of Italian politics have argued that vaccine skepticism is one of the central tenets of what M5S stands for.
A member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies condemned Cunial’s “absurd and unfounded theories” on Twitter, but, her speech was nevertheless seized on by Russian state media, amplified by the American far right, and shared in various ways on Facebook and YouTube.
Two versions of Cunial’s speech were removed on Thursday by YouTube after they were flagged by BuzzFeed News. YouTube spokesperson Farshad Shadloo said the videos violated the site’s policies around medical misinformation.
“We’re committed to providing timely and helpful information at this critical time, including raising authoritative content, reducing the spread of harmful misinformation, and showing information panels, using CDC data, to help combat misinformation,” Shadloo said. “We have clear policies against COVID misinformation, and we quickly remove videos violating these policies when flagged to us.”
A scan of the YouTube comments about Cunial will make you wonder how to untangle the confusion. A report from RT about Cunial’s speech was shared on Tuesday to “X22 Report [Geopolitical],” one of the larger QAnon Facebook Groups.
“Ironically fact checker blocked this earlier on me. … It’s literally what they say. It’s ridiculous,” one user wrote, referring to the fact that Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers have flagged several versions of Cunial’s video as “partly misleading.”
“The fact checker and Politifact is owned by Gates and Soros, so you won’t know the truth,” another commenter erroneously replied, going on to call down a curse on them in ornate language: “But hell be their homes and what they fear the most on earth be their torment 1000 times over for eternity.” ●
This story has been updated to more clearly attribute source material from work previously published elsewhere.
This story has been updated to add credit to Kathryn Joyce’s series of stories on the conspiracy theories linking Bill Gates to population control efforts in Africa.
The new chief of U.S.-funded global media is facing a conservative backlash over his decision to fire the heads of two international broadcasters, adding to concerns about the direction of the agency, which oversees the Voice of America and other outlets.
The criticism of Michael Pack, who defended his personnel moves, is unusual because it’s coming from supporters of President Donald Trump who had backed his controversial nomination to run the U.S. Agency for Global Media over staunch Democratic objections.
Trump allies, including former adviser Sebastian Gorka, have offered public support for the ousted head of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Alberto Fernandez, while others have taken issue with the firing of the head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jamie Fly.
Pack, a conservative filmmaker and onetime associate of Trump adviser Steve Bannon, sacked both of them late Wednesday in a purge of USAGM’s outlets, which also include Radio Free Asia and the Cuba-focused Radio/TV Marti. Those moves have alarmed Democrats who fear Pack intends to turn the agency into a Trump administration propaganda machine.
“Every action I carried out was — and every action I will carry out will be — geared toward rebuilding the USAGM’s reputation, boosting morale, and improving content,” Pack said in a statement released by the new agency’s new public affairs staff.
The statement called the moves “significant and long-overdue” and said Pack and his team are “committed to eradicating the known mismanagement and scandals that have plagued the agency for decades.”
In addition to the agency chiefs, Pack dismissed veteran broadcast news executive Steve Capus, who had been a senior adviser to the organization and its leadership, according to two congressional aides and an AGM employee, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Capus, who was previously president of NBC News for nearly eight years, did not respond to a query sent to an AGM work email address.
And, he ousted the head of the Open Technology Fund, a non-broadcast arm of the AGM that works to provide secure internet access to people around the world. Last week, Fund chief Libby Liu submitted her resignation, effective in mid-July, but she was removed with the others.
There was no public explanation of why Pack would dismiss any of the officials, let alone those favored by conservatives beyond the general statement of improving the agency.
The firing of Fernandez, in particular, has raised conservative hackles. A former career diplomat fluent in Arabic, Fernandez had been hailed by conservatives for bringing what they saw as balance to the Arabic-language outlets AlHurra television and Radio Sawa.
“Ambassador Fernandez was the greatest asset America had in foreign broadcasting,” Gorka wrote on Twitter shortly after the dismissals became public.
Michael Doran, a former National Security Council and State Department official during President George W. Bush’s administration, called Fernandez’s ouster “asinine” and said that without him, “Pack will be as effective as a drugged bug in a bottle.”
David Reaboi, a noted conservative national security analyst, was even more critical, calling Fernandez’s removal “shameful.” “It was unusual for the pro-American side to get represented, and Alberto always made sure it did,” he told the AP. “It was a model for recapturing territory from the far left and righting the ship.“
“Michael Pack gets confirmed by the Senate and, rather than take stock and talk to people who know what’s happening, he fired everybody,” Reaboi wrote. “Michael Pack destroyed that because he was too dumb to listen — or too dumb to be able to figure out the difference between friends and enemies.”
The dismissal of Fly, a former staffer for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also attracted criticism, including from Mark Dubowitz, a well-known advocate of the Trump administration’s hawkish policies on Iran. “Poor decision to fire (Fernandez) and (Fly) whose exemplary leadership of MBN and RFE/RL respectively, made America’s public diplomacy more effective, more persuasive and more consistent with American interests and values,” he wrote.
Juan Zarate, a Republican former NSC and Treasury staffer, agreed, calling the two dismissals “incomprehensible.” “I’ve watched both for years work with integrity to promote US interests abroad,” he wrote.
In addition to Fernandez and Fly, Pack also removed the head of Radio Free Asia, Bay Fang, and the acting chief of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting on Wednesday. He replaced each outlet’s corporate board of directors with allies and installed himself as chairman of each.
One of the people added to the board of Radio Free Asia, Jonathan Alexandre, attracted particular concern from Democrats who noted that he is also director of public policy for the conservative Liberty Counsel, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group for opposing gay rights.
The director and deputy director of the Voice of America, Amanda Bennett and Sandy Sugawara, resigned from their positions on Monday. Taken together, top House Democrats who oversee AGM funding said Pack’s moves were dangerous.
“That Mr. Pack took this drastic measure in his first week on the job is shocking, and we have deep concerns that he takes the helm of a critical agency with the intent to prioritize the Trump administration’s political whims over protecting and promoting independent reporting, which is a pillar of freedom and democracy,” said Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Nita Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, denounced the firings as an “egregious breach” of the agency’s mission. Menendez had led an unsuccessful fight to block or at least delay Pack’s confirmation.
As the mainstream media had finally began acknowledging the sexual assault allegation that was made against former Vice President Joe Biden, a bizarre development has his former 2020 rivals being asked about the controversy before the presumptive Democratic nominee is.
Since Tara Reade, a former staffer of the then senator, spoke out about the alleged 1993 assault in her March 25 interview with podcast host Katie Halper, Biden had made ten appearances on various news networks and did not face a single question about her claims.
However, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who have both endorsed Biden, were asked to weigh in on the controversy during their televised interviews on Thursday.
Klobuchar, who is also on Biden’s shortlist of potential VP picks, suggested that Reade’s allegation was put to bed during her appearance on MSNBC, pointing to a report The New York Times ran on Easter Sunday.
BIDEN SKATES THROUGH TV INTERVIEWS AS ANCHORS AVOID QUESTIONS ABOUT TARA READE’S ASSAULT CLAIM
“He has said, and I agree with this, ‘You’ve got to get to the bottom of every case and all allegations.’ I think The New York Times — I haven’t read all the stories. I read that one,” Klobuchar told “The Beat” anchor Ari Melber. “Your viewers should read that. It was very thorough. They interviewed people. And I have done a lot of work on this. I actually led the effort to change the rules in the U.S. Senate so that it is easier to bring these cases forward and so that we have taxpayers not paying for bad conduct.”
She continued, “I think this case has been investigated. I know the vice president as a major leader on domestic abuse, I worked with him on that. And I think that, again, the viewers should read the article. It was very thorough.”
Hours earlier, Biden appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” alongside his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, but was not asked about the allegation.
Sanders, who suspended his presidential campaign last week and officially endorsed Biden on Monday, was asked about remarks made by his progressive ally Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who said on Tuesday that Reade’s allegation is “legitimate to talk about.”
“Do you agree?” Tony Dokoupil of “CBS This Morning” asked.
“I think it’s relevant and to talk about anything. And I think any woman who feels that she was assaulted has every right in the world to stand up and make her claims,” Sanders responded. “I think that she has the right to make her claims and get a public hearing and the public will make their own conclusions about it. I just don’t know enough about it to comment further.”
CNN MISSING IN ACTION ON BIDEN ASSAULT ACCUSER TARA READE’S STORY
Katie Halper, the progressive podcast host who interviewed Reade last month, slammed the media, saying it has given Sanders a “harder time than Biden” on Biden’s own sexual assault allegation.
While Klobuchar and Sanders were asked about Reade’s allegation, Biden skated through 10 different interviews, including with CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Brooke Baldwin, MSNBC anchors Nicolle Wallace and Brian Williams, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, and NBC News’ Chuck Todd.
“If the liberal media think they can put to rest the calls for coverage of Tara Reade’s allegations by asking major Democratic Party figures other than Biden, they’re severely mistaken,” NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck told Fox News. “The person at the center of this story has yet to be asked in broadcast and cable network interviews. And for that, the liberal media will continue to beclown itself in failing to educate voters about the 2020 campaign and instead bolster the notion that they are willingly putting their thumb on the scales for Biden.”
AOC SAYS BIDEN ASSAULT CLAIM ‘LEGITIMATE TO TALK ABOUT’
Progressive journalist Walker Bragman said it is “immensely revealing” that Biden has done so many interviews since Reade came forward and faced “a total of zero questions on the subject.”
“Back in January, a private dinner conversation between Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren sparked a week-long news cycle. Reade’s allegation was ignored for weeks,” Bragman told Fox News, referring to the sexism-charged feud between the two candidates earlier this year. “When it was covered, it was downplayed with the New York Times stealth editing its report to remove references to the other accusation of impropriety Biden has faced from multiple other women.”
NY TIMES EDITOR SUGGESTS REPORT ON BIDEN ACCUSER WAS CHANGED AFTER BIDEN CAMPAIGN COMPLAINED
For nearly three weeks, there was a complete media blackout of Reade’s claim. The tides began to shift following Rich McHugh’s report in Business Insider last Friday that Reade had filed a criminal complaint against Biden.
The New York Times ran its first report on the morning of Easter Sunday while The Washington Post and NBC News published theirs hours later.
ABC News republished a report from the Associated Press but has yet to mention it on-air. CBS News reported the allegation on its website on Tuesday and on-air during Thursday’s “CBS This Morning.”
CNN is the only major news outlet to have completely avoided Reade’s claims.
Reade’s story first resurfaced in an article in The Intercept. Podcast host Katie Halper then interviewed Reade, who said that in 1993, a more senior member of Biden’s staff asked her to bring the then-senator his gym bag near the Capitol building, which led to the encounter in question.
“He greeted me, he remembered my name, and then we were alone. It was the strangest thing,” Reade told Halper. “There was no like, exchange really. He just had me up against the wall.”
Reade said she tried to share her story last year, but nobody listened to her. This past Thursday, she filed a criminal complaint against Biden with police in Washington, D.C.
CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE
The Biden campaign vehemently denied Reade’s allegation.
“Women have a right to tell their story, and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims. We encourage them to do so, because these accusations are false,” Kate Bedingfield, the deputy campaign manager and communications director for the Biden campaign, said in a statement to Fox News.
Fox News’ Sam Dorman, Tyler Olson, and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.
Donald Trump attempted to discredit media reports of his administration’s failures in the Covid-19 pandemic as he called some outlets in the White House press corps “fake news” at his daily coronavirus briefing on Saturday.
In a rambling introduction to a lengthy and combative briefing the president cited media reports on shortages of ventilators and personal protective equipment and said some state governors had asked for more supplies than they need.
The White House’s own projections show 100,000 Americans could be killed by the virus. On Saturday, Trump said: “There will be a lot of death”.
“It’s therefore critical certain media outlets stop spreading false information,” he said. “I could name them, but it’s the same ones, always the same ones.”
“It’s so bad for our country, so bad for the world.”
Trump then accused state governors of asking for materials which he argued they did not need.
“Many of their cupboards were bare,” he said.
Trump’s administration has sought to redefine the national strategic stockpile as a “back up” for states, and avoid co-ordinating a response to the pandemic.
Earlier, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his state, which has been especially hard-hit, had looked to China for ventilator supplies.
“We’re not yet at the apex,” said Cuomo, who described the crescendo of cases to come as “the number one point of engagement of the enemy”.
Cuomo said he had obtained 1,000 ventilators from the Chinese government with the help of billionaires Joseph and Clara Tsai and Alibaba founder Jack Ma. Oregon had loaned New York another 140, he said.
At the White House, Trump said: “We have given the governor of New York more than anybody has been given in a long time. I think he’s happy… I wouldn’t say gracious.”
He also tried to claim credit for the 1,000 ventilators sent to New York by China and said, “two very good friends of mine brought him those ventilators”.
Cuomo put the New York case load at 113,704 and the death toll at 3,565, most in New York City but with nearly 1,000 deaths in other parts of the state. At lunchtime on Saturday, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland put the national toll at nearly 279,000 cases and 7,170 deaths.
Current projections put the peak of the pandemic in New York between four and 14 days away. Officials hope physical distancing across the state will slow the spread of the disease and forestall the possibility of running out of ventilators and hospital beds.
Cuomo admitted he hoped to see the apex soon, so the experience would soon end. The pandemic, “stresses this country, this state, in a way nothing else has frankly in my lifetime”, he said.
Cuomo’s briefing from the New York state capital, Albany, offered another contrast in leadership between governor and president. While Cuomo’s briefings convey alarming statistics, his frank descriptions of shortages and personal struggles have been praised.
Cuomo said the state had a signed contract for 17,000 ventilators, which he was later told could not be filled because many had already been purchased by China.
Trump retweeted articles about hydroxychloroquine, a treatment for malaria, and then promoted the unproven drug again at the press briefing. Some researchers believe the drug shows promise as a possible treatment for Covid-19 but so far studies lack control groups and are therefore treated as anecdotal. There is no known therapeutic for Covid-19, and no vaccine.
The US federal government’s response to the outbreak has been defined by bungled testing, poor coordination, low stockpiles and planning failures. Federal failure to intervene in supply chains has led to bidding wars for masks and other personal protective equipment, governors have said.
The White House has repeatedly claimed it has 10,000 ventilators in a strategic national stockpile. However, states have reported some of those ventilators are unusable, after the Trump administration failed to ensure the stockpile was properly maintained.
Trump has repeatedly caused confusion, often following hours-long, rambling press conferences featuring attacks on the media. At one such briefing on Friday, the president said he would not follow the advice of his own health department, and wear a mask in public.
“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is advising the use of non-medical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure,” Trump told reporters.
“This is voluntary. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”