Former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon’s website fabricated a story about the Sonoma Wildfires with “completely false, bad, wrong information” in order to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria.
The term for that sort of propaganda is “hate speech.”
A spokesperson for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office tells BuzzFeed that a reporter for Breitbart News, after finding out that someone named Gonzalez had at some point been arrested in Sonoma County, “called the department only to inquire about Gonzalez’s race and if ICE had placed a detainer on him.”
Although the story rocketed around the right wing web, “There is no indication Mr. Gonzalez is connected to the wildfires. None,” Sgt. Spencer Crum says. “Breitbart made that up themselves.”
Breitbart’s story went viral on social media and got picked up by the usual credulous right wing web outlets, including Drudge Report, Infowars, and American News 24/7.
The fake news story was clearly aimed at supporting nativist narratives about undocumented immigrants, and the Trump administration capitalized on it immediately.
Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), blamed “a non-cooperative jurisdiction” for allowing Mexican national Jesus Fabian Gonzalez to set the fires which have killed 40 people and scorched California’s wine country.
But it was a lie. In a statement of his own yesterday, Sheriff Rob Giordano said that version of events was “inaccurate, inflammatory, and damages the relationship we have with our community.”
Deputies found Gonzalez with a small fire in a public park on Sunday. A homeless man known to local law enforcement, Gonzalez told them he had lit the fire to keep warm.
“There is no indication that Gonzalez had anything to do with these fires and it appears highly unlikely,” Giordano said.
“ICE’s misleading statement stirs fear in some of our community members who are already exhausted and scared.”
Despite reassurances from local law enforcement, BuzzFeed reports that many undocumented residents “chose to camp at beaches, sleep in cars, or stay in churches, schools, and other pop-up shelters to avoid encountering any federal agents.”
That is music to Bannon’s ears. Making immigrants anxious and afraid is a key objective of white nationalists who wish to encourage “self-deportation.”
The Gonzalez story is hardly the first example of hate speech demonizing immigrants at the website.
During 2016, Breitbart reporter Lee Stranahan wrote an entire series of fake news stories about a supposed gang rape committed by refugees in Twin Falls, Idaho.
A Harvard study of election news found that the website dominated public discussion of immigration issues with “sensationalistic, race-centric coverage” that was “focused on crime, terrorism, fear of Muslims, and disease.”
Breitbart reporters have developed a close working relationship with ICE and Border Patrol agents over the years.
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