This piece was originally published in the June 8, 2020 edition of CAP Action’s daily newsletter, the Progress Report. Subscribe to the Progress Report here.
“OUR DEMOCRACY HANGS IN THE BALANCE.”
— Civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander, in an op-ed out today, calling on Americans to seize this moment and fight for racial justice
It’s been two weeks since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, and the national outpouring of pressure for real change in our policing systems has only grown. With protests and marches for racial justice showing no sign of slowing down, we thought we’d take a look at a concerning trend: The spread of misleading information online, and how Trump is using it to shift the conversation away from racism and police brutality.
According to media literacy expert Peter Adams, “bad actors” have intentionally spread protest-related disinformation online in the wake of Floyd’s death, often invoking the term “Antifa” to stoke fear. Just last week, rumors of an “Antifa invasion” spread across the country via the community message board app Nextdoor, which has a reputation as a platform conducive to paranoia and racism. Some posts included a tweet screenshot from what appeared to be Antifa which warned of outside agitators being bused in to “loot” and “riot” in “white neighborhoods.” A white supremacist group seeking to stoke fear of protesters was found to be responsible for the fake Antifa account and the tweet (but not before Donald Trump Jr. promoted it to his 5.1 million Twitter followers).
REALITY CHECK: The term “Antifa” is usually used to refer to a movement of decentralized, autonomous or loosely organized groups opposing fascism. Officials have yet to provide ANY evidence that Antifa is planning any kind of “invasion” related to the protests or otherwise.
While these stories can seem silly from an outside perspective, their impact is anything but laughable. As we saw in 2018 when an extremist with an active presence in online right-wing circles mailed bombs to the offices of Democratic officials, online conspiracies can extend past the walls of the internet — sometimes with violent consequences.
The Antifa conspiracy picked up enough steam that some local police departments had to issue statements on the situation. Then, last Sunday, armed residents of a small, overwhelmingly white town in Oregon formed a counter-protest of sorts to defend themselves from, you guessed it, “an Antifa invasion.” An attendee of the much smaller Black Lives Matter gathering nearby said passing by the heavily armed group of conspiracy theorists “felt like walking through an enemy war camp.”
Of course, Trump has fueled these conspiracy theories. He and Attorney General Barr have both baselessly invoked Antifa as the cause of unrest following George Floyd’s death. When prominent public officials and their associates don’t hesitate to assist the spread of disinformation, we’re often, unfortunately, forced to turn to tech executives to hold them accountable. While Twitter suspended the account reportedly responsible for the fake Antifa tweet and flagged Trump’s tweets inciting violence against protesters, other sites have failed to take quick action on such dangerous content. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly indicated he has no interest in fact-checking or removing Trump’s posts, even when he lies.
Trump and his allies keep talking about Antifa to keep the public’s mind off of the real problem: Racist violence at the hands of police, and his administration’s utter lack of interest in addressing it. Don’t let him distract you.
IN THE NEWS
- Congressional Democrats introduced a package of reforms this morning intended to curtail the horrific police killings of and violence against Black Americans. Among other things, the Justice in Policing Act would create a national police misconduct database, ban the use of chokeholds, and reform the legal doctrine of qualified immunity.
- A veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council now supports disbanding the city’s police department and starting from scratch. Council members have expressed support for a shift towards community-oriented emergency response teams composed of social worker-type responders who are better prepared to handle certain situations that would typically result in police involvement. “We can resolve confusion over a $20 grocery transaction without drawing a weapon or pulling out handcuffs,” wrote Council Member Steve Fletcher.
- The United States officially entered a recession in February. This announcement from the National Bureau of Economic Research today marked the earliest that the Bureau has ever declared the existence of a recession, a process which typically takes a year or longer but was sped up and exacerbated by the Trump administration’s failure to contain the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
- As Americans suffered the consequences of a mishandled pandemic, billionaires got 19% richer. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, in the same 11-week period during which 42.6 million people filed for unemployment, America’s billionaires saw their wealth increase by more than half a trillion dollars. Reminder: While billionaires were raking in the cash, Black unemployment went up this month, further entrenching the racial wealth gap.
- New Zealand now has zero active coronavirus cases, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today. The country had just 22 coronavirus deaths and 1,504 total infections, due in no small part to the aggressive restrictions implemented in mid-March to curb the spread. Ardern also announced that she will lift nearly all pandemic-related restrictions after hearing the good news. It’s refreshing to see responsible leadership, even though we severely lack it here at home.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- What should we expect of the police? In 2019, the Center for American Progress convened a group of experts on policing and asked them just that. Read their responses here.
- Why Anti-Blackness Is America’s Perpetual Pandemic by Rosemary Enobakhare and Dr. Oliver Brooks (Blavity)
- America, This Is Your Chance by Michelle Alexander (NYT)
- You’ve probably heard the term “qualified immunity” in the ongoing discussions about police brutality. Read this 2019 explainer of the doctrine from The Appeal’s Amir H. Ali and Emily Clark.
David McAtee, a Black restaurant owner from Louisville, Kentucky, was killed by police on June 1. If you’re able to donate, this fund supports David’s grieving mother.
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