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Facebook Is Showing Military Gear Ads Next To Insurrection Posts

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Facebook has been running ads for body armor, gun holsters, and other military equipment next to content promoting election misinformation and news about the attempted coup at the US Capitol, despite internal warnings from concerned employees.

In the aftermath of an attempted insurrection by President Donald Trump’s supporters last week at the US Capitol building, Facebook has served up ads for defense products to accounts that follow extremist content, according to the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit watchdog group. Those ads — which include New Year’s specials for specialized body armor plates, rifle enhancements, and shooting targets — were all delivered to a TTP Facebook account used to monitor right-wing content that could incite violence.

Beginning last summer, the Mark Zuckerberg-led company banned pages, groups, and accounts belonging to US-based militant groups, “boogaloo” extremists, and those associated with the QAnon mass delusion. But members of those movements quickly found ways around the company’s policies by renaming their pages or using code names. They continue to proliferate, organize, and advertise on the social network.

These ads for tactical gear, which were flagged internally by employees as potentially problematic, show Facebook has been profiting from content that amplifies political and cultural discord in the US.

“Facebook has spent years facilitating fringe voices who use the platform to organize and amplify calls for violence,” said TTP Director Katie Paul. “As if that weren’t enough, Facebook’s advertising microtargeting is directing domestic extremists toward weapons accessories and armor that can make their militarized efforts more effective, all while Facebook profits.”

“Facebook’s advertising microtargeting is directing domestic extremists toward weapons accessories and armor.”

In a statement that did not address BuzzFeed News’ questions about specific ads, pages, or groups, Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois said, “Our teams are working to stay ahead of any militia groups that try to evade” the social network’s ban.

She added, “We don’t allow ads that praise, support, or represent militarized social movements, and ban ads that promote the sale or use of weapons, ammunition, or explosives.”

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons said that in light of last week’s assault on the Capitol, Facebook needed to “conduct a robust review of all of its business practices, not just the content it hosts.”

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, he said, “It’s clear after last week’s assault on the Capitol that social media companies, including Facebook, need to take additional steps to prevent violence and extremism from taking root on their platforms — whether by hosting content that incites or organizes violence or by making it easier for those with bad intentions to obtain military gear.”

On Wednesday morning, ads for military-grade tactical gear ads appeared in the News Feed of a TTP-run Facebook account designed to mimic the online habits of someone who followed extremist content on the platform. The year-old account was designed to look like that of a 32-year-old man based in Covington, Kentucky, who follows or is part of more than 75 pages or groups that share pro-Trump memes, election misinformation, or outright calls for violence.

These pages include “RAPID Militia,” “Modern Militia,” and “Appalachian Mountain Patriots” (formerly “Appalachian Oath Keepers”). Facebook banned militant groups in August; the Oath Keepers is a far-right anti-government organization that has been prohibited by the platform.

The TTP account does not post or like any of the content Facebook delivers to it, though Paul does scroll through the feed and follows links for her research. While the account does not follow the pages of Donald Trump or his son Donald Trump Jr., Facebook deemed those two figures to be part of the account’s “interest categories,” which also include the “Republican Party (United States),” “American football,” and “Politics.” Facebook users do not specify their interest categories, which are determined by the social network’s algorithms based on a person’s on-platform activity.

Paul showed BuzzFeed News a live video of the activity on the account’s feed on Wednesday morning.

In the News Feed, an ad for “high-quality American-made holsters” ran above a post falsely claiming that the recent presidential election was stolen. The ad was targeted to people over the age of 18 whose primary location is the US, according to a Facebook informational panel. A different video ad for a flashlight and laser pointer that could be attached to a semiautomatic rifle was shown next to a post from a group that promotes booglaoo content. Members of the boogaloo movement, a loose network of anti-government extremists who advocate for civil war, have previously been charged with killing law enforcement officers.

While Facebook prohibits ads for firearm sales and gun modifications, advertisers are allowed to use the platform and its audience-targeting capabilities to sell weapon accessories. The advertised products seen by BuzzFeed News included gun belts, steel targets, and body armor.


Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

Protesters supporting U.S. President Donald Trump gather gather in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

Because Facebook is a highly personalized platform, it’s unclear which specific demographics have been targeted for tactical gear advertising. The company, which was expected to record $80 billion in revenue in 2020, typically does not disclose detailed targeting information for nonpolitical ads.

“You have all the other survival gear so why are you missing one of the most essential pieces of equipment for when SHTF,” read one ad for an armored vest, using an initialism for “shit hits the fan.” The ad contained an image of a semiautomatic rifle sitting atop a trunk, which also propped up the armor.

The same ad was flagged inside Facebook on Monday by a concerned employee, according to postings seen by BuzzFeed News on Workplace, the social network’s internal forum for workers.

“IMO it’s a set of products we’d be better off not advertising, especially not when combined with a rifle in the graphic, and it is at best terrible timing,” the person wrote. A reviewer of the ads responded to the post to note that they “did not find enough violations to take down the ad,” igniting a vigorous debate among employees.

In another Workplace group, a different Facebook worker reported that friends had found military gear ads served alongside news stories about the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol.

“This looks serious to me because it can be read as 1) us profiting off of the events 2) encouraging people to take some kind direction to the events,” they wrote, attaching a video of what they were seeing.


Dominic Lipinski – Pa Images / Getty Images

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg

On Monday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke at a Reuters conference at which she discussed the recent violence at the Capitol. In the interview, she said that Facebook had taken proactive measures to remove extremist content.

“I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, and don’t have our standards, and don’t have our transparency,” Sandberg said. “But certainly, to this day we are working to find any single mention that may be leading to this and making sure we get it down as quickly as possible.”

In a statement, Bourgeois, the company spokesperson, said that “Sheryl began [the talk] by noting these events were organized online, including on our platforms — with the clear suggestion we have a role here.”

During Monday’s interview, Sandberg also addressed the proliferation of hate-related content on Facebook.

“I think there’s a false belief that we somehow profit, that people somehow want to see this content,” she said. “That’s just not true.”

As she spoke, a “Stop the Steal” group with more than 14,000 members was still active on the platform. While that group was later removed, others have replaced it, and Facebook is displaying ads next to their content.



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Apple taps hardware chief to lead new mystery project

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Steve Proehl | Corbis Unreleased | Getty Images

Apple promoted its hardware chief, Dan Riccio, to a new role “focusing on a new project.” He will report to CEO Tim Cook, Apple announced on Monday.

Riccio was previously the company’s senior vice president for hardware engineering, signing off on the physical aspects and electrical engineering of Apple products, including iPhones. He’s been on Apple’s “executive team” reporting to Cook since 2012.

Apple did not mention what project Riccio would work on in its announcement.

“Next up, I’m looking forward to doing what I love most — focusing all my time and energy at Apple on creating something new and wonderful that I couldn’t be more excited about,” Riccio said in a statement.

Apple rarely discusses future products, but in recent years, the tech giant has been working on unreleased electric cars as well as virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.

John Ternus will take over for Riccio. Ternus was previously a VP at Apple and his public profile has been growing in recent years. Last year, he was a key presenter of the company’s transition from Intel processors to its own M1 processors for laptops at a livestreamed launch event.


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These Brave Corporations Did What No Social Platforms Could Do, And I’m Weeping

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There’s this cliché in crime movies where the ace FBI agent steps under the yellow caution tape surrounding the scene of a murder and tells the bumbling local police, “OK, boys, we’ll take it from here.”

For over a decade now, when it comes to content moderation, social media platforms have played the cop — accidentally shooting themselves in the dick with their own gun, letting the bad guys operate with impunity, doling out mere speeding tickets to Mafia capos, and barely bothering to dust the donut crumbs off themselves when law-abiding citizens come in to file a noise complaint.

Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have failed over and over to stamp out hate groups, disinformation, and the QAnon mass delusion, allowing them to fester and metastasize into our politics and culture. The mob that stormed the Capitol was a manifestation of this failure: organized online, bloated on disinformation smoothies gavage-fed to them via “up next” sidebars, and whipped into a frenzy by the poster in chief everyone knew the mods wouldn’t ever touch. That there were some people who were immune to the platforms’ moderation was common knowledge; the companies spent years designing contorted “community standards,” endlessly writing and rewriting their content moderation guidelines, and establishing supreme courts to review, approve, and legitimize each decision.

And then the FBI stepped under that yellow tape.

In the end, it was the big-money brands that had never dirtied themselves with the thankless and dismal task of moderating posts and banning users that stepped in. Capitalism drained the fever swamp.

The right to free speech is fundamental, but it is not absolute or — crucially — free from consequences. This is something Amazon, Apple, and Google have made definitively clear in acting the way they have. Which makes it all the more lol that the platforms whose business is content have struggled for so long. No one wants the decisions about what we see online to be made by opaque corporations. But this is what happened, and where we are right now.

The companies that run the infrastructure of social media pulled out their seldom-used banhammers and swung mightily. When it became clear that Parler, a “free speech” alternative to Twitter, had been a gathering place for some who participated in the storming of the Capitol and had continued to host discussions of violent threats against politicians and tech executives, Apple quickly removed it from the App Store, and Google removed it from its Google Play storefront. The same day, Amazon terminated Parler’s cloud hosting service, effectively knocking it offline. (Parler tried to take Amazon to court, but a judge tossed its case.) Apple and Amazon aren’t social platforms — and while they do some light content moderation in places like product reviews, this is not what they do.

It’s worth noting that these companies only seem to leap into action following high-profile violence, like a murder at the hands of a mob of violent extremists.

Other companies that are not Facebook, Google, or Twitter quickly followed suit. Fearing its rentals might be used by insurrectionists, Airbnb blocked all stays in the DC area during Joe Biden’s inauguration. It also said its political fundraising group was halting campaign donations to lawmakers who had voted against certifying the election results. Other companies did the same: AT&T, American Express, Hallmark, Nike, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and dozens more. Did you catch that? Hallmark!

Financial services firms were also quick to act after the Jan. 6 riot. Stripe, the bloodless online payment processor used by many e-commerce sites, dumped the official Donald Trump website. GoFundMe banned fundraisers for travel to Trump rallies. E-commerce platforms PayPal and Shopify booted the Trump campaign and associated sites that were promoting lies about the election. Financial services companies may not be in the moderation game, but they are beholden to stockholders and their bottom line. Because of that, they acted swiftly to deal a bigger body blow to Trump’s power than Facebook and Twitter could do in a thousand disclaimers about election results.

The Great Deplatforming of 2021 that saw removals of Trump from social sites and Parler from app stores isn’t the first time financial firms have done in days the moderation that platforms failed to do for years. In December, it was revealed that Pornhub was hosting nonconsensual pornography, some of which included child sex abuse materials. Visa and Mastercard pulled their payment processing from the site. Pornhub had *for years* done an appalling job of policing its platform for such material, complaining it was difficult to eradicate. But after the credit card companies acted, it quickly did just that, removing any content not posted by a verified account.

Tech companies that aren’t social platforms have also taken sweeping steps against extremist content in the recent past. In 2019, Cloudflare, a web hosting platform, dropped 8chan after discovering its association with a gunman who killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. In response to the violent far-right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Cloudflare stopped hosting hate sites like the Daily Stormer. Apple Pay and PayPal have terminated their services for a number of hate groups. Squarespace booted hate sites built on it, as did GoDaddy, which would later kick the social platform Gab off its service.

It’s worth noting that these companies only seem to leap into action following high-profile violence, like a killing committed by a mob of extremists. Mere public pressure or petulant, whiny news stories don’t move the dial.


That these companies have likely spent little time considering the free speech nuances of content moderation is, uh, not ideal. There are troubling implications. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have warned against allowing companies Visa or Cloudflare too much power over what is allowed to exist on the open internet.

The Great Deplatforming was a response to a singular and extreme event: Trump’s incitement of the Capitol attack. As journalist Casey Newton pointed out in his newsletter, Platformer, it was notable how quickly the full stack of the tech companies reacted. We shouldn’t assume that Amazon will just start taking down any site because it did it this time. This was truly an unprecedented event. On the other hand, do we dare think for a moment that Bad Shit won’t keep happening? Buddy, bad things are going to happen. Worse things. Things we can’t even imagine yet!

They’ve created their own wonk-filled supreme courts where the judges make six figures to do 15 hours of work per week to argue over what kind of nipples are banned.

Some of you will inevitably note that there’s a common variation on the “OK, boys, we’ll take it from here” trope:

The underappreciated but smart, highly capable, and principled town sheriff intent on solving the case on their own, FBI be damned. But that fails as a metaphor here because Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter certainly haven’t proven themselves to be highly capable when it comes to content moderation (see earlier description of shooting oneself in the dick with their own gun, repeatedly, as if they had many Hydra-like dicks that kept regrowing when shot). Twitter’s booting of various hate and misinformation peddlers this past year came after more than a decade of widespread and widely known harassment and abuse. TikTok, the newest and possibly most vital platform, hasn’t quite figured out its moderation strategy yet, and it seems to fluctuate between deleting videos that are critical of China and allowing sketchy ads. There’s something almost comical about YouTube issuing a “strike” on Trump’s account as if he’s Logan Paul in the Japanese “suicide forest.” And Facebook? Well, Facebook is Facebook.

The first six cases basically read like a greatest hits of Facebook content moderation controversies: hate speech, hate speech, hate speech, female nipples, Nazis and COVID health misinfo. https://t.co/JwByovVT1S


Twitter

Long before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were excusing their moderation failures with lines like “there’s always more work to be done” and “if you only knew about all the stuff we remove before you see it,” Something Awful, the influential message board from the early internet, managed to create a healthy community by aggressively banning bozos. As the site’s founder, Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka, told the Outline in 2017, the big platforms might have had an easier time of it if they’d done the same thing, instead of chasing growth at any cost:

We can ban you if it’s too hot in the room, we can ban you if we had a bad day, we can ban you if our finger slips and hits the ban button. And that way people know that if they’re doing something and it’s not technically breaking any rules but they’re obviously trying to push shit as far as they can, we can still ban them. But, unlike Twitter, we actually have what’s called the Leper’s Colony, which says what they did and has their track record. Twitter just says, “You’re gone.”

That it took the events of Jan. 6 and five deaths to finally ban Trump from social platforms is, frankly, shameful, especially given the elaborate and endlessly tweaked justifications from these social sites for permitting posts that are unmistakably, conspicuously malignant. They’ve created their own wonk-filled supreme courts where the judges make six figures to do 15 hours of work per week to argue over what kind of nipples are banned. They have created incomprehensible bibles of moderation rules for throngs of underpaid, outsourced workers who are treated horribly. They’ve written manifestos about plans for “healthy conversations.” They flip-flop over whether to ban neo-Nazis or remonetize the channel for an anti-gay hate-monger. They respond to threats to democracy and public health with ”the more you know”–style labels and information “hubs.” They have worked their heads so far up their asses that they’ve forgotten they can just smash that “ban” button.

Is it admirable that Amazon, Apple, et al., stepped in to do the moderation work that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have failed to do for so long? Not necessarily! Big yikes!

But that’s what happened. Drano works to unclog my shower, but my landlord tells me it ruins the whole pipe system. I don’t expect the plumbing system of the internet to improve; there will always be more monster turds clogging it up. Happy flushing ●



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The Road To The Capitol Insurrection Was Paved With MAGA Disinformation

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Maria Alejandra Cardona / Reuters

The March for Trump bus tour kicks-off at Doral Central Park for a two week multi-state rally in support of President Trump, in Doral, Florida, on November 29, 2020.

Behind the violent insurrection at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6 lies a group many Americans have never heard of: Women for America First. This group, founded by Trump loyalists and supported by the former president, not only obtained the permit for the rally where former President Donald Trump told the crowd to march on the Capitol, but also spent the weeks leading up to it on a 20-city bus tour, spreading incendiary propaganda, lies, and hate across an American tinderbox.

Morehead City, North Carolina

February 12, 2021

Right Side Broadcasting Network

Women for America First’s bus tour was one of the biggest and best-funded efforts to bring people to Washington, DC, for Jan. 6. It was promoted by Trump on Twitter, and attracted thousands of in-person attendees and potentially millions more who watched livestreams on YouTube, Facebook, and Periscope.

Setting out in late November, the “March for Trump” bus tour hit more than 20 cities before culminating in the Washington rally that would escalate into a deadly insurrection at the Capitol. Many participants in the bus tour attended that rally, and at least one was involved in the ensuing coup attempt.

None of Women for America First’s leaders have been charged with crimes relating to the mob violence of that day. And after the insurrection, the organization took its March for Trump bus tour website offline and issued a statement condemning the violence. It did not respond to multiple phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages requesting comment.

But BuzzFeed News reviewed more than 20 hours of footage of the bus tour events dating back to November and found that organizers, rallygoers, and guest speakers — some of them government officials — propagated lies and conspiracies, and stoked fear at every stop, helping to lay the groundwork for the deadly insurrection.

Cape Girardeau, Missouri

February 1, 2021

Right Side Broadcasting Network

Early in the tour, on Dec. 2, a county commissioner in North Carolina speaking at a Women for America First rally told the crowd, “We’d solve every problem in this country if on the 4th of July every conservative went and shot one liberal.” A few days later in Wisconsin, Cordie Williams, a chiropractor and former Marine who runs a nonprofit called 1776 Forever Free, threatened anyone trying to give his kids a COVID-19 vaccine.

“When they come for my kids with this nontested COVID vaccine, I’m gonna give them an insurance policy courtesy of a Glock on their forehead. And I don’t wanna do that, guys. I’m not inciting violence,” he said at the rally. “What I am inciting is resolve.”

Madison, Wisconsin

December 6, 2020

Right Side Broadcasting Network

One rally took place on Jan. 3 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where Couy Griffin, a regular speaker at Women for America First rallies, stood in front of a phalanx of American flags and a bus emblazoned with “March for Trump” and warned the crowd that they were about to lose their country.

“If we allow this election to be stolen from us, we will become a third world country overnight,” said the New Mexico county commissioner who founded Cowboys for Trump. “The elitist, gross, wicked vile people that are in place will continue to wage war on America. Because there is a war, mind you, I promise you that.”

Bowling Green, Kentucky

January 3, 2021

Right Side Broadcasting Network

At each stop, a parade of speakers including pastors, activists, and GOP officials spewed falsehoods. They told the crowd to fight for Trump or prepare for the end of the US as they knew it. They condemned coronavirus lockdowns as a ruse to control the population. They spoke of “globalist” and Chinese efforts to steal the presidential election. They encouraged people to arm themselves and study “tactics.” At least two speakers explicitly raised the specter of political violence. And they encouraged people to show up in DC on Jan. 6 to stop Joe Biden from becoming president.

“We got to get our country back. There’s no other way, there’s no other option,” Griffin said at the Bowling Green rally.

Right Side Broadcasting Network

The day after the violent insurrection, Griffin pledged to return to the Capitol with weapons, according to the Department of Justice, who arrested him two weeks later. “We could have a 2nd Amendment rally on those same steps that we had that rally yesterday. You know, and if we do, then it’s gonna be a sad day, because there’s gonna be blood running out of that building,” Griffin said in a video.

It wasn’t the first time he had called for violence. In May, Griffin said “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” in a video that Trump retweeted. Months later, Griffin was a featured speaker on Women for America First’s March for Trump bus tour that recruited people to DC for Jan. 6.


Maria Alejandra Cardona / Reuters

Trump supporters take photos of a March for Trump bus in Doral, Florida, on November 29, 2020.

Women for America First is a key cog in Trump’s political machine. It was cofounded by former tea party activist Amy Kremer and her daughter Kylie Jane Kremer, who together created Stop the Steal, a now-removed 365,000-member Facebook group organized around discrediting the results of the recent presidential election. Women for America First is both a registered nonprofit and a corporation. The nonprofit received $25,000 from pro-Trump dark money group America First Policies, CNBC reported. The for-profit arm was registered by Dan Backer, a Trumpist attorney well known for his involvement in so-called scam PACs, political action committees that funnel the cash they raise back into the consulting firms that created them. But the clearest tie to the former president came on Jan. 6. That day, Trump spoke from the Women for America First rally stage.

In the weekend leading up to that event, the organization’s bus tour steeped attendees and viewers in a miasma of lies and misinformation, evoking fear and a sense that the country was about to be taken over by dark forces unless they fought back.

One of the emcees of the bus tour was James Lyle, Amy Kremer’s husband and the program director of Women for America First. His speeches often included the false claim that the organization’s Nov. 14 event had drawn more than 1 million people to Washington. Crowd estimates place it closer to tens of thousands. He cited long-debunked claims of electoral fraud — including suitcases of ballots being brought in to polling stations and 200,000 more votes counted than possible voters in one state — as bogus evidence that the election was stolen from Trump. (The former president’s lawyers were laughed out of court when they made similar arguments, and Republican officials in states like Georgia refuted the claims.) Other speakers cited false claims of electoral fraud and often veered into conspiracies involving China, “globalists,” and the coronavirus.

Speakers warned attendees that they were about to lose their freedom and way of life.

“If we allow them to steal this election … my kids will not know American freedom,” said Dustin Stockton, a former Breitbart writer and tea party activist and a lead organizer of the March for Trump tour, at a stop in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, on Nov. 30.

Murrels Inlet, South Carolina

November 30, 2020

Right Side Broadcasting Network

Later that day in Savannah, Georgia, Stockton said, “We have to remember the people who betrayed us.”

Savannah, Georgia

November 30, 2020

Stockton advised people to arm themselves, “study tactics,” spend time on the firing range, and pursue self-reliance and self-sufficiency. At times, he evoked images of revenge and violence.

“Right now we still have the power to fix” the election result, he said in Savannah. “But if they allow the election to get stolen, we lose the power to do it. I mean there’s still ways to do it, but it gets a lot, lot uglier and a lot, lot worse. And I don’t think any of us want to go there.”

Stockton told BuzzFeed News the “ugly” option he referred to is state-by-state electoral reform.

On at least three occasions, speakers mentioned violence. Bob Cavanaugh, a county commissioner and local tea party organizer, took the stage on Dec. 2 in Morehead City, North Carolina, and talked about shooting liberals.

“I jokingly told — I don’t know if you want to cut this off — but I jokingly told some folks in the tea party, see, we’d solve every problem in this country if on the 4th of July every conservative went and shot one liberal,” said Cavanaugh, who did not respond to a request for comment.

The crowd cheered.


BuzzFeed News

Locations of known Women for America First rallies.

At a Dec. 6 rally in Madison, Wisconsin, Pastor Brian Gibson, a regular speaker at the bus rallies, brought a Black man from the crowd to the microphone who yelled, “This is treason. These are traitors. The election has been made by China. The punishment for treason is death.” The speaker could not be identified.

“Let’s thank that man for being a patriot. I love a patriot. Patriots come in every color,” Gibson said to applause. (He did not respond to a request for comment.)

Madison, Wisconsin

December 6, 2020

Right Side Broadcasting Network

At that same December rally in Madison, Cordie Williams, the chiropractor and former Marine who threatened anyone attempting to vaccinate his children, told the Wisconsin crowd, “We need to know how to fire those handguns, fire those rifles.”

In an email to BuzzFeed News, Williams said his organization is focused on defending free speech; he provided a link to an article in which he defended his comments and repeated that he was attempting to incite resolve, not violence.

Right Side Broadcasting Network

On Dec. 9 in Ohio, the day YouTube announced it would remove videos that questioned the results of the election, Stockton was incensed. “I’m so angry, I’m in like pitchforks mode today, I really am,” he told rallygoers. “Let’s grab the pitchforks, let’s go to DC, and let’s stay there until this crap is changed and we’re Americans again.”

He told BuzzFeed News that Women for America First held a rally in DC three days later, on Dec. 12, “at which no buildings were stormed.”

When he arrived in DC for the Jan. 6 Trump rally, Stockton spotted a woman with a pitchfork and posed for a photo.

“Do you believe in signs? Just landed in DC and the first thing we see is a pitchfork in baggage claim!” he tweeted.

“Scary! A political prop,” Stockton said in an email to BuzzFeed News.

All of the bus tour stops were livestreamed by the Right Side Broadcasting Network, a right-wing video streaming outlet. After being contacted by BuzzFeed News, YouTube said it removed three bus tour videos from RSBN, one for inciting violence and two for false election claims. Facebook said it had previously applied warning labels to RSBN content about the election, and Twitter said the bus tour content broadcast on Periscope did not violate its policies.

Stockton was usually followed onstage by his fiancé, Jen Lawrence, also a former Breitbart writer.

“Hey George Soros, you need to go to hell!,” she yelled at a stop in Franklin, Tennessee.

“You sit there in Davos and say you own John Roberts,” the chief justice.

Soros offered faint praise for Roberts at a dinner in Davos a year ago; Lawrence has used this to falsely suggest Roberts is corrupt.

“Soros doesn’t talk about you like this unless he has influence over you,” she said in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Have you asked Chief Justices Roberts about his relationship to George Soros?”

Onstage, she regularly called out “globalists,” a term often used as an anti-Semitic dog whistle, warning people that they were on the brink of losing their country.

“I’m not going to be the last generation of Americans who did not fight for their county,” she said in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. “We have to get out there. These people are so evil.”

Lawrence said she had been talking about the “anti-freedom [Chinese Communist Party] and the United Nations” when referring to globalists.

“While the media try to radicalize people by censoring and ignoring discussion of the claims made by the President of the United States, we provided a productive platform for people to exercise their first amendment rights at our events,” she told BuzzFeed News.

In Pittsburgh on Dec. 10, right-wing activist Matt Couch addressed a rally crowd, saying, “This right now is a revolution by ballots, not bullets, and we hope it doesn’t come to that. We pray to God that it doesn’t come to that.”

“It might,” yelled someone in the audience.

“I’ll let you say it,” Couch said. “But yeah, I know what you mean.”

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

December 10, 2020

Right Side Broadcasting Network

Later in his speech he told the crowd, “This is our 1776.” He did not respond to a request for comment.

Local officials often joined the tour when it rolled into their state. In Morehead City, Sheriff Asa Buck warned the crowd that “leftists” were “going to completely destroy our country if they get their way.” He also spoke to fears that Democrats will take away legal weapons and Americans will be unprepared to face armed robbers or criminals.

“I want you to have all the daggone guns you want,” he added. “Because I know you’ll be standing there with us for what’s right against the bad guys and the criminals.” (Buck did not respond to a request for comment.)

Andrew “Mac” Warner, the Republican secretary of state of West Virginia, said at a rally in Charleston on Dec. 9 that Congress needed to decide the election, because there were clear “irregularities.”

“We don’t have time to go in there and try cases and prove fraud and that sort of thing. We’re saying simply that the election itself was so fouled up that it needs to go to Congress,” he told the crowd.

“Secretary Warner stands by his comments made with the intent to educate attendees at the rally that the only legal remedy available at that time — after the election, but before the Electoral College convened — was to have allegations of improprieties addressed via Congressional action, such as an independent, bi-partisan investigation on a state-by-state level,” said Michael L. Queen, Warner’s deputy chief of staff and communications director, in an email to BuzzFeed News.

He added that Warner was asked by state GOP leaders to attend the Women for America First event and had no “prior knowledge of the group, its activities or other speakers.”

Griffin, the New Mexico county commissioner who started Cowboys for Trump, used his time onstage in multiple cities to spread lies about the coronavirus, which he called “a manipulated hoax.” In Little Rock, he falsely claimed that the United States had not seen an increase in overall deaths during the pandemic.

“We’re down on total deaths in the last 10 months. If it was a serious sickness, we’d have a spike in overall deaths — but we don’t,” he said. (In reality, deaths have been steadily rising, according to John Hopkins data. On Jan. 19, Trump’s last full day as president, the US surpassed 400,000 deaths from COVID-19.)

At a bus tour stop in West Monroe, Louisiana, Griffin called for Trump to impose martial law. As a result of his actions on Jan. 6, he’s now charged with one count of knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without lawful entry. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Also facing legal jeopardy is another key figure in the Women for America First bus tour.

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a tour sponsor and favorite of the former president, used his speaking slot in Des Moines on Dec. 6 to float a convoluted and false conspiracy theory involving machines from Dominion Voting Systems.

“Donald Trump got so many votes that they didn’t expect that it broke the algorithms in those machines,” he said. “They went into a panic so… they shut everything down at the same time, from Georgia to Wisconsin to Michigan to Pennsylvania. Crazy, at the exact same time? You know what the odds of that are?”

That never happened, according to election authorities in Pennsylvania. But Lindell kept pushing the lie, referring to “crooked Dominion machines” at a tour stop in Pittsburgh on Dec. 10. Lindell and MyPillow did not respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, Jan. 18, Lindell entered the White House carrying notes that appeared to call for the president to enact a range of extreme measures, including imposing martial law, in a last-ditch effort to steal the election. That same day, Dominion Voting Systems said it had sent Lindell a letter threatening a lawsuit over his repeated false and defamatory comments about the company. Lindell said he “welcomed” the suit.

Aside from its statement distancing itself for the violence at its Jan. 6 rally, Women for America has been relatively quiet since the insurrection. But on Inauguration Day, its Twitter account sprang back to life. Hours before Joe Biden was sworn in as president, the group’s account tweeted pictures of the March for Trump bus and announced a new stop:

“On our way to welcome President Donald J. Trump & First Lady Melania home to Palm Beach, Florida!” ●



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