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  1. #1
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    FBI document warns conspiracy theories are a new domestic terrorism threat

    Exclusive: FBI document warns conspiracy theories are a new domestic terrorism threat

    Jana WinterContributor
    ,Yahoo NewsAugust 1, 2019

    The FBI for the first time has identified fringe conspiracy theories as a domestic terrorist threat, according to a previously unpublicized document obtained by Yahoo News. (Read the document below.)

    The FBI intelligence bulletin from the bureau’s Phoenix field office, dated May 30, 2019, describes “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists,” as a growing threat, and notes that it is the first such report to do so.

    It lists a number of arrests, including some that haven’t been publicized, related to violent incidents motivated by fringe beliefs.

    The document specifically mentions QAnon, a shadowy network that believes in a deep state conspiracy against President Trump, and Pizzagate, the theory that a pedophile ring including Clinton associates was being run out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant (which didn’t actually have a basement).

    “The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts,” the document states. It also goes on to say the FBI believes conspiracy theory-driven extremists are likely to increase during the 2020 presidential election cycle.

    FBI designates Pizzagate and QAnon conspiracy-based theories as domestic threats. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Michael E. Miller/The Washington Post via Getty Images, Matt Rourke/AP, AP) More

    The FBI said another factor driving the intensity of this threat is “the uncovering of real conspiracies or cover-ups involving illegal, harmful, or unconstitutional activities by government officials or leading political figures.”

    The FBI does not specify which political leaders or which cover-ups it was referring to.

    President Trump is mentioned by name briefly in the latest FBI document, which notes that the origins of QAnon is the conspiratorial belief that “Q,” allegedly a government official, “posts classified information online to reveal a covert effort, led by President Trump, to dismantle a conspiracy involving ‘deep state’ actors and global elites allegedly engaged in an international child sex trafficking ring.”

    This recent intelligence bulletin comes as the FBI is facing pressure to explain who it considers an extremist, and how the government prosecutes domestic terrorists. In recent weeks the FBI director has addressed domestic terrorism multiple times but did not publicly mention this new conspiracy theorist threat.

    The FBI is already under fire for its approach to domestic extremism. In a contentious hearing last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray faced criticism from Democrats who said the bureau was not focusing enough on white supremacist violence.

    “The term ‘white supremacist,’ ‘white nationalist’ is not included in your statement to the committee when you talk about threats to America,” Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said.

    “There is a reference to racism, which I think probably was meant to include that, but nothing more specific.”

    Wray told lawmakers the FBI had done away with separate categories for black identity extremists and white supremacists, and said the bureau was instead now focusing on “racially motivated” violence. But he added, “I will say that a majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we've investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”

    The FBI had faced mounting criticism for the term “black identity extremists,” after its use was revealed by Foreign Policy magazine in 2017.

    Critics pointed out that the term was an FBI invention based solely on race, since no group or even any specific individuals actually identify as black identity extremists.

    In May, Michael C. McGarrity, the FBI’s assistant director of the counterterrorism division, told Congress the bureau now “classifies domestic terrorism threats into four main categories:

    racially motivated violent extremism,

    anti-government/anti-authority extremism,

    animal rights/environmental extremism, and

    abortion extremism,”

    a term the bureau uses to classify both pro-choice and anti-abortion extremists.

    The new focus on conspiracy theorists appears to fall under the broader category of anti-government extremism. “This is the first FBI product examining the threat from conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists and provides a baseline for future intelligence products,” the document states.

    FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. (Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty) More

    The new category is different in that it focuses not on racial motivations, but on violence based specifically on beliefs that, in the words of the FBI document, “attempt to explain events or circumstances as the result of a group of actors working in secret to benefit themselves at the expense of others” and are “usually at odds with official or prevailing explanations of events.”

    The FBI acknowledges conspiracy theory-driven violence is not new, but says it’s gotten worse with advances in technology combined with an increasingly partisan political landscape in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. “The advent of the Internet and social media has enabled promoters of conspiracy theories to produce and share greater volumes of material via online platforms that larger audiences of consumers can quickly and easily access,” the document says.

    The bulletin says it is intended to provide guidance and “inform discussions within law enforcement as they relate to potentially harmful conspiracy theories and domestic extremism.”

    The FBI Phoenix field office referred Yahoo News to the bureau’s national press office, which provided a written statement.

    “While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI routinely shares information with our law enforcement partners in order to assist in protecting the communities they serve,” the FBI said.

    In its statement, the FBI also said it can “never initiate an investigation based solely on First Amendment protected activity. As with all of our investigations, the FBI can never monitor a website or a social media platform without probable cause.”

    The Department of Homeland Security, which has also been involved in monitoring domestic extremism, did not return or acknowledge emails and phone requests for comment.

    While not all conspiracy theories are deadly, those identified in the FBI’s 15-page report led to either attempted or successfully carried-out violent attacks. For example, the Pizzagate conspiracy led a 28-year-old man to invade a Washington, D.C., restaurant to rescue the children he believed were being kept there, and fire an assault-style weapon inside.

    Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, N.C., surrenders to police in Washington in 2016. Welch, a man who police said was inspired by false internet rumors dubbed Pizzagate to fire an assault weapon inside a Washington pizzeria, pleaded guilty in 2017 to two charges. (Photo: Sathi Soma via AP) More

    The FBI document also cites an unnamed California man who was arrested on Dec. 19, 2018, after being found with what appeared to be bomb-making materials in his car. The man allegedly was planning “blow up a satanic temple monument” in the Capitol rotunda in Springfield, Ill., to “make Americans aware of Pizzagate and the New World Order, who were dismantling society,” the document says.

    Historian David Garrow, the author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Martin Luther King Jr. who has worked extensively with FBI archives, raised doubts to Yahoo News about the memo. He says the FBI’s default assumption is that violence is motivated by ideological beliefs rather than mental illness. “The guy who shot up the pizza place in D.C.: Do we think of him as a right-wing activist, or insane?” Garrow asked.

    Garrow was similarly critical of the FBI’s use of the term “black identity extremists” and related attempts to ascribe incidents like the 2016 shooting of six police officers in Baton Rouge, La., to black radicalism. He said the shooter, Gavin Long, had a history of mental health problems. “The bureau’s presumption — the mindset — is to see ideological motives where most of the rest of us see individual nuttiness,” he said.

    Identifying conspiracy theories as a threat could be a political lightning rod, since President Trump has been accused of promulgating some of them, with his frequent references to a deep state and his praise in 2015 for Alex Jones, who runs the conspiracy site InfoWars. While the FBI intelligence bulletin does not mention Jones or InfoWars by name, it does mention some of the conspiracy theories frequently associated with the far-right radio host, in particular the concept of the New World Order.

    Jones claimed the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which 26 children were killed, was a hoax, a false flag operation intended as a pretext for the government to seize or outlaw firearms. The families of a number of victims have sued Jones for defamation, saying his conspiracy-mongering contributed to death threats and online abuse they have received.

    While Trump has never endorsed Sandy Hook denialism, he was almost up until the 2016 election the most high-profile promoter of the birther conspiracy that claimed former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

    He later dropped his claim, and deflected criticism by pointing the finger at Hillary Clinton. He said her campaign had given birth to the conspiracy, and Trump “finished it.”

    There is no evidence that Clinton started the birther conspiracy.

    Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump states that he believes President Barack Obama was born in the United States. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images) More

    Joe Uscinski, an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami, whose work on conspiracy theories is cited in the intelligence bulletin, said there’s no data suggesting conspiracy theories are any more widespread now than in the past. “There is absolutely no evidence that people are more conspiratorial now,” says Uscinski, after Yahoo News described the bulletin to him. “They may be, but there is not strong evidence showing this.”

    It’s not that people are becoming more conspiratorial, says Uscinski, but conspiracies are simply getting more media attention.

    “We are looking back at the past with very rosy hindsight to forget our beliefs, pre-internet, in JFK [assassination] conspiracy theories and Red scares. My gosh, we have conspiracy theories about the king [of England] written into the Declaration of Independence,” he said, referencing claims that the king was planning to establish tyranny over the American colonies.

    It’s not that conspiracy theorists are growing in number, Uscinski argues, but that media coverage of those conspiracies has grown. “For most of the last 50 years, 60 to 80 percent of the country believe in some form of JFK conspiracy theory,” he said. “They’re obviously not all extremist.”

    Conspiracy theories, including Russia’s role in creating and promoting them, attracted widespread attention during the 2016 presidential election when they crossed over from Internet chat groups to mainstream news coverage.

    Yahoo News’s "Conspiracyland" podcast recently revealed that Russia’s foreign intelligence service was the origin of a hoax report that tied the murder of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer, to Hillary Clinton.

    Washington police believe that Rich was killed in a botched robbery, and there is no proof that his murder had any political connections.

    Mary Rich, the mother of slain DNC staffer Seth Rich, at a press conference. (Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images) More

    Among the violent conspiracy theories cited in the May FBI document is one involving a man who thought Transportation Security Administration agents were part of a New World Order.

    Another focused on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), a government-funded facility in Alaska that has been linked to everything from death beams to mind control. The two men arrested in connection with HAARP were “stockpiling weapons, ammunition and other tactical gear in preparation to attack” the facility, believing it was being used “to control the weather and prevent humans from talking to God.”

    Nate Snyder, who served as a Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism official during the Obama administration, said that the FBI appears to be applying the same radicalization analysis it employs against foreign terrorism, like the Islamic State group, which has recruited followers in the United States.

    “The domestic violent extremists cited in the bulletin are using the same playbook that groups like ISIS and al-Qaida have used to inspire, recruit and carry out attacks,” said Snyder, after reviewing a copy of the bulletin provided by Yahoo News. “You put out a bulletin and say this is the content they’re looking at — and it’s some guy saying he’s a religious cleric or philosopher — and then you look at the content, videos on YouTube, etc., that they are pushing and show how people in the U.S. might be radicalized by that content.”

    Though the FBI document focuses on ideological motivations, FBI Director Wray, in his testimony last week, asserted that the FBI is concerned only with violence, not people’s beliefs. The FBI doesn’t “investigate ideology, no matter how repugnant,” he told lawmakers. “We investigate violence. And any extremist ideology, when it turns to violence, we are all over it. ... In the first three quarters of this year, we've had more domestic terrorism arrests than the prior year, and it's about the same number of arrests as we have on the international terrorism side.”

    Yet the proliferation of the extremist categories concerns Michael German, a former FBI agent and now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security program.

    “It’s part of the radicalization theory the FBI has promoted despite empirical studies that show it’s bogus,” he said.

    German says this new category is a continuing part of FBI overreach. “They like the radicalization theory because it justifies mass surveillance,” he said. “If we know everyone who will do harm is coming from this particular community, mass surveillance is important. We keep broadening the number of communities we include in extremist categories.”

    For Garrow, the historian, the FBI’s expansive definition has its roots in bureau paranoia that dates back decades. “I think it’s their starting point,” he said. “This goes all the way back to the Hoover era without question. They see ideology as a central motivating factor in human life, and they don’t see mental health issues as a major factor.”

    Yet trying to label a specific belief system as prone to violence is problematic, he said.

    “I don’t think most of us would do a good job in predicting what sort of wacky information could lead someone to violence, or not lead anyone to violence,” Garrow said. “Pizzagate would be a great example of that.”

    Trump supporters displaying QAnon posters appeared at one of President Trump's Make America Great Again rallies in 2018. (Photo: Thomas O'Neill/NurPhoto via Getty Images) More

    While Trump may not be supportive of labeling a group like QAnon, which sees him as a hero, as extremist, he’s in favor of broadening the number of organizations that are labeled as violent extremists, at least on the left. On Saturday, President Trump tweeted that Antifa, a far-left movement opposed to what it considers fascism, should be labeled a terrorist organization.

    Snyder, the former Homeland Security official, agrees that conspiracy theories may in fact inspire violence and be a threat, but questions what the government is going to do about it.

    He notes that at the Department of Homeland Security, “nearly all, if not all, the intelligence analysts focusing on domestic extremist groups” were eliminated under the Trump administration. “There is no one there doing this,” he said.
    Last edited by JohnDoe2; 08-01-2019 at 06:11 PM.

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  2. #2
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    FBI memo warns QAnon poses potential terror threat: report

    BY ZACK BUDRYK - 08/01/19 01:12 PM EDT 670


    An FBI document, first reported by Yahoo News, identifies conspiracy theories as potential domestic terrorism threats, specifically identifying QAnon, a group that believes there is a "deep state" working against President Trump, in the memo.

    The FBI specifically points to QAnon and Pizzagate, a conspiracy theory that claims Hillary Clinton and other top Democratic figures are running a child sex-trafficking ring beneath a pizza shop in Washington, D.C., as examples of groups whose messages could lead to “violent acts.”

    “The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts,” the document, dated May 30, reads.

    Acts of violence or attempts thereof have already been tied to both of the conspiracy theories.

    In December 2016, a man fired a gun in the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop in D.C., claiming he was there to “self-investigate” the Pizzagate conspiracy, and an attorney for the man charged with the murder of the alleged boss of the Gambino Mafia family claimed his client, Anthony Comello, was inspired by QAnon.

    The revelation of the document comes a week after FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee that white supremacist violence was the motivator for the majority of domestic terrorism cases the bureau has investigated in fiscal 2019.

    The same month the document was written, Michael C. McGarrity, the FBI’s assistant director of the Counterterrorism Division, told Congress the FBI classifies domestic terror as either racially motivated, anti-government/anti-authority, environmental extremism, or abortion extremism, which he said encompasses both pro- and anti-abortion rights advocates.

    The memo states that the new category for conspiracy theories is closely related to anti-government extremism but distinct from racially motivated violence.

    The new extremism category focuses specifically on views that “attempt to explain events or circumstances as the result of a group of actors working in secret to benefit themselves at the expense of others” and are “usually at odds with official or prevailing explanations of events,” according to the document.

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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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  4. #4
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    MARCH 7, 2017

    Conspiracy Theories Are Not Only Dumb, They’re Dangerous

    What starts out as a joke can turn into a brand of skepticism that erodes entire belief systems.


    As Neil Armstrong once said, people love an attractive conspiracy.

    It is hard to avoid conspiracy theories nowadays, especially on the internet. If even an envelope mix-up at the Oscars can compel people to grab their tinfoil hats, then what about theories with wider ranging effects? Of course, it is easy to fall into the trap of immediately dismissing those who believe that Elvis never died or that Hitler escaped to Argentina rather than being killed in Berlin. But, there are a multitude of reasons to pay attention to conspiracy theorists and the things that they say.

    One of the primary problems with conspiracy theories is that they fail to promote critical thinking; in fact, in many cases, they do just the opposite. Many conspiracy theories could be easily dismissed with some simple logic. Could the moon landing really have been faked? Well, if it were, it would have been almost impossible to keep under wraps. So many people would have been involved in the creation of the hoax that the truth would likely have eventually leaked out in some form.

    Image via Geek.comOf course, a lack of evidence has never failed to deter those who engage in conspiracy theories. For example, scientists have debunked the claims of 9/11 Truthers time and time again, yet they stubbornly persist in their beliefs. Six years after the attack, for example, Truthers made an unannounced guest appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” resulting in their unceremoniously ejection from the building. Even today, prominent figures in the limelight continue to claim that 9/11 was an inside job.

    But, perhaps an even more unnerving example of conspiracy theories run amok occurred when NBA superstar Kyrie Irving declared to the media that he believed the Earth was flat. He refused to recant his beliefs when pressed upon the issue later, and he was even joined in his Flat Earth club by several other NBA players.

    Why is it that so many people continue to believe in far-fetched fringe theories without any shred of supporting evidence? Studies have shown that a lack of trust is one of the main predictors of belief in conspiracies. This makes sense, as those who have little faith in others will naturally be more likely to buy into the idea that they are up to no good.Other studies found that conspiracy theorists tend to be more cynical about the world than most. When it comes to politics, for example, they are likely to distrust the political establishment. These results are quite ironic in the current political climate, seeing as the president has been routinely described as being America’s “Conspiracy Theorist in Chief.”

    But what sort of harm could occur from people believing things that, in all probability, aren’t true? As it turns out, quite a lot.

    Take vaccines, for example. Though they have been shown to be safe over and over again by credible scientific sources, anti-vaxxers continue to damage their reputation. The results can be deadly.

    An infamous 1998 paper from British researcher Andrew Wakefield, for instance, linked vaccines to autism. After being published in the journal “Lancet,” vaccination rates around Britain plummeted. It took over a decade for them to return to their former levels, and the fallout can still be seen today. Many people (including the aforementioned President Trump) continue to assert that vaccines cause autism. As a result, incidents like the Disneyland measles outbreak in 2015 are becoming more and more common.

    Image via PoliticoAnother example of the harm that can arise from belief in conspiracy theories is equally tragic. Studies have shown that African-American men who believe that HIV/AIDS was created by the government to target them specifically were more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, thus (ironically) increasing the likelihood of AIDS spreading among their communities.

    Kyrie Irving’s spherical Earth denial is a symptom of science denial plaguing the country at large. Though his comments may seem harmless, they help reinforce the current credibility gap that scientists today have to deal with, making it even harder to convince people to act on important issues, such as climate change.

    So what can we do about conspiracy theories and those who espouse them? Unfortunately, convincing people to give up their deeply-rooted views can be challenging. Another excellent predictor of belief in certain conspiracy theories is belief in other conspiracy theories. Again, this makes sense: If you are willing to suspend logic and critical thinking skills in one area, you will be more likely to do the same in another.

    The solution is to not give conspiracy theorists the time of day. News outlets love them because they grab peoples’ attention, but the cost of doing so is too great. We can’t go around citing every person who specializes in “JFK conspiracy and systemic election fraud analysis.” Doing so just gives them more credibility, which, as we have seen, almost certainly leads to trouble.

    On the flip side, once conspiracy theories start to become ingrained into the fabric of society, we need to be ready to challenge them. Unfortunately, this could have the opposite effect as intended. When people’s worldviews are challenged, they often respond with the defense mechanism of doubling down on said beliefs. As a result, even if shown conclusive proof that they were wrong, they will continue to insist that they were right. This is especially true when it comes to politics; the recent example of Trump’s inauguration photos comes to mind.

    However, we must take a chance on educating the public. Though we may not convince everyone to give up their beliefs of widespread conspiracies, we can prevent the ideas from catching on in the minds of those who have yet to hear them. Maybe in doing so, we could reverse the wave of anti-intellectualism that has gripped the nation in recent years.Logic and reasoning used to be assets; now, they are faults. But, it is not too late to believe once again in facts and evidence, in data and science. We can put an end to the reign of conspiracy theorists, but only if we are willing to put in the effort.

    "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" ** Edmund Burke**

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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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