NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week
A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts: ___
Videos do not show Capitol rioters on no-fly list who were removed from flights
CLAIM: Videos show Capitol rioters who were removed from flights because they are on the federal no-fly list.
THE FACTS: After a violent mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, social media users began sharing videos of people in airports or being escorted from planes with claims that they had been placed on the federal no-fly list for taking part in the Capitol insurrection. Two videos that circulated widely involved passengers who were removed from American Airlines flights that originated at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. The incidents occurred before Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday called on the FBI to add anyone who was identified breaching the Capitol last week to the no-fly list, part of the U.S. government’s Terrorist Screening Database. American Airlines reviewed the videos and confirmed to The Associated Press that in both incidents the people were removed because they refused to wear face masks as mandated by the airline in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FBI, which manages the list, said in a statement that it’s considering adding Capitol rioters. One tweeted video, viewed more than 20 million times, shows a man who is visibly upset, yelling in the airport’s boarding area on Jan. 8, saying he was removed from the flight. Social media users who reposted the video falsely claimed it was because he was a Capitol rioter who was on the no-fly list. The video, first posted to TikTok on Jan. 10, captures the man yelling profanities. “But this is what they do to us. They kicked me off the plane. They called me a f------ Karen. And they want to f------ ruin my life,” he says. American Airlines spokesperson Derek Walls told The Associated Press in an email that the customer was asked to deplane “for refusing to comply with our mandatory face covering policy.” The incident happened last week on a flight from Charlotte to Denver, according to the statement. For months airlines have enforced mask policies introduced to help prevent transmission of COVID-19. “Those unwilling to comply with American’s face covering policy at any time during their journey may be denied boarding or barred from future travel for the duration of this policy,” Walls wrote. Another clip shows federal air marshals escorting a woman from her seat after an American flight landed because she refused to wear her face mask. Passengers clapped while officers followed her out of the flight. “Another one #NoFlyList,” falsely wrote one Twitter user, who shared the video. The post had over 600,000 views. However, a Twitter user shared an earlier video showing a scene that led up to the incident. In the clip, the woman isn’t wearing her face mask and yells, “If we don’t stand up, it’s only going to get worse.” Passengers on the plane can be heard in the video saying, “Put your mask on.” Walls said the incident occurred on Jan. 11, during an American Airlines flight from Charlotte to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. “Following multiple requests to comply with mandatory face covering requirements, one passenger stood up and began yelling at flight attendants and surrounding customers,” Walls said. “Federal Air Marshals intervened to help de-escalate and maintain control of the situation for the duration of the flight.”
— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York reported this item.
FBI did not issue statement clearing Trump for Capitol insurrection
CLAIM: The FBI has cleared President Donald Trump “of any guilt, any connection” to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
THE FACTS: The federal law enforcement agency has not made such a statement. On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for “ incitement of insurrection. ” The president had urged his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to protest election results on the day Congress was set to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. At a rally that day, Trump made repeated calls to his supporters to fight. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said. As Trump was speaking, his supporters began storming the Capitol in what became a deadly siege. On a Jan. 7 press call with reporters, federal law enforcement made clear that they are looking into everyone who might have been involved with the attack on the Capitol. “Yes, we are looking at all actors here, not only the people that went into the building,” Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney in Washington said, adding they could also look at anyone who may have played an ancillary role. “We will look at every actor and all criminal charges.” While some legal experts have said Trump may have violated federal law by inciting a riot, the legal bar for such a prosecution is high. On Jan. 8, a prosecutor in Sherwin’s office told reporters he did not expect that charge to be filed against Trump or others who spoke at the Jan. 6 rally, though he did say prosecutors will follow the evidence. Yet social media users are spreading false information that the FBI has definitively exonerated Trump from any responsibility. “The FBI has just cleared President Donald Trump of any guilt, any connection to the Jan. 6 attack on our state Capitol,” says a man in a video that has been viewed more than 80,000 times since it first posted to YouTube on Wednesday. “The FBI has just released their findings that this was pre-planned and had nothing to do with President Donald John Trump,” he says. He later adds, “He was partially impeached on this bull nonsense.” But there is no record of the FBI making such a statement as is described in the video. In response to an inquiry from The Associated Press, a spokesperson for FBI wrote: “We will direct you to https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/capitol-violence for relevant information and statements made by the FBI.” An AP review of the site did not surface any FBI statements that match the one quoted in the video. “No, the FBI would not make a statement like that,” said Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor who is currently the legal director at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. McCord, who has said she believes a criminal investigation of Trump is warranted, said the FBI does not have the authority to ”clear” someone of a crime. Another former federal prosecutor, Laurie Levenson, who teaches at Loyola Law School, told the AP it is far too early to have definitive answers from the federal agency. “It is not how the FBI works,,” Levenson said. “They are in the midst of a huge investigation.” Within six days of the Capitol breach, the FBI announced it had opened 170 criminal cases.
— Associated Press reporter Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix reported this item.
Letter supposedly from Pelosi to mayor of Portland, Oregon, was fabricated
CLAIM: In an August letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi encouraged Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler to adhere to the Democratic playbook and blame President Donald Trump in response to riots and protests taking place in the city following the death of George Floyd.
THE FACTS: The letter was fabricated. After rioters were photographed in Pelosi’s office during the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, a letter attributed to Pelosi about the protests in Portland months earlier began circulating on social media. “The good guys (the Alliance) now have Pelosi’s laptop. So now we can read Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s letter to Portland, Oregon mayor Ted Wheeler (Democrat). In this letter, demon Pelosi admits to both 1) fraud and 2) media complicity to fraud,” one Facebook post said. The made-up letter claims that Pelosi told Wheeler that she had seen his response to the riots in August and that he should “stick to the proven Democratic Play book.” The letter, which uses informal language and features poor grammar, also includes a fake signature. Pelosi’s office confirmed with The Associated Press that the letter was fabricated. The letter says: “Go on Television and Condemn TRUMP and refuse any assistance! We CANNOT give TRUMP any victory before the election!!!!!” Tim Becker, a spokesperson for Wheeler’s office, also told the AP in an email that the letter was not real.
—- Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York reported this item.
Trump did not invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807
CLAIM: It has been officially confirmed that the Insurrection Act has been secretly signed by President Donald Trump.
THE FACTS: The president did not invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 in an effort to stay in office. To do so he would have to make a public declaration giving clear reasons for the move, which allows a president to call on the military to address a domestic crisis. Posts circulated before the inauguration saying the move would keep him from being removed from office or being impeached. The U.S. House of Representatives impeached for a second time on Wednesday. This time the charge was “incitement of insurrection” for the deadly siege on the Capitol. Posts circulating a video making the claim urged Americans to stock up on food, gasoline and prepare for a lockdown under the act. The false posts say that they obtained their information from government sources. “The president is in control of the military,” one Facebook video said. “I told you he wasn’t done yet.” In the past, presidents have invoked the act in response to domestic disturbances or following natural disasters to restore order and supplement civilian authorities and not supplant them, said Stephen Vladeck, constitutional law professor at the University of Texas Law School. In order for Trump to have invoked the act, he would first have to have announced that those responsible for the insurrection must disperse within a designated amount of time. Then, he could have activated federal troops if there was an emergency without approval from state governors. Related false posts claimed to be from the president himself. However, the president made no such declaration. “They have no basis in fact and it’s legally implausible,” Vladeck said in response to the posts. “Even if somehow this happened anyway, it would not actually do what the conspiracy theorists say it would do.”
—- Beatrice Dupuy
Photo of policeman struggling to hold ballot box in Uganda is from 2016
CLAIM: Photo shows young people in Uganda stopping a policeman from stealing a ballot box during the country’s presidential election on Thursday.
THE FACTS: The photo was taken by The Associated Press,during Uganda’s last presidential election in 2016. It shows a policeman struggling to keep hold of a ballot box as voters surrounded him after a long wait to vote. In that February 2016 vote, incumbent Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni secured a fifth term in office in an election marred by violence and controversy. “A police officer struggles to keep hold of a box containing voting materials, as excited voters surround him after waiting over 7 hours without being able to vote, at a polling station in Ggaba, on the outskirts of Kampala, in Uganda Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016,” read the caption of the original AP photo. The five-year-old image was circulating anew on Thursday as Ugandans returned to the polls in another tense presidential election. “The youth stopping a police man from stealing ballot,” read one tweet with the photo shared more than 1,000 times on Thursday. “5:30 Pm Today Ugandan Youths Stopped This Meniac From Running away With the Ballot Box!” read another tweet with the photo. The tweets misrepresent the image, suggesting it was taken recently. They also claim it shows a policeman stealing a ballot box, an assumption the original caption shows is false. The misleading posts circulated as Ugandans experienced a nationwide internet blackout launched by authorities after Facebook removed some accounts linked to the incumbent president. The current Ugandan election has been tainted by widespread violence as authorities clash with the opposition and Museveni’s critics claim he is using the pandemic to militarize the election. Museveni seeks a sixth term against leading opposition challenger Bobi Wine and nine other candidates. Results are expected by Saturday evening.
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