The stupidest viral story of 2017

When I first saw Trump’s Senior Advisor Stephen Miller‘s appearance on ABC News with George Stephanopoulos, it was then that I knew he had the most punchable face in all of politics. So to write an article in his defense isn’t exactly something I relish, but I’m compelled to do so thanks to the room-temperature IQ of the internet.

“Fake news” is a very real phenomenon, but the term itself has been hijacked by charlatans and their unwitting followers as a way to discredit skeptics and fact checkers. The pushback against online fake news (pseudoscience, misleading clickbait and images, news stories taken out of context, conspiracy theories) is a charge that should be led by liberals, but it’s an effort that’s perpetually stalled because a few hugely-followed outlets and social media figures that fall under the “liberal” banner are helping to disseminate it.

Case in point, this headline published by Daily Kos that recently went viral: “Yes, Trump’s Aide Really Did Throw “White Power” Sign.”

The article was posted on Daily Kos’s contributor platform (bloggers who are not staff writers can sign-in and post articles) and centers around the Reuters photo of Miller below:

If you’re someone with reasonable intelligence, you’re likely to see what appears to be Miller adjusting his suit jacket. But Daily Kos user “SemDem” claims Miller, who is Jewish, is communicating secret white supremacist hand signals to his racist followers by way of the media.

“You might think that’s an odd natural gesture to make,” SemDem writes. “And it is. What Stephen is doing is completely intentional.”

The article then presents comparative photos of alleged white supremacists (taken from the Anti-Defamation League’s website) flashing gang signs alongside the Miller photo. As Snopes points out, the accusation is so sloppy that “the position of Miller’s hands do not match the white power hand symbol image provided by the ADL.”

Even the ADL told Snopes that the claim is not credible.

A photo of White House staffer Stephen Miller has been circulating on social media in which people claim that Miller is surreptitiously sending a “white power” hand sign to, one presumes, viewers. However, he seems merely to be adjusting his suit and tie, while his hand positioning does not actually resemble the “WP” hand sign that some California-based white supremacist street gang members use.

You can find the photos here.

The mega-liberal content mill Occupy Democrats picked up the story immediately: “Trump’s Staff Just Got Caught Making Secret White Power Signs To Their Legions Of Racists,” the headline read.

According to OD’s Natalie Dickinson, Miller was caught making “a crucial mistake that just catapulted him to notoriety.”

“This symbol, given from the White House, is just more confirmation that President Trump’s racist puppet masters are imposing a white supremacist agenda on the unwilling states of America,” Dickinson writes (emphasis hers).

“Impeach,” wrote one commenter on the article.

“Trump makes that same symbol whenever he speaks in public! Hasn’t anyone noticed this? I didn’t know that’s what it meant,” another commenter wrote.

Sure enough, the image was soon all over social media:

To clarify, the xenophobic views held by Miller are fairly well-documented. The Washington Post recounted how his high school days in the mostly liberal southern California city of Santa Monica were spent slamming multiculturalism — he harassed a Spanish-language radio program for not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the outset of the show, for example. “The social experiment that Santa Monica High School has become is yet one more example of the dismal failure of leftism and the delusions and paranoia of its architects,” Miller wrote in the conservative FrontPage magazine back in 2005. By “social experiment,” Miller was referring to the diverse population of his high school. It’s not hyperbole to call the man a racist.

These tidbits just scratch the surface of his disturbing views and what many argue is his outward racism. So why — why present this gift to the far-right blogosphere? “‘Fake news’ freak-out: Did top Trump adviser throw ‘white power’ sign?” read a headline from the right-wing conspiracy theory website World Net DailyMaking World Net Daily look sane is an almost impossible thing to do, but this pathetically dumb claim managed to do just that.

The Miller story is the latest in a trend of websites and social media “Resisters” taking photos and videos and literally creating a narrative for them out of thin air. The right does it too, but that’s besides the point. We’re doing it as well.

A few examples: Did Trump slam the door on Melania as she attempted to follow him into a waiting car? It’s literally impossible to see. Did Reince Priebus express disgust at Steve Bannon’s pat on his leg during a CPAC conference? Who knows? Looks like an awkward gesture in a fleeting moment. Did Melania Trump “flinch in response” to her husband’s touch as she was giving a speech? Maybe if you replay the video 20 times, you can convince yourself. Is Stephen Miller secretly throwing gang signs to the press? Only if you have the same reasoning skills as the average InfoWars fan.

With each publication of these stories, that guy you know on Facebook who calls CNN “fake news” gets a little more footing. There’s a fine line that divides websites that demand accountability from those that have no accountability at all, and there seems to be an ever-increasing number who dabble in the middle and sometimes fully cross over.

As the Trump era continues to redefine reality, it’s sad to see so many liberals willing to help him.

[This article has been updated]

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Sky Palma

Before launching DeadState back in 2012, Sky Palma has been blogging about politics, social issues and religion for over a decade. He lives in Los Angeles and also enjoys Brazilian jiu jitsu, chess, music and art.

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