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Archive for February, 2018

Growing Fla. School Shooting Conspiracy Catapults YouTube Video to No.1

David Hogg discounted the conspiracy theory on CNN on Tuesday.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

The soaring popularity of a discounted, right-wing conspiracy theory that claims last week’s Florida school shooting was an FBI plot was underscored Wednesday when YouTube’s top trending video featured a segment on the baseless allegations.

The video, originally posted in August, claimed that David Hogg, a survivor of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was an “actor,” not a classmate.

In the video, the 17-year-old was featured in an interview with the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles to discuss a dispute between a lifeguard and a swimmer.

The video, which received more than 200,000 views in about 12 hours, was copied and re-uploaded by a YouTube user named “mike m,” who wrote new caption: “DAVID HOGG THE ACTOR …”

Since the massacre that killed 17 people, the conspiracy theory has gained traction among Trump supporters and others on the far right who believe – or want you to believe – that the shooting was an FBI plot to seize power from Americans.

The video was removed by YouTube for violating its policy on bullying and harassment.

On CNN on Tuesday, Hogg disputed the outrageous claims.

“I’m not a crisis actor,” Hogg told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “AC360” Tuesday. “I’m someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that.”

He added, “I’m not acting on anybody’s behalf.”

Trump Supporters Fumed over Twitter’s Purge of Suspected Bots

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Conservative Twitter users are fuming Wednesday after the social media company purged suspected malicious bots – the same automated accounts Russian agents are accused of using to wage an unprecedented propaganda campaign to help Donald Trump win the election.

The purge comes amid mounting pressure from lawmakers calling on social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, to eliminate fake accounts that peddle fake news.

Far-right Twitter users vented, under the trending hashtag, #TwitttertLockOut, that they lost hundreds and even thousands of followers and accused the social media giant of waging a leftist purge to silence conservatives and Trump supporters. 

“The Words of Day Are ‘Twitter Purge’ On Tuesday Night, Most of Us Lost Thousand of Followers. As #Deplorables & #Trump Supporters, ‘We Must Help Each Other,’” a Trump supporter tweeted. “Lets Follow & Follow Back Everyday. The #Trump Agenda Must Be Pushed Forward.#TwitterLockOut.”

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Twitter responded that its “tools are apolitical” and that it periodically culls accounts suspected of being fake.

“As part of our ongoing work in safety, we identify suspicious account behaviors that indicate automated activity or violations of our policies around having multiple accounts, or abuse,” Twitter’s statement said. “We also take action on any accounts we find that violate our terms of service, including asking account owners to confirm a phone number so we can confirm a human is behind it. That’s why some people may be experiencing suspensions or locks.”

Twitter didn’t indicate how many suspicious users were removed. 

Thirteen Russians were charged last week on charges of using bots and social media advertising as part of an unprecedented propaganda campaign to help Trump get elected. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to spread disinformation.

Right-Wing Conspiracy, Claiming Fla. School Shooting Was FBI Plot, Gains Traction

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

A right-wing conspiracy theory that suggests the Florida school shooting last week was an FBI plot to seize more power is gaining in popularity.

The far-fetched suggestions include the assertion that two students who have criticized Republicans for failing to act on gun control were staged by the FBI.

The conspiracy theory gained even more traction after Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., liked two Twitter posts sharing far-right media stories, including one from True Pundit under the headline “BUSTED: Trump-Hating School Shooting Survivor Visited CNN HQ Before the Shooting; Ranted Live on CNN After.”

The crackpot publications have suggested that one of the students, David Hogg, is the son of an FBI agent and wanted to protect his father’s involvement in the plot.

“The kid who has been running his mouth about how Donald Trump and the GOP are teaming to help murder high school kids by upholding the Second Amendment is the son of an FBI agent,” an unnamed author for True Pundit wrote. “David Hogg is a school shooting survivor in Florida. At least that is what the mainstream media has told us. We wouldn’t be surprised by anything involving the FBI at this point.”

As evidence, True Pundit posted a photo claiming to be Hogg at a CNN news desk, wearing a CNN T-shirt one week prior to the shooting.

“But now we learn Hogg was hanging out at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, GA sometime Before the school shooting,” the story reads. “Before the shooting. Posing behind an news anchor desk? Perhaps Hogg’s career dream is to sign on with the network — a young Jake Tapper — as he has portrayed himself since the deadly shooting that claimed 17 students as a ‘student journalist and entrepreneur.'”

Even some government officials are adopting the conspiracy theories.

Benjamin Kelly, an aide to Republican Florida state Rep. Shawn Harrison, told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday that the two teenagers “are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

Harrison fired Kelly late Tuesday, prompting Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran to announce the termination.

“On behalf of the entire Florida House, I sincerely apologize to the students targeted and again commend them for their courage through this unspeakable tragedy,” Corcoran said.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio responded harshly to the conspiracy theories on Twitter.

“Claiming some of the students on tv after #Parkland are actors is the work of a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency,” he tweeted

Hogg thanked Rubio for the tweet.

Other Stories of Interest

FBI: Evidence Points to Hired Gunman Who Killed Seattle Federal Prosecutor

Murder weapon in the unsolved homicide of Seattle federal prosecutor Thomas Wales.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

The FBI has found strong evidence that a Seattle federal prosecutor was killed in 2001 by a hired gunman, indicating a possible break in a case that has long frustrated law enforcement.

The FBI and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein plan to hold a news conference to discuss the unsolved murder of Thomas Wales, who worked as a white-collar criminal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.

For more than a decade, agents suspected the involvement of a former Bellevue area airline pilot, the Seattle Times reports

Federal prosecutor Thomas Wales was killed by a gunman in his home.

Now the FBI is investigating a possible connection between the pilot and a “very small group” of people who may have been involved.

The 57-year-old pilot has maintained his innocence.

The news conference will be the first time the FBI has disclosed that multiple people may have involved in the murder.

Wales, 49, was shot several times in the basement of his Queen Anne Home late on the night of Oct. 11, 2001.

Trump Directs Justice Department to Propose Regulations to Ban Bump Stocks

File photo of guns, via ATF

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

President Trump, in a significant departure from his uncompromising, pro-NRA stance on guns, is directing the Justice Department to propose regulations to “ban all devices” such as the bump stocks used in the Las Vegas mass shooting.

Under intense pressure to address the alarming proliferation of mass shooters using assault-style rifles, Trump has indicated it’s time to move swiftly on guns designed to kill a lot of people.

“We must move past clichés and tired debates and focus on evidence based solutions and security measures that actually work,” Trump said during a White House ceremony.

The Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School has placed on pressure on NRA-supporting Republicans to finally get tough on assault-style guns. They failed to act on a ban bump stocks last year.

Even the predominately conservative Florida state legislature, after many years of reluctance, is drafting legislation to reduce access to semiautomatic rifles.

“The Parkland shooting seems to be a change moment in terms of the way Republicans view gun control measures,” said Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Florida Republican lobbyist and operative.

On legislation drafted by state Senate President Bill Galvano, Stipanovich said, “None of these are necessarily earth-shaking, but all of them, at least in recent times, are unprecedented in the Florida Legislature.”

Protests broke out across the country over Republicans’ failure to address gun control.

AG Sessions to Form Task Force to Combat Election Interference by Russians

AG Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

While President Trump remains defiant in his refusal to condemn Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election, his attorney general Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday the formation of task force to combat global cyber threats, including those used to undermine elections.

The move comes a week after leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies warned Congress that Russians, emboldened by their success during the presidential election, are planning to interfere in the 2018 mid-term elections in November.

A memo signed by Sessions gives the Justice Department until the end of June to report on its findings, according to Reuters.

“The internet has given us amazing new tools that help us work, communicate, and participate in our economy, but these tools can also be exploited by criminals, terrorists, and enemy governments,” Sessions said in a statement.

The task force, which will include representatives from the Justice Department and FBI, has been criticized for its lack of a clear vision.

“This step basically takes a number of really complicated parallel issues in ‘hard’ cybersecurity and ‘soft’ information security and throws them into the same amorphous task force,” said Graham Brookie, a cyber security aide in the Obama administration who now works at the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council think tank.

Russia Probe: Attorney Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI about Trump Campaign Aide

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, via FBI.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

A prominent, Russian-connected attorney pleaded guilty Tuesday to misleading the FBI about his work with President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, marking the third conviction so far in the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Alex Van der Zwaan is accused of lying to federal investigators about communications he had with Rick Gates, a longtime business partner of Manafort and a former Trump campaign aide.

Prosecutors say Van der Zwaan made false statements about his work for a law firm accused of whitewashing abuses by the pro-Russian, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is accused of an $18 million money laundering scheme involving Manafort.

The scheme is part of the criminal case against Manafort and Gates, who were both indicted in October on 12 counts involving money laundering, conspiracy against the U.S. and tax fraud. They pleaded not guilty.

Van der Zwaan, the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan, worked in London for the prominent New York law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

After pleading guilty, he admitted to lying to investigators about past communications with Gates and someone identified as “Personal A.”

The case centered around Van der Zwaan’s work for Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice, which hired him to put together a report about the trial of Tymoshenko.

BuzzFeed News reported Monday that Tymoshenko was the focus of an FBI investigation as part of a failed operation to tackle international kleptocracy in 2014 and 2015. During the probe, investigators identified $40 million in “suspicious transactions” to and from Manafort’s companies. 

But the under-resourced task force dropped the investigation and never charged Manafort or Tymoshenko, according to current and former law enforcement officials who worked on the case.

Gates is expected to plead guilty as early as this week to money laundering as part of a deal with prosecutors to testify against Manafort, who continues to maintain his innocence.

Manafort Faces Renewed Scrutiny over $40M in ‘Suspicious Transactions’

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort is facing renewed scrutiny after special counsel Robert Mueller resurrected a shelved federal investigation that previously identified $40 million in “suspicious transactions” to and from Manafort’s companies, according to BuzzFeed News. 

The discovery indicates the scope of Manafort’s alleged crimes are much broader than initially when he was indicted in October 2017 for an alleged $18 million money laundering scheme involving pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

The FBI uncovered the transactions primarily in 2014 and 2015 as part of an investigation to tackle international kleptocracy, and agents interviewed Manafort at his attorney’s office in Washington D.C. At the time, Manafort denied wrongdoing and said he knew nothing of Yanukovych’s government reportedly stealing money, according to internal FBI emails. Although Manafort pledged to disclose documents to the bureau, he never did.

The probe fizzled, according to two former federal law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation, because FBI leaders determined Manafort’s crimes weren’t significant enough to warrant charges.

“We had him in 2014,” one of the former officials said. “In hindsight, we could have nailed him then.”

The officials said a lack of resources made it too difficult to build a complex case against the former Ukrainian president, so the investigation petered out.

In the meantime, banks continued to alert federal officials of suspicious transactions involving Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges related to his work with eastern European countries. The charges include money laundering, conspiracy against the U.S. and tax fraud. 

Mueller reopened the investigation in September and used some of the findings to help indict Manafort. Mueller is considering leveling new charges against Manafort as investigators comb through the suspicious transactions.

His business partner, Rick Gates, plans to plead guilty to fraud charges in exchange for a reduced sentence and his testimony against Manafort.