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How a Group of Right-wingers Spread a Lie that Black Lives Matter Stormed Iowa’s Capitol

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A group of right-wing websites and social media personalities, some with hundreds of thousands of followers, claimed that Black Lives Matter protesters “stormed” Iowa’s state Capitol last week.

Some of them explicitly claimed that the protesters had forced their way into the building. Another suggested that what happened in Des Moines was “exactly” like what had happened at the US Capitol in Washington on January 6.

It wasn’t. Not even close. Because the Iowa protesters didn’t storm the state Capitol.

Facts First: Unlike the people who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, the Iowa protesters walked lawfully through security — getting their belongings scanned and their temperatures checked. The Iowa protesters even had a permit to protest in the building. The building is open to the public anyway. And the protesters did not disrupt legislative proceedings once they were inside.

The saga of the imaginary Iowa Capitol-storming offers another troubling example of how even unsophisticated lies can hurtle around the web faster than the truth. It also shows, once more, how the right-wing disinformation ecosystem often operates: A false initial claim gets shared over and over, reaching an ever bigger audience, by people and publications uninterested in doing even basic research to see if that initial claim is true.

Joan Donovan, research director at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said that “there are certain right-wing influencers that act as a catalyst for a cascade of inaccurate claims.” These influencers, she said, will tweet an image or video with a false description attached, inaccurately shaping perceptions of a breaking news event. Other influencers aligned with them will then “repeat the lie across blogs and social media,” Donovan said in an email.

“When the claim is inevitably debunked, these disinformation pushers either double down and say the mainstream media is lying or chalk it up to the chaos of breaking news. Sadly, the public, and movements like Black Lives Matter, are the ones who pay the price for amplified disinformation-at-scale,” Donovan said. “Social media companies know how this pattern works but have done little to prevent it from happening time and time again.”

What happened in the Iowa Capitol

The Iowa protest, titled “Kill the Racist Bills,” was organized by the activist group Advocates for Social Justice. The event targeted a series of proposals from Republican state legislators.

The proposals would, among other things, increase penalties for protest-related offenses, provide additional legal protection to police officers and new civil immunity to people who inadvertently hit protesters with their cars, deny state funding to local governments that cut their police budgets by a bigger percentage than they cut their overall budgets and prohibit public entities from conducting mandatory training or teaching school curriculums that promote various “divisive concepts,” such as that the US and Iowa are systematically racist or sexist.

Protesters had a permit for both outside and inside the building. As a Facebook livestream video from one of the protesters showed, and as Iowa journalists on the scene noted later, the protesters walked in one by one through a security checkpoint. Protest co-organizer Angelina Ramirez told CNN that, prior to their entry, she and a colleague “asked Capitol security and Iowa State Patrol how they would prefer us to funnel into the security line, hence the single-file line.”

Once the protesters made their way through security, they shouted, chanted and lay on the floor for 9 minutes and 29 seconds to symbolize the death of George Floyd last May.

One protester was arrested and charged with assaulting an Iowa State Patrol officer. The officer claimed the 18-year-old high school senior “grabbed” and “pushed” him after she repeatedly asked for his name and badge number, causing him to momentarily lose his balance, and that other protesters behaved “belligerently” in response to the arrest.

Other protesters told CNN that any physical contact with the officer was inadvertent and minor, that the arrest was unjustified and that the officer used excessive force.

Regardless of what happened in the incident, the Iowa Capitol certainly wasn’t “stormed” — much less the site of the “insurrection” some right-wing commentators claimed had occurred.

Jeff Angelo, a former Republican state senator in Iowa, devoted part of his Des Moines radio show on Friday to a debunking of the claims that the state Capitol had been targeted by an insurrection, noting repeatedly that the protesters were legally present and that loud and heated protests are commonplace in the building. Angelo attributed the false claims about what had happened on Thursday to “some hard feelings about what went on January 6th at the Capitol” and “a right-wing national media that likes these kind of clicks.”

“Trying to call this an insurrection, and compare it to January 6th — that, my friends, is just ridiculous. They went through the metal detectors, they got their temperatures checked, they had a right to protest. If some of ’em got out of line — then the state Capitol police did their job,” Angelo said.

How this lie spread

At 1:50 p.m. on Thursday, a Twitter account using the alias CIA-Simulation Warlord posted a video clip captioned, “Happening Now: BLM at the Iowa State Capitol building.”

At 2:18 p.m., a Twitter account using the alias Suburban Black Man tweeted the same 70-second clip. Though the clip showed only peaceful protest — some protesters were shouting, others lying on the floor — the Suburban Black Man account claimed that Black Lives Matter protesters had “forced their way into the Iowa State Capitol building. Looks A LOT like an insurrection.”

Again, that isn’t true. But the truth didn’t seem to matter to some.

Within 40 minutes of the Suburban Black Man tweet, The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website with a long history of promoting baseless conspiracy theories, echoed Suburban Black Man’s false claim in an article — asserting that “Black Lives Matter militants stormed the Iowa State Capitol” and had “forced their way into the building.” Seven minutes later, a Canada-based conservative website, the Post Millennial, published an article that began, “BLM activists have appeared to force their way into Iowa’s State Capitol building.”

Right-wing personality David J. Harris Jr., who had more than 595,000 Twitter followers as of Monday, soon repeated the false claim that the Iowa Capitol was stormed. So did a right-wing personality with more than 260,000 followers as of Monday, Ian Miles Cheong, who linked to the Post Millennial article. Other right-wing websites, including National File and The New American, also amplified the claim that day.

By the late afternoon, Iowa journalists from Iowa Public Radio, the Des Moines Register and the Ames Tribune had all debunked the claim that the Capitol had been stormed. But the next morning, Andy Ngô, a Post Millennial editor-at-large who had more than 800,000 Twitter followers as of Monday, repeated the claim.

Activists’ frustration

Protest co-organizer Harold Walehwa told CNN he was “frustrated and not surprised” when he saw the false “storming” claims go viral.

Former President Donald Trump, various Republican members of Congress, and right-wing websites and personalities have made a determined effort — both before and after Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol — to portray left-wing and Black Lives Matter activists as a major threat to the country.

“I feel like there was a desperate attempt to discredit our goals and to paint people of color as violent insurrectionists,” Walehwa said in an email. He added that “we had a permit to be there.”

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Discrepancy in U’khand Govt Covid Toll Data Raises Eyebrows

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The number of people cremated or buried at dedicated COVID crematoriums or graveyards from April 20 to May 2 is over one and a half times the number of coronavirus deaths reported by the Uttarakhand Health Department, official data revealed. According to the Urban Development Department, 1,523 “COVID-infected people” were cremated or buried during those 13 days, whereas the number of fatalities reported by the state Health Department during the period was 910. This is 613 less than the number of cremations and burials recorded by the Urban Development Department.

As per the guidelines, people who succumb to the virus are supposed to be cremated or buried at COVID-dedicated crematoriums and graveyards. The discrepancy came to light when the number of bodies buried or cremated at the COVID-dedicated crematoriums and graveyards during the period as mentioned in a letter of Urban Development Secretary Vinod Kumar Suman to the additional chief secretary was compared with the death toll reported by the Directorate of Medical Health and Family Welfare.

When contacted, officials did not have a clear explanation to offer for the wide numerical gap between the two figures. A Dehradun Municipal Corporation official requesting anonymity said, “A number of COVID patients die in home isolation and many such deaths go unreported. This may have led to the two figures not tallying with each other.” With 33 COVID deaths per lakh population, Uttarakhand has the highest pandemic fatality rate among the Himalayan states.

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Black Fungus Cases Found in Few Patients in Haryana, Govt Should Form State-level Committee: Congress

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Haryana Congress president Kumari Selja on Friday said few cases of black fungus disease have been found in a few patients recovering from Covid-19 in the state and demanded the government form a state-level committee of doctors to monitor such cases. Expressing deep concern about black fungus cases found in some patients, she demanded from the Haryana government that people should be made aware of this disease.

A state-level committee of doctors should be constituted to monitor the condition of such patients in all the districts of the state and also identify other patients who may be afflicted with it and start their treatment at the earliest. Also, the Haryana government should bear the entire cost of treatment and medicines for the patients suffering from black fungus, the Congress leader said in a statement here.

Mucormycosis, a rare but dangerous fungal infection, has now been found to be affecting some coronavirus patients. Attacking the BJP-JJP government, she said Covid-19 is spreading rapidly in the state, but the government does not appear to be serious in its prevention.

Health services in the state have completely collapsed, she alleged. Selja claimed that more than 40 cases of black fungus disease have been reported in Haryana in the last few days.

According to reports, 12 people are undergoing treatment for this disease in Faridabad. In Gurgaon, 14 cases of this disease have been reported. Similar cases are coming from Karnal, Fatehabad and other districts, she claimed. “It is even more serious that the health department of the state does not have any district-wise data on how many black fungus patients have so far been found in Haryana, Selja further claimed.

She alleged that black marketing of medicines and oxygen cylinders amid the raging pandemic is going on in the state.

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India’s Second Covid Wave Pushes Up Cost of Living – and Dying

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Ashok Khondare, a 39-year-old vegetable seller in Pune, had already borrowed money to pay for his sister’s treatment when she died in a private hospital two weeks after contacting COVID-19. While trying to overcome the tragedy, he also had to deal with money problems that increased with his sister’s death.

The only available hearse driver charged Rs 5,000 for a 6-km journey to the nearest crematorium – five times the going rate. When Khondare reached there, there was a long queue of bodies and waits of more than a day. He agreed to pay another Rs 7,000 to jump the queue.

“I had been experiencing a terrible situation for a fortnight,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep or eat properly. I wanted to end this as early as possible and didn’t mind paying an irrational amount.”

The second wave of the coronavirus has not only created shortages of oxygen, medicines and hospital beds, but also of wood for funeral pyres, hearses and crematorium slots, forcing people like Khondare to pay exorbitant amounts to perform the last rites of loved ones.

India is reporting by far the highest number of new daily cases globally, and over 4,000 deaths per day – figures that are almost certainly under-reported, according to experts. The huge numbers of deaths are creating backlogs at cremation grounds and shortages of manpower and raw materials.

“There is huge demand for firewood used for funeral pyres at crematoria, but supplies are not sufficient,” said Rohit Pardeshi, a firewood merchant in Satara, Maharashtra.

Due to the prevailing lockdown, there is a shortage of people to cut trees and those workers who are available are asking for higher wages.”This has created a shortage of firewood and lifted prices,” Pardeshi said.

Retail prices for firewood are up by at least 30 percent, and have more than doubled in some areas, said another firewood seller in Satara.

In Uttar Pradesh, 24-year-old Mukul Chaudhary faced similar problems after his mother died in Lucknow. The ambulance driver who dropped his mother off at the hospital for 5,000 rupees charged even more to take her body to the crematorium.

“We had to beg him not to overcharge us further,” Chaudhary said. Firewood for the cremation cost double the normal rate, while the priest who performed the last rites charged the family Rs 5,000 – two to five times the usual amount.

Rohit Jangam, a priest in Satara, said many priests there were refusing to enter crematoriums out of fear, and those who were willing were charging higher prices.

“It is too risky to perform the last rites of those died because of coronavirus,” he said. “If someone asks, I do, but I charge more since I am taking the risk.” He declined to disclose how much more he was charging.

OXYGEN RACKET

For COVID patients who manage to survive, black marketing of medical supplies is rampant, with desperate relatives paying huge sums in what is still a low-income country.

In Delhi, oxygen cylinders have changed hands for as much as Rs 70,000, according to interviews with relatives – 20 times the usual price and many times the monthly salary of an average Indian.

Police have made more than 100 arrests in cases connected with overcharging, including for drugs, ambulance services and hospital beds.

Arveena Sharma, a 28-year-old lawyer from Noida, has helped more than a dozen COVID patients who are friends and relatives get oxygen and medical supplies in the last month. Almost all of them have overpaid significantly.

“They’re like vultures,” she said of those selling black market drugs. “You are standing in front of me with something which might save me and you’re looking at my pocket.”

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