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Wednesday, July 5, 2023
MRC Report On DHS Anti-Terror Program Filled With Misinformation
Topic: Media Research Center

A May 25 Media Research Center post by Luis Cornelio and Tim Kilcullen claimed to have a huge scoop:

MRC Free Speech America, as part of its new Freedom of Information Act investigations, has learned how the Biden administration is weaponizing a government-funded anti-terrorism grant program in an effort to destroy conservatives, Christians and the Republican Party.

Under the Trump administration, the “Targeted Violence & Terrorism Prevention Grant Program” (TVTP) was used to prevent terrorism, but it was revamped under the Biden administration and renamed  to provide funding for localities to combat “all forms of terrorism and targeted violence.” Instead of focusing on preventing actual violence and terrorism, the program is now being used to target the entire spectrum of the political right and Christians through “media literacy and online critical thinking initiatives” and other so-called training seminars as part of a coordinated effort to make America into a one-party system.

The University of Dayton, one of several grantees, targeted groups including The Heritage Foundation, Fox News, Christian Broadcasting Network, Turning Point USA, PragerU, the National Rifle Association (NRA), Breitbart News, the American Conservative Union Foundation and the Republican National Committee.

This program at the University of Dayton was the supposed key to this so-called investigation:

The University of Dayton PREVENTS-OH was among the most radical grantees within the TVTP “media literacy and online critical thinking initiatives.” In Ohio, DHS awarded the University of Dayton $352,109 to establish the PREVENTS-OH program, which promised to “draw on the expertise of the University of Dayton faculty” to fight “domestic violence extremism and hate movements.” For example, a chart used by DHS and its grantee in a training program equates mainstream groups with militant neo-Nazis, including: The Heritage Foundation, Fox News, the National Rifle Association (NRA), Breitbart News, PragerU, Turning Point USA, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), the American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF) and the Republican National Committee, among others.

The seminar also compared former President Donald Trump to Pol Pot and suggested Florida Governor Ron DeSantis might wish to start a second Holocaust. 

The PREVENTS-OH seminars (including one headlined by a DHS agent) feature lectures by University of Cincinnati Research Fellow Michael Loadenthal, a self-proclaimed member of Antifa whose Twitter feed is rife with posts celebrating acts of left-wing violence (often against police officers). Loadenthal used PREVENTS-OH to explain in detail how to create dummy accounts on free speech social media platforms like Telegram, Gab and Rumble in order to “destabilize” political movements. “A lot of things we’re doing are illegal,” he boasted in the lecture. “A lot of it involves breaking the law,” he continued. 

Cornelio and Kilcullen also complained about an image that was used:

During the seminar, Loadenthal shared an outrageous “Pyramid of Far-Right Radicalization” that he claimed depicts the “modern far-right” and extremism in America:

Among the organizations and movements displayed on the pyramid were the Republican Party (RNC), The Heritage Foundation, the American Conservative Union, Fox News, Breitbart News, the National Rifle Association (NRA), PragerUniversity, Tea Party Patriots, the MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement, the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement and the Christian Broadcasting Network. 

Also on the pyramid, as if somehow comparable to the aforementioned reputable organizations and movements, were rabidly hateful groups like the militant neo-Nazi gang The Base and pro-Nazi publication The Daily Stormer.

Just one problem: the MRC's attack is bogus. Fox News, of all media outlets, surprisingly looked deeper into the MRC's claims and found them wanting (h/t Right Wing Watch). This presentation took place before the school received TVTP funding, despite the MRC's suggestion otherwise, though the grant application linked to video of the conference. Fox News, unlike Cornelio and Kilcullen, actually talked to Loadenthal, who pointed out that the MRC is demonizing the pyramid graphic:

According to Loadenthal, the MRC is "misinterpreting and misrepresenting" the diagram as well as his role with it. He sent Fox News Digital a full copy of the image, which included text underneath the pyramid describing the bottom tier with the GOP, the NRA, and the Heritage Foundation as "mainstream conservatism."

"The chart is meant to show that what is termed 'the right' is not monolithic and that some individuals travel to a path of radicalization, beginning with more mainstream sources," said Loadenthal. "This point is not controversial nor is it deterministic; it is NOT meant to imply that engaging with level 1 inherently leads to level 4. That would obviously be false."

Cornelio and Kilcullen apparently never took a college psychology class that involved pyramid graphics such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, that explains how they work; if they had, they would understand that this particular pyramid is obviously not equating Fox News with Nazis.

Despite this, Cornelio and Kilcullen promised more misinformation would be forthcoming; "This report only scratches the surface of the Biden DHS’s nefarious TVTP grant program. MRC Free Speech America has obtained more documents from other DHS grantees and other organizations through our concentrated FOIA initiative and will be presenting further evidence of the Biden administration’s efforts to target conservatives, Christians and the Republican Party going forward."

Despite this report being rife with misinformation, the MRC promoted the heck out of it anyway, its release seemingly designed to take advantage of a relatively slow news week before Memorial Day weekend. Indeed, withintwo hours after the bogus report was published, MRC chief Brent Bozell appeared on Fox Business to hype it, where he also misrepresented the pyramid. It's as if Fox Business coordinated with the MRC to manufacture coverage. The MRC flooded the zone with its misinformation over the next couple days:

None of these articles made any effort to correct the record. And the misinformation continued after Memorial Day weekend": A May 30 post by intern Peter Kotara falsely touted how "MRC discovered that the Biden DHS was using taxpayer-funded antiterrorism programs not to fight ISIS or gangs or foreign actors, but to try to classify all right-leaning citizens and organizations as Nazis and domestic terrorists." Cornelio returned for a May 31 post touting how the right-wing noise machine had an effect:

The DHS-funded anti-terror program at the University of Dayton targeting Christians, conservatives and Republicans worked overnight to scrub its website.

The University of Dayton’s PREVENTS-OH removed the controversial videos of seminars that featured a self-proclaimed Antifa member recklessly associating the conservative movement, Christians and Republicans with neo-Nazis and other hate groups in an infamous “Pyramid of Far-Right Radicalization.”

The seminar, first exposed by MRC Free Speech America, included a presentation from Nicole Widdersheim, a deputy Washington director for the Human Rights Watch, and Alexander Hinton, a member of the Rutgers University faculty, who compared former President Donald Trump with genocidal Cambodian dictator Pol Pot and accused Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) of planning a second Holocaust.

Cornelio again falsely claimed the presentation was "DHS-funded," and he again misrepresented the pyramid. The MRC added more manufactured outrage into early June:

When a Republican-controlled House committee axed funding for the DHS program based onthe MRC's dishonest report, a June 21 post by Michael Morris was quick to declare "VICTORY!":

The House Appropriations Committee took an important step to restoring free speech in America, but today’s efforts are just the beginning.

Today, the House Appropriations Committee voted to zero out the funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s nefarious “Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention” (TVTP) grant program from the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill 2024. 

“Talk is cheap. Hearings without action are meaningless. But today's action shows that the House is more serious than ever before to restore freedom and take back our country from the radicals who hate what America stands for,” said MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider. “Defunding DHS's censorship scheme is the start of a broader effort to respect the First Amendment again.”

Like the rest of his MRC colleagues, Morris refused to correct the record regarding the misinformation in Cornelio and Kilcullen's original report. The MRC must be proud of misinforming its readers in the service of pushing right-wing narratives.

Posted by Terry K. at 9:57 PM EDT

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