David “Avocado” Wolfe is Hawking Unproven Coronavirus Cures

The NutriBullet spokesman and flat-earth conspiracist is selling colloidal silver, medicinal mushrooms, charcoal, and an air purification system.

Wolfe is known for making out-there claims. For example, he claims salt prevents the oceans from levitating off the earth, and gravity is a toxin that can be combated by hanging upside down (as a cure for arthritis). Here he is ranting about flat earth on the conspiracy-friendly YouTube channel, London Real.

Now Wolfe is hawking unproven cures for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Products include: $137 bottles of colloidal silver, his “#1 recommendation against the corona virus”; $44 tubs of “SuperMushroom” tinctures, purportedly “the most effective way to utilize medicinal mushrooms against corona viruses”; $32 packets of “SuperConcentrate” charcoal fullerenes, which purportedly “neutralize viruses”; and the Air Doctor, a $629 non-FDA-approved Japanese product he claims can “clean our homes and workspaces of airborne viruses like COVID-19.”

All of the above-mentioned products, except the Air Doctor — which he’s helping sell at discount as an affiliate of AIRDOCTOR, LLC, according to a link in an Apr. 18 email newsletter — are currently available to buy from Wolfe’s online shop.

Wolfe made the claims about his products’ healing properties in his newsletter and 15-page “Nourish Your Immunity” protocol, currently available online by joining his free-to-view Immunity Summit, a series of video interviews between Wolfe and various alternative medicine proponents. Interviewees include Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, an outspoken Donald J. Trump supporter and Massachusetts Senate hopeful who claims that Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is a deep state agent. (If you have two hours to spare and a strong tolerance for pseudoscience, you can view the full Ayyadurai interview by clicking here.)

Wolfe has also been hawking his products and spreading debunked 5G and Bill Gates conspiracy theories to his thousands of followers on Telegram, the Russian social media platform.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission recently issued warning letters to seven companies for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products, including colloidal silver and tinctures. According to the FDA’s site, “consumers and health care professionals can help by reporting suspected fraud to the FDA’s Health Fraud Program or the Office of Criminal Investigations.”

Daily Telegraph Stops Publishing Propaganda From China Following BuzzFeed News Story

The British broadsheet had been publishing material from People’s Daily and China Daily, propaganda arms of the Chinese Communist Party. ICYMI, here’s my latest in BuzzFeed News and The Guardian.

Via “A British Newspaper Has Given Chinese Coronavirus Propaganda a Direct Line to the UK” by Dean Sterling Jones, BuzzFeed News, April 1, 2020:

BuzzFeed News April 1 2020

When medical authorities in China claimed they’d cured more than 750 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, using pseudoscience, one major British newspaper made sure there was space for China’s party line on the story.

“Traditional Chinese medicine ‘helps fight coronavirus,’” declared the March 3 headline, in the online version of the Daily Telegraph […] The article was published in a section of the Telegraph’s site called People’s Daily Online, a self-contained “advertisement feature” promising “all the latest stories about contemporary China’s dynamic development, diverse culture and world-leading infrastructure,” complete with a home page and sections for news, opinion, business, and sports, among other topics. But beyond a boilerplate disclaimer waiving responsibility, nowhere does the site disclose any information about its sponsor.

People’s Daily is the official newspaper and mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China. Its “advertisement feature” on the Telegraph’s site is part of a global propaganda campaign that positions the country as a leader in fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has now killed more than 44,000 people worldwide.

Click here to read the full story.

Via “Daily Telegraph Stops Publishing Section Paid for by China” by Jim Waterson and Dean Sterling Jones, The Guardian, April 14, 2020:

The Daily Telegraph has stopped publishing paid-for propaganda on behalf of Chinese state media, amid growing scrutiny of how Beijing is using the pandemic to grow its influence in English-language media aimed at western audiences.

The long-running China Watch section, funded by the government-controlled China Daily news outlet, has appeared in the Telegraph for more than a decade. The content, written by Chinese state journalists, presents relentlessly upbeat views on China’s standing in the world in both print supplements and on a branded section of the Telegraph’s website.

However, in recent days the dedicated content has been wiped from the Telegraph’s website along with another section that reproduced material from China’s People’s Daily Online – the official outlet of the country’s ruling communist party.

Click here to read the full story.

Free Tibet, a charity based in London, has started an online petition calling on the Wall Street Journal and The Economist to cut ties with China Daily and Beijing Review.

Via “Free Tibet Launches Petition Calling for the Economist and Wall Street Journal to Drop Chinese Government Material,” FreeTibet.org, April 16, 2020:

Free Tibet has launched a petition calling for The Economist and Wall Street Journal (WSJ) to drop paid-for propaganda sections published on behalf of Chinese state media which have appeared in both publications.

The petition comes two days after The Guardian reported The Daily Telegraph has stopped publishing its China Watch advertising, which consists of content created by Chinese Communist Party media organisation China Daily and is designed to promote the CCP’s image abroad.

Free Tibet’s petition invites the public to send a message to the editors of The Economist and WSJ asking them to follow The Telegraph and confirm they will both stop publishing the material.

Click here for the petition.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Medical Mentor: “God Bless Every Covid Virus”

Goop contributor Dr. Habib Sadeghi is making bizarre coronavirus-themed content.

During a podcast interview last month, Gwyneth Paltrow’s longtime medical mentor and Goop regular Dr. Habib Sadeghi attributed every pandemic from the last 150 years to the “electrification of earth.” Since then, he’s been making increasingly bizarre coronavirus-themed content in a seeming attempt to get people to join his Patreon.

In one video posted on Instagram last Friday, “COVID-19: The Toxin Is The Remedy,” an analysis of the 2012 Ang Lee film Life of Pi, Sadeghi addresses viewers while sitting barefoot at the top of a staircase.

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“God bless every covid virus,” he says in the video, describing the pandemic as an “opportunity to really use this […] instead of really doing the same thing you’ve been doing most of your life, blaming others, attacking others, making them wrong.”

He continues: “I give you my word that that will be the blessing for you because that psychic immunity, that psychological immunity, that psycho-spiritual robustness that you developed for yourself, no one can take away from you. No one. And this is really what you want to gift to your children […] They’ll get it because these understandings literally will bleed through genetically or epigenetically, physically or energetically, to the next generation. You have an opportunity, you’re not couped up, your school is in session.”

There’s no evidence that parents can genetically transfer thoughts to their children.

In another video posted Sunday, “How To Metabolize A Crisis,” Sadeghi eats from a plate of food while watching the 1981 Louis Malle film, My Dinner with André.

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“It’s a movie that’s very rich, just like the food we eat,” Sadeghi says in the video. “If you sit down, bring your attention, and you watch it, slowly, and you hear what it’s telling you, at the end of it, you have found a new friend within yourself. You have found, and moved into, that what we refer to as evolution of consciousness.”

He ends the video by encouraging viewers to “use this time that we have, during this period of self-quarantining, or self-care-cocooning, as a way of learning to metabolise […] our thoughts, feelings, and emotions,” which are “far more important than what we metabolise in our digestive systems.”

Both videos lead with trippy visuals and shrieking horror movie music, followed by a message about “Entelechy Medicine,” a trademarked “evolutionary movement” that appears to draw on the discredited theories of the late Ryke Geerd Hamer, a disgraced German doctor who was stripped of his medical license after allegedly killing his patients.

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According to Sadeghi’s Patreon page, Entelechy Medicine “holds the key to your deeper healing” and “recognizes that the body is the theater of our consciousness.” For $9.99 per month, patrons can access such dubious-sounding content as “Surgical Scarring and Blocked Meridians: The Hidden Implications of Scar Tissue.”

The page also links to a Sadeghi’s “conscious lifestyle brand and health publishing imprint,” BeingClarity.com, where customers can purchase his 2017 Goop press book, “The Clarity Cleanse.” The book includes a glowing foreword by Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow.

Another Goop Contributor is Spreading Discredited Coronavirus Conspiracies

Dr. Habib Sadeghi, an LA-based integrative medicine practitioner and personal mentor to Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, has linked the virus to the “electrification of earth.”

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Last month, I wrote for The Daily Beast about Goop contributor/holistic psychiatrist Kelly Brogan’s coronavirus conspiracy theories. Now another high-profile Goop contributor is spreading similar theories linking the virus to 5G wireless technology.

Dr. Habib Sadeghi, who frequently writes for Goop’s site, has featured in Goop’s videos online, and, according to Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, is a “mentor in many capacities to me,” shared his theories last Monday on the What Matters Most podcast (he’s also been sharing his theories on Instagram).

Here’s what Sadeghi had to say about wireless technology:

In 2003, that’s when the 3G technology was introduced, and shortly after, in 2003, that’s when we got SARS. And so, when we look at some of the various things that we’ve been exposed to, and the technologies that they were introduced — like you look at 2009, that’s when we had the 4G introduced to the world, and that’s when we had the, same year, 2009, we had the swine flu outbreak. So it’s not a far-fetched idea that here we are in 2020, where 5G was introduced to the world, and we’re sitting scratching our head, and we’re saying, what are we going to do with the coronavirus?

According to various experts, fact-checkers, news outlets, and other trusted sources, there is no evidence that wireless technology is responsible for the coronavirus or any other virus.

He went on to link every major outbreak from the last 150 years to the “electrification of earth.” For example, he claimed that the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic may have been caused by the “introduction of radio waves around the world” (radio waves are a naturally occurring phenomenon), that an unidentified pandemic from around the time of WW2 may have been caused by “the introduction of radar equipment all over the earth,” and that the 1968 Hong Kong flu may have been caused by orbiting “satellites emitting radioactive frequencies.”

Like Brogan, it appears Sadeghi doesn’t believe in the widely accepted germ theory of disease, claiming that its originator, French microbiologist Louis Pasteur, renounced the theory on his deathbed — a claim for which there is “no evidence,” according to a 2007 blog post by American oncologist David Gorski.

Also like Brogan, Sadeghi appears to be a follower of the late Ryke Geerd Hamer, a disgraced German doctor who had his medical license permanently revoked in Germany after several patients in his care died. On his site, Be Hive of Healing, Sadeghi says he treats “chronic illnesses such as cancer and auto-immune disease” using a “multi-disciplinary approach” including German New Medicine, Hamer’s discredited pseudoscientific theory positing that all illness and disease are caused by psychological trauma.

I’ve asked Goop for comment.

The Daily Beast: Goop-Approved Doctor Pushing Coronavirus Conspiracies

Goop contributor/psychiatrist Kelly Brogan has been spreading junk scientific claims and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus. Here’s my latest for The Daily Beast.

Via “The Gwyneth Paltrow-Approved Doctor Pushing Wacky Coronavirus Conspiracies” by Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, March 24, 2020:

Last week, Gwyneth Paltrow’s “modern lifestyle brand” Goop announced it was closing stores in the U.S. and U.K. to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus currently sweeping the globe. Meanwhile, Paltrow’s psychiatrist-associate Kelly Brogan, a high-profile Goop contributor, has racked up tens of thousands of views on social media spreading discredited pseudoscientific claims that the coronavirus might not even exist, and that symptoms attributed to the virus are likely being caused by widespread fear…

Click here to read the full story.

The story was subsequently picked up by the New York Post, The Independent, The Evening Standard Insider, Yahoo Style, Los Angeles Magazine, and The A.V. Club, among others.

Via “Goop-approved shrink says there’s ‘no such thing’ as coronavirus” by Melissa Malamut, New York Post, March 24, 2020:

Just when you thought telling women to stick stone eggs up their vaginas was the worst medical advice she could give, a once-Manhattan-based psychiatrist, anti-vaxxer and Goop-approved pusher is going viral again. But this time, it’s for her dangerous social-media posts that call COVID-19 a hoax.

Kelly Brogan (who has an MD from Cornell University and a master’s from MIT, according to her website) said in a video posted on Facebook last week that there is “potentially no such thing as the coronavirus” and that the reported deaths from the virus are “likely being accelerated by fear itself.” Further, she “personally [doesn’t] believe in germ-based contagion…”

[Brogan] has doubled down on her words, calling her message “personal empowerment,” and suggesting that people subscribe to her newsletter if they’d like to hear more of her views. She also then posted a screenshot of the Daily Beast article and a link to the video that is now available on Vimeo.

Via “Goop Expert Says Coronavirus Doesn’t Exist: ‘There is Potentially no Such Thing'” by Chelsea Ritschel, The Independent, March 24, 2020:

…According to The Daily Beast, Facebook and Instagram removed Brogan’s videos after determining that they “violate our policies”.

In a recent post to Instagram, Brogan acknowledged the removal and encouraged her followers to subscribe to her newsletter “rather than just following me here, because, well, you know…”

“Because censorship is real and underway,” she continued in the caption. “Two posts removed and one blocked in the past week. What a purification process this is!”

Via “Goop contributor Kelly Brogan peddles ‘nonsense’ conspiracy theories about coronavirus, cites 5G and vaccine companies as real causes” by Megan C. Hills, Evening Standard Insider, March 25, 2020:

…There is no scientific basis for any of Brogan’s claims. Speaking to the Daily Beast, British pharmacologist David Colquhoun said, “She’s a very, very dangerous fantasist. I wonder whether she takes antibiotics if she gets a bacterial infection?”

The deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer, a publication that critically examines fringe science claims similar to those that Brogan made, also weighed in. Benjamin Radford told the Daily Beast, “There’s always been this sort of populist appeal by people who reject science, and that’s exactly what’s going on here.”

“Unfortunately, outbreaks like this are exactly the wrong time to bring these things up because…they divert people from legitimate evidence-based treatments,” he continued.

Via “‘Very, very dangerous’ Goop ‘expert’ slammed for bizarre coronavirus video” by Elizabeth Di Filippo, Yahoo Canada Style, March 25, 2020:

…To Brogan, this was a form of censorship, which she said could potentially be part of a future government agenda to enact control. She cites the alternative narratives regarding current affairs as the remedy to her fear.

“This level of totalitarian government control that is not unlike the divide and conquer, dehumanization agendas that preceded the Holocaust,” she said. “This is where my mind can go. That is extremely fear inducing for me and probably as fear inducing as those that are washing their hands dry.”

Goop representatives have declined to comment on the video, however they did release a statement.

“We would suggest reaching out to Dr. Brogan directly as she didn’t make those comments on Goop’s platform,” they said.

Via “Please, for the love of god, don’t get your coronavirus advice from the Goop people” by Reid McCarter, The A.V. Club, March 24, 2020:

…The video keeps going and going, becoming more deranged as it rumbles on, but these points are probably enough to sum up why Brogan—an “expert” featured on Goop’s website and at its events—shouldn’t be listened to at all. If you want the total run-down of why Brogan and, by extension Goop, are dangerous horseshit, read the rest of the Daily Beast article.

This Goop Author is Spreading Discredited Pseudoscientific Theories About the Coronavirus

Kelly Brogan, M.D., a New York Times bestselling author/psychiatrist who writes for Gwyneth Paltrow’s alt-med Goop newsletter, has accrued over 30,000 views on Instagram by claiming the coronavirus likely doesn’t exist. [UPDATE: Click here for my follow-up to this story in The Daily Beast.]

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Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop is a self-proclaimed “lifestyle brand” and online newsletter aimed at “start[ing] hard conversations, crack[ing] open taboos, and look[ing] for connection and resonance everywhere we can find it.”

It’s also a major proponent of pseudoscientific claims and such questionable products as the Jade Egg, an egg-shaped gemstone that purportedly “harness[es] the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice” when inserted in the vagina. (In 2018, Goop was fined $145,000 in civil penalties for falsely claiming that the $66 egg was able to “balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles, prevent uterine prolapse, and increase bladder control.”)

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Now one of Goop’s high-profile contributors is spreading false claims that the novel coronavirus currently sweeping the globe, and which has caused over 20,000 deaths worldwide, potentially does not exist.

Kelly Brogan, M.D. — a Manhattan-based holistic psychiatrist and co-author of New York Times bestselling book, A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives — made the claim in a March 16 video she originally shared with subscribers of her online “health reclamation” programme, Vital Life Project, then subsequently reposted on her personal site and social media accounts.

In the video, “A Message to Help Dispel Fear,” Brogan claimed that “there is potentially no such thing as the coronavirus” because “it’s not possible to prove that any given pathogen has induced death,” and that the rising death toll is “likely being accelerated by the fear [of the virus] itself.”

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As of publication, the video has accrued approximately 30,000 views on Brogan’s Instagram account, and has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook. (Brogan has also twice uploaded a version of the video — “by popular request!” — with Spanish subtitles).

Brogan attributed her claims to the late Ryke Geerd Hamer, a German doctor and virulent anti-Semite whose discredited theory of disease, German New Medicine, has resulted in dozens of patient deaths in Europe, the youngest being 12-year-old Susanne Rehklau, who “suffered a painful death” in 2010 after Hamer gave her the all-clear.

According to Hamer, illness and disease are caused by unresolved psychological trauma, with specific traumatic experiences said to correlate with specific physical symptoms. For example, a child who is forced to live under the conservative – or “inflexible” – rule of an overbearing parent might develop rigid joints. A recently-divorced woman might, in the absence of intimate physical touch, develop a skin condition. And so on.

To self-heal, Hamer claimed, patients must disavow conventional western medicine (which he believed was an elaborate Jewish conspiracy involving “death chips”), and learn to overcome their unresolved trauma using non-pharmacological — or “natural” — treatment methods, including talking therapy.

Ryke Geerd Hamer (source)

Medical authorities have widely denounced Hamer’s theories as lacking “any scientific or empirical justification,” and in 1986 he had his medical license permanently revoked in Germany after a number of patients in his care died. He was later convicted and imprisoned multiple times for illegally continuing to put his theories into practice.

In her video, Brogan took a more positive view of Hamer’s contributions to science and medicine.

“German New Medicine has really given me a lot of material to work with around identifying potential emotional conflicts that […] have a method of explaining cancer and contagion that have nothing to do with pathogens,” she said. “Could it be that so-called viruses and bacteria are bystanders […] blamed for being at the scene of the crime, which has another origin that is more complex?”

She also hinted at a global conspiracy orchestrated by an unnamed pro-vaccination group, suggested that viewers should not believe mainstream news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, encouraged them to seek alternative theories in order to “feel that you can live in a story that eases your fear and stablises your nervous system,” and offered her own unfounded fears for the future, as follows:

Because I believe any story other than the one we’re being fed, I can also find myself in a place where I begin to look at future government plans to link our passports with our vaccination records and restriction of travel, and that this being a new normal of this level of totalitarian governmental control that is not unlike the divide-and-conquer dehumanization agendas that preceded the Holocaust. This is where my mind can go, and that is extremely fear-inducing for me. Right? And probably as fear-inducing as those who are washing their hands dry.

Comments on posts of the video show that many viewers accepted Brogan’s interpretation of Hamer’s theories.

“MIND BLOWN I needed this message more than I could ever say in words,” read one comment.

“Wondering what you recommend to help start transitioning thought patterns,” read another. “I’d love to look back and say, ‘Oh, that old Steph – bless her, but she believed in infections.'”

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Brogan isn’t the only high-profile Goop contributor who advocates GNM. Habib Sadeghi — a California-based alternative medicine practitioner and author of “Clarity Cleanse: 12 Steps to Finding Renewed Energy, Spiritual Fulfillment, and Emotional Healing” (foreword by Paltrow), and whose fans include Hollywood actors Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, and Tim Robbins — on his site says that he uses GNM to treat patients with chronic illness, including cancer sufferers.

Support for Hamer’s discredited theories has been steadily building in the U.S. and Canada for the past decade. Organisations and people who practice Hamer’s theories include: The International Meta-Medicine Association (IMMA), an LA-based alt-med organisation blamed for causing patient deaths in Norway; The Lifestyle Prescriptions Foundation, run by the founder of IMMA; Melissa Sell, based in California; Biologie Totale, based in Quebec; New Medicine CA/GNM Online Seminars, based in Toronto; and GNM Education, based in Vancouver.

Tommy Robinson Praises Putin, Slams “British Presstitutes” During Whirlwind Tour of Russian Media

The anti-Islam activist pandered to pro-Kremlin media, mingled with a U.S.-sanctioned propagandist, and had some choice words for the British press.

RIA FAN headline (source)

Tommy Robinson, the co-founder and former leader of the anti-Islam English Defence League (EDL), landed in St. Petersburg last week for a whirlwind tour of Russian media, during which he praised Russia’s president, obfuscated Russia’s role in the 2018 poisoning of an ex-KGB agent, mingled with a U.S.-sanctioned propagandist, floated the idea of hosting his own show on Russian TV, and slammed the British press.

Robinson is a controversial figure in Britain. In addition to co-founding the EDL, Robinson has criminal convictions for mortgage fraud, instigating a football riot, assaulting an off-duty police officer, and illegally entering the U.S. using someone else’s passport, among other offences. He also seemingly has a deep affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin, naming him “the strongest man in the West” in an interview last Friday with Russian newspaper Evening Moscow. It’s unclear if the feeling is mutual.

Evening Moscow headline (source)

In the same interview, Robinson said that, if the opportunity arose, he would ask Putin to help him fight anti-Russian “censorship and propaganda,” and envisioned a scenario in which Putin let him host his own TV show. Robinson also denied that Russia was responsible for the 2018 poisoning of former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia, and said if Russia had wanted to “take out” the Skripals, they would have done so quietly without using chemical weapons.

Robinson’s other engagements last week included a speaking gig at a meeting of the Libertarian Party of Russia, a bumpy interview on Russian state-backed TV network Russia Today, and a press conference at the headquarters of Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP), a pro-Kremlin tabloid that once suggested that the U.S. orchestrated the 2015 Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack.

At the KP conference, Robinson gave a presentation titled “Rape of Britain,” in which he claimed that “migrants attack young girls or adopt girls and turn them into prostitutes” (possibly referring to a recent report in the Independent). That’s according to the Federal News Agency (FAN), a Russian news site that U.S. prosecutors have linked to Russia’s efforts to meddle with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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“This is not just about one-off crimes by individuals but about gangs of migrants raping underage British girls,” the FAN quoted Robinson as saying (translation courtesy of Byline Times). “You can’t believe the British media!” he continued. “I’ve seen their manipulations, how they make up lies about me […] That’s why I’m here! Because all these issues are relevant in Russia.”

Robinson shared the stage with, among others, Alexander Malkevich, the former editor of the FAN’s English-language subsidiary USA Really, which is responsible for such false, misleading, and purposefully offensive content as the anti-Semitic “Star of David Spotted Amidst Migrant Caravan: Who’s Behind the Invasion?” Malkevich currently chairs the Civic Chamber Commission on mass media, from which he advises the Russian government on media policy and has called for “information war” in America and Europe.

Malkevich and Robinson (source)

In December 2018, Malkevich, USA Really, and the FAN were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for “attempted election interference.” An accompanying statement cited USA Really’s error-ridden, politically divisive content, as well as Malkevich’s calamitous attempts to stage a flash mob at the White House on Donald Trump’s 72nd birthday (the statement mirrored information first reported by this blog). Malkevich was forced to significantly scale down the event — which originally included a symphony orchestra — after applying for the wrong permit. USA Really later blamed the error on a deep state conspiracy.

Malkevich returned to the States in November 2018 as a journalist covering the U.S. midterms for the FAN. During that trip, he gatecrashed a November 6 election night party at Washington D.C.’s National Press Club, from which he spuriously reported that he’d been accosted by security for Trump nemesis/Nike blackmail lawyer Michael Avenatti. Malkevich was later briefly detained and questioned by the FBI.

On Friday, Malkevich posted on Russian social media that he is acting as Robinson’s “producer,” and is “ready to consider offers” for Robinson to “become a host on Russian TV.” He also said that he and Robinson planned to launch the “StopTwitter international public initiative,” aimed at fighting against “Internet monopolists” (both men have been banned by various social media platforms, including Twitter). The post included a photo of the two men shaking hands at the KP event.

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Robinson didn’t return a request for comment. Instead, he posted a screenshot of tweets by me and Brendan Cox — husband of murdered British politician Jo Cox — on his recently launched Telegram account. In an accompanying comment, he called us “British Presstitutes” and denied any suggestion that he’d made money from his various engagements in Russia.

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BBC Monitoring: Russian “Troll Factory” Cries Foul Over U.S. Ad Removal

I wrote this story for BuzzFeed News, then I was targeted by a Russian disinfo campaign. BBC Monitoring reports

Earlier this month, I bylined a story in BuzzFeed News, “A Russian Propagandist Ran An Ad In The Washington Post — And Then Ran Victory Laps In Russian Media.”

After that story was published, a bunch of Russian news sites — including members of Patriot Media Group, which is run by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal chef — ran what appeared to be a coordinated disinformation campaign in a seeming effort to discredit my reporting.

Via “Russian ‘troll factory’ cries foul over US advert removal” by Olga Robinson, BBC Monitoring, February 21, 2020:

Russian news outlets with links to a St Petersburg “troll factory” have accused US media of “censorship” after the Washington Post removed a controversial pro-Kremlin advert that briefly appeared on its website.

The advert — written in the form of an open letter — was placed in late January by Alexander Malkevich, the former editor of the English-language USA Really site, which has been linked by the US Treasury to Russia’s troll operation.

It called for the release of political strategist Maxim Shugalei, who was arrested along with his interpreter, Samer Hassan Ali Seifan, in Libya last year, on suspicion of trying to influence upcoming elections in the country…

The removal of the advert hit the headlines of at least three dozen sensationalist and pro-Kremlin Russian news websites, including USA Really and at least four other outlets that have links to the troll factory…

The Russian websites also hit back at another US publication, BuzzFeed News, over its reporting of the story. They quoted Malkevich as saying that the US security services interfered with the BuzzFeed reporting of the ad controversy and forced its journalists to twist his comments.

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“BuzzFeed has confirmed that ahead of the publication of the article about censorship in the US media, employees of the security services approached the editorial office and strongly recommended that the essence of the article be changed,” the RIA FAN article said.

As a result, RIA FAN added, the report became a “powerful anti-Russian article in which Malkevich was described as a propagandist”.

Speaking to the BBC, the author of the Buzzfeed story, Dean Sterling Jones, denied the allegations. “In reality, I was never contacted by US security agents and all comments attributed to Malkevich are exactly as he provided,” he said.

When contacted by BuzzFeed, Malkevich “spuriously claimed that the US National Security Agency had forced the Washington Post to pull his ad”, Sterling Jones added.

“BuzzFeed News chose not to publish that claim because we didn’t want to give him a platform to spread false information…”

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[Malkevich] has a history of spreading conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated claims about the West in Russian media. Earlier this year, he claimed — without any evidence — that the Ukrainian Boeing shot down by Iran may have been downed by a US drone and accused the West of spreading fake news about the new coronavirus.

“This is just another attempt by Malkevich to, in his words, wage ‘information war,’ seemingly in order to pollute the narrative and stir up anti-American feelings back home,” said Sterling Jones, commenting on Malkevich’s latest allegations about the US media.

Click here to read the full story.

Muck Rack Verified (Then Unverified) These Seemingly Fake Journalists

Petar Mikonoss and Dragana Stepic purportedly write for once-popular women’s site The Frisky. There’s no evidence either of them actually exist.

In its heyday, The Frisky was one of the most beloved women’s sites on the internet. Founded by Turner Broadcasting in 2008, the site offered a “unique brand of funny, informative and relatable content written by an array of authentic female voices.”

After multiple changes in ownership, in 2018 the site permanently closed and the domain name bought over by Nebojsa Vujinovic aka DJ Vujo#91, a Serbian music producer who plagiarised the site’s brand name and republished the site’s old content using fake bylines. Vujinovic currently sells backlinks on the site from his Fiverr account.

You can check out Vujinovic’s feminist credentials here:

I wrote about the site’s unhappy afterlife for BuzzFeed News last April (the story was later cited by The New York Times, Columbia Journalism Review, and even The Frisky’s own Wikipedia bio). But it appears not everyone got the memo.

Around November, the site was listed on media database Muck Rack and given a green verification badge, which is similar to the blue badge Twitter uses to show that an account is authentic.

“The Frisky has been verified by Muck Rack’s editorial team,” claimed a message on the listing, which included incorrect information about the site’s current ownership.

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Shortly after adding The Frisky, Muck Rack listed and verified Petar Mikonoss and Dragana Stepic, seemingly creations of Vujinovic whose bylines currently adorn articles plagiarised from The Frisky’s former writers, and from other sites such as Showbiz CheatSheet (multiple copyright and defamation complaints have been made against The Frisky since Vujinovic took over).

Here’s Mikonoss’ verified profile on Muck Rack:

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And here’s Mikonoss’ byline on The Frisky, which includes such quality content as “Why Being a Biker Is Simply the Best” (“A: Kids are crazy about you”), “Why Do You Need to Buy an Inflatable Hot Tub?” (A: “They Are Cheap”), and “Tricky Snowflake Test Questions You Might Encounter on Your Job Interview” (Eg. “What are your thoughts on transgender people?” and “What was the last time you cried and why? WOW!”):

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A reverse image search shows that Mikonoss’ profile photo is actually of Peter Pfeffer, associate professor of Developmental Biology and Reproduction at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

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In an e-mail, Pfeffer said he didn’t give permission for Vujinovic to use his photo.

“No I did not give permission for anyone to use it,” said Pfeffer. “Odd that it was on The Frisky in the first place as I have never visited that site.”

I was unable to find the person shown in Stepic’s profile photo. But a name included in the photo’s URL suggests their name is Dragana Berbetovic.

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Former editors for The Frisky told me they had never heard of Mikonoss or Stepic.

Robyn Pennacchia, a former writer and editor for the site, said she had “no idea who those people are.”

The site’s former EIC, Amelia McDonell-Parry — whose name appears numerous times in Muck Rack’s database as having co-bylined stories with Stepic  — said she’d “never in my life” heard of Mikonoss or Stepic.

“I can assure you that any article bylined with my name AND any one of these bizarrely named fake people was ONLY written by me, and me alone,” McDonell-Parry said. “For example, the article in this screenshot (below) was 100% ALL ME not me and fake ass DRAGANA.”

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In an e-mail, Muck Rack’s editor Sean Kiely said his editorial team had used automated tools to identify and create profiles for the two seemingly fake journalists.

Muck Rack finds new articles published at media outlets around the world from RSS feeds and Twitter handles and then we use technology to identify the author of any article by that article’s byline. Once we identify the author, we add the article to that journalist’s existing Muck Rack profile or we create a Muck Rack profile for that person. These profiles you have sent us have been automatically created using our technology with the name that corresponds to the byline on the articles.

The green verified badge on Muck Rack lets people know that a profile page meets Muck Rack’s criteria to be defined as a verified journalist, and that the information is maintained by Muck Rack’s Editorial team. We understand that many journalists and writers use pen names, so one of the most important factors our Editorial team considers when verifying a profile is the frequency at which the journalist is published, which is why these profiles are verified.

Asked to clarify if Muck Rack’s verification process is strictly automated, Kiely said his editorial team is “made up of humans who are reviewing profiles.”

While Muck Rack does have an Editorial team made up of humans who are reviewing profiles, we create hundreds of profiles a week, so we do our best to stay on top of these issues.

We’ve removed this outlet and these profiles from Muck Rack’s search.

Muck Rack’s listing for The Frisky now redirects to a directory of media outlets.

Mikonoss and Stepic are still listed in Muck Rack’s database, although without their verification badges.

Round-Up 2019: Creating a Buzz

Hackers, backlinks, and Russian trolls. Revisiting my scoopiest stories of 2019

First up, a perennial thanks to zen master blogger Peter Heimlich and his wife Karen Shulman, BuzzFeed News Media Editor Craig Silverman, EIC Ben Smith, and online disinfo chronicler extraordinaire Jane Lytvynenko, Daily Beast EIC Noah Shachtman, reporters Lachlan Markay, Lachlan Cartwright, and Asawin Suebsaeng, Truth or Fiction? Managing Editor Brooke Binkowski, Volokh Conspiracy (via Reason.com) co-founder Eugene Volokh, Techdirt reporter Tim Cushing, Foreign Policy reporter Amy Mackinnon, investigative reporter Casey Michel, FoodMed.net editor Marika Sboros, journalist/author Nina Teicholz, online disinfo researcher DivestTrump, and the many editors, copy editors, and lawyers who work hard to make me look good and keep me out of trouble.

Big thanks also to Automattic, the company behind WordPress, which in 2019 denied three frivolous legal requests to remove content on this blog, including from the Indian government (click here and here to read Eugene Volokh’s coverage of those requests).

After co-bylining a series of investigative stories for The Daily Beast in 2018, in April I started freelancing for BuzzFeed News. But not before co-bylining one last story with DB’s Lachlan Markay. An update to the Forrest Gumpian saga of Kremlin media policy adviser Alexander Malkevich — who has a knack for popping up in unexpected (and not-so-unexpected) places — the story chronicled Malkevich’s attempts to navigate US Treasury Department sanctions placed on him and his now-infamous Russian propaganda site USA Really in late 2018.

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Alexander Malkevich (source)

Via “Google Yanks Services From Russian Propaganda Site” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, February 07, 2019:

Tech giant Google has cut off a sanctioned Russian propaganda website from popular tools that allowed the site to track and collect extensive data on the site’s readers.

The website, USA Really, has been barred from using Google Analytics, the company told The Daily Beast last week, depriving the site of reporting data on readers’ countries of origin, time of visit, pages visited, referring websites, IP addresses, and types of operating systems. The information is typically used for search engine optimization and marketing purposes.

It’s the latest setback for USA Really, which has seen multiple other tech firms cut ties with the site after its parent company, Russia’s Federal News Agency (FAN), was hit with U.S. sanctions in December. Federal authorities accuse FAN of complicity in a widespread, Kremlin-backed disinformation campaign dubbed “Project Lakhta…”

Sanctions against FAN also have USA Really’s American contributors reconsidering their own involvement, given the possibility that any payments for their writing might run afoul of prohibitions on business dealings with the site.

“Our authors continue to cooperate with us,” Malkevich told The Daily Beast. “They write about their thoughts, about the problems of American society…”

Asked about the future of USA Really, he said he is currently exploring ways to navigate the new sanctions while waiting for federal authorities to confirm whether or not he has the right to continue operating in the United States.

“WHY I HAVE THE RIGHT TO RUN MY SITE??????????????,” he replied when asked to elaborate. “1. IT IS MY OWN PROJECT 2. I REALLY LOVE TO WRITE 3. US DIDN’T SUGGEST ME ANYTHING ONLY SANCTIONS NO COMMUNICATION NO LETTERS NO ANSWERS TO MY QUESTIONS NO COOPERATION.

“I AM REALLY UPSET BECAUSE OF ALL THESE THINGS,” he added. “AND NOW YOU WANT TO CONSRUCT [sic] SOME THEORY OF PLOT AGAINST US?

“WITCH HUNT 2019? ALL ANERICANS [sic] CAN WRITE ANYTHING FOR US.”

Click here to read the full story.

Despite a glowing review of our story by one of USA Really’s American contributors, Malkevich subsequently quit the site to lead the Foundation for the Protection of National Values (FPNV), a self-described “small non-government organisation” that purportedly conducts sociological research to sell to “businessmen” and “other people who are in need of them.” At FPNV, Malkevich spent the rest of 2019 fending off allegations (including criminal charges against two of FPNV’s employees) that he was involved in Kremlin-backed efforts to interfere in African elections.

In March, I scooped The Atlantic to a story about Alexander Ionov, a gun-toting Russian lawyer, businessman, and financial supporter of fringe secessionist movements across the globe, and who in 2018 launched a fundraising site to help pay convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s legal bills.

Maria Butina (source)

Via “The Enigmatic Russian Paying Maria Butina’s Legal Bills” by Natasha Bertrand, The Atlantic, March 20, 2019:

Maria Butina, the first Russian to plead guilty to seeking to infiltrate and influence American policy makers in the run-up to the 2016 election, remains somewhat of a mystery. But her prosecution in Washington, D.C., last year shed light on yet another avenue through which Russia tried to influence American politics in 2016: namely, via an old-fashioned, on-the-ground operation, conducted not by experienced spies but by disarming political operatives. New revelations about Butina’s legal-defense fund in Russia shows that one of her backers has been trying to promote fringe separatist movements in the U.S. since well before 2016.

In 2018, Alexander Ionov, the founder of the NGO, called the Anti-Globalization Movement, began raising money for Butina through a fundraising website that says all proceeds will be “used to finance legal protection and to improve the conditions of Maria’s detention in prison.” The website was first discovered by freelance journalist Dean Sterling Jones. To date, Ionov has raised about 2 million rubles (approximately $30,000) to help pay her legal fees, he told me in a recent interview. The Russian embassy, which has been advocating for Butina’s release, did not return a request for comment.

Click here to read the full story.

May spawned an unexpected marriage of the above-mentioned stories when Malkevich — whose involvement in USA Really I’d scooped in 2018 (click here for The Daily Beast’s follow up to my story) — told me he’d been paying Butina’s legal bills through Ionov in order to circumvent the financial restrictions that come with being sanctioned. Investigative reporter Casey Michel also wrote about this via his perch at ThinkProgress.

Alexander Ionov (source)

Ionov and Butina’s American attorney Robert Driscoll did not return requests for comment. But at a press conference held in Moscow the following month, Ionov appeared to comment on the two stories by Michel and me, falsely claiming that we had launched a campaign to block the transfer of money.

Via “In Russia, it is Necessary to Create a Fund to Support Compatriots” by Alexander Malkevich, FPNV, July 4, 2019:

Alexander Ionov said that the task now is to do everything possible so that the legal interests and rights of Maria Butina are respected, and this requires the work of lawyers. He hopes that the support provided will help shorten the term of the Russians in prison.

At the same time, he noted that now in the USA psychological pressure is being put on them, including from a number of American media.

“When they saw that there were citizens concerned about the situation, funds transferring money, they began a campaign to counteract the receipt of money by lawyers, so that they would refuse protection,” said Alexander Ionov [emphasis added].

When Butina eventually returned to Moscow, Ionov and Malkevich (holding a bouquet of flowers) were waiting for her at the airport. Butina later penned an article for FPNV headlined “Oh Please, Make Me a Tool of American Propaganda!” lambasting the American press and judicial system.

In April, I wrote my first story for BuzzFeed News, “How A Popular Women’s Website Became A Pay-To-Play Nightmare,” detailing the weird but not-so-wonderful afterlife of once-popular women’s site The Frisky (the story was later cited by the New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review).

On first glance, the Frisky appears to be a thriving women’s entertainment and lifestyle website. Founded in 2008 “for women, by women,” the site currently attracts over 1 million pageviews per month.

But beneath the surface, the site is filled with a strange mix of awkwardly written celebrity clickbait, articles promoting floorcare and acupuncture, and a post that attacks Long Island attorney Frederick Oberlander, a nemesis of onetime Trump business partner Felix Sater. The bylines of the site’s original authors have also been scrubbed and replaced by pseudonyms and stolen profile photos.

The Frisky as it once existed is gone. Today it’s a vampire website feeding off the property’s former popularity and brand name to sell pay-for-play articles in order to influence search engine rankings. The site is one of a growing number of once-lucrative web domains that are taken over and then milked for every last drop of search engine optimization value before they are inevitably downranked for shady practices.

Click here to read the full story.

In July, I wrote my second deep dive into the often murky world of SEO, “There’s An Underground Economy Selling Links From The New York Times, BBC, CNN, And Other Big News Sites,” about digital marketers who find dead links on mainstream news sites and redirect them to their clients’ sites in order to manipulate Google search results (the story was subsequently translated and republished on BuzzFeed Japan).

In 2012, the Hollywood Reporter published a glowing obituary for Patricia Disney, the first wife of former Walt Disney executive Roy Disney. In tribute to her philanthropic work, the obituary included a link to WeLovePatty.com, a memorial site where readers could donate to charities in her honor. But if you click on the link to that memorial site today, you’ll be taken to blaze4days.com, a cannabis blog offering content such as “Videos to Watch When High (Best of 2019).”

At some point, her family took down WeLovePatty.com and stopped paying for the domain name. That enabled it to be hijacked by parasitic digital marketers who trick readers into visiting sites that sometimes sell sketchy products and services. Search engine optimization consultants buy expired URLs that have been linked to by prominent news websites and redirect these domains to their clients’ sites in a bid to game search results.

Click here to read the full story.

In December, I proudly shared my final BuzzFeed News byline of 2019 with the site’s media editor Craig Silverman, a leading authority on online mis/disinformation and author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech (based on the blog of the same name). Our story, “Hackers Are Breaking Into Websites And Adding Links To Game Google,” investigated hackers who break into sites in order to sell backlinks and — yes — manipulate search results.

…Websites of all types and sizes, and especially those that use the open-source version of WordPress, are hacked to inject links to manipulate search engine results. A BuzzFeed News investigation reveals how injected links are sold by global networks of online marketplaces and black hat SEO consultants who offer customers the ability to have links placed on compromised websites.

Among those affected are journalists, celebrities, churches, charities, veterans organizations, and the managing director of Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm. Injected backlinks on these compromised sites quickly improve the search engine rankings of customers’ web properties by exploiting Google’s preference for sites that receive a high quantity of links from authoritative sites. That in turn helps the customer sites attract more traffic, and in some cases, increase sales.

BuzzFeed News obtained lists of more than 20,000 websites where backlinks can allegedly be added for a fee, and confirmed multiple cases where links were added to these and other sites without the owner’s knowledge…

Click here to read the full story.
Click here for a list of sites not included in our story.