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‘After Truth’: HBO documentary explains where the Fake News comes from

As victims recount the price of hateful conspiracy theories, perpetrators defend the lying as a legitimate ‘weapon’ of persuasion.

James Alefantis recalls in “After Truth” how his restaurant was attacked by a gunman who believed a bizarre conspiracy theory about it.
HBO

Far-right political consultant Jack Burkman and infamous fabrication specialist Jacob Wohl are riding in an SUV, on their way to a press conference where they have promised to introduce a woman they claim has accused Special Counsel Robert Mueller of sexual assault.

They already know the woman isn’t coming, but they’re not going to tell the press that in advance because they want the show to go on.

Through a combination of hubris and stupidity, these hoaxsters have allowed a documentary crew to tag along on their mission to discredit Mueller.

“You know this,” Burkman says to Wohl in the car. “Reporters are lazy and they’re dumb.”

“A journalism major, I mean come on,” says Wohl. “You could [learn to write an article] in about 12 minutes.”

Prior to the start of the press conference, Wohl spots a bus parked down the street and says, “Looks like they’ve got a rent-a-mob … bus” funded by George Soros.

When New York Times reporter Adam Goldman points out it’s just a bus and Wohl has no evidence to back up his claim, Wohl chuckles — and proceeds to send out a Tweet about the “bussed-in mob.”

Spoiler alert: There was no mob.

Also: There was no credible accusation against Mueller.

Also: Burkman and Wohl don’t care. As they return to their vehicle and leave, Wohl says, “Are we trending? That’s the real question. Are we trending? I’m sure we’re trending.”

Amazingly, this despicable duo’s attempt to smear Mueller isn’t even the most horrific example of the corrosiveness and destructiveness of disinformation campaigns as chronicled in the new HBO documentary “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News.” Director Andrew Rossi and his crew revisit and provide invaluable context to some of the most notorious examples of Fake News in recent years, from the Seth Rich murder to Pizzagate to the smearing of Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor and activist David Hogg as a “crisis actor.”

Of course, rumors and disinformation campaigns and hoaxes are nothing new, but as “After Truth” illustrates, the mushroom cloud explosion of Fake News can be traced back to the summer of 2015, when the military conducted a series of realistic training exercises in a number of states.

The town of Bastrop, Texas, became awash in conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama’s plans to confiscate people’s guns and round up dissidents and put them in military camps. We see footage of a town hall meeting in which a colonel patiently explains the nature of the training exercises and is quickly called a liar — as the crowd erupts in applause.

Spoiler alert: The people of Texas still have their guns and Obama didn’t actually round up American protesters and put them in military camps.

As various experts and academics explain how rumor-mongering, hoax-spreading threads on 4chan and Reddit often fuel the fires of disinformation, we hear from James Alefantis, owner of Comet Ping Pong, the family restaurant that became the target of “Pizzagate,” the utterly false and insanely moronic conspiracy theory claiming powerful Democrats were committing pedophilia and operating a human trafficking ring out of the basement of the restaurant.

How did this madness start? When WikiLeaks published the personal e-mails of Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, some person or persons started connecting the non-connected dots and “discovered” all sorts of hidden meanings.

One Edgar Maddison Welch stormed the restaurant on a Sunday, armed with an AR-15, a handgun and a knife, turning the place upside down searching for the secret room where all the evil transpired.

Spoiler alert: The only locked room in Comet Ping Pong is a small closet where employees store their coats.

“After Truth” also features a heartbreaking interview with Aaron Rich, older brother of Seth Rich, who was working for the DNC when he was murdered in what police said appeared to be an armed robbery. Rumors immediately began to fly about Seth leaking emails to Wikileaks, and someone very high up in the party having him silenced. Roger Stone called it an “assassination,” and Fox News ran a story pushing the rumors without offering credible evidence to back them up.

“I still have not been able to grieve,” says Aaron Rich.

We also get features on the monstrous Alex Jones of InfoWars, who is so lacking in soul and conscience he pushed conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and Jerome Corsi, the conservative operative who was a major proponent of the birther nonsense about Barack Obama.

Do these people believe the harmful garbage they’re disseminating?

Jack Burkman says that’s beside the point.

“I would use Fake News as a weapon, because it’s out there,” Burkman cheerfully tells his interviewer. “The Germans used chemical weapons, the British used chemical weapons. What are you going to do? It doesn’t mean you like chemical weapons, it means you do what you have to do…

“Yeah, there are terrible negative potential consequences, but so what? That’s what I say. So what?”

Chilling.