Donald Trump Jr. and Ted Cruz shared Russian misinformation about Black Lives Matter protesters burning Bibles

A screenshot of Ruptly’s video showing someone burning a Bible. Shona Ghosh/Business Insider
  • Donald Trump Jr., Sen. Ted Cruz, and other high-profile Republicans shared a viral news story in early August about Black Lives Matter protesters burning “a stack of Bibles” in front of a courthouse in Portland.
  • According to The New York Times, the story was seeded by a Russian news agency called Ruptly, and the highly edited footage shows only a few people burning one or two Bibles.
  • The Times described this as one of Russia’s first successful big disinformation hits ahead of the presidential election.
  • In his tweet sharing the story, Trump Jr. implied that “book burning” was common among activists. Cruz wrote, “This is who they are.”
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Russia looks to have succeeded in seeding one of its first viral misinformation hits in the run-up to the presidential election.

On August 1, Donald Trump Jr., Sen. Ted Cruz, Newt Gingrich, and other high-profile right-wing and Republican figures shared the news, based on a video, that Black Lives Matter protesters had burned “a stack of Bibles” in front of a courthouse in Portland.

However, The New York Times found that the video originated from a Kremlin-affiliated news agency and had been heavily edited to present the Bible-burning as widespread when in reality a small group away from the main protests burned only one or two Bibles.

Trump Jr. shared a tweet from Ian Miles Cheong, a right-wing provocateur, that said, “Left-wing activists bring a stack of Bibles to burn in front of the federal courthouse in Portland.”

Russia disinfo tweets

Cheong’s tweet linked to another tweet by a user who appears to have been suspended. The deleted tweet had a video from a Russian news agency called Ruptly, which you can still watch here, showing a small group of protesters burning a Bible and other materials.

Trump Jr. wrote: “Now we move to the book burning phase. I’m pretty sure Antifa doesn’t actually stand for what they say it stands for. Maybe just remove the anti part of them name and it’s perfect.”

Cruz simply wrote: “This is who they are.”

And Gingrich, the former House speaker, wrote: “Leftwing barbarians in Portland throwing Bibles into a fire reminds me of Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade scene in Nazi Germany where Hitler’s followers are burning Bibles and other books. We need an honest conversation about the barbarians and totalitarians among us.”

They implied that this is widespread behaviour by Black Lives Matters protesters and indicative of illiberal attitudes.

But The Times’ analysis shows that the truth is more complex.

The Times noted that the clip that was widely shared on social media originated from Ruptly, a division of the propaganda outfit RT. On Twitter, Ruptly is listed as a state-affiliated news agency.

Russia disinfo tweets
Ruptly is owned by RT, a Kremlin propaganda outfit. Shona Ghosh/Business Insider

The Times said the video was edited to appear incendiary, presenting the Bible-burning as a central event in the protests.

Though a few protesters did burn one or two Bibles, it has gained outsize attention.

Ruptly pushed the story on its site and in tweets. It was also covered by RT, The Times reported.

A local news outlet that also covered the protest included a single sentence about the burning Bible in a longer report, adding that a group of protesters arrived to put out the flames.

Trump Jr.’s tweet was retweeted 19,000 times, while Cheong’s tweet was retweeted more than 20,000 times.

Cruz was defensive in a follow-up tweet on Tuesday, writing: “NYT, in full ANTIFA-defence mode: ‘The truth was far more mundane. A few protesters among many thousands appear to have burned a single Bible-& possibly a second-for kindling to start a bigger fire.’ Yes, they burned Bibles, but not that many. OK, then.”

Read The New York Times’ story here »