Florida Latinos Getting Hit Over Head With QAnon-sense
Throughout the pandemic, disinformation has spread faster than the wildfires overtaking the west coast. It's been constant, it's been everywhere, and it's been in places we did not expect to see it. There are people everywhere, people of all political stripes, even, repeating QAnon-derived talking points without even knowing that that's what they are, or what QAnon even is.
It should come as no surprise that English is not the only language in which this is spreading.
A report from Politico outlines the extent to which it has been spreading in Spanish, in Florida, through Spanish-language media and through WhatsApp chats — and the extent to which it is hurting Joe Biden's chances in that crucial swing state. Conspiracies about George Soros, about Black Lives Matter, about Black people and Jewish people in general, and about Joe Biden being a pedophile abound.
"The onslaught has had an effect," said Eduardo Gamarra, a pollster and director of the Latino Public Opinion Forum at Florida International University.
"It's difficult to measure the effect exactly, but the polling sort of shows it and in focus groups it shows up, with people deeply questioning the Democrats, and referring to the 'Deep State' in particular — that there's a real conspiracy against the president from the inside," he said. "There's a strain in our political culture that's accustomed to conspiracy theories, a culture that's accustomed to coup d'etats."
Republicans have been particularly successful in using WhatsApp to spread their nonsense, because a lot of Latinx immigrants use it to keep in touch with family members abroad.
In South Florida, veteran Latino Democratic strategist Evelyn Perez-Verdia noticed this summer that the WhatsApp groups dedicated to updates on the pandemic and news for the Colombian and Venezuelan communities became intermittently interspersed with conspiracy theories from videos of far-right commentators or news clips from new Spanish-language sites, like Noticias 24 and PanAm Post, and the YouTube-based Informativo G24 website.
"I've never seen this level of disinformation, conspiracy theories and lies," Perez-Verdia, who is of Colombian descent, said. "It looks as if it has to be coordinated."
Bullshit is also being spread on YouTube:
On Informativo G24, long-time Colombian news anchor Sandra Valencia brings on guests via webcam for discussions about Latin America and U.S. politics with analysis that often relies on conspiracy theories, such as how Black Lives Matter and other activist groups are planning a "siege" on the White House later this month. The site does not detail who funds it, but asks supporters to donate to a PayPal account registered to Valencia.
Valencia bills her Spanish-language YouTube page, which has more than 378,000 followers, as a channel for geopolitical analysis. But it often resembles English-language right-wing news sources, such as Infowars, sharing conspiracy theories and strong anti-globalization messages.
I'm not clear on how "anti-globalization" messages would be classified as right-wing (they may mean something else), but the conspiracy theories sure are. And, apparently, there's not much pushback on them available in Spanish-language media.
Some of the disinformation discussed on Informativo G24 has been led by Omar Bula-Escobar, a former United Nations representative and Colombian geopolitical analyst, who in recent years has become a frequent guest on various Latin American radio and television news shows to talk about globalization. Bula-Escobar, who's also a frequent guest on Miami-based Radio Caracol — which is one of Colombia's main radio networks and widely respected throughout Latin America — has gained an increasing amount of notoriety for pushing the claim, often seen as anti-Semitic, that billionaire George Soros is "the world's biggest puppet master" and is the face of the American Democratic Party.
"Who's going to celebrate the day, God forbid, Trump loses? Cuba; ISIS, which Trump ended; Hezbollah, which Obama gave the greenlight to enter Latin America; Iran; China… All the filth of the planet is against Donald Trump. So, if you want to be part of the filth, then go with the filth," Bula-Escobar said in a recent episode of Informativo G24.
Remember that one week toward the end of the primary where it was all "Bernie loves Fidel Castro and if he wins the primary we'll lose Florida because Cubans!" all of the time? I cannot tell you how many times I saw people tweeting that week, "Well, they can't say Joe Biden loves Fidel Castro!"
I hope that it is clear now that, yes, they can say that. They can say any damn thing they want, and they can convince other people that it is true.
They can even claim he is a pedophile, because the cool new thing on the Right is claiming that everyone who disagrees with them is a pedophile.
In June, Noticias 24, a Venezuela-focused news site that has a large following in Latin America, amplified disinformation with a story bearing the headline "social networks also accuse Joe Biden of being a pedophile." A month later, when the lie resurfaced, "#BidenPedofilio" trended in Spain.
On Facebook, a Puerto Rican-born pastor Melvin Moya has circulated a video titled "Signs of pedophilia" with doctored videos of Biden inappropriately touching girls at various public ceremonies to a song in the background that says "I sniffed a girl and I liked it." The fake video posted on Sept. 1 has received more than 33,000 likes and 2,400 comments.
The QAnon stuff? Yep, that's there too.
Conspiracy theories — especially revolving around QAnon, which posits that Trump is fighting a global cabal of Satanic pedophiles — are spreading across Spanish-language radio in Miami as well, said Roberto Tejera, a political independent who has a show on Actualidad Radio. Tejera said QAnon is a constant on another station, La Poderosa, whose station management also did not respond to messages seeking comment.
"It's not right-wing. I don't have a problem with right-wing stuff. It's QAnon stuff. This is conspiracy theory. This goes beyond. This is new. This is a new phenomenon in Spanish speaking radio. We Cubans are not normal," Tejera laughed, "but this is new. This is crazy. This is f---ing crazy."
It is, indeed, fucking crazy, but it's not Cubans in particular that are not normal. This shit is everywhere, and it's probably not going away. At least not for a good long while.
I am telling you, this is all so, so much more pervasive than you might think. These conspiracies could very well tip the election for Trump, and I will not be surprised if they do.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse