Tim Pool Spreads COVID Misinformation Behind a Paywall.

Image of Tim Pool, Luke Rudkowski, and Ian Crossland

In a series of members-only videos, Tim Pool and his Timcast IRL podcast cohosts downplayed the risks of COVID-19 and repeated several misleading and long-debunked conspiracies and talking points about the disease.

Though never rising to the level of outright denialism, anti-mask activism, or anti-vaccine messaging, the hosts still strayed into territory heavily frequented by COVID conspiracists.

The videos appear on Timcast.com, Pool’s recently launched subscription-supported website. Pool created the website to insulate himself from the whims of Youtube and other tech companies and has boasted about strong sign-up numbers. Membership fees range from $10 to $1000 per month.

The dips into conspiracism were most often driven by Pool’s longtime friend Luke Rudkowski who cohosts Pool’s podcast. Rudkowski is the founder of the We Are Change media organization and was described as “New York City’s noisiest, most aggressive [9/11] Truther” by journalist Jonathan Kay in his 2011 book Among the Truthers.

The rest of Pool’s podcasting team comprises of cohost Ian Crossland and producer Lydia Smith. Crossland is a Youtuber and tech and psychedelic enthusiast who graduated from Kent State in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre.

Creating Deadly Viruses

On February 1st 2021, a 22-minute long members-only video titled (in part) “Tony Robbins Calls Out COVID As Hysteria Citing Deaths Are NOT GOING UP” was released on the Timcast.com website.

In the video, Rudkowski veers into conspiracism, claiming that coronavirus advisor and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Dr Anthony Fauci has “specific ties” to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and had personally pushed for funding to be paid to the WIV to make “viruses as deadly as possible” prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Here Rudkowski is repeating a common talking point from conspiracy circles which holds that Dr Fauci gave $3.7 million to the WIV (through the NIAID). At best the claim is misleading. What is true is that between 2014 and 2019, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided a total of $3.4 million to a small non-profit called EcoHealth Alliance which paid out $598,500 to the WIV. There is no evidence for Rudkowski’s claim that WIV used this money to fund projects in China to make viruses more deadly.

There is also no evidence to suggest that Dr Fauci has any close links to the WIV or that he personally pushed for – or was even aware of – the EcoHealth Alliance grants. From 2014-19 the grants made up approximately 0.002% of the NIH’s total research budget. It is incredibly doubtful that Dr Fauci was personally invested in a project of this small size. In 2019 alone, the NIH awarded 11,035 grants, each of which went through a long and complex application process. Additionally, rather than being a secret, the full details of the EcoHealth Alliance’s grants are available on the NIH website.

Downplaying Risk

In the same paywalled video, Pool claims COVID-19 has a “99.999% survivability for everybody under the age of 70.” Pool has repeated similar claims in public videos adding in one, “for the people over 70, it’s like 97.5%” survivable. Both of these claims are false. Only those under 34 have a 99.99% survival rate. From there, death rates slowly increase, reaching a 28.3% fatality rate for those aged over 85.

In the paywalled video, Rudkowski also downplays the risk of COVID-19, saying, “only very old people are going to die. Let’s protect the old people. Let’s continue on.” While his claim that only “very old” people die of COVID is flawed, so too is his belief that continuing on without infecting older people by merely trying to “protect” them will work.

As Bristol University math professor Oliver Johnson very memorably put it, “expecting that increased infections will stay confined to young people forever is like having a no-weeing lane in the swimming pool.”

In the video, Pool also notes that in 2020 flu cases decreased due to lockdown restrictions but questions, “why hasn’t COVID?” sarcastically adding, “is it a kind of magic disease?” Hinting at a deeper conspiracy, Rudkowski replied, “that’s an extremely convenient argument, especially when you look at the powers that be.”

Rudkowski may assign this disparity in infection rates to “the powers that be,” however, scientists agree it’s more likely that flu deaths have decreased more rapidly than COVID-19 ones because SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is more infectious than seasonal influenza strains.

The danger of downplaying the risk of COVID-19 as Pool and his cohosts do is that people end up being less cautious as they believe the virus’s threat to them is lower than it is.

HCQ and India

Though never explicitly encouraging their viewers to use hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the Timcast IRL hosts have discussed the drug on several occasions. As Grftr News has covered, Pool has previously given a misleading account of the drugs evidence base on his podcast. This trend continues on his paywalled content.

Discussing India in a February 9th video, Rudkowski says,

“You think that the COVID would run through that place like fire? It hasn’t. And they’ve been using therapies that if you talk about on YouTube, you get banned.” 

Rudkowski names HCQ as one such treatment. In response to Rudkowski’s claim, Pool adds, “now the reports are coming out saying it does help.”

Rudkowski’s claim that India has seen few COVID-19 cases leaves out a lot of crucial missing context. While it is true that official case and death counts are lower than might be expected, there are several explanations for this.

For one, according to a January 2021 study published in The Lancet, for every official Indian COVID-19 case, up to 32 cases were not counted. Therefore tens of millions of cases are missing from official counts. “The reported cases are not even remotely a reflection of true cases — they only reflect people who got tested,” professor Vikram Patel of Harvard Medical School told the FT.

It is also acknowledged that India is missing deaths too because many deaths occur in the home and are not added to official numbers. Furthermore, some Indian states are not including suspected or probable COVID-19 deaths in their counts.

Despite these factors, India has had the second-highest number of global COVID-19 cases according to a Johns Hopkins university count and the 4th highest number of deaths.

Science has not identified a single factor to explain why India’s official death figures are lower than might be expected. However, several overlapping circumstances have played a role, including India’s young population. India has a median age of just 28.4, ten years less than the US median age. India also has a lower life expectancy than most Western countries, meaning “those who live beyond 75 in the first place are likely to be in better health and of better socioeconomic status.”

Others suggest that India’s 70-day lockdown and its effective use of behavioural interventions such as mask-wearing and social distancing have contributed to the country’s low death rate.

What is clear is that it’s highly improbable that the use of HCQ played a large role in India’s success. Several recent large-scale studies, including a meta-analysis from the prestigious Cochrane group, have found that HCQ provides no clinical benefit in treating COVID-19.

Another meta-analysis found no clinical benefit in using HCQ as a preventative measure. Results from COPCOV – the most extensive study examining HCQ’s effectiveness as a preventative – have not yet been released.

Even if HCQ is found to have useful preventative properties, its use has not been widespread enough in India to explain the country’s death rate. Screening, isolation, and lockdown efforts played a much more significant role.

According to Reuters, HCQ was widely available in some area’s of Mumbai; however, local health officials found it offered little benefit. After implementing screening and lockdown interventions, authorities saw much more substantial effects.

Vaccine Development

Despite praising vaccines as “incredible technology,” which he is “eternally grateful” for, Pool didn’t challenge Rudkowski when the latter claimed COVID-19 vaccine trials had been conducted in “secret.”

COVID-19 vaccine development has been no more secretive than the development of any other pharmaceutical product. In many ways, their development has been more transparent than ever, with an article in the British Medical Journal noting that some COVID-19 vaccine companies have taken “unprecedented” steps in their transparency efforts during the pandemic.

During the vaccine approval process, the FDA, CDC, and European Medicines Agency (EMA) (among others) made firm commitments to transparency regarding COVID-19 vaccines. Doctor’s groups have praised the FDA and CDC for their transparency work. Meanwhile, the EMA significantly altered its publication approach to provide the public with as much information as possible.

While significant work in creating a more transparent culture in private pharmaceutical research remains, it is damaging to public health efforts to hint at conspiracies specific to COVID-19 vaccines.

Masks

In one members-only video, the hosts are joined by Youtuber and political commentator Blaire White. Though they all come out broadly in support of an individual’s choice to wear a mask and admit to wearing them in public, the hosts and guest spoke at length about what they perceive as the negatives of mask-wearing.

In the video, Crossland accuses people of having a “blind obsession or blind obedience” about masks.

Blaire White accuses people who say they can wear masks and still breathe of being liars saying, “people just lie, you can’t breathe, stop saying you can breathe.”

Meanwhile, Pool brands wearing two masks (as the CDC now advises following a recent study) “absurd” and suggests that people who follow this sort of advice are “mindless NPC’s” who are just “doing what they’re told” (though at the same time acknowledging that masks make “sense”).

The hosts also talk about the joy they feel when businesses say they can take off their masks on their premises.

Debunked Johns Hopkins Article

In one video, Pool brings up an article that appeared in the Johns Hopkins News-Letter student paper. The article falsely argued that there had been no excess deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States.

The News-Letter’s editors later retracted the article due to the “inaccuracies” it contained, opting to leave up a PDF copy in the interests of the “historical record.”

Pool has previously discussed the article in multiple videos saying in one:

“Johns Hopkins university ran a study where a researcher compared the amount of deaths from previous years to this year and found that the only difference — because the average deaths have stayed the same — is that heart disease deaths are down and COVID deaths are up. And there’s a simple explanation for it… If someone has heart disease, they might die in six weeks, COVID might kill them in a few days. So it becomes a COVID death, not a heart disease death.”

This statement contains several errors. Pool’s claim that the article was “a study” is false. It was a writeup of a presentation given by  Genevieve Briand, an assistant director for Johns Hopkin’s Master’s program in Applied Economics, which appeared in the Johns Hopkins News-Letter. Briand has no expertise in epidemiology or infectious disease so referring to her as “researcher” (as Tim does) is also questionable in this context.

While Pool accurately describes Briand’s underlying argument, he fails to mention that it lacks merit and has been debunked. As the online publication SFGATE and others have noted, Briand focused on comparing percentage rates “of total deaths per age category” rather than total raw numbers.

Counter to Briand’s claims, an analysis from the CDC found that there had been almost 300,000 excess deaths between January 26th and October 3rd 2020. Approximately two-thirds of these were attributable to COVID-19. SFGATE also reports, “data from the CDC’s excess deaths due to COVID-19 database show deaths trending higher in nearly every [age] category year-over-year.”

Pool’s assertion that most COVID-19 deaths would have been “heart disease death(‘s)” in “six weeks” is also wrong. If all COVID-19 deaths were simply early heart disease deaths, then there would be no excess deaths. Additionally, several scientific analyses have concluded that most COVID-19 victims have lost at least 10 years of life rather than the six weeks Pool suggests.

As Scientific American explains, “even such a person with a potentially life-shortening pre-existing condition such as heart disease or diabetes may have lived another five, 10 or many more years, had they not become infected with COVID-19.”

Pool has publicly stated over 50 times that he spends 16 hours per day working on his content. In messages to Grftr News, he has also confirmed that he typically seeks out multiple sources about the stories he covers before reading the most comprehensive article on camera.

Given these facts, it’s puzzling that Pool has repeated the same falsehoods about the Johns Hopkins News-Letter article across multiple videos over the past four months, falsely calling it a “study” on every mention.

Another puzzling aspect of Pool’s coverage of this topic is his attempt to refute Lead Stories fact check on the case. Pool says of Lead Stories’ (correct) claim that the article was not censored:

“when they actually got a comment from the authors, they said it was censored, and the deaths are overblown. So how is that a fact check? It’s not.”

Here Pool appears to have forgotten that a journalist’s job is to report the truth rather than just a partisan narrative. Reaching out for comment is standard journalistic practice – as is contradicting that comment if the facts do not back it up.

COVID-19 Testing

Discussing COVID-19 tests in one of the paywalled video’s Rudkowski says, “there’s been many people talking about the PCR test being ineffective.”

The claim echos one Pool has made even more firmly in publicly available videos. In one on his Timcast channel, he cast doubts on PCR tests for COVID-19, boldly calling them “wildly inaccurate,” adding, “that’s not even debated, that’s a fact.”

In reality, PCR tests are wildly accurate (though, of course, not perfect). One analysis that pooled the results from over a dozen other studies concluded that PCR tests identify COVID-19 infections up to 97.2% of the time. (Note: this is the sensitivity rate of the test i.e. the test’s ability to detect cases. The cases that it fails to diagnose are likely people who are either past the initial infectious stage, just prior to this stage, or with a low viral count).

In the paywalled video, Rudkowski also claims, “there’s been many false positives as well.” An analysis by the UK based COVIDFAQ website estimates that at most 3% of positive COVID-19 tests are false positives.

In yet a further public livestream, Pool falsely claimed that the World Health Organisation (WHO) was “adjusting the PCR test threshold.” He bases this claim on a misreading of a WHO notice which, rather than “adjusting the PCR threshold,” merely told new PCR machine users to read their goddamn manuals. If Pool had read the notice or conducted any research on this claim, he would have easily understood this. Another 16 hours misspent, it seems.

Taking a Stance

Positioning himself between two warring extremes has long been part of Pool’s branding. For years he has been warning about an imminent “civil war.”

Pool’s habit of drawing the center line in roughly the same place as rightwing populists do has been a particularly effective strategy. It allows Pool to say he’s a “disaffected liberal” while introducing almost all his videos with a rightwing spin. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, it allowed him to push narratives about election fraud. On at least one occasion, after all the networks had called the election, he even claimed that a Trump win was not only still possible but likely.

Now in COVID times Pool positions himself between “authoritarian” officials who implement restrictions in response to the disease, and complete COVID-denialists.

Pool is aware of the branding he has created for himself and frequently refers to himself as a “milquetoast fence-sitter.” What he fails to mention is that it’s a fence he has built himself, and although it’s where he is most comfortable, in the midst of a global pandemic, fence-sitting is not enough. Taking a firm stance against COVID-19 misinformation is not just a good idea; it’s a necessity and a test Pool is currently failing.

Grftr News relies on your support to continue. We don’t have any outside funding and do not run advertisements on our website. If you would like to support our project, please subscribe to our Patreon. Patrons receive early access to our blog posts such as this and get a look behind the scenes or our work. We couldn’t do this project without their support. You can subscribe to our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/TimPoolClips.

Unmasked by Andy Ngo: Short on Truth, High in Ragebait

Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy is a forthcoming book by rightwing journalist Andy Ngo scheduled for release on February 2nd (2021). In the runup to publication Ngo’s publisher has released an excerpt from the book containing its introductory chapters. The excerpt does not bode well for the rest of the book. It is littered with several clear errors or misrepresentations.

Andy Ngo is most famous for getting attacked at an antifascist protest in June 2019. In footage of the event, Ngo is seen getting covered with milkshakes and silly string. Video also appears to show Ngo getting hit and kicked before he’s ushered out of the crowd to safety by some of the very antifascist activists he attacks in his book. In later statements, Ngo claimed to have obtained a brain injury during the scuffle.

Following the attack, Ngo gained significant media attention and was invited to testify before the US Congress. This newfound fame led to a book deal with Center Street, an imprint of ‘big five’ book publisher Hachette Book Group. Despite its name, there is nothing centrist about Center Street which exclusively publishes conservative authors such as Sean Spicer and Donald Trump Jr.

The Book

In the sample of his book, Ngo’s prose ranges from clunky, “the City of Roses, as Portland is known by,” to unintentionally hilarious “‘F—king owned, bitch!’ shouted a local transsexual antifa militant and a member of the Satanic Portland Antifascists.”

The “local transsexual antifa militant” Ngo describes, tweeted out his description of her saying “THIS IS AMAZING.” In response, another Twitter user pointed out that the only thing Ngo had accomplished with the passage was showing that his “enemies are much cooler than him.”

While it’s easy to make fun of Ngo’s at times overly theatrical writing, it’s almost equally as easy to debunk many of his factual claims. Even a cursory examination of the facts he presents suggests Ngo is either purposely lying to push his agenda or doesn’t understand the concept of fact-checking. Or both.

The latter supposition is certainly not lacking in evidence. Ngo first rose to international prominence after being forced to retract claims he made in a widely criticized 2018 Wall Street Journal Opinion piece about a visit to what he called “Islamic England.”

After facing pushback for the article, Ngo stood by the piece’s emotional core while admitting he had made “mistakes” in its factual content. The article drew ridicule for (among other things) complaining that Muslim Londoners did not make eye contact with others. As any London resident can confirm: this trait is not confined to London’s Muslims, it’s just part of being a Londoner. Ngo also faced criticism for spreading Islamophobia, including his article’s conclusion that London was a failure of “multiculturalism.”

The Autozone Incident

One of the most egregious examples of Ngo misrepresenting facts comes in Unmasked’s first chapter. He relates the story of a black-clad man carrying an umbrella who smashed an AutoZone window in Minneapolis, implying antifa involvement. Ngo quotes a police officer who had written “Until the actions of the person your affiant has been calling ‘Umbrella Man,’ the protests had been relatively peaceful. The actions of this person created an atmosphere of hostility and tension.” Ngo fails to mention that the quote he is using is drawn from a search warrant in which the officer accuses a white supremacist of carrying out the crime.

Ultimately police did not file charges against the white supremacist; however, they also never indicted an alternative suspect. For Ngo to imply without evidence that the ‘Umbrella Man’ was an antifascist without acknowledging that his own source had (at the time) identified another suspect is a clear-cut lapse of journalistic ethics.

Ngo is no stranger to accusations of poor ethical behaviour having lost his first journalism job due to his “violation of journalistic ethics.” Later Ngo left a job as an editor for the online publication Quillette after an infiltrator of the far-right group Patriot Prayer alleged that Ngo tagged along with the group while they planned attacks without reporting these occurrences. Additionally, according to the infiltrator Ngo only ever turned on his camera when antifa confronted the group.

In a move that stretched credulity both Ngo and Quillette claimed his exit from the company was unrelated to the exposé.

Misrepresenting Ahmaud Arbery’s Death

Despite Ngo’s book ostensibly being about antifa he spends a large proportion of its introductory chapters levelling attacks at Black Lives Matter protests and murdered black men.

In his first chapter Ngo discusses the Ahmaud Arbery case in which father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael gunned down 25-year-old Arbery in February 2020. Widespread anger would later erupt when the footage of Arbery’s killing was released. Ngo describes the events thus:

“Gregory and Travis McMichael said they suspected Arbery of being a returning burglar in their neighborhood. They accosted Arbery on the street while waiting for police to arrive. Video recorded of the street confrontation showed Arbery rushing in and fighting Travis, who was armed with a shotgun.” 

This account of the case leaves out many crucial details. Firstly, the owner of the construction site the McMichael’s had seen Arbery leaving stated that no black person had ever stolen anything from the site. Police records also confirm that no burglaries had been reported from the site in the months leading up to Arbery’s death. The only recent burglary reported in the neighborhood was the theft of a gun from a car parked outside one of the McMichael’s homes almost two months prior.

More importantly, the McMichael’s did not merely “accost” Arbery; they spent four minutes chasing him in a truck adorned with a Confederate flag. Near the start of their relentless pursuit, another bystander William “Roddie” Bryan joined them in his own truck. According to prosecutors, Bryan hit Arbery with his vehicle on at least one occasion.

Eventually, the three men trapped Arbery between their trucks and the McMichael’s levelled guns at Arbery. Despite chasing Arbery for almost 5 minutes, it is only at this point that the McMichael’s call the police.

The McMichael’s and Bryan have now chased Arbery hundreds of yards, hit him with a truck, and pointed guns at him. At every turn, Arbery has been trapped, threatened, and attacked. In Ngo’s retelling of the situation, this only amounts to one simple word “accosted.”

Ngo’s one-dimensional account of the case is cold and clinical. His telling drains the events of their true salience, but why? It’s not because he lacks the vocabulary. In fact, when describing his own June 2019 assault he talks in great detail and emphasizes that antifa had “brutally attacked” him. More likely it’s that he lacks scruples when trying to build his narrative.

Ngo further muddies the waters by summarising the events that follow as “Arbery rushing in and fighting Travis.” In reality, far from “rushing in” towards the McMichael’s, Arbery had spent the previous 4 minutes trying to rush away.

Finally, in a last-ditch effort to avoid getting trapped, Arbery ran around the McMichael’s truck once more avoiding direct confrontation but was intercepted by Travis, the younger of the McMichael’s. To block Arbery, Travis moved from beyond the safety of his open car door to the front of the truck. Left with no other choice, it appears that Arbery decided to engage with Travis in self-defense, but before he could reach him Travis shot Arbery for the first time. Travis would shoot twice more. Bryan would later recount that at this point Travis McMichael called Arbery a “f**king n*****,” something Ngo also fails to mention.

Initially, the McMichael’s and Bryan faced no charges; however, after months of protest, they were arrested and indicted on several counts by a grand jury, including felony murder. In November 2020 the McMichael’s were denied bail, suggesting the court system took their crimes far more seriously than Ngo ever did.

Ngo goes on to claim, without evidence, that antifa accounts circulated a false image of one of the McMichael’s at a KKK rally (the image was actually of another man). Ngo complains that this caused “Georgia Followers, a popular news and culture site, to tweet the photo and a false news report to its 1.5m followers.” In reality, the Atlanta Antifascists Twitter account (the most prominent antifa account from Georgia) had labelled Georgia Followers as “irresponsible” for posting the image, going on to say “it’s likely untrue.”

Upon seeing the excerpt of Ngo’s book the Atlanta Antifascists account linked to their original May 2020 thread and strongly criticized Ngo’s misrepresentation pointing out that in making it Ngo accidentally invalidates his core thesis:

“The unsupported claim was mainly pushed by a sensationalist website with zero relationship to antifascists. 

So: Ngo is either arguing that there was an “antifa” disinfo campaign despite the most visible antifascist group in Georgia arguing against the claim. Or, he’s saying that the people making the claim were “antifa” anyway because… they presumably don’t like the Ku Klux Klan?

Ngo’s propaganda depends on this ambiguation: “Antifa” must be an organized body taking coordinated political action, but it must also be a catch-all category for diverse beliefs & practices (which Ngo dislikes). The result? Perfect for profitable scare stories, short on truth.”

The Smearing of George Floyd

Not content with misrepresenting one black man’s death Ngo turns his attention to George Floyd writing:

“Floyd, a 46-year-old black man with an extensive criminal history, died while being arrested by police in Minneapolis after allegedly using counterfeit money. Shocking video recorded at the scene showed Officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck while he repeatedly stated that he couldn’t breathe. Three other officers stood nearby.

Floyd became unresponsive and died. The Hennepin County medical examiner found that he died as a result of the “combined effects of… being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system.” There was no evidence found of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation in the county’s autopsy. It was later revealed that Floyd’s blood contained a fatal level of fentanyl.”

Ngo never clarifies why he thinks Floyd’s criminal history is of any relevance to the case he is building. The most obvious explanation is that it’s an attempt by Ngo to smear Floyd and manipulate his readers into a less sympathetic view of his death.

Ngo is correct that the medical examiner concluded that Floyd had a “fatal level” of fentanyl in his blood. However, the examiner did not suggest that this caused Floyd’s death and Floyd’s overdose would have been easily reversible if treated with naloxone (sometimes sold under the brand name Narcan).

In his summary of the Hennepin County medical examiner’s evidence, Ngo also leaves out the crucial detail that the examiner had concluded Floyd’s death was due to ‘homicide’. Ngo also fails to mention that numerous medical experts have noted that “suggesting asphyxia was ruled out by the medical examiner is wrong.”

So Antifa Isn’t That Violent After All?

Despite claiming that there are “untold numbers of [antifa] victims,” Ngo struggles to come up with many examples. Leaving aside the attacks which occurred on the day he was assaulted he names only three others, two from 2018. These cases led to arrests and successful prosecutions, which also runs counter to Ngo’s intimation that the police let antifa ‘get away’ with their ‘crimes’.

Ngo’s final example is Michael Reinoehl, who killed a Trump supporter for unclear reasons and was later himself shot dead by police. A New York Times investigation suggests Reinoehl was shot without warning and despite not holding a gun.

Furthermore, in Ngo’s introduction, he quietly concedes that “most” antifascists do not engage in violence. Instead, he claims they “work on delegitimizing liberal democracy and the nation-state through “charity” and relentless propaganda.” Providing charity and creating propaganda is not illegal nor is it particularly concerning on its own.

A couple of sentences after admitting that the vast majority of antifascists are not violent Ngo abruptly switches tracks claiming that antifa “has mutated into a unique contemporary breed of violent left-wing extremism” (emphasis mine). If Ngo can’t even stay consistent for a single paragraph – let alone a chapter – it’s hard to see how he will be able to develop a compelling argument throughout the rest of his book.

Later in the book, Ngo states “black bloc” is the “unofficial uniform for Antifa.” This is untrue. Black bloc is not the name of a uniform; it is the name of a tactic. Moreover, many antifascists do not engage in black bloc tactics, and those that do are often selective about how and when they do so. Some antifascists view engaging in black bloc tactics as unnecessarily intimidating, or dangerous, while others simply prefer to use alternative tactics.

Antifascism is a big tent but Andy Ngo is intent on painting it all as a terrifying and dangerous ideology of violence. The good news is he’ll run out of paint long before the world runs out of canvas.

Conclusions

Readers who are unaware of Ngo’s prior work may be worried about his weak grasp of well-documented events. They should be more concerned that despite years of ‘research’ he still lacks a proper understanding of what antifascism is and how it operates.

Ngo is the Republican’s chief antifa whisperer, and they don’t care that he’s not telling them the truth. The right has never been shy of attacking antifa, but once they have his book in their hands, they may go into overdrive. To many, it will be the life raft that gets them through the aftermath of the Capitol attack by giving them their own ‘domestic extremists’ to hate and fear.

Antifa has never been the ‘big bad’ the right would have people believe, and Ngo’s book is unlikely to provide much evidence to the contrary. Even the law enforcement organizations most strongly opposed to antifa have repeatedly confirmed that antifa is not a pressing threat in America. Both the FBI and DHS have concluded that white-supremacist extremism remains the greatest threat faced by the US.

The events of January 6th provide some of the best evidence for why. Full details are still trickling in, however, one thing is clear: far-right groups were able to effectively coordinate and despite talking about their plans in broad daylight, they still caught much of the establishment by surprise. This level of organization is simply not present on the far left, nor is the level of funding. (The Capitol rioters were funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars through a combination of wealthy individuals and small donors.)

One must wonder how Ngo feels in the aftermath of the Capitol attack after writing in his book that the number of far-right extremists and their influence was “grossly exaggerated by biased media.” Or if he regrets his assertion that antifa may pose more “of a threat to the future of American liberal democracy” than the rightwing groups.

Recent events demonstrate that Ngo bet on the wrong horse. All that remains to be seen is how long he can keep beating it.


This review of Unmasked by Andy Ngo was co-written by @SeventhDegreeUK whose thread on the subject inspired this deeper dive.

Grftr News relies on your support to continue. We don’t have any outside funding and do not run advertisements on our website. If you would like to support our project, please subscribe to our Patreon. Patrons receive early access to our blog posts such as this and get a look behind the scenes or our work. We couldn’t do this project without their support. You can subscribe to our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/TimPoolClips.

How a Misleading Story Led to Death Threats

New York Assemblyman Nick Perry did not expect to begin 2021 as the target of death threats and vicious racial abuse. “It came so out of left field,” explained Frank Shea, his communications coordinator, “the phone was just ringing constantly.” 

Over 1000 emails flooded in from all over the United States criticising and attacking Assemblyman Perry. A few politely expressed disagreement, but most did not and hurled abuse at Perry, a Jamaican immigrant. One email read “N*****! You need lynching and your whole family. White power. Kill the n*****, save the planet.” Other emails were more vague, stating only, “the second amendment will be used.” 

The Birth of Bill A416

The events that spurred this barrage of abuse have their origin in the Ebola crisis of 2014 when a nurse returning to the United States from treating Ebola patients in West Africa refused to voluntarily enter quarantine in a state facility

In response to this, Assemblyman Perry began drafting a bill which he would eventually introduce to the New York State Assembly in April 2015 where it was assigned the number “A6891.” 

The bill set out a mechanism to force those suspected of having come into contact with a contagious, deadly disease to enter quarantine at the New York Governor’s (or their delegate’s) order. Frank Shea, Perry’s communications coordinator, explained to Grftr News that the bill’s language was based on laws allowing the state to confine mental health patients who present a risk to themselves or others.

“I sat with the Assemblyman five years ago when he was talking about this bill. There’s no conspiracy. It was just that we don’t want somebody with Ebola to be able to go on the subway,” said Shea.

Since 2015 the bill has been passively reintroduced to the New York Assembly during each subsequent session however it never achieved any momentum and has no co-sponsors. In January 2021 the bill was assigned the number A416 for the new legislative session.

Two of Perry’s staff members confirmed to Grftr News that there were no plans to promote the bill this legislative session. “It wasn’t on his agenda to try to push through, to get passed, or put up for a vote”, said Shea adding “there are dozens of other bills that he’d love to pass that would help out our community and help out the people he served more than this one.”

Rise of the Conspiracy Theory

The bill first drew attention from anti-mask and anti-vaccine activists in September 2020. A widely shared Facebook post claimed that the legislation was “legally going to take your children from you” under the guise of helping stop COVID-19 spread. Lead Stories promptly debunked these claims, however, this did little to stop the conspiracies about the bill. 

A common misconception on social media was that the bill was about to come up for a vote before the Health Committee on January 6, 2021, when the new New York Assembly session began. This was not accurate as Perry, and his team have confirmed multiple times. 

The confusion likely arose because to introduce a New York Assembly bill its author/sponsor must submit it to a relevant committee. However, this does not mean the bill will be voted on or discussed. 

Perry and his representatives have continuously stressed that the proposed bill is entirely unrelated to the current Sars-CoV-2 pandemic. “Context is king, and it has nothing to do with COVID,” Shea told Grftr News. 

Yet these repeated assertions have fallen on deaf ears. In early January 2021, the bill gained widespread attention in rightwing circles. Jenna Ellis, a Trump legal advisor, called it “insanely unconstitutional” while former Republican congressional candidate Liz Joy described it as “straight up detention camp stuff.”  

The bill also came under fire from Laura Ingraham and New York Assemblyman Jarett Gandolfo. Prominent rightwing Twitter commentator Ian Miles Cheong furiously tweeted “I knew Cuomo was a bit of an authoritarian anti-Semite but I never thought the state would go literal Nazi.”

Cheong is one of many social media users who believe that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was involved with the bill. In reality, Shea explained that Cuomo had never been in contact with Assemblyman Perry about the bill. 

Representatives for Cuomo confirmed to Politifact that “we didn’t even know this bill existed” and that the governor had no plans to “open up concentration camps.”  

Rightwing news website Bizpac Review described the bill as “horrifying” and “Communist-styled authoritarianism.” Other social media posts were far more extreme with one Reddit user writing, “anyone who votes for this should immediately be executed.” 

Popular rightwing Youtube commentator Tim Pool also discussed the bill in two separate videos calling it “a psychotic piece of legislation” and suggesting it had been drafted to remove “undesirables.” While discussing the bill Pool did not once mention that it contains legal safeguards and would provide avenues for people to appeal their detention. Instead, he suggested it could result in indefinite detention for trumped-up reasons.

One of Pool’s videos dedicated to the bill was titled “NYC Law Allows Cops To Round Up People Who MIGHT BE Sick To Designated Facilities- Sounds Familiar.” In the video, Pool drew comparisons between the bill and totalitarian regimes, suggesting it was an authoritarian overreach and plot by the establishment left to crush ordinary people.

Grftr News put this to Shea asking him to confirm whether the bill was a secret plot to usher in a totalitarian communist regime. Shea answered that it was “100% not” saying “Assemblyman Perry is a liberal and progressive Democrat, a former US Army man and a proud American.” 

Death Threats, Racism, and Frustration

After the bill was catapulted into the limelight and began receiving the internet’s attention things started spiralling out of control. Assemblyman Perry’s office got “a hundredfold” more emails and calls than before. One staff member described how most of the people who called the office would “curse you and tell you to go back where you came from.” Other callers threatened to finance political campaigns to bring Assemblyman Perry down.

Frank Shea, Perry’s communications coordinator, confirmed that “80 to 90%” of the calls and emails were “name-calling bordering on threats or outright threats”. Approximately 90% of callers were from out of state. Nearly all the callers had no grasp of the facts at issue. Discussing this, Shea noted the callers were “wasting a lot of time and energy on this, but that seems to be the place we’re at in our nation right now.”

Asked how he felt about the abuse one Perry staff member replied “when you work in government, you have to make yourself calm… and you have to treat each person at their point of concern. So I understand that some of them are well and truly upset.” He later added “sometimes I just stay quiet, because I do understand the frustration. So I’ll stay quiet and let them say what they want to say.” 

All those I spoke to said they welcome fair criticism with Shea saying that if someone wants to offer polite criticism “that’s more than appropriate” though he added that the other responses were “pretty disheartening to see.”

While Perry’s office had received abuse prior to the signal boosting from prominent rightwing individuals, his staff suggested that their actions had made a bad situation worse. The calls and emails had made it more difficult for Perry’s actual constituents to reach him with legitimate issues. 

Following the controversy, Shea suggested to Grftr News that Perry may pull the bill. In a statement on Twitter Perry acknowledged fair criticism of his bill and committed to accepting amendments and making changes to it “in regards to concerns to constitutional rights.” Either way, neither Perry nor anyone else has any desire to bring the bill up for a vote

Despite the racist abuse and overt death threats (which Perry’s team have referred to state police) his staff remained upbeat, saying they understand that robust and unpleasant criticism comes with the territory and that the Assemblyman is “not going to get overly concerned with people calling him names, disappointing as it is.”

Asked what he thought lay ahead for the conspiracies about Assemblyman Perry and those promoting them Shea paused a moment before replying, “hopefully, some new shiny nickel comes rolling by that catches their attention.”

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The Truth About Gender Programs in Pakistan

Conservatives on social media erupted in outrage last week after eagle-eyed commentators noticed that the mammoth Fiscal Year (F.Y.) 2021 Omnibus and COVID Relief and Response Act set aside $10 million for “gender programs” in Pakistan. 

Omnibus bills are the legislative equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. They combine several smaller bills to form one large bill, thereby saving Congress time as they only need to vote once. 

In this case, the Omnibus bill contained bills which provide government funding for 2021 in addition to a measure providing emergency COVID funding. The financing of the gender programs in Pakistan came from the former parts of the bill.

One of the most vociferous critics of the gender program funding was journalist turned popular online political commentator Tim Pool who joined in the mockery tweeting:

“I was terrified when I heard Pakistan was at risk of losing its gender programs [sic]

With the news of Trump signing the omnibus I can rest easy knowing that, although Americans are about to be evicted en mass, the sacrifice is worth it to teach Pakistani youth what xe/xir mean.” 

Pool later doubled down on this tweet proudly reading it out in a Youtube video. In other videos, he rehashed the same themes angrily stating in one, “how about we… don’t print money and borrow money for nonsense like Pakistani gender studies? Pool went on to call the money spent on what he falsely labelled as “gender studies” a “waste.” Later in another moment of anger Pool asked, “have we even fixed the pipes in Flint yet?” (In case he’s still wondering the answer is yes – though trust in the water supply is still shaky).

Finally, while discussing the issue on his daily podcast livestream, Pool turned to a cohost to incredulously ask “why does Pakistan need gender programs?” Today we will be answering this question for Tim and all the others too lazy to do the research.

What is a gender program anyway?

Defining what exactly a “gender program” is can be a challenge. Neither the bill nor any subsequent news reports provided any detail on this. We can, however, find clues by examining the history of the term in previous spending bills. An identical item to the one in the FY2021 bill can be found in the consolidated FY2020 spending bill. Before this, going back to at least 2014 each bill contained language providing funding for “gender programs” which were to include:

 “coordinated efforts to combat a variety of forms of gender-based violence, including child marriage, rape, female genital cutting and mutilation, and domestic violence, among other forms of gender-based violence in conflict and non-conflict settings.”

To get a more definitive answer about the Pakistan context, we reached out to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who control the funding provided to Pakistan. In a statement to Grftr News a USAID spokesperson explained:

“USAID’s [gender] programs work to improve women’s access to economic opportunities, increase girls’ access to education, improve maternal and child health, combat gender-based violence, and increase women’s political and civic participation in Pakistan, which helps promote a more prosperous, stable, and inclusive society in Pakistan and furthers international peace and security.”

USAID also directed Grftr News to a fact-sheet documenting recent accomplishments, including supporting tens of thousands of female survivors of gender-based violence and providing thousands of educational scholarships.

In one of Pool’s many videos on the topic, he showered lavish praise on President Trump for tweeting out a video statement wherein Trump complained about the gender program funding. However, Pool and Trump leave out one crucial detail. In both the FY2020 and FY2021 appropriations bill, Trump – at the direction of his daughter Ivanka – specifically requested $100 million in funding for the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative

The W-GDP could easily be described as a “gender program” and was praised by the Trump administration’s Council of Economic Advisers as “smart economic policy.” In February 2020 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also praised the program saying “the need for the W-GDP is clear and it’s urgent.” 

While the W-GDP and the funding for Pakistan in the spending bills appear to be separate, they both address similar problems. Heaping one with praise while harshly attacking the other is undoubtedly an inconsistent position.

Why does Pakistan need gender programs?

Pakistan is the world’s 5th most populated country; still, on measures of gender equality, it ranks 151st out of 153 above only Iraq and Yemen. According to the USAID in Pakistan, “women lag behind men on every indicator of well-being”, and economic opportunities are limited. Only 10% of Pakistani women have a bank account.

According to a report from the World Economic Forum, in Pakistan, 54% of women are illiterate compared to 29% of men and women have lower rates of enrollment in education at all levels. Women are also severely underrepresented in the labour force with only between a quarter to just over two-fifths participating depending on the data source consulted. Additionally, women hold only 5% of senior and leadership roles. 

Women also bear the brunt of domestic violence in Pakistan and “around a quarter of the population live in households that condone violence.” 

Furthermore, according to Pakistan’s National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS), 15.1% fewer women than men have Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs), which are required to vote and obtain government aid. Apart from these immediate impacts, knock-on effects of not having a CNIC can include women becoming permanently disenfranchised even after receiving a card. This is because “the time in which young people become enfranchised is important in establishing lifelong habits of participation in community and government affairs.” In Pakistan’s transgender population the issue is even starker with one report suggesting that only a fifth have a CNIC number.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all these issues to the forefront as those on low-income who lacked a CNIC number could not receive government assistance. In the pandemic’s early stages women also only made up 5.53% of COVID-19 Response Committee’s in Pakistan sinking to 0% in some areas.

In a statement to Grftr News, a USAID spokesperson explained that because of these factors, “all of USAID’s efforts across all development sectors incorporate the cross-cutting theme of gender equality.”

Pakistan has a long way to go to achieve gender parity; however, change is happening, mainly driven by economic factors but also cultural changes and a desire to achieve what is seen as the ‘Pakistan dream.’

One of the few elected officials to defend the $10 million for Pakistani gender programs was South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. In an interview with Fox News, he stated: “Pakistan is a place I really worry about.” Grftr News approached Graham’s office for comment but has not had a response at time of publishing.

What gender programs will Pakistan be getting?

Grftr News contacted USAID to determine where the 2021 funding for Pakistan’s gender programs would be going. A spokesperson responded explaining that USAID was still reviewing options and that discussions “on the shape and scope of programming” were still in early stages. 

From 2010 to 2017 USAID funded the Gender Equity Program (GEP) in Pakistan which produced several positive impacts and led to recommendations that future gender programs in Pakistan “should continue to focus on… access to justice, women’s economic empowerment, ensuring women’s representation in decision-making in government, and GBV [gender based violence] prevention and response.”

In 2020 funding for gender-specific programs was used to “support women in establishing sustainable women-led micro businesses, developing market relevant skills and linkages, gaining greater financial literacy, reducing gender-based violence, and improving access to income-earning opportunities.” 

Previous programs have also helped 1.5 million women obtain national identity cards, allowing them to open a bank account, register to vote, and receive “social protection benefits.” 

According to the U.S. government Pakistan, “remains critical to U.S. counterterrorism efforts, nuclear nonproliferation, regional stability.” As a result, “the United States therefore has a deep interest in a stable, democratic, and prosperous Pakistan.” A report by the Congressional Research Service has also identified that foreign assistance is beneficial because it can promote regional peace and stability. The aid can also help further U.S. commercial and humanitarian interests and help counter terrorism and prevent crime.

What have we learned?

Based on what we now know, Pool and other conservative commentators made several critical mistakes in their coverage of the gender program funding. Their claims that the aid would fund “gender studies” programs or organisations trying to introduce neo-pronouns were flat out wrong. Instead, the funding is for programs offering crucial assistance to a population in one of the world’s least gender-equal countries facing numerous hurdles on their way to a better future.

Grftr News relies on your support to continue. We don’t have any outside funding and do not run advertisements on our website. If you would like to support our project, please subscribe to our Patreon. Patrons receive early access to our blog posts as well as a host of other benefits. We can’t do this project without your support. You can subscribe to our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/TimPoolClips.