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.”

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.

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.

Tim Pool Hydroxychloroquine Fact Check

Image as tim pool as a covid particle

In Tim Pool’s December 3rd livestream with Destiny, the two online personalities got talking about hydroxychloroquine and Trump. Pool defended Trump’s statements about hydroxychloroquine while Destiny called Trump irresponsible and pointed out the weak evidence base supporting the usage of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2.

During the conversation Pool confidently asserted “there was a ton of past research for coronavirus and SARS Covid 1 [sic], hydroxychloroquine was effective in reducing severity.”

This is false. Not a single human trial of hydroxychloroquine was conducted during or following the first SARS outbreak in 2003/04.

Through a thorough scouring of the medical literature, I was able to identify only four studies published before the current outbreak that were at all relevant in answering whether hydroxychloroquine worked for treating or preventing SARS infection (1, 2, 3, 4). Other scientific papers I identified were review or commentary articles which merely summarised the findings from other research without presenting any novel findings.

Even leaving aside their actual results these four studies do not make up “a ton of past research.” I’ve seen middle school essays with a better evidence base. That aside what do the studies actually say?

Well of the relevant four studies all but one were actually studying chloroquine, not hydroxychloroquine. Chloroquine is a drug with a similar structure and effect profile however it is not identical to hydroxychloroquine.

Three out of the four studies were preliminary investigations in cell culture models of disease – mainly in African green monkey cells. Cell culture models are incredibly useful when investigating the effects of drugs however any data generated from cell models is limited and as the famous XKCD cartoon notes: a handgun can also kill cells on a Petri dish. The one study that was looking at an animal model of disease was studying a mouse model. Mice models are certainly a step up from cells but still limited in their predictive capacity.

The studies examining chloroquine converge on the finding that the drug appears to have some ability to treat or prevent SARS infection in vitro (literally “in glass” i.e. in the Petri dish in the laboratory).

Finally, the single study specifically examining hydroxychloroquine in a cell model found “All compounds, except for HCQ [hydroxycholoroquine], were effective inhibitors of SARS-CoV replication in Vero cells within the 1-10ÌM concentration range.” [Emphasis mine].

Not only was Tim completely wrong about the existence of “a ton” of research about hydroxychloroquine and SARS, he was also wrong about the direction that research pointed. This is all little unfortunate for a man who claims to frequently fact check himself and who still has “journalist”  in his Twitter bio.

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