So the race is on to find out which outlet – cable, radio, internet, or otherwise – most closely embraces Trumpism. And the competition drives the right-wing extremist MAGA echo chamber to cannibalize itself.
At the heart of it all, according to misinformation and extremist researchers, is an impetus for confirmation bias. Trump supporters, they said, are looking for a place of migration that will promote their theories about why their candidate lost. That’s why they’re becoming increasingly interested in places like One America News Network and Newsmax, two Trump-friendly Conservative outlets that are more inclined to embrace the debunked electoral fraud-related conspiracies that Fox News won’t touch. Similarly, Parler has fewer problems verifying the factual complaint allegations of fraudulent ballot papers that Twitter regularly reported.
“The exodus from Fox to Newsmax and Parler is typical of a pattern in social movements in which they blame infrastructure for their defeat,” said Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Politics at Harvard Kennedy School studies and monitors the spread of misinformation. And since disinformation dominates the right-wing debate over the loss of Trump, “attempts to moderate this misinformation are used to claim that the platform companies are working with the Dems and Fox.”
Many of the electoral fraud theories that Trump and his allies are promoting have emerged from internet conspiracy theorists – MAGA influencers, fringe journalists, and extremist commentators who would never appear on Fox News but have massive followers online. None of them have provided evidence of widespread electoral fraud.
But that hasn’t stopped Newsmax from boasting on social media that it’s the only network that hasn’t called Vote for Biden and cites ongoing questions about the election results, or Gateway Pundit, a website dedicated to trading known with anti-democratic conspiracy theories of an attack on Fox for “spitting anti-Trump propaganda”.
And it didn’t stop MAGA characters from turning on each other. Populist news sites like Big League Politics have attacked the organizers of Stop the Steal, a loose network of Trump groups organizing mini-protests against the election results. MAGA influencers have destroyed conservative allies who expressed slightly more realistic expectations.
“It’s bad. Worse than ever,” Donovan said.
Infighting was an integral part of the MAGA movement from the start: as early as December 2016, the most prominent members were from Trump’s base collision about housewarming night parties. It hasn’t stopped since then, and various characters and outlets have been drummed out of the movement – and then resumed – depending on the whims of the news cycle.
Often times, the only thing that united the MAGA tribes was their support for Trump, who backed him through his struggles with the media, liberals and the so-called deep state. But these bonds break down quickly – and friends can instantly become enemies – if a group or character in the movement shows disagreement with one another or is classified by their colleagues as insufficient MAGA.
Michael Edison Hayden, chief investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that monitors extremist activity and hate groups, said this “distinction between friends and foes” is a hallmark of propaganda movements. And the trait becomes faster when “Dad is wounded”.
“At this particular moment there will be people whose version of the struggle they only see who can be there most for Trump in his hour of need,” said Hayden, who works on extremism and right-wing movements.
Currently, the MAGA movement has loosely agreed that Fox News is the enemy – and an attack on the house Roger Ailes built is guaranteed to receive praise from the president and his base.
For one, Newsmax has started marketing its pro-Trump content as more popular than Fox’s, running ads claiming that the outlet’s cable news channel is pulling more spectator as CNBC and Fox Business together, citing Nielsen data. And the open marketing campaign has paid off for the lesser-known conservative network, whose ratings are rising rapidly overnight.
“The president just called me and congratulated Newsmax on our rating explosion,” tweeted Ruddy, the network’s CEO, on Thursday. “@POTUS @realDonaldTrump is watching Newsmax and wants every vote to be counted too! “
Beyond that, however, the competition is chaotic, fueled by the conspiracy theory that pops up on the internet first, that jumps on it the fastest, and that it spreads the fastest.
For example, TheDonald.win, a casual user in the obscure internet community, sparked an unsubstantiated conspiracy in which the polling firm Dominion passed 2.7 million Trump votes to Biden, a claim that immediately went to OAN and Gateway Pundit, then to Trump Twitter feed. The claim appears to be spun out of a small human error that has been corrected.
Regardless, Ali Alexander, a pro-Trump agent and one of the organizers of Stop The Steal, fueled a dubious theory called #Maidengate in hopes of finding people who used a maiden name to make a second time in another state to choose.
Then there is SharpieGate, allegations of dead votersRumors of ballot papers being thrown in trash cans and secret watermarks – all untrue, and all powered by a network of online influencers and eyeball-searching websites.
Even trumps own government was repeated expose these allegations.
“These very viral characters created something of an alternative media landscape under Fox News,” said Hayden. “With Trump embracing this kind of unreality, this kind of fictional world in which he won the presidency, it’s not surprising that his base goes to those people who would be willing to go with him.”