Federal Agencies Sending Articles from Hate Sites to Employees

A disturbing story that's almost certainly not what it first appears.

An external news clipping service was sending items from extremist sites to employees of various government agencies.

An arm of the Justice Department regularly sent summaries and links to articles from an online white nationalist publication over the last year, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found. In addition, similar newsletters sent to the Labor Department, ICE, HUD, and the Department of Homeland Security included links and content from hyperpartisan and conspiracy-oriented publishers.

In daily bulletins about media coverage for the department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the nation’s immigration courts, a government contractor sometimes included links to VDare, an anti-Semitic and racist site whose editor who has claimed that American culture is under threat from nonwhite peoples. That contractor, a Dade City, Florida-based company called TechMIS, also compiles newsletters for other agencies, including the Department of Labor, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Office of Housing and Urban Development.

While these newsletters typically shared articles from local and mainstream national news outlets — including BuzzFeed News — they also regularly delivered content from partisan publications touting anti-immigration rhetoric and conspiracy theories. Among these publications: the Western Journal, a hyperpartisan publisher whose founder once questioned if then-presidential candidate Barack Obama was Muslim, and the Epoch Times, a newspaper associated with the Chinese Falun Gong movement and whose related media properties have backed QAnon, a conspiracy theory claiming a group of high-ranking officials known as the “Deep State” is subverting President Donald Trump’s goals.
On Thursday, BuzzFeed News reported that an immigration judges union sent a letter of complaint to EOIR for its inclusion in an August newsletter of a VDare blog post that attacked its members with anti-Semitic slurs. After publication of that story, an EOIR press secretary said that the Department of Justice “condemns Anti-Semitism in the strongest terms” and that the post should not have been included. A former senior DOJ official said that the email in question was “generated by a third-party vendor that utilizes keyword searches to produce news clippings for staff. It is not reviewed or approved by staff before it is transmitted.”

“That’s absolutely incorrect,” said TechMIS CEO Steven Mains, adding that EOIR was the most specific and particular of the company’s clients. The agency’s staff would review its work “down to misspellings” if there was anything wrong before sending, he said.

A cursory review of EOIR newsletters by BuzzFeed News found two more mentions of VDare articles; Mains confirmed those and noted there were four others, saying that VDare had been included on seven occasions out of about 20,000 links and articles sent from September 2018, when TechMIS’s relationship with the organization began.

“These discoveries are deeply disturbing,” said Becca Lewis, a research affiliate at Data & Society, who studies online radicalization. “Unfortunately, they mark a continuation of a long history in which government agencies, and particularly law enforcement agencies, have promoted and enforced white supremacist and racist agendas. This also unfortunately shows that many white supremacist and far-right publications that seem to be on the ‘fringes’ of society actually have huge mainstream influence and impact.”

—Buzzfeed, “Federal Agencies Have Been Sending Employees Articles From White Nationalist And Conspiracy Websites For Months

While this will be seen by many as further evidence that the Trump administration is fomenting white nationalism, it’s almost certainly just a case of a lowest-bidder firm cobbling together clippings using search algorithms without sufficient vetting. The agencies may well be reviewing the summaries themselves but are almost certainly not clicking through to the stories and reading all of them before rushing them out to the consumer.

I work for the Defense Department and don’t get any of these. Before it was killed in the government shutdown of 2013, they used to send out the Early Bird, a coveted insider collection of links to defense-related articles. It was outstanding precisely because it was curated by human beings familiar with the topics covered.

TechMIS almost certainly applied no such expertise in slapping together articles for numerous agencies. Indeed, to the extent they were exercising judgment at all, they were likely looking for positive coverage of the agencies in question that they figured employees would want to read. Sadly, in the case of ICE, that was almost certainly going to be coming mostly from extremist sites given the extreme criticism they’ve received from mainstream sources.

FILED UNDER: Government, Media, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    While this will be seen by many as further evidence that the Trump administration is fomenting white nationalism,

    Either that or just rank incompetence that allowed for this crap to be pushed repeatedly, but hey, Por que, no los dos?

  2. Moosebreath says:

    “While this will be seen by many as further evidence that the Trump administration is fomenting white nationalism”

    It’s at the very least evidence that the Trump Administration is willing to employ people who have no objection to giving white nationalism a wider hearing.

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  3. de stijl says:

    Even if the production of this is highly automated, it’s child’s play to apply a filter to exclude articles from certain sites or to affix text automatically saying basically “Please note. This is a link to a demonstrably extremist site. ”

    At this point, it seems less nefarious than can be explained by stupidity and inattention and unprofessionalism.

    VDare.com is not an appropriate source for this exercise.

  4. Hal_10000 says:

    How bad has it gotten that when a federal agency accidentally sends out links to White Nationalist articles, we have to clarify that it was an accident, not on purpose?

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  5. de stijl says:

    @Hal_10000:

    It wasn’t an accident. They just did a key word search and didn’t apply filters to the results.

    Lowest bidders produce inferior product. Who could have predicted that?

  6. Kathy says:

    @Hal_10000:

    they ought to keep an eye out, and see how many more “accidents” like this take place.

  7. Gustopher says:

    Have they sent out crazy left wing stuff? 9/11 Truther nonsense and the like?

    Given that this is the Trump administration, I would assume that there is an intentional rightward bias either at the EOIR level, or by TechMIS themselves, and that bias is pulling in crazy right wing shit. A mixture of intent and incompetence.

    But, this is just a guess.

    James argues:

    While this will be seen by many as further evidence that the Trump administration is fomenting white nationalism, it’s almost certainly just a case of a lowest-bidder firm cobbling together clippings using search algorithms without sufficient vetting. The agencies may well be reviewing the summaries themselves but are almost certainly not clicking through to the stories and reading all of them before rushing them out to the consumer.

    But the story he quotes has TechMIS refuting that:

    “That’s absolutely incorrect,” said TechMIS CEO Steven Mains, adding that EOIR was the most specific and particular of the company’s clients. The agency’s staff would review its work “down to misspellings” if there was anything wrong before sending, he said.

    TechMIS has every reason to try to deflect the blame here. Including this shit in the newsletter at all is inappropriate. But, if EOIR is reviewing closely, someone made a conscious decision to let this type of stuff through. TechMIS may be tailoring it’s poor product to the reviewers’ interests.

    Given the number of white nationalists in high positions in this administration, I think it would be foolish to not assume there are white nationalists in low positions as well. I’m less willing to give them the benefit of the doubt than our host is.

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  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Hal_10000: Exactly. But still sad and pathetic.

  9. 95 South says:

    @Hal_10000: How bad have liberals gotten that they’d believe this?

  10. Gustopher says:

    @95 South: It really is pathetic isn’t it? It’s like someone kicks you ninety nine times, and you’re still wondering whether the hundredth was an accident.

    Of course it was intentional, horrible racist behavior. 95% certainty. There’s so much horrible racist behavior coming out of this administration that there’s no point in attempting to find the accidental racist behavior.

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  11. An Interested Party says:

    How bad have liberals gotten that they’d believe this?

    All liberals and anyone else has to do is to listen to the very white nationalist friendly words coming out of the president’s mouth and in his tweets…it isn’t too much of a stretch to believe that this was intentional and not an accident…

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