Social media posts are once again making false and baseless claims about high-profile Democrats being involved in child trafficking and sex crimes.
It’s hard not to overstate this simple fact: There is not and has never been any evidence that the “Clintons, the Obamas & the Biden family are all involved in child trafficking & crimes against children.”
But that’s what a Facebook post falsely claims — one of many posts that revive the long-debunked pizzagate conspiracy theory, which spread the fiction that prominent Democrats, including Hillary and Bill Clinton, were running a child sex-trafficking ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.
Although it was a hoax, many apparently believed in pizzagate — including Edgar Maddison Welch, who got four years in prison after going to the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria on Dec. 4, 2016, armed with a loaded AR-15 assault rifle and a revolver, firing the assault rifle into a door and scattering customers. “Welch was motivated, at least in part, by unfounded rumors concerning a child sex-trafficking ring that supposedly was being perpetrated at the establishment,” the Department of Justice said in a June 2017 press release announcing his sentence.
Now, there are new unfounded rumors circulating on social media about former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
“In 2016, we learned Anthony Weiner’s laptop contained proof Hillary Clinton & her associates are involved in child trafficking & pedophilia,” one Facebook post says. “Now we learn Hunter Biden’s laptop had pedophile tapes. Our intelligence insider friend asks if we see a pattern. The Clintons, the Obamas & the Biden family are all involved in child trafficking & crimes against children, period.”
Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist behind InfoWars and the bogus notion that the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 was a hoax, posted a video Oct. 17 that carried the headline “Confirmed: Trump Has Footage Of Hunter Biden Raping And Torturing Little Girls — Set To Release.” The video quotes Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, claiming to have pictures of Hunter Biden “that I can’t describe, some of which are illegal.” The video has received more than 2.2 million views.
Another Facebook post makes this graphic, baseless claim: “Hunter Biden had 25,000 pics of him torturing and raping children under 10 in China on his laptop!”
This kind of nonsense is circulating on social media like flotsam in the Hudson River from a New York garbage barge.
How did we get here? It involves Giuliani, who has worked with a known Russian agent to obtain dirt on Joe Biden, and a conservative newspaper, the New York Post, which is owned by News Corp. and controlled by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Let’s recap what we know — so far.
The hard drive of a laptop purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden was obtained by the New York Post from Robert Costello, a lawyer representing Giuliani. Last week, the paper published several stories based on emails from that hard drive — including one story that perpetuated the false narrative that Joe Biden pressured Ukrainian officials to fire the country’s top prosecutor to protect a Ukrainian company that employed his son from an investigation. (In fact, Biden was carrying out the Obama administration’s anti-corruption policy in Ukraine that was supported by the international community.)
That New York Post story included an image of what the paper said was a subpoena for Hunter Biden’s laptop.
A day after that story appeared, the conservative Western Journal carried a commentary piece saying that “a barely visible signature bleeding through from back side” of that subpoena “appears to match that of FBI Special Agent Joshua Wilson.” The website said Wilson works on child pornography cases.
Three days later, Fox News host Maria Bartiromo asked Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to “connect the dots,” specifically asking if there is a “child pornography issue here on that laptop.” (Fox News Channel is also controlled by Murdoch.)
“I don’t want to speculate,” said Johnson, who nevertheless went on to say, “I’ve heard all kinds of things that I think will probably be revealed over the next few days.” Johnson, chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, also has called on the FBI to confirm or deny the authenticity of the laptop.
There are many unverified claims being made about the alleged contents of the laptop, but at this point we can say with certainty:
- The Facebook meme that makes claims about Hunter Biden “torturing and raping children” provides no evidence, despite very specifically claiming there are “25,000 pics.” Neither does the InfoWars video.
- Contrary to another Facebook post’s claim, former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner’s laptop did not contain “proof Hillary Clinton & her associates are involved in child trafficking & pedophilia.”
Weiner, the ex-husband of Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin, was sentenced in September 2017 to 21 months in prison for “transferring obscene material to a minor.” The FBI examined his laptop as part of that investigation, and Abedin, who also used the laptop, did have work-related emails on it that she sent and received from Clinton.
Clinton’s emails on Weiner’s laptop were thoroughly reviewed by the Department of Justice and the department’s inspector general, and those reviews resulted in no criminal charges.
Even though pizzagate and claims about Weiner’s laptop have been debunked, specious reports about Clinton continue to circulate on social media.
These sorts of claims about Democrats often spring from QAnon, which the FBI has described as a conspiracy theory “very likely” to “motivate some domestic extremists to commit criminal, sometimes violent activity.”
QAnon followers espouse a conspiracy theory that regards Trump as a crusader against what they consider elite pedophiles, including top Democrats and celebrities, who supposedly run the government and the entertainment industry.
The president at a recent televised town hall declined to disavow QAnon, claiming he knows very little about it. Trump, however, has repeatedly shared posts on Twitter from QAnon followers, and QAnon signage and paraphernalia have regularly shown up at Trump rallies.
We don’t know who is behind the latest unsubstantiated claims about Hunter Biden. But, as always, we caution readers when confronting viral claims to ask, “Where’s the evidence?”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.
This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.
Samuelson, Kate. “What to Know About Pizzagate, the Fake News Story With Real Consequences.” Time. 5 Dec 2016.
U.S. Department of Justice. “North Carolina Man Sentenced to Four-Year Prison Term For Armed Assault at Northwest Washington Pizza Restaurant.” 22 Jun 2017.
Kiely, Eugene. “Trump’s Baseless Claim of Russian Support for Biden.” FactCheck.org. 15 Sep 2020.
Kiely, Eugene. “Trump Revives False Narrative on Biden and Ukraine.” FactCheck.org. 15 Oct 2020.
Kiely, Eugene and Robert Farley. “Fact: Trump TV Ad Misleads on Biden and Ukraine.” 9 Oct 2019.
Morris, Emma-Jo and Gabrielle Fonrouge. “Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad.” New York Post. 14 Oct 2020.
Harris, Jared. “What Leaked with Biden Emails Hints FBI Investigation Could Have Already Taken a Damning Turn.” Western Journal. 15 Oct 2020.
Bradner, Eric et al. “FBI clears Clinton — again.” CNN. 7 Nov 2020.
Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice. “A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election.” Jun 2018.
Fichera, Angelo. “No Evidence of ‘Horrific’ Clinton Video.” FactCheck.org. 23 Apr 2018.
Fichera, Angelo. “False Story Ties Sex Cult to Clintons.” FactCheck.org. 2 May 2018.
Fichera, Angelo. “Clare Bronfman, Part of NXIVM, Not a Clinton Aide.” FactCheck.org. 29 Jun 2018.
Collins, Ben. “Local FBI field office warns of ‘conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists.’” NBC News. 1 Aug 2019.
Roose, Kevin. “What Is QAnon, the Viral Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theory?” New York Times. 19 Oct 2020.
Jackson, Brooks et al. “FactChecking Trump’s Town Hall.” FactCheck.org. 16 Oct 2020.
Nguyen, Tina. “Trump isn’t secretly winking at QAnon. He’s retweeting its followers.” Politico. 12 Jul 2020.
Lush, Tamara. “Who is Q? A conspiracy theory emerges at Trump rallies.” Associated Press. 2 Aug 2018.
“Vendor at Trump rally says he’s seen uptick in QAnon merchandise demand.” CNN. 1 Oct 2020