A pair of right-wing fake news publishers and a social media consultant tied to the Trump campaign are linked to a network of websites and Facebook pages spreading the idea that the November election could lead to violence between Americans of opposing political views, The Guardian reported.
According to the news outlet, the network is owned and operated by father-and-son duo Dino Porrazzo Sr. and Dino Porrazzo Jr., who have a California-based company called AFF Media.
These pages contain content that praises President Donald Trump and promotes far-right, anti-government militias, such as the Three Percenters.
Among the duo’s Facebook pages is one called “Prepare to Take America Back” (PTTAB) that shares conspiracy theories, in addition to supposedly damaging allegations about Democratic politicians, liberal public figures and left-wing protestors.
The page has nearly 800,000 followers and its posts have been shared on average almost 10,000 times a week over the past three months, according to The Guardian report.
The page often links to a handful of right-wing websites with several posts published over the course of 2020 suggesting that the Democrats could win the U.S. election fraudulently, indicating that this could lead to violence, and even civil war.
In September, for example, the page linked several times to a story on the website Right Wing Tribune, which includes the headline “Radical Left Prepares For ‘Mass Public Unrest'” and Facebook captions such as “the left wants war.”
The article claimed: “These groups are heavily focused on removing President Trump from office as well as different scenarios which all lead to a second revolution in which they control our nation as a ‘New America.'”
According to The Guardian, the PTTAB page is managed but AFF Media. The news outlet also revealed that the Porrazzos run a host of right-wing sites—including the Right Wing Tribune, as well as others that the PTTAB page has linked to.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania—an organization that operates the non-partisan website FactCheck.org—has classified two of the duo’s websites as those that “that have posted deceptive content.” One of these is the the Right Wing Tribune.
Becca Lewis, an expert in online extremism and disinformation from Stanford University, told The Guardian that the PTTAB page appeared to be managed in a way that is intended to get around Facebook’s fact-checking system.
“It seems as though they are being very strategic in their messaging so as to not be shut down,” Lewis said.
Dino Porrazzo Jr. told The Guardian that PTTAB had “zero fact-check violations,” describing the sites he manages as “opinion websites based on fact.”
When the news outlet asked him if he really believed that the election could lead to political violence, he accused the paper of “writing a hit piece to get me thrown off Facebook.”
The Guardian also reported that the PTTAB page “partners” with a company known as Vici Media Group, which is run by social media consultant Patrick Mauldin and his brother Ryan.
In 2016, the Trump campaign hired the company during that year’s presidential election. The New York Times reported as recently as June that Patrick Mauldin was still working for the Trump campaign. The newspaper had reported that Mauldin was the creator of a popular fake Joe Biden website that spread “disinformation” about the Democratic presidential nominee that was similar to techniques used by “Russian trolls,” according to the outlet.
Ryan Mauldin told The Guardian: “Vici Media Group was engaged for a small, non-content-related project by the managers of the page. We have no input on the content published by the various sites or the comments made on that content. We are not working for the Trump campaign.”
Porrazzo also declined to comment on the relationship between AFF and Vici Media Group.