Rudy Giuliani And The Radical Right’s Disinformation Crusades

You can draw a direct line from Jerry Falwell to Trump's birther lie to Giuliani's hunt for dirt on the Bidens. Conspiracy theories are the right's M.O.
Rudy Giuliani speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona- August 13, 2016. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Rudy Giuliani speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona- August 13, 2016. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Augusta Dell’Omo is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Texas at Austin. Augusta’s research analyzes the construction of a transnational network of white supremacist political, religious, and terroristic organizations seeking to stabilize white rule in Southern Africa. 

Rudy Giuliani, personal attorney for President Donald J. Trump, is on an alleged “fact-finding mission.” Giuliani traveled to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv – the epicenter of the impeachment inquiry – on Wednesday, December 4, promising that he would find proof his client “is being framed.” Giuliani is also seeking to justify the Russia-created conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine who interfered in the 2016 election, not Russia.

Far-right publications reacted to Giuliani’s efforts with glee. The conservative Western Journalism (blacklisted by Google and Apple in June), reported: “Giuliani has returned from a fact-finding mission to Ukraine, and it looks like he struck gold.” After his three day visit, Giuliani returned to the U.S., tweeting ominously on December 13:

Shortly after Giuliani’s tweet, the right-wing news channel One America News Network announced the Part III premiere of their “explosive” investigative special “Ukrainian Witnesses Destroy Schiff’s Case – Exclusive with Rudy Giuliani” for December 14 and 15.

Giuliani’s promise of proof taps into a much longer history of the radical right’s obsession with the “fact-finding mission.” Radical right news sources long relied on the efforts of its high profile conspirators. These “investigators” traveled to far off places, promising to uncover the “real truth” hidden by the mainstream media. By conducting these “fact-finding missions,” radical right conspirators like Giuliani offer a façade of legitimacy for their extremist views. President Trump claims he sent “investigators” to Hawaii to hunt Obama’s birth certificate. But it’s the infamous fact-finding mission of Reverend Jerry Falwell to apartheid South Africa in 1985 provides an instructive blueprint for understanding Giuliani’s tactics.

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Falwell’s misadventures in South Africa

In August 1985, Falwell embarked on a five-and-a-half day visit to South Africa. Highly publicized, Falwell declared that he would return with proof that black South Africans were actually against the international anti-apartheid sanctions effort. The U.S. Congress considered sanctions – the restriction of U.S. corporations’ investment in South Africa – as a coercive measure to push the South African government to reform its white supremacist policies. However, radical right groups shared a particular language on apartheid that blamed Western media coverage and black “agitation” as the real cause of South African suffering.

Invested in discrediting the communist leaning black South African opposition parties that called for international, mandatory and comprehensive sanctions against the South African government, Falwell and others proposed their own theory. Radical right figures argued that disinvestment would just hurt black South African workers. The South African government and its surrogates arranged the trip and Falwell’s meetings. Throughout the trip, Falwell met with state leaders and reiterated his belief that mainstream media news sources exaggerated the atrocities of the apartheid state.

Upon his return, Falwell horrified Americans with his “findings.” Falwell declared Bishop Desmond Tutu “a phony,” due to his support for the sanctions effort. Falwell insisted that “in every segment of every community,” South Africans did not want the U.S. to impose sanctions. Furthermore, Falwell alleged personal assurances from President P.W. Botha that he was committed to abolishing discrimination throughout the state.

On the program “Jerry Falwell Live” broadcasted on the nationwide WTBS, Falwell shared details of his conversations with South Africa’s defenders of apartheid. Falwell went on the offensive for South Africa, proclaiming the apartheid state a faithful ally of the U.S. He even declared his disgust, during a sanctions debate with Reverend Jesse Jackson, “that President Reagan should be forced by a spineless Congress and a biased media into slapping the wrist of such a good friend as South Africa.”

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Parallels between Falwell and Giuliani’s “fact-finding missions”

Falwell and Giuliani’s fact-finding missions share five essential characteristics, which helps us understand the intentions, strategies, and goals driving their efforts.

1. The Use of the Term “Fact-Finding Mission:”

The “fact-finding mission” is perhaps best known as a tool of the United Nations, designed as an honest effort to establish the facts of a potential violation of international peace. The radical right’s bastardization of the “fact-finding mission” is anything but unbiased. Both Giuliani and Falwell, under the guise of an apolitical, fact-finding mission aimed to drum up support for a particular conspiracy theory. These men never intended their investigations to be open inquiries, but instead remained fundamentally driven by a radical right belief.

2. Build Off Devaluation of Media Coverage:

These “fact-finding missions” thrive off a pre-existing degradation of the mainstream media’s coverage of a particular issue. In Falwell’s case, he tapped into a radical right talking point that mainstream media news sources exaggerated the atrocities of the apartheid state. The contemporary right-wing’s attacks on mainstream media coverage of impeachment fall into the same pattern. In this case, Trump is the victim of a grand conspiracy, orchestrated by media and the deep state. Therefore, Falwell and Giuliani have no choice but to investigate and correct the mainstream narrative.

3. Collect Facts from Problematic Sources:

Next, fact-finders Giuliani and Falwell meet with unsavory characters to help validate their conspiracy theory. Falwell spent his five days with apartheid’s intelligentsia, while Giuliani rendezvoused with a series of discredited Ukrainian prosecutors and lawmakers. These meetings provide a veneer of officiality, objectivity, and seriousness to the “fact-finding mission” as Giuliani and Falwell conduct their on the ground “investigations.” By tightly controlling who they met, the conditions of the meeting, and excluding contradictory viewpoints, both men crafted a closed “evidence” trail.

4. Publicize and Sensationalize Findings:

Following these meetings, Falwell and Giuliani sensationalized how the investigations supported their conspiracy theory. Falwell appeared on his public radio station, and Giuliani took to Twitter and friendly media outlets. Giuliani told the Wall Street Journal on December 13 that after his return from Kyiv, he relayed to Mr. Trump that he netted “more than you [Trump] can imagine.” Giuliani tweeted on December 15 that he would be sharing evidence gathered through “hundreds of hours of research. Turn notifications on & stay tuned.” This publicizing excites their base to new, secret information, which they can instantly access.

5. National Press Tour:

Even before the release of One America News Network’s special, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham could not wait to hear Giuliani’s tale. In an interview with “Face the Nation,” Graham said: “If Rudy wants to come to the Judiciary Committee and testify about what he found, he’s welcome to do so.” Both Falwell and Giuliani illustrate the importance of translating the fact-finding mission to your base and to the broader political ecosystem they allegedly reject. While creating exclusive content for their followers – like Falwell’s radio station or Giuliani’s network special – the success of their efforts requires challenging the mainstream directly. Falwell’s debate with Jackson and Giuliani’s potential appearance before the Senate illustrates this seeming contradiction. Craving validation and attention, Giuliani and Falwell, by necessity, push their message outside the base. The decision to open their “fact-finding mission” up to the masses provides us opportunity to recognize these “investigations” for what they are – ideologically driven, unofficial field trips.

These fact-finding missions, regardless of how ludicrous the evidence or how discredited the sources, offer a guise of legitimacy and a promise of a secret knowledge that sustain radical right conspiracy networks. Perhaps most disturbing is the seeming ease with which conspiratorial thinking from the radical right has infiltrated the highest echelons of the Republican Party and the American conservative movement. By co-opting the “fact-finding mission,” men like Falwell and Giuliani continues their efforts to degrade the value of truth.

This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.

News // Donald Trump / Impeachment / Radical Right / Rudy Giuliani / Ukraine