Donald Trump Jr. and Ted Cruz shared Russian misinformation about Black Lives Matter protesters burning Bibles

A screenshot of Ruptly's video showing a Bible being burned.Shona Ghosh/Business Insider
  • Donald Trump Jr., Sen. Ted Cruz, and other high-profile Republicans shared a viral news story in early August about Black Lives Matter protesters burning "a stack of Bibles" in front of a courthouse in Portland.
  • According to The New York Times, the story was seeded by Russian news agency Ruptly, and highly edited footage shows at best two Bibles being burned before a small crowd.
  • The Times describes this as one of Russia's first successful big disinformation hits ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
  • In his tweet sharing the story, Trump Jr. implied "book burning" was common to activists. Cruz wrote: "This is who they are."

Russia looks to have succeded in seeding one of its first viral misinformation hits in the runup to the presidential election.

On August 1, Donald Trump Jr., Sen. Ted Cruz, Newt Gingrich, and other high-profile rightwing and Republican figures shared the news that Black Lives Matter protesters had burned "a stack of Bibles" in front of a courthouse in Portland, based on a video.

However, analysis from The New York Times shows the video originated from a Kremlin-affilifated news agency. It had been heavily edited to present the Bible-burning as widespread, when in reality, only one Bible, and possibly a second, are burned in the video, and only by a small group far away from the main protests.Advertisement

Trump Jr. shared a tweet from Ian Miles Cheong, a right-wing provocateur. Cheong's tweet read: "Left-wing activists bring a stack of Bibles to burn in front of the federal courthouse in Portland."

Shona Ghosh/Business Insider

Cheong's tweet linked to another tweet by a now-suspended user. The deleted tweet contained a video by Russian news agency Ruptly, which you can still watch here, showing a small group of protesters burning a Bible, among other materials.

Trump Jr. wrote in his own tweet: "Now we move to the book burning phase. I'm pretty sure Antifa doesn't actually stand for what they say it stands for. Maybe just remove the anti part of them name and it's perfect."

Sen. Ted Cruz simply wrote: "This is who they are."And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote: "Leftwing barbarians in Portland throwing Bibles into a fire reminds me of Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade scene in Nazi Germany where Hitler's followers are burning Bibles and other books. We need an honest conversation about the barbarians and totalitarians among us."Advertisement

The implication by Cruz, Trump Jr., Gingrich, and others is that this is widespread behavior by Black Lives Matters protesters, and indicative of illiberal attitudes.

But the Times' analysis shows the truth is more complex.

The Times noted that the clipped video that was widely shared on social media originated from Russian news agency Ruptly. Ruptly is a division of RT, a propaganda outfit, and on Twitter Ruptly is listed as a state-affiliated news agency.Advertisement

Ruptly is owned by Kremlin propaganda outfit, RTShona Ghosh/Business Insider

The Times notes that the video is edited to appear incendiary, and the Bible-burning is presented as a central event in the protests. One Bible, and possibly a second, is burned, but only among other materials and only by a small group who appear to be far away from the main protests in Portland.

Though the event did happen, it has gained outsized attention.Advertisement

Ruptly pushed the story on its site and via tweets. It was also covered by its affiliate, RT, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, a local publication which also covered the protest and noted the Bible burning wrote a single sentence about it in a longer news report, and stated that a group of fellow protesters arrived to put out the flames.

Trump Jr.'s tweet was retweeted 19,000 times, while Cheong's tweet was retweeted more than 20,000 times. The user who originally went viral for sharing the video appears to have been suspended.Advertisement

Cruz was defensive in a follow-up tweet, writing: "NYT, in full Antifa-defense mode: 'The truth was far more mundane. A few protesters among many thousands appear to have burned a single Bible — & possibly a second — for kindling to start a bigger fire.' Yes, they burned Bibles, but not that many. OK, then."

Read the New York Times story here.