The Christian Times: A Hoax Christian News Site

From Mike Cernovich at the end of last month:

Cernovich is disingenuous when he suggests that the site threatens to bring conservatives down to a lower level that is currently occupied only by liberals – and given his own extravagances, this warning was probably issued in bad faith for his own purposes.

The context here is an election campaign in which a random anonymous troll Tweet by someone claiming (without evidence or even plausibility) to be an Ohio postal worker destroying ballots for Trump can sweep across conservative media, and in which the Republican presidential candidate has embraced fringe conspiracy-mongers such as Alex Jones. Thus, copy and paste the Christian Times url into Twitter, and dozens of Tweets appear taking its content at face value.

Thus it is worth paying a little some attention to the site, despite it being not just fake, but egregiously so (five of its stories have featured on Snopes).

We begin with the site’s self-presentation. It carries crudely manipulated images (“photoshopping” is giving the site too much credit – the site owner seems to be using MS Paint); it mixes its own material with stories ripped off from elsewhere; and there is a mysterious owner, one “John Chefetz”, who is untraceable despite having an unusual name. The site was created at the end of last year but claims to be the new digital presence of a print publication that has been in existence “for upwards of twenty-five years” – however, although the site’s generic title gives a general impression of familiarity, there is no evidence of continuity with any older publication. I’ve seen this kind of thing before.

Now for the content. The site’s religious veneer extends to the claim that Chefetz “travels the country speaking about current events and theology”, and that that site offers “daily devotionals to help you in your walk with Christ.” There is also a token and derivative section on “religion”. However, most of the site consists of sensational stories of Democrat corruption and Hillary Clinton’s malice and ill-health. One item may just about pass muster as a poor sort of “satire” (“Hillary Clinton Blames Racism for Cincinnati Gorilla’s Death“), but it is clear that most of the site’s content is meant to deceive. The site’s most successful item, in terms of dissemination, is perhaps “‘Tens of thousands’  of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse”, which is discussed by Bloggerheads here.

Along with the site itself, there are some related Facebook pages. The site’s main Facebook page can be seen here, but the site also heavily promotes a Facebook page called “1,000,000 Americans Saying Hillary Stole The Election”. Both pages are anonymous. Readers are also encouraged to join the “Stop the Steal team”, and there is also a “Stop the Seal” Facebook page (again anonymous) which has previously promoted Christian Times Newspaper content. This Facebook page describes itself as “a page influenced and in admiration of Roger Stone’s work”, but although it encourages visitors to go to Stone’s Stop the Seal website it does not have any affiliation with it.

UPDATE (18 January 2017): The New York Times has traced the website’s owner. It turns out that “John Chefetz” is one Cameron Harris, “a 23-year-old former college quarterback and fraternity leader” currently living in Annapolis, Maryland. The report says that prior to Google’s decision to ban adverts from such sites his creation was worth up to $125,000. Harris is actually from a place called Kings Mountain, and his studies at Davidson College were in Economics and Political Science. Presumably there was no ethics module, let alone any theology involved.

According to the story, “Mr. Harris said he would have been willing to promote Mrs. Clinton and smear Mr. Trump had those tactics been lucrative”. However, he used to have a blog on the subject of “North Carolina Politics From A Conservative Perspective” (since deleted, but available here), and his new “political consulting business” mentioned in the report is pitched specifically towards Republican candidates. This business, Chesapeake Strategy Partners, says that it helped “raise over $350,000 for Republican candidates & organizations in 2016 alone” through “events, direct mail, call programs, & digital”. The company site is currently “under construction”, although Google cache shows an impressive roster of politicians it has apparently worked with. There was also apparently an investment opportunity included.

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