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Casey Michel’s Poor Reporting About YesCalifornia

In Ethics, History, Philosophy, Politics on December 2, 2018 at 4:45 pm

Recently a journalist named Mr. Casey Michel wrote a malicious article that mischaracterized and misrepresented who I am and what I stand for.  Mr. Marcus Ruiz Evans, who heads up YesCalifornia, an organization advocating the secession of California from the United States, and who was also discussed in Mr. Michel’s article, informed me that Mr. Michel’s article contained inaccuracies regarding YesCalifornia as well.  So I decided to take a closer look.

Mr. Michel states, without providing or citing evidence, that YesCalifornia is “a Kremlin-backed group” that “has acted as one of the most obvious fronts for Russian interference efforts over the past few years.” I got in touch with Mr. Michel and asked him, for the record, whether he could verify or substantiate this claim. He has not responded. Curiously, however, he has written elsewhere that “[n]o evidence has emerged of direct Kremlin funding for the Calexit initiative, or similar endeavors in the United States.”

Mr. Michel also states that YesCalifornia was “reportedly helped by the architects of Russia’s social media interference efforts—one of the few American organizations directly linked to the types of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts that meddled in U.S. politics the past few years.” The words “linked directly” hyperlink to a BBC News article (“‘Russian trolls’ promoted California independence,” November 4, 2017) that does not claim a direct link between Russian social media accounts and YesCalifornia. Rather, the article states that social media accounts banned by Twitter due to ties to the Internet Research Agency—“a St. Petersburg-based ‘troll factory”—were pushing #Calexit hashtags and linking “to other social media accounts advocating the secession of California from the United States.”

I asked Mr. Evans about this BBC article. He wrote back that Mr. Michel “fails to point out that the article he links to directly contradicts the narrative that he is pushing, which is that Calexit is mostly, or nothing but a Russian backed social movement.” He clarified that, “although the FBI was instructing all technology companies to shut down all social media counts linked to the Russian government, the YesCalifornia Twitter and Facebook page have been untouched and are still active at this time, proving that the FBI itself confirms that YesCalifornia is an actual organic group.”

Mr. Michel is quoted in the BBC article as saying that the Anti-Globalisation Movement “received funding from the Kremlin to organize this conference to pay for the travel and lodging of American and European secession movements,” and that Louis Marinelli (a cofounder of YesCalifornia), spoke at an Anti-Globalisation conference. Mr. Michel provides no citation or evidence to back up his claim that the Kremlin helped to subsidize this conference. The fact that Mr. Marinelli spoke at a conference hosted by an organization with which he is not affiliated, moreover, hardly qualifies as a “direct link” between YesCalifornia and Russian interference in U.S. politics. In fact, Mr. Michel told a reporter for Playboy that “there’s no indication Marinelli himself has received funding from the Russian government,” adding, however, that “Yes California received rent-free space for its ‘Embassy’…provided by the Kremlin funded Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia.”

I know little about YesCalifornia or California secession movements, and even less about Russian meddling in U.S. politics. I cannot affirm or deny Mr. Michel’s claims about them. That, however, is precisely the problem: an educated reader ought to be able to evaluate the truthfulness of claims in articles that are published for a mass readership. Such claims should be fact-checked and scrutinized before they reach print. Journalists must be careful to distinguish fact from opinion, and possibility from actuality. They must clarify when they are speculating and when they are registering uncontroverted data. It isn’t fair to the general public for the media to convey vague or unsubstantiated allegations, placing the burden on skeptical readers to affirm or deny reported claims. Most readers are not lawyers or journalists trained and equipped for such rigorous undertakings. They don’t have time systematically to discredit every journalist who raises suspicions.

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  1. https://thinkprogress.org/neo-confederates-have-failed-for-the-past-150-years-now-they-have-a-new-ally-d0413e6e63f2/

    I assume that the article in question was the above? As far as I can tell, his mentions of you focus exclusively on how you were present at the Abbeville Institute, and served as a former staff attorney for Roy Moore. At most, the only malice in his comments was that he describes Roy Moore as “disgraced”, but otherwise there does not seem to be much that mischaracterizes you. Merely stating your actions.

    It’s important to distinguish that Michel does not claim that Yes California is a “Kremlin-backed group”, but rather he is referring to the Anti-Globalist Movement of Russia. More on this later.

    While the social media accounts advocating for Calexit does not necessarily indicate a connection, the message they promote is directly benefitting Yes California. While Yes California is indeed an organic group, it is concerning that they seem to rely on these fake accounts to artificially boost their numbers.

    Other sources cite that “According to organisers from the Anti-Globalist Movement of Russia, funding for the gathering was provided in part by a state grant from the National Charity Fund, which was founded as the National Military Fund in 1999 by then-PM Vladimir Putin.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/20/russia-funds-moscow-conference-us-eu-ukraine-separatists

    Michel’s claims that the Kremlin funded the Anti-Globalist Movement seem to be based on the movement’s very own claims. While Louis Marinelli may not be personally serve as a member of the AGMR, his campaign does seem to benefit directly from their aid.

    Largely, the reporting on Yes California’s connections to Russia do clarify when there is speculation, but comment that Marinelli often does not help his case by doing more to prove that there is merit to people who scrutinize his connections with Russia. For example, Yes California withdrew a petition in April 2017, with Louis Marinelli claiming that he would wish for a new petition to be submitted, free from ties to him.

    https://www.kcra.com/article/calexit-backers-withdraw-2018-california-independence-bid/9521079

    However, this claim largely seemed to be disingenuous, as he returned earlier this year specifically to help submit the petition, so it is curious why Yes California did not maintain their distance from him. Additionally, the Embassy that you quote from Michel is referring to how Louis Marinelli has used space that he claims represents the “Independent Republic of California.” As California has not yet declared independence, there is no such republic for that embassy to legally represent.

    What’s important is that most journalists seem to be in agreement regarding Yes California’s connections to Russia. Casual readers may not have the time to discredit every journalist who raises suspicions, but when they’re raising the same suspicions, and Louis Marinelli continues to act alongside those suspicions, then it is fair to keep the general public informed.

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