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Fact-checking Fascism: Axios Platforms Violent Biker Gang Over Veterans Day

Posted in Creative Commons, Journalism, and Occupy Wall Street

Over 5 years since the election of Donald Trump and the rise of the powerful white supremacist movement he empowered, the mainstream media still struggles to fact-check fascists.

It always interests me which organizations get the benefit of the doubt from the mainstream media.

I (and many others) have written about how the mainstream media tends to take the words of police at face value. Reporters often use whatever language makes police seem blameless after violent interactions.

Just like cops, right-wing fascists frequently get platformed by reporters who fail to ask vital questions.

Which brings us to an article by Asher Price, an Austin reporter for Axios. Price writes about a recent controversy over COVID19 regulations which Austin imposed on the 2021 Veterans Day parade. After the parade organizers objected to the parade, Greg Abbott offered to host them on the Capitol steps.

All this is peripheral to a quote partway down. Price shares the perspective of Luis Rodriguez, apparently just an average veteran upset about the situation. Price mentions that Rodriguez leads the Wind Therapy Freedom Motorcycle Riders, which he calls a “military support organization.”

The only problem? The WTF Riders are actually a far-right biker gang with a history of political violence.

Missing context: What happened here?

Here’s the full quote, for posterity:

Some veterans and their supporters were incensed at the parade’s cancellation.

“First they turned their back on cops and now on veterans,” Luis Rodriguez, head of the Wind Therapy Motorcycle Freedom Riders, a military support group, tells Axios, referring to questions of funding and staffing of police.

“It’s a slap in the face to those who served. It’s for an open air parade. They allowed Formula 1 to go ahead, and that had five times the number of people as the Super Bowl. They did nothing to shut that down. They’re playing politics with the honor of veterans and those who have served this country,” Rodriguez added.

Rodriguez does, indeed, love the cops. Alongside city council member (then candidate) Mackenzie Kelly … also a former supporter of GamerGate … Rodruguez and the Riders drew controversy for posing with the Proud Boys and the Austin Police Department in one chummy photograph. One of the Proud Boys flashed a white power hand signal. Also present was Christopher Ritchie, a well-known violent nazi.

In a second incident in November 2020, Rodriguez and the Wind Therapy Freedom Riders cornered popular, progressive Austin City Council member Jimmy Flannigan.

“Why the fuck are you calling us racist?” shouted Rodriguez, threatening both Flannigan and one of his workers, in a video captured by the council member. Not long after the incident, Kelly beat Flannigan in a close run-off election to take his council seat.

Somehow, none of this makes it into the Axios article, which would have you believe the Riders are just like the folks down at the local VFW.

Are the Proud Boys just a drinking club?

I’ve reached out to Asher Price & Axios via email and Twitter. I’ll update this article if they respond or update the article. I hope they’ll post a correction.

While it’s true that many outlets no longer boast well-funded, highly staffed fact-checking departments, Axios is a little different. Their whole shtick is about separating fact from fiction and giving readers necessary context around each story. Yet somehow, this context went missing. Price treats a fascist, violent biker like a normal veteran.

Regardless of what happens here, I think this is symbolic of an overall problem in the media. This is the same attitude which sees the Proud Boys referred to as a ‘controversial men’s drinking club’ versus what they really are: a dangerous, paramilitary tool of white supremacy and an arm of the modern Republican party. The WTF Riders serve much the same role, but locally.

Oddly enough, Leftist protest groups rarely get the same courtesy from the media. For example, reporters dismissed Occupy Wall Street because the expansive movement couldn’t tie itself to a single demand. Black Lives Matter and the Abolish/Defund Police movements receive similar, or worse, paternalistic treatment.

And yet, fascist bikers and cops essentially get press releases published by the media.

Incidentally, I’m currently unemployed and looking for full-time work in journalism. So, if Axios or another outlet wants to hire me to cover extremism and misinformation, or fact-check your stories to keep this kind of thing from happening, you know where to find me.

Published under a Creative Commons license

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