Wikipedia and Google Spread ‘Nazi’ Smears About CPAC

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 26: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference being held in the Hyatt Regency on February 26, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. Begun in 1974, CPAC brings together conservative organizations, activists, and world leaders to discuss issues important to them. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty …
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

During the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the end of February, people searching Google for information about the annual event briefly saw it branded on the search engine’s knowledge panel sidebar as a gathering of “neo-Nazis” and “rapists.” This followed repeated vandalism of the Wikipedia page on CPAC. Although the vandalism was quickly removed, established editors smeared the event as well by noting baseless claims that the conference stage copied a “Nazi” symbol.

A golden statue of Donald Trump was also the subject of a mocking paragraph in the article with Wikipedia editors coming to a stalemate when debating the inclusion of this and the “Nazi symbol” claims, thus leaving both controversies in the article.

Vandals began targeting Wikipedia’s page about CPAC in the wake of a social media firestorm among left-wing celebrities and social media personalities claiming a stage at the conference was designed after an Odal rune, a Nordic and Germanic symbol once used by the Nazis. After pushing Hyatt, the company whose hotel hosted the event, into a response condemning the symbol, it was reported the company that created the design is owned by a Biden supporter and has previously worked with left-wing MSNBC.

Before the false claims were debunked, vandals repeatedly edited the Wikipedia CPAC page to label CPAC a “Nazi” conference along with other smears attacking Trump and pushing Russia-related hoaxes. One vandal branded CPAC a “radically right” conference attended by “QAnon symphesizers [sic], Neo Nazis, KKK members, rapists, insurrectionalists [sic], Trumpists and fraudulent elected officials” who were “required to worship him over god” in reference to the Trump statue created for the conference. The vandalism was later restored after being removed and only partially undone with the “radically right” language staying up for half an hour.

Though the vandalism that included a litany of unsavory attendees such as “Neo Nazis” and “rapists” was up for less than a total of ten minutes, it still appeared in Google’s “knowledge panel” in the sidebar of searches for CPAC as noted by a Reuters fact-check, which critiqued angry responses suggesting the vandalism proved Wikipedia’s left-wing bias. Previously, vandals on Wikipedia got the claim that the California Republican Party’s ideology was “Nazism” to appear in the Google knowledge panel. Such incidents are common given Big Tech’s reliance on Wikipedia for information.

Even as editors removed vandalism, they also added the bogus “Nazi symbol” controversy to the page along with the social media controversy over the golden Trump statue at the conference, which many anti-Trump critics compared to the “golden calf” from the Biblical story of Moses, an idea also added to the Wikipedia page. The editor who added the Nazi symbol claims to the page, Michael Knowles or “Binksternet” on Wikipedia, has a long history of advancing a left-wing agenda on the site such as by engaging in the efforts to smear China critics the Epoch Times.

Several editors attempted to remove the claims from the article, but their removals were repeatedly undone. One response was vandals altering the entry about the “Nazi symbol” claims to attack the accusers. Due to repeated fighting back and forth over including the two sections, editors debated the matter at the article’s discussion page. Editors opposed to including either section argued there was not enough coverage or that the controversies were temporary news events, not worthy of being included in the article under site policies on avoiding focus on recent events and temporary news stories. Others argued there was an undue amount of material about the controversies.

Claiming the discussion did not show a consensus on the question, one editor removed mention of the “Nazi symbol” controversy, though did not remove the Trump statue material. Knowles restored the section again and expanded it, with another editor removing it and sparking off a new fight about the inclusion of the claim. A more formal discussion has been initiated seeking wider input on including the “Nazi symbol” controversy with opinions closely divided. Aside from supporters citing coverage in “reliable” sources to justify mentioning it, Knowles argued the coverage was sufficient for an independent article on the matter, though he argued inclusion at just CPAC’s Wikipedia page was enough.

In addition to objections to the inclusion of exaggerated controversies from this year’s CPAC, editors also noted the article as a whole was unduly focused on controversies from the past decade. An editor sought to remedy this somewhat by moving the section on controversies lower down the page, it previously having been placed right below a mere paragraph-length section on the event’s history. Controversy sections are generally discouraged on Wikipedia, however, so an editor responded by incorporating the material into the history section with a tag noting the section was too focused on recent events.

The efforts by even established editors to smear CPAC with Nazi associations continue similar efforts directed against Trump and other conservatives. Earlier this year, editors added Trump’s 2020 election fraud claims to the “big lie” article, while attempting to reframe the Nazi-coined phrase about the actions of opponents as a tactic employed by Nazis instead. Previously, Trump and other conservatives were added to a list of “white genocide conspiracy theory” advocates for criticizing illegal immigration and attacks on white South African farmers with the page then describing it as a “neo-Nazi” theory. ICE detention facilities were also added to a list of “concentration camps” on Wikipedia, echoing Democrat attacks.

Such smear campaigns against Trump and various right-wing individuals on Wikipedia, indeed show the site’s left-wing bias, which has been identified by numerous studies and analyses. Wikipedia’s left-wing bias has also been repeatedly criticized by the site’s co-founder. Aside from Big Tech, academics and the media have relied on Wikipedia, even to the point of spreading hoaxes. This reliance is partly a response to praise from corporate media for Wikipedia’s use against “fake news” online, furthering a public relations strategy pursued by the site’s owners following a recommendation by a firm run by the Clinton Foundation’s Head of Communications.

(Disclosure: The author was previously involved in a dispute with Knowles on Wikipedia)

T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.


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