Debunking 10 scary claims for Halloween

If these guys tell you Islamic terrorists are carrying Ebola across the Mexico border, you may want to checks the facts. (Orlando Sentinel photo)
If these guys tell you Islamic terrorists are carrying Ebola across the Mexico border, you may want to checks the facts. (Orlando Sentinel photo)

Haunted houses can be pretty scary! Ghost stories give us the chills, too. Sometimes, though, the things politicians say can be particularly frightening.

In fact, we’ve noticed several claims recently that hype the fear factor, telling us to be afraid of terrorists or deadly disease or the end of freedom.

The problem is, not all of these claims are accurate. So in the spirit of Halloween, we’ve put together a list of debunked scary claims for you to give out on Halloween. Trick or treat!

Ebola claims

George Will said that Ebola can be transmitted through the air by "a sneeze or some cough." But Will is taking medical commentary out of context. The commentary was about hospital workers treating people in advanced stages of the disease. Researchers were looking at people who already had the more severe symptoms of Ebola -- violent vomiting and diarrhea -- and suggested that Ebola can be transmitted in hospital rooms when droplets from those fluids fly into the air. We rated his statement False.

Bloggers have said a conspiracy caused the Ebola outbreak, specifically a bioweapons lab in Sierra Leone that was funded by billionaires George Soros and Bill Gates. But there’s basically zero evidence to support such a claim. Soros and Gates have not funded bioweapons labs, and there’s no evidence the virus emerged from a bioweapons lab. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

In the context of Ebola, bloggers have also claimed that President Barack Obama signed an executive order that "mandates the apprehension and detention of Americans who merely show signs of ‘respiratory illness.’ " Obama actually renewed a 2003 executive order, but it doesn’t mandate apprehension and detention, has nothing to do with the Ebola (which is not respiratory illness) and only affects people entering the country or crossing state lines. We rated this claim Pants on Fire!

Another claim about Ebola -- notice a frightening trend? -- came from U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., who wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "As a physician for over 30 years, I am well aware of the dangers infectious diseases pose. … Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning," he said. Gingrey said this in July, so we know now that no one crossing the border carried Ebola, and experts told us that the likelihood of children from Central America bringing it to the U.S. border is almost nonexistent. We rated his claim Pants on Fire!

Islamic State

Right up there with fears of Ebola are fears about the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said, "At least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas" and there are "dozens more that did not get caught by the Border Patrol." We could find no public safety officials who could or would verify that ISIS fighters have been apprehended at the border. In fact, they’ve said reports saying so are not accurate. This seems to have bubbled up from anonymously sourced reports in partisan media. We rated Hunter's claim Pants on Fire!

In a similar claim, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said United States is at "historic record highs" of individuals being apprehended on the border from countries with terrorist ties such as "Pakistan or Afghanistan or Syria." The most recent data does not show record apprehensions from those countries. Even if it did, many apprehensions of people from these areas happen at airports rather than land borders. We rated Perry’s claim Pants on Fire!

Still in the category of terrorists attacking the United States, U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., claimed that Islamic State fighters had attempted an attack on Fort Knox in 2011. But there is no public account of an attack; King’s office didn’t respond to our request for details. He seems to have garbled the details of an FBI sting in Kentucky that fell far short of an attack on Fort Knox. We rated his statement False.  

Promoting yet another conspiracy theory, bloggers claimed to have documents released by Edward Snowden that showed American, British and Israeli intelligence agencies worked together to create the Islamic State. Sources with access to Snowden’s documents have directly refuted the hoax, which seems to have been promoted by Iranian interests. We rated this one Pants on Fire!

Grab bag

If you believe a recent chain email, President Barack Obama openly says he wants to institute some sort of autocratic government in the United States. Obama said that "ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs" and that individuals should "surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign," according to a video. But the video is fake, and created through an artful cut-away. Our fact-check showed the real nature of Obama comments, which were pretty much the opposite sentiment. We rated the chain email’s claim Pants on Fire!

And just in time for Halloween, the tale of the headless Obamacare recipient. Bloggers claimed this one: "Obamacare Medical Codes Confirm: Execution by Beheading To Be Implemented in America." Actually, the codes in question are international codes developed separately from the federal health care law, and apply to other countries where beheading is still an acceptable means of execution. Any change in legal execution methods would have to be approved by the states, not by the federal government. We rated this claim Pants on Fire!