Fake Internet posts said President Donald Trump offered to give refuge to Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses after that country banned followers of the religion, but there is no record he made any such comments.
"Trump warns Russia over Jehovah’s Witnesses ban and urges members to seek asylum in the U.S.," reads the headline on an undated story on States-TV.com. The post first appeared on or around April 24, 2017, on States-TV.com, HoustonChronicle-TV.com and Fox-News24.com.
Facebook users flagged it as possibly being fabricated, as part of the social media site’s efforts to clear fake news from users’ news feeds.
The post is keyed to a real event: Russia’s Supreme Court banned the religious organization on April 20, labeling the group as a danger for "extremist activities." The assets of the St. Petersburg headquarters and almost 400 chapters were designated state property. Its literature and website have also been banned.
From there, the story devolved into fairytale, claiming Trump warned that the move "is contrary to the constitution of the land of the Russian Federation."
"I request you to reverse the decision immediately before I use your own constitution against you," Trump is quoted. He also is credited as saying Jehovah’s Witness could find freedom in this country.
"As this is an infringement of your fundamental human right, I therefore urge you to seek asylum in the United States until your rights are fully reinstated," he said, according to the post.
The problem is, there is no record Trump said any of these things. Aside from a few examples of this same post being on multiple websites, we couldn’t find any official record of him personally addressing the subject at all.
We reached out to a White House spokesman to confirm this but didn’t receive a response.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner did release a statement on April 20 saying that the United States was "extremely concerned by the Russian government's actions targeting and repressing members of religious minorities, including Jehovah's Witnesses, under the pretense of combating extremism."
Toner also noted that religious freedom was critical to society.
"All religious minorities should be able to enjoy freedom of religion and assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Russian Federation's constitution," he said.
But there’s no mention of Trump making any statement, and we couldn’t find one elsewhere. Reposts have circulated of the country’s 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses being harassed by Russian police since the ruling.
Fox-News24.com is a url that attempts to mimic Fox News, but has no connection to the cable news network. The same goes for HoustonChronicle-TV.com, which mimics the real newspaper’s name but doesn’t look to have affiliation.
All three of the sites are filled with the same kind of sponsored content ads endemic to fake news sites.
But even though this story appears to be bogus, it’s difficult to fully determine the point of the websites, because they do contain some legitimate news articles.
Fox-News24.com, for example, features one article about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos saying she wouldn’t mind shutting down the Education Department. It’s copied practically word-for-word from a Feb. 17 story from U.S. News & World Report.
Fox-News24.com administrators have hidden the registration of the website, which was only registered on March 20. There is no contact information available. The same goes for the other two websites we’ve noted.
The story said that Trump warned Russia for banning Jehovah’s Witnesses, and offered a safe haven for Russians who wanted to come to America. The State Department did decry Russia’s ruling, but there’s no evidence Trump weighed in.
We rate the statement Pants On Fire!