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Here's The Insane Story Of How Liberal Trolls Started Making Fake News For Conservatives

This is what happens when liberal trolls, fake news, and Macedonians collide.

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A hoax about President Donald Trump removing "Islamic symbols" from the White House has gone massively viral thanks to the unlikely combination of a blogger based in London, pro-Trump sites in Macedonia, Nigerian news sites, and an elaborate liberal trolling operation aimed at US conservatives.

Here's what happened.

On Jan. 23, TheRepublicanNews.net published a completely false story claiming Trump ordered staff to remove Obama's "Islamic symbols" from the White House. It quickly generated close to 700,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook, according to BuzzSumo.

The Republican News / Via therepublicannews.net

The story falsely claimed that in Obama's White House "silence has been ordered during the 5 times of Islamic prayer each day. In addition, prayer rugs and crescent moon symbols are available in several areas of the executive mansion to make Muslims more comfortable."

None of the above is true, and the story has been debunked by Snopes and others.

Reached by phone in London, the owner of the site, Ike Offor, told BuzzFeed News he runs the site part time and that he's trained as a clinical scientist. He said he believes the story to be true.

"Some people consider it fake news and all that," he said. "But the point is that we got some sources about a few things — of course we cannot prove everything, that’s the thing about news."

The thing about this particular piece of fake news is that it originally appeared online Dec. 4 on a site called The Resistance: The Last Line of Defense. In fact, Offor's site copied the text word for word.

The Resistance: The Last Line of Defense / Via thelastlineofdefense.org

Offor said he was not familiar with this earlier version of the story. He also said he saw the Snopes debunking but that his "sources" for the information were different.

The hoax was soon picked up by other websites — and those versions of the hoax also did well on Facebook. The Oriental Times, a site based in Nigeria, got more than 50,000 engagements for its copy of it. USADailyInfo.com generated more than 45,000 engagements for its story.

BuzzFeed News

BuzzFeed News identified 30 websites that copied the hoax and presented it as true within three days of it being published by Offor's site.

Several of those sites are based in Nigeria, which is where Offor was born. (His site began in 2015 with a focus on news about Nigeria and other countries in Africa.)

Along with Nigerian sites, the hoax was picked up by pro-Trump sites with connections to Macedonia. BuzzFeed News previously reported on a cluster of more than 100 websites based in Macedonia that often publish fake news.

IncredibleUSANews.com, which is connected via its IP address to an owner in Macedonia, received close to 20,000 engagements for its story.

OK, so as of now we have a completely false story rocketing around Facebook and the web largely because a part-time Nigerian blogger in London decided to copy and paste it months after it was first published.

But that's nowhere close to the craziest part of this story.

The Resistance: The Last Line of Defense, which published the original fake story, is actually an elaborate trolling operation aimed at conservatives, according to one of the site's founders.

The Last Line of Defense

BuzzFeed News initially contacted the site weeks ago after seeing it was generating significant Facebook engagement for fake news stories.

For example, its biggest hit last year was headlined "Van Full Of Illegals Shows Up To Vote Clinton At SIX Polling Places, Still Think Voter Fraud Is A Myth?" That story generated more than 350,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. The site also earned over 200,000 engagements for "WHOA! Hillary Caught On Hot Mic Trashing Beyonce’ With RACIAL SLURS!"

Both hoaxes were published in November. But months earlier, before it started churning out fake news, the site was actually publishing real stories aimed at conservatives.

The person who responded to an email sent to the website told BuzzFeed News the plan all along was to attract a Facebook following of conservatives "for the sole purpose of flipping the blog to tell stories so ridiculous only an idiot would believe them."

He said his name is Zeke Wilekenmeyer and described himself and the unnamed others who run the site as liberal trolls. They launched in early in 2016 and began publishing headlines like, "Sarah Palin Just DESTROYED Obama With The Most Humiliating Insult Possible" and "Proof Of The Truck Full Of Supplies Trump Donated To Flood Victims The MSM Won’t Show You (VIDEO)."

(The text of these older posts has been removed but their URLs are still active.)

The conservative content helped the site's Facebook page amass tens of thousands of followers. (It now has more than 100,000.) Then, in the fall, the site changed and began to publish completely fake stories. They also started posted memes to troll conservatives.

Facebook: thelastlineofdefense

"We served them real conservative news, which is mostly a steaming pile of crap anyway, for nearly a year and then made our move to parody," Wilekenmeyer told BuzzFeed News. "As it turns out, Trump supporters tend to be idiots, even when we tell them straight to their faces that they're being played."

He said the site has a disclaimer that notes its content is satire, and also pointed out that categories on the site include "You've Been Trolled," "Bean Soup," and "Try The Scones, They're Delicious."

"Anyone who believes what we write needs to have their head examined. Luckily, we have a category for 'Free Head Examinations,'" he said.

Wilekenmeyer and his collaborators frequently troll Facebook commenters who believe the stories. They also sometimes admit in their posts that the information is false.

The Last Line of Defense

One post with the headline "BREAKING: Clinton Foundation Ordered To Cease Operations–Chelsea Charged With Fraud" ends with a Rickroll and the line, "There you have it. Idiots have ordered things because they’re idiots, and if you got this far you’re an idiot, too."

BuzzFeed News sent Wilekenmeyer additional questions about how many people are involved and what other sites they have launched, but he never replied. (They appear to run a Facebook page called Freedum Junkshun.) He also didn't reply to a request for comment on how their hoax about Islamic symbols in the White House suddenly became a viral hit for other sites almost two months after they published it.

"People can say what they want," he said in his initial email. "They're welcome to try to blame us for America's problems. The truth is, we tried for years to communicate and reason with these troglodytes and all we get are denials of reality and CAPS LOCK RAGE."

Then he signed off.

"There's our statement. Feel free to print it."

Craig Silverman is Media Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto.

Contact Craig Silverman at craig.silverman@buzzfeed.com.

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