Far-right conspiracy theories run wild in free local newspapers in small-town Texas: report

On Tuesday, writing for The Bulwark, editor and former Republican congressional staffer Jim Swift offered a window into how free local papers in Republican-leaning cities allow far-right conspiracy theories to run wild, advertised on street corners and in businesses that may not even think twice about it.

As a case study, Swift pointed to the Buffalo Gap Round-Up News, a local paper in a small town just outside Abilene, Texas where he recently went to visit family.

"Usually the best part of local papers is the local coverage — reporting of news and controversies, personalities and celebrations, real estate transactions and business developments, and various civic goings on," wrote Swift. However, the Round-Up News had only "maybe six pages" of this kind of local coverage — all the rest was taken up with right-wing culture war rhetoric and conspiracy theories.

Among the articles he saw were "A column from the chairman of the Taylor County Republican Party calling on 'each state to decertify its electors,'" "A conspiracy-theory piece entitled 'Gates/CIA Plan From 2005 Exposed: 'Vaccinate the Religious,'' written by an American who pleaded guilty to tax fraud and later fled to Poland," and "A 'Funny Paper' composed entirely of memes, including editorial cartoons that are syndicated and likely not used with permission, but mostly cartoons from the far-right Patriot Post website."

"I was a little shocked that a steakhouse run by a friend of former President George W. Bush would have this at his establishment. Perhaps Mr. Perini hasn't read it; I don't know," said Swift. "And it's striking that so many local businesses choose to advertise in a conspiratorial rag like this. Among the advertisers are ones you might not be too surprised by: outdoor stores, gas station markets, a realtor, local attorneys, a butcher, country and Christian radio stations, an upcoming gun show, etc."

While this sort of paper has nowhere near the reach of other vectors of disinformation, like Facebook, Swift argued that this type of spread of fake news is disturbing in another way.

"Chances are, the Buffalo Gap News Round-Up has a small circulation," concluded Swift. "But here in Buffalo Gap, it's a part of civic life, with local businesses and local government in some sense invested in the poison it peddles."

You can read more here.