NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn't happen this week

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:


Trump did not sign an order to deploy 20,000 troops on Jan. 6

CLAIM: Former President Donald Trump signed an order to deploy 20,000 National Guard troops before his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but was stopped by the House sergeant at arms, at the behest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

THE FACTS: While Trump was involved in discussions in the days prior to Jan. 6 about the National Guard response, he issued no such order before or during the rioting. New footage released last week of House lawmakers on Jan. 6 has sparked a resurgence of false claims and conspiracy theories about the insurrection. The videos, recorded by Pelosi’s daughter, showed the congresswoman negotiating with governors and defense officials in an effort to get Guard troops to the Capitol. Some on social media used the occasion to revive baseless claims that Pelosi had stopped a Trump order for tens of thousands of National Guard troops before the event. “Trump signed an order to deploy 20,000 Guardsmen on J6. It was refused by the House sergeant at arms, who reports to Nancy Pelosi,” said one post that spread on Gettr, Instagram and Twitter. As the AP has previously reported, Trump was not involved in decision-making related to the National Guard on Jan. 6, and Pelosi did not stand in their way. Trump did say during a 30-second call on Jan. 5 with then Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller that “they” were going to need 10,000 troops on Jan. 6, according to a statement Miller provided to a House committee in May 2021. But Miller added that there was “no elaboration,” and he took the comment to mean “a large force would be required to maintain order the following day.” There is no evidence that Trump actually signed any order requesting 10,000 Guard troops, let alone 20,000, for Jan. 6. Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense provided a timeline of the agency’s involvement in preparing for and responding to the attack on the Capitol. The timeline shows no such order, and notes only that on Jan. 3, the president concurred with activating the D.C. National Guard to support law enforcement at the behest of Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser. When the rioting started, Bowser requested more Guard help, on behalf of the Capitol Police. That request was made to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who then went to Miller, who approved it. Neither Pelosi nor the House sergeant at arms could have stopped an ordered deployment of National Guard troops because Congress doesn’t control the National Guard, legal experts say. Guard troops are generally controlled by governors, though they can be federalized, said William C. Banks, a law professor at Syracuse University. The online claims “make no sense at all,” Banks said, adding, “The House sergeant at arms, he or she is not in the chain of command. Nor is Nancy Pelosi.” As the newly released footage showed, she and Mitch McConnell, then Senate majority leader, called for military assistance, including the National Guard. The House sergeant at arms does sit on the Capitol Police Board, which also includes the Senate sergeant at arms and the architect of the Capitol. That board opted not to request the Guard ahead of the insurrection, but did eventually request assistance after the rioting had already begun. There is no evidence that either Pelosi or McConnell directed the security officials not to call the guard beforehand, and Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, said after the insurrection that Pelosi was never informed of such a request.

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.


Immigrants not auto enrolled to vote under new driver’s license law

CLAIM: A new Massachusetts law providing driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally will also automatically register them to vote in elections.

THE FACTS: The law passed by Massachusetts state lawmakers this summer prohibits immigrants without legal permission to reside in the U.S. from being automatically registered to vote. Social media users have been reviving fears that the new Massachusetts law would give those living in the country illegally the right to vote since the state has automatic voter registration. The concerns come as residents weigh a ballot referendum on the law in next month’s election. The law, which takes effect July 1, 2023, would allow Massachusetts residents who cannot provide proof of lawful presence in the U.S. to obtain a driver’s license or permit if they meet all other requirements, such as passing a road test and providing proof of identity. “Giving Driver’s licenses to illegals gives them the right to vote,” the Massachusetts Republican Party said in a Facebook post. Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl repeated the claim during a televised debate against Democratic rival Maura Healey. He noted that Republican Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the legislation in part over election concerns. Massachusetts’ Democratic-led legislature ultimately overrode the veto. But state Sen. Brendan Crighton, a Democrat who was a lead sponsor of the bill, told the AP that the voting concerns have “long been debunked.” He argued that green card holders, student visa holders and other types of noncitizens can already seek Massachusetts driver’s licenses, and there’s a system in place to ensure they’re not automatically registered to vote. The state in 2020 enacted an automatic voter registration law in which every eligible citizen who interacts with state agencies like the RMV is automatically registered to vote, unless they specifically opt out. The state’s current driver’s license form asks if the applicant is a U.S. citizen and a Massachusetts resident under a section for voter registration. If the applicant can’t answer “yes” to all the questions, they are then instructed to check a box that says, “Do not use my information for voter registration.” “The term ‘automatic voter registration’ is a misnomer in the sense that the individual is not registered to vote unless they are a citizen and over 18 years old,” Crighton said. “It is not actually automatic.” Amanda Orlando, Diehl’s campaign manager, didn’t dispute that Massachusetts’ new law specifically prohibits automatic voter registration for those seeking driver’s licenses. But she maintained the law, as constructed, “places the burden” of reviewing voting eligibility on the already overburdened and understaffed RMV. “What is written in the law, and what will happen in reality are different,” Orlando wrote in an email. “As noted by Governor Baker, they are not able to handle the volume they currently have, let alone increase it substantially with giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.” The RMV declined to comment, but Secretary of State William Galvin’s office, which oversees Massachusetts elections, said the two agencies have been in communication ahead of the law taking effect next year. Under the current process, the RMV provides the secretary of state’s office with all the relevant information for voter registration — such as an applicant’s name, date of birth and address — and can provide additional information to further verify voting eligibility, said Debra O’Malley, Galvin’s spokesperson. “The RMV has a record of what evidence of lawful presence has been provided and removes from those batches anyone who hasn’t provided them with a U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport, or U.S. naturalization papers," she said by email.

— Associated Press writer Phillip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.


CNBC report on climate research didn’t confirm ‘chemtrails’ theory

CLAIM: A CNBC story on research into technology to combat climate change admitted that “chemtrails” are real.

THE FACTS: The story reported on a federal plan to research technology that could place materials in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight away from Earth, but experts say the idea is being investigated and is not currently in use. A TikTok video also shared on Instagram is distorting the facts around a recent CNBC story to advance a long-running conspiracy theory that the condensation trails, or contrails, left in the air by planes are actually dangerous “chemtrails.” “Chemtrails are real,” text shown in the video reads. The theory posits that aircrafts are spewing toxic chemicals as part of a nefarious and secret plot. The video, viewed more than 9,000 times on TikTok, shows screenshots of an Oct. 13 CNBC story headlined, “White House is pushing ahead research to cool Earth by reflecting back sunlight.” The person in the video then proceeds to show footage of vapor trails in the sky. But the CNBC story wasn’t “admitting” that chemtrails are real, and experts say the aerosol injection technology it discussed is not currently in use. The CNBC report looked at a White House plan to study ways to reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches Earth, in an effort to combat global warming. In passing a federal appropriations bill earlier this year, Congress directed federal agencies to coordinate with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a five-year plan assessing the use of such solar and climate interventions. One possibility is the use of stratospheric aerosol injection, an idea taken from the climate effects of large volcanic eruptions. These eruptions emit sulfur into the atmosphere, where it turns into “highly reflective microscopic droplets,” said Ben Kravitz, an assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Indiana University. Those sulfur droplets “reflect some sunlight back to space, and it cools the planet a little bit,” he said in an email. “Stratospheric aerosol injection is built on that idea — if nature can cool the planet, maybe we can do it on purpose.” The idea is not without risks, Kravitz added, and the point of research is so that decision makers can weigh whether to use such technology. “Currently nobody is doing this,” he said. David Keith, a Harvard University professor who researches this field, likewise told the AP that this is “a discussion about a technology that is possible but is not now used.” Keith said in an email that aerosol injection would not leave contrails like those left by planes. "If someone were doing climate-altering stratospheric aerosol injections - the sky would probably look a little whiter and hazier, much like it looks in a big city,” Kravitz said.

— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.


No suspected serial killer in Seattle, despite online rumor

CLAIM: King County detectives have been notifying locals about a serial killer in Seattle after several women in a southern section of the city and the nearby city of Burien were found dead with their bodies posed in the same way.

THE FACTS: The King County Sheriff’s Office and Seattle Police Department both said they are not investigating a suspected serial killer. The claims erupted on social media last weekend as Seattle residents warned each other about the alleged criminal. “King County Detectives have been notifying locals about a serial killer in Seattle right now,” read a tweet that was shared to Instagram, where it amassed nearly 40,000 likes. “Multiple women’s bodies have been discovered recently in the Burien and SODO area, apparently posed in the same way,” the post continued, referring to a district of downtown Seattle. “Serial killer warning in Seattle!” read another tweet, which included a screenshot of an email attributed to a local bar manager. The email claimed a killer had been targeting women in their 30s between 12 a.m. and 7 a.m. in the south Seattle area. The Seattle Police Department refuted the claims on Twitter and in an emailed statement, saying it did not have any serial homicide cases. The King County Sheriff’s Office, which is the main law enforcement agency for unincorporated areas of the county and 12 cities including Burien, also denied the claims on Twitter and by email. “The King County Sheriff’s Office is aware of unsubstantiated on-line social media reports that select death investigations, in the vicinity of South Park / SR509, may share similar characteristics,” the statement read. “At this time, the Sheriff’s Office has identified no evidence affirming this for any cases under our jurisdiction.” It’s unclear where the baseless rumors originated, though unsupported claims related to serial killers occasionally spread in cities across the country. The bar manager cited as the author of an email spreading the claims did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.


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