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No, Ilhan Omar, Nancy Pelosi, and El Chapo’s wife aren’t conspiring in Italy

How a conspiracy goes viral.


Mike Rothschild


Did you know that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with a Congressional delegation made up of members of “the Squad,” including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) used a fake trip to Ghana as cover to meet with a former Mexican official—and the wife of infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, aka “El Chapo,” who was in Venice at the exact same time?

And credible tips from multiple sources have Mrs. Chapo, Emma Aispuro Coronel, meeting with both the former official and Pelosi at a five-star Venice restaurant—discussing the nine-figure bribe Chapo gave to former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto?

What a scandal.

Except you haven’t heard about it, because it’s not true. Oh yes, Pelosi and other members of Congress just finished up a trip to Italy to visit a U.S. military base, before heading to Ghana. And yes, they were photographed at a posh restaurant in Venice—sparking an outcry of conservative outrage.

But the rest? Entirely fake.

The Pelosi/Chapo conspiracy theory (if one can call it that) stems from a tweet thread by Jeffrey Peterson, one of a number of conservative conspiracy theorists, who have built a decent-sized Twitter following by pushing out stories exactly like this. Sure enough, the story got some traction, getting about 2,300 retweets in just over 12 hours.

Like most threads of this nature, the story falls apart under the slightest scrutiny. There’s no link to any actual reporting, except for one Daily Mail piece about Coronel having taken and deleted selfies in Venice on July 27. There’s no evidence she met with Pelosi, nor that Pelosi met with a “Mexican official,” whom Peterson doesn’t name, only linking to a picture of Pelosi walking with Pena Nieto to allude that it’s them in Venice when it’s actually a picture from 2016.

Fake stories like this become popular for two reasons. The first is that, like the currently circulating fake Jim Jordan quote about President Barack Obama cowering on Air Force One on 9/11, they play on the cognitive biases of the people who read them. Liberals think Jim Jordan is a sycophantic idiot. Conservatives think Nancy Pelosi is a depraved crook. When we read things that seem plausible that back up these notions, we believe them, and we share them with others who think the same.

The second reason is that the people who create them put in real facts that show up in a Google search as true. So when conspiracy believers “do their research,” they find a few real things that they decide prove the entire conspiracy is true. A conspiracy theory that’s entirely made up is harder to trend than one that’s just true enough to believe. (The QAnon conspiracy being a notable exception to this rule.)

So one can include pictures of Pelosi and the Squad dining in Venice, the story about Chapo trying to bribe Pena Nieto (unconfirmed, but heavily reported), and the Daily Mail story about Coronel’s trip to Venice. They’re all real, after all. Then, since conspiracy theorists constantly claim there are “no coincidences,” you tie all these things together—but also give yourself an out by declaring it all a “rumor.” Which is exactly what Peterson does.

This is the kind of conspiracy theory designed to do nothing but create instant churn online. And unfortunately, because critical thinking and social media don’t often mix, it will do just that. 

By the time this story and tweet thread had circulated, Pelosi and her delegation had already moved on to Ghana, where they took pictures with local officials and military personal.

Unless those were fake, too.


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The Daily Dot