The claim: Government contractors form a “shadow government” responsible for an anti-Trump plot, orchestrating global events
This past weekend, a conspiracy theory-laden video, “What they don’t want you to see,” was posted across social media platforms, racking up millions of views in a matter of days.
The video opens with the title image “ShadowGate,” the title which InfoWars correspondent Millie Weaver advertised the project as on her website on August 3.
The nearly 90-minute video rife with disinformation was produced by Weaver. Weaver was recently arrested alongside her boyfriend after being indicted by an Ohio grand jury on charges of robbery, tampering with evidence, obstructing justice, and domestic violence, according to Fox News.
USA TODAY reached out to Weaver for comment.
The video is filled with false claims and insinuations, centering on the notion that a cabal of federal contractors is using advanced data collection techniques to engineer global events and orchestrate a coup against President Donald Trump.
The video is devoid of evidence to back up its claims. That didn’t stop the video from being viewed nearly 2 million times on YouTube before the platform removed it.
The video is still being posted to social media sites like Facebook, Periscope, Twitch and other places online.
The video gets key facts wrong about nearly every event it mentions. It falsely links the coronavirus pandemic; Ferguson, Missouri, and George Floyd protests; Mueller investigation, and several actions of the Obama administration in a sweeping and contradicting conspiracy theory.
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Unpacking the ‘deep state’ conspiracy
“ShadowGate” opens with a broad contention but never follows up on the claim with anything other than insinuations.
The video implies that a “shadow government” has blackmailed most politicians into subordination, controls the entire federal apparatus and is orchestrating events around the world. There is no basis for the claims.
“What if I were to tell you that a small group of government contractors were hired by government officials to frame the Trump campaign, set him up for the Russia collusion investigation, provided witnesses for the impeachment hearings, and provided administrative support services to the Department of Justice during the Mueller investigation,” Weaver says at the beginning of the video.
The contentions echo sentiments of the “deep state” conspiracy theory, a claim made by Trump and his allies with varying degrees of rationality that there is a group of federal officials who are actively sabotaging the president. The “ShadowGate” conspiracy theory is an especially baseless version of this theory.
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The term “deep state” originally referred to military and political elites bent on curtailing civilian power in emerging democracies. The term originally referred to a ring of elites in early 20th century era of Kemal Atatürk in Turkey and was also later applied to Russia.
American conspiracy theorists have since latched onto the term to refer to any high-profile critic of Trump, including elected officials of both parties, civilian and military government personnel, members of the press, celebrities and other notable individuals.
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Who are Tore and Patrick Bruce Bergy?
The film relies on the testimony of two ostensible federal whistleblowers: a woman called “Tore” and Patrick Bruce Bergy. The two claimed to have worked for federal contractors for the Navy and been trained in “psychological warfare” in the Army, respectively.
Bergy is the author of a book claiming he operated “psyops” for the United States military on American civilians, a claim he again makes in “ShadowGate.”
Tore appears to be Tore Maras-Lindeman, the host of the conspiracy theory podcast “Tore Says” and a former candidate for mayor of Minot, North Dakota, where she campaigned to “Make Minot Great Again.”
In the video, neither Bergy nor Maras-Lindeman disclose what firms they worked for while allegedly contracting for the federal government. Neither provides any proof of participation in such operations.
USA TODAY could not reach the Army and Navy to corroborate the employment histories or security clearances of either person.
“I worked for Global Strategies Group but the names of the companies would change often,” Maras-Lindeman said in a message to USA TODAY.
“The real question is why a video of two private contractors is being banned across the internet across the planet,” she continued.
USA TODAY has reached out to Bergy for comment.
False allegations about Mueller investigation
“ShadowGate” repeatedly attempts to claim that investigations into Trump are part of a coordinated plot against him. These claims are baseless.
The video makes the incorrect assertion that the Trump campaign was avoiding overtures from Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. In fact, both were major players in the campaign and orchestrated some of its high-profile operations.
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Manafort and Stone were both also implicated in the subsequent investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated potential ties between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia’s interference in the election Trump won.
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Manafort, who chaired the Trump 2016 campaign for a time, was later prosecuted in two federal courts, while Stone was convicted on seven counts, including witness tampering and lying to investigators.
“ShadowGate” claims both Manafort and Stone were planted in the campaign by outside actors, which is completely unfounded, chiefly because of Trump’s affinity for both men.
The video also claims the Mueller investigation was somehow compromised because the Department of Justice allegedly employed outside contractors while the investigation was ongoing.The video provides no evidence why this would be the case.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Maras-Lindeman also pointed to federal contracts between CGI Federal Inc. and the Justice Department as proof that the Mueller investigation was compromised.
There are two publicly available reports on the contracts, which are for mail management materials, warehousing and supply costs and maintenance work for the DOJ’s finance system respectively.
It is unclear how these would corroborate her claims in “ShadowGate.”
Trump accused the investigation of being a “witch hunt,” something Mueller denied during his testimony to Congress after the report was released.
A review by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the FBI had behaved improperly during the early stages of its investigation of the Trump 2016 campaign, but that the Russia probe overall and later investigation led by Mueller as special counsel was justified and conducted properly.
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In March, a federal court ordered the Justice Department to release an unredacted version of the Mueller report to it, stating it had “grave concerns about the objectivity of the process” carried out by Attorney Genreal William Barr in redacting and releasing the report publicly.
Mueller’s two-year investigation found a “sweeping and systematic” effort by the Russian government to help the Trump campaign win in 2016, but concluded neither the president nor his campaign conspired with the Kremlin.
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Unfounded allegations about companies
A central contention made by Bergy in the film is that some major federal contractors oppose the president because “Trump got in the way of the big game, between contractors and defense contractors on who gets the contracts.”
The firms mentioned in the film include Analysis Group, Dynology Corp., CGI Global and Global Strategies Corp. All contract with the federal government.
According to the logic of Bergy’s assertions, the Trump administration would be impeding on this work somehow, likely by ceasing contracts with these companies. That is not the case.
In fact, the Trump administration has approved dozens of multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts with these four firms, according to public federal records.
It is a logical contradiction for many of the federal contractors identified in the video to be in opposition to the Trump administration while continuing the same work which Weaver claims the president opposes.
In fact, the Trump administration has seen unprecedented access for defense and intelligence contractors. During the coronavirus pandemic, federal contractors have been increasingly employed to conduct the government’s work, including at the request of the Department of Defense.
“ShadowGate” claims that the Trump administration opposes such arrangements, a clearly false statement.
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“ShadowGate” also claims that events in the past few years are all intimately connected, the result of so-called psyops meant to orchestrate global events. Weaver and her guests claim an unidentified group uses data collection to orchestrate major events as part of a “leftist agenda.”
These events include the coronavirus pandemic; 2014 civil unrest in Ukraine; Black Lives Matter protests both in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, and this summer after the killing of George Floyd; elections in Afghanistan; and the 2016 U.S. presidential election, among others. Weaver makes only insinuations about these claims, providing no evidence.
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The video cites real instances like the 2013 revelations about government surveillance from whistle-blower Edward Snowden as evidence that such a conspiracy is possible but does not explain how events would justify the existence of a larger conspiracy it posits.
Data surveillance from government agencies and private firms has come under scrutiny over the past decade, but their capabilities are nowhere near what is alleged by Weaver and her guests.
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The coronavirus pandemic has been repeatedly found to be organic in nature, and not man-made. Protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd are also the result of grassroots activism and widespread public sentiment, not an organized plot.
The video makes multiple logical fallacies while stringing together this narrative. Among them is the claim that secret forces deployed these operations to stop Trump’s election but also then allowed him to be elected to frame him for his victory. Weaver and Tore then claim that this operation was an example of media bias, providing no further explanation.
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A QAnon-boosted production
Weaver’s video was widely boosted by believers of a related conspiracy theory, QAnon, according to New York Times reporter Davey Alba. QAnon is a wide-ranging belief that Trump is attempting to expose and defeat a global child trafficking ring of political and media elites.
That they appear to be correlated shouldn’t be surprising, according to experts.
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Belief in multiple complementary conspiracy theories “happens sometimes, but not always,” according to Joseph Uscinski, a professor of political science at the University of Miami.
“If you made a video about a new conspiracy theory, and wanted to attract conspiracy-minded people, then playing into beliefs they likely already hold makes perfect sense,” he said.
“Conspiracy theorists try to find a pattern. They like to find connections among seemingly random events. This is true across cultures and over time. That’s part of the appeal of conspiracy theories: Their adherents like to believe that they alone have solved a mystery or a puzzle by seeing a pattern that everyone else has ignored,” said Kathryn Olmsted, a professor of history at University of California Davis who has studied conspiracy theories.
The disparate nature of the claims made in “ShadowGate,” as well as the many logical leaps and contradictions throughout the film, are also typical of conspiracy theories.
“Believers believe because the ideas match how they view the world. If someone believed conspiracies were common and really liked Trump, then this would make sense to them. Connecting the dots so to say might come later, if at all,” Uscinski said.
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Our ruling: False
“ShadowGate” feeds on and feeds into an unfounded and deeply conspiracy theory-minded worldview. The video provides no evidence for its many claims and repeatedly contradicts itself throughout its nearly 90 minutes . There is no evidence that a group of federal contractors is conspiring against the president.
There is also no evidence that global events have been orchestrated in the coordinated manner in which the video claims. Cited instances of criticism and opposition to Trump are also not part of a mass conspiracy orchestrated by secret elites. We rate this claim FALSE, because it is unsubstantiated and not supported by our research.
Our fact-check sources:
Fox News, Aug 17, 2020, InfoWars correspondent arrested on robbery, domestic violence charges
Dictionary.com, Deep State Definition
Amazon.com listing of Patrick Bergy book
Minot Daily News, Aug 18, 2020, ND Attorney General seeks fines, costs from Maras Lindeman, former Minot event organizer
USA TODAY,Oct 30, 2017, Who is Paul Manafort? More about Trump’s indicted former campaign chairman
CNN, April 19, 2016, The return of Roger Stone
USA TODAY,Mar 25, 2019, Mueller’s investigation is done. Here are the 34 people he indicted along the way
USA TODAY, Mar 19, 2019, Paul Manafort sentenced to a total of 7.5 years in prison: ‘It is hard to overstate the number of lies’
USA TODAY, Jan 25, 2019, ‘The payload is still coming:’ Top takeaways from the Roger Stone indictment
USA TODAY, Mar 5, 2020, Judge orders review of unredacted Mueller report, calls AG Barr’s account ‘misleading’
USA TODAY, July 24, 2019, ‘It is not a witch hunt’: Top moments from Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress
USA TODAY, Dec 10 2019, FBI wiretap of Trump campaign aide was riddled with errors, but Russia probe was legally justified, IG report finds
USASpending.gov, DOJ Blanket Purchase Agreement with CGI Federal, September 2017
USASpending.gov, DOJ Blanket Purchase Agreement with CGI Federal, August 2018
USASpending.gov, Federal Contracts Search
The Intercept, Mar 21, 2017, Donald Trump Is Filling Top Pentagon and Homeland Security Jobs With Defense Contractors
USA TODAY, March 24, 2019, Nearly 500 witnesses, 675 days: The Mueller investigation by the numbers
USA TODAY, Dec 9, 2019, FBI wiretap of Trump campaign aide was riddled with errors, but Russia probe was legally justified, IG report finds
USA TODAY, July 24, 2019, ‘It is not a witch hunt’: Top moments from Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress
Federal Network News, July 15 2020, DoD wants more stimulus money for contractors, lawmaker interest is low
ProPublica, May 21 2020, A Closer Look at Federal COVID Contractors Reveals Inexperience, Fraud Accusations and a Weapons Dealer Operating Out of Someone’s House
USA TODAY, May 27, 2014, Snowden: I was a trained spy, not just a hacker
Just Security, Aug 6 2020, New Technologies, New Problems – Troubling Surveillance Trends in America
Propublica, Aug 5, 2013, FAQ: What You Need to Know About the NSA’s Surveillance Programs
PolitiFact, May 21, 2020, No, the novel coronavirus was not ‘man-made’
USA TODAY, June 18, 2020, Tracking protests across the USA in the wake of George Floyd’s death
USA TODAY, July 28, 2020, Poll: Nearly two-thirds of Americans support protests against racial injustice
Interview with Kathryn Olmsted, professor of history at the University of California, Davis
Interview with Joseph Uscinski, professor political science at the University of Miami
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: ‘ShadowGate’ spreads misinformation about major events