In early February 2019, social media trolls attempted to spread a claim that “congressional sources” had confirmed Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) “used taxpayer money” to cover up a sexual-harassment accusation:
🚨BREAKING: According to congressional sources Representative Adam Schiff used tax payer money to reach a sexual harassment settlement with a 19 year old male in 2013.
— 🚨The FBI Witch Hunt is coordinating with CNN!🚨 (@therealcornett) February 8, 2019
It’s unclear where the rumor started, but on Twitter it was sometimes shared in association with a clearly bogus article from the junk news site TheNetSpies.com. That site is filled with obviously false information, and its “About” page states that “If you like our reporting, kick up your feet, partake of your favorite intoxicant(s) and stay a while. If not, go ask your mommy to come down to the basement and nurse her 33 year old wuss.”
On 11 February 2018, TheNetSpies.com published an article for which they alleged to have interviewed Los Angeles Times former Assistant Managing Editor Christina Bellantoni (which TheNetSpies misspelled as “Kristina Bellatori”). Bellatoni, they asserted, told the tale of a hapless (but non-existent) man named Will Bottom, who claimed to be in an abusive relationship with Schiff, his “gay lover.” To illustrate this supposedly abusive relationship, the article repurposed an image of Taj Patterson, a Brooklyn, New York, man who suffered a serious eye injury after he was attacked and beaten in 2013.
The real Christina Bellantoni never spoke to anyone from TheNetSpies and took to Twitter to make it clear the story was falsified:
Thanks for flagging. This is some very seriously fake news.
Clue No. 1: A website you’ve never heard of citing an LAT story that doesn’t exist. https://t.co/FMUsft3ilx
— Christina Bellantoni (@cbellantoni) December 18, 2018
This isn’t the only unfounded rumor to dog Schiff, who became chair of the House Intelligence Committee when Democrats won a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections.
Schiff, who now controls one of the Congressional committees overseeing an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, is the frequent target of conspiracy theorists. In February 2018, a false rumor claimed that Schiff’s sister was married to billionaire philanthropist George Soros’s son, but Schiff has no sister. Soros, who is Jewish, is also the frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists.
Rothschild, Mike. “All the Conspiracy Theories About Incoming House Democratic Leadership.”
The Daily Dot. 24 December 2018.
Feuer, Alan. “Brooklyn Man Recalls 2013 Beating and His Pleas for Help.”
The New York Times. 31 August 2016.
Hayes, Christal, and Gregory Korte. “Democratic Memo: Here Are 6 Key Points in Schiff’s Rebuttal.”
USA Today. 25 February 2018.