Shortly after a Russian court labeled Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group in April 2017, a series of fake news articles were published claiming that President Trump had offered asylum to those fleeing the country.
One article published by the web site USA News claimed that Trump had sent a strong warning to Russia about the ban:
President Donald Trump has sent a strong message to the Russia Federation over the country’s ban on the “peaceful activities” of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Trump warns Russia to reverse its decision immediately else he would use the country’s own constitution against them.
“You know right that this is contrary to the constitution of the land of the Russia Federation. I request you to reverse the decision immediately before I use your own constitution against you” – Trump warned.
President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their wives attended Thursday evening meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Washington D.C.
The surprise appearance of the first families of the US drove many others to the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Though their visit was unannounced, ushers, preferably called ‘attendants’ by the religious organization received the Trump, Pence and wives and offered them front row seats.
Trump was seen shaking hands with almost the entire congregation after the service and also picked copies of the groups publications ‘Watchtower’ and ‘Awake!’.
Similar stories were also published by Houston News and a second USA News web site. None of these web sites carried a readily available disclaimer, but there were plenty of signs indicating that these articles, and their sources, were not trustworthy.
For one, the photograph purportedly showing Trump and Pence praying with Jehovah’s Witnesses at Kingdom Hall in April 2017 was actually taken at the National Prayer Service following Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
Furthermore, all four of the web sites use misleading web site names and URLs in an apparent attempt to trick readers into thinking that they were visiting a legitimate news source. For instance, the first USA News web site uses the domain fox-news24.com. However, this web site is not affiliated with the real Fox News. USA Television also uses a suspicious URL: ab.cnewsgo.com. Again, this web site is not affiliated with ABC News (whose URL is abcnews.go.com), or the real USA television network.
The URLs for Houston News and the second USA News web site are similarly deceptive. Houston News uses the domain Houstonchronicle-tv.com, though is not affiliated with the real Houston Chronicle, and the second USA News web site also had a name unrelated to its domain: states-tv.com.
In addition to the dubious nature of the sources peddling this rumor, we found no record of Trump offering asylum to Jehovah’s Witnesses in any genuine news publication. Acting State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner did condemn Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in an email to US News & World Report, but this statement did not include the aforementioned quote from Trump:
The United States is extremely concerned by the Russian government’s actions targeting and repressing members of religious minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, under the pretense of combating extremism.
We call on the Russian authorities to ensure that Russia’s anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation is not misused to target members of peaceful religious minorities, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The prosecution of peaceful religious minority groups for ‘extremism’ creates a climate of fear which itself undermines efforts to combat the threat of radicalization.
It’s true that Jehovah’s Witnesses were labeled an extremist group in Russia. However, the rumors circulating that President Trump had issued a stern warning against Russia and that he offered asylum to Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses originated on one of several disreputable web sites.