In a House hearing Thursday morning, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was sidetracked from her testimony on the DHS budget when Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) asked her to respond to an online conspiracy theory about the DHS supposedly stockpiling ammo for an attack on Americans. Duncan argued this was more credible than mere “Internet rumors” because the Drudge Report, a popular conservative aggregator, said it was true:
DUNCAN: You know, when Forbes Magazine or Drudge or some reputable news sources start to repeat the numbers…the numbers cease to become Internet rumors and they start having some credibility. I just ask, why was there a long delay or silence from the DHS for a period of time, almost three months, before y’all came forward saying these numbers aren’t correct, these are the actual facts. Why was there a delay or silence from your department?
NAPOLITANO: Well I don’t know about that, that there was that kind of delay, but I will tell you we found it so inherently unbelievable that those statements would be made it was hard to ascribe credibility to them. I don’t know if I’d put Forbes and Drudge in the same sentence.
Duncan seems to be mistaking traffic for credibility. Every day, Drudge directs massive numbers of visitors to conspiracy theory sites like WND, a birther site, and Infowars, which most recently claimed the Boston Marathon explosion was a “false flag” operation orchestrated by the government to take away freedom. Napolitano is a favorite target of Drudge, who calls her “Big Sis” and frequently links to conspiracy theories about DHS. Last year, Drudge promoted claims that Napolitano’s leadership had led to a “same sex takeover” of the DHS dominated by a “lesbian cabal.”
While Drudge’s endorsement can elevate fringe conspiracy theories into mainstream discourse, the website has hardly built up credibility. Last year, Drudge prominently featured at least 10 bogus stories, often racial attacks against Obama, that other media outlets dutifully picked up.
The debunked theory Duncan invoked in the hearing claims the DHS had ordered 2,700 mine-resistant vehicles and 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition over the next 5 years. Conservative radio host and Infowars founder Alex Jones warned that the DHS was “gearing up for huge wars” and warned of “an arms race against the American people.” In fact, the DHS has used 16 such vehicles since 2008, when they inherited them for free from the Defense Department. The 2,700 figure came from an order by the U.S. Marine Corps. The ammo was part of a “strategic sourcing contract” that allows the DHS to get low prices by buying in bulk. Most will go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while the rest will be used to train law enforcement officers in target practice. Even Fox News and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) dismissed the hysteria, noting the amount of ordered ammo is actually lower than in previous years.
It’s no surprise that Duncan is a credulous Drudge devotee; last week, he attacked an effort to expand background checks for gun purchases online or at gun shows because he thought the government was planning a systematic slaughter akin to the Rwandan genocide. The confiscation theory, also pushed by Drudge, goes hand in hand with the baseless idea that the DHS is readying itself to attack Americans.
Nor is Duncan the only Republican lawmaker to buy into Drudge-promoted conspiracy theories. In January, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) confronted then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a bogus accusation that the CIA was secretly smuggling guns from Libya through Turkey to arm Syrian rebels.