Gabriel spoke at this year’s Values Voter Summit (VVS), a premier networking and political lobbying event for the Christian Right and other conservatives, held annually since 2006. Family Research Council, a powerful religious-right lobbying group in the U.S., hosts the annual conference. The FRC has repeatedly spread anti-LGBT pseudoscience that links homosexuality to pedophilia and claims gay parents are a danger to children.
Gabriel used her time at VVS to discuss refugee resettlement. Among other bogus claims, Gabriel said refugees are bringing in “eradicated diseases like tuberculosis, which is now mushrooming all over the United States.” “Colorado has 16 cases, Ohio, 11 cases. Vermont, 35 cases. Wisconsin, 117 cases,” she added. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the total number of cases in 2016 represents an all time low of TB cases in the United States and an almost 3 percent decrease from the previous year. Moreover, it’s impossible to make a direct correlation between refugee resettlement and cases of TB per state.
This is popular rhetoric among the far right. Publications such as Breitbart News, led by Steve Bannon, regularly publish damaging falsehoods about refugees and diseases. One such post from July 2016 claimed, “27 recently resettled refugees were among the 117 cases of active tuberculosis.” The article deceptively equated data on the foreign-born population with refugees and cited another Breitbart piece, which explained “It is not clear how many of the 49 cases of foreign-born TB in Wisconsin in 2015 were from recently arrived refugees.”
A look at Breitbart articles through 2016 shows that this is just one of almost 100 articles on Breitbart falsely claiming immigrants bring disease. Breitbart isn’t alone — other far right organizations such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) have erroneously complained that immigrants lack basic sanitation, which leads to diseases, which could be used as a weapon of mass destruction. FAIR’s advertisements have been rejected for being too racist and its founder, John Tanton, has said he wishes America to remain a majority-white population.
In advancing this false theory, far right groups have additionally sought to discredit mainstream companies. Alex Jones, who has been called the “king of conspiracy” by CNN and “the most paranoid man in America” by Rolling Stone. In April 2017, hosts at InfoWars wrongly claimed Chobani and its Turkish-born owner, Hamdi Ulukaya, are part of a scheme to bring refugees who are rapists and have tuberculosis to the United States. Host David Knight, citing an incredibly inaccurate report from Breitbart News, claimed TB cases increased by 500 percent in Twin Falls after Chobani opened a plant there. The Idaho Department of Health refuted this claim, explaining that while seven refugees with TB had been admitted, none had a contagious form of the disease. Chobani subsequently sued Alex Jones for defamation and he both retracted his statement and issued an apology:
During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the InfoWars, Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted, and will not be re-posted,” Jones said. “On behalf of InfoWars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.
In its lawsuit, Chobani said Jones’ statements “have caused and continue to cause harm to Idaho residents, including Chobani employees, their families and other members of the Twin Falls community.” These are the negative consequences of the false claims of the far right, however they continue to spew these allegations.
At VVS, Brigitte Gabriel added:
The refugees we are importing, importing to this country, who hate America, do not share our values, and a lot of them actually are working against our own country. Here are some of the companies that are leading the charge and bringing refugees to the United States. Chobani yogurt. Chipotle. Starwood hotels. Starbucks. Just to name a few. These are the drivers of the refugee resettlement industry. They are contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the local communities to state elected officials, to city council on all level, basically bribe money to keep them happy so they can approve bringing in refugees into their communities. They are doing this specifically where their facility is being based. And their operation is based. Chobani yogurt has done this to perfection in Idaho.
Gabriel joins a chorus of forces that continues to misrepresent and defame refugees. It’s tragic, yet not unsurprising that the citizens of Idaho and refugees are being wrongly attacked again.