A Wingnut Anti-Migrant Story Implodes – But Is This the Full Story?

Fox News screen capture
Fox News covers migrant hoax
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I’m feeling exhausted after a long week and you probably are too. But I want to put something on your radar. Because there’s something more going on here. A week ago the New York Post went to town with a made-for-Fox News story of a group of veterans who had been booted out of hotels about an hour north of New York City to make way for migrants. As I said, it was a made-for-Fox News: Here are these disabled or impoverished American veterans getting kicked to the curb to make way for migrants with no permission to be in the country in the first place. Politicians jumped on the story. The Post ran it. It made the rounds of the wingnutosphere. Fox of course got on board.

But none of it was true. And I don’t just mean not true in the sense of being misleading or incomplete or embellished or sensationalized. It was a hoax. Sharon Toney-Finch, the founder and head of a small local nonprofit, the YIT Foundation, which focuses on veterans issue and premature births (?) was the source of the original story. But it turns out the she recruited a group of 15 homeless men from a local shelter to impersonate veterans and talk to the press about their tale of woe.

A bunch of the homeless guys explained what happened to reporters and Toney-Finch has now seemingly admitted she made the whole thing up but not yet on the record for reporters. To add insult to injury, Toney-Finch didn’t even pay the homeless guys the $200 a piece she promised for participating in the scam.

The reporting on the hoax leaves the impression that Toney-Finch may have been operating in cahoots with the head of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce Heather Bell-Meyer, though it’s not entirely clear whether she was in on it or another person bamboozled by Toney-Finch.

A Republican state assemblyman, Brian Maher, played a key role in whipping up attention for the story. But he seems to have been legitimately duped and may have played some role in eventually unearthing the deception.

The key point is the whole thing was a hoax, ginned up with the apparent aim of creating the kind of media spectacle that unfolded in the right-wing press as part of the purported national immigration crisis. Even the Post has now been forced to cut bait and report on Toney-Finch’s hoax. The details of just what happened are a bit convoluted. So the best place to go is the latest report from the local paper, The Mid-Hudson News, which broke the story with a lot of shoe-leather reporting. There’s additional reporting in this piece by the Albany Times-Union.

Here’s the part that has my attention. In a sense, the mystery has been solved. The story was a hoax and Toney-Finch made the whole thing up. But what exactly is the interest of a small community non-profit in doing something like this? People are weird, of course. They do all sorts of strange things. For political motives. For attention. There’s always someone who’s going to scrawl a backwards B on her cheek. But again, what is this person’s and this nonprofit’s interest in ginning up a national political firestorm tied to immigration policy?

The simplest explanation, I guess, is that they’re involved in work for veterans. And since the YIT Foundation was the purported sponsor of the fake veterans it would be publicity for the foundation. But that seems like a stretch. It seems far more probable that someone or some organization with statewide or nationwide political motives would have clearer motivations to go to all this trouble. So I’m not sure we’ve gotten to the bottom of this story.

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