How the Alt-Right Smeared Chobani Yogurt to Hurt Its Immigrant Founder

(Photo/Creative Commons/Michael Vadon)

The Unite the Right fizzle in Washington on Sunday renewed attention on the collection of white supremacists and anti-Semites who populate the so-called alt-right. Mike Wending, a reporter for the BBC, recently wrote a book on the far-right movement brought to life by Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency. As we know, Trump both catered to the Alt-Right’s fierce anti-immigrant prejudices and expanded the audience for racist rants against people coming to the U.S. from other countries. Wending looks at one fear campaign in his “Alt-Right: From 4chan to the White House.”

On August 26, 2016, the then-Steve Bannon controlled Breitbart website ran a story headlined; “TB SPIKED 500 PERCENT IN TWIN FALLS DURING 2012, AS CHOBANI YOGURT OPENED PLANT.” Chobani is, as you likely know, a Greek-style yogurt company founded by Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya. When Ulukaya pledged to donate $2 million to help refugees, Breitbart sent a reporter to dig up dirt on Chobani. Articles began appearing on Breitbart linking the yogurt company to disease and crime.

Often the actual stories did not back up the sensationalist headlines. For instance, Wending writes, the TB story was wildly overblown. It is true that in the year before the yogurt plant in Iowa opened in 2012, there was one case of TB and in 2012 there were six. However, these were not likely linked to the yogurt plant itself since the factory did not open until the end of the year. Wending writes that according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, all of the TB cases were diagnosed prior to the opening of the plant. According to the health department “The numbers used by Breitbart came from us and are accurate, but their analysis of the numbers is weak. From a statistical standpoint, the rate did not ‘spike dramatically’ and labeling it as such was misleading.”

The BBC reporter writes that “The Breitbart story was a political slur built on a trumped-up charge based on one itsy-bitsy statistical fact. But it and the rest of Breitbart’s reporting was picked up by social media, other blogs and alt-righters who slung abuse at Ulukaya—a string of events that culminated in a story on the conspiracy website Infowars headlined ‘Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists.’”

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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