On Saturday September 12, a sordid news item dominated the news in the United States. In Compton, near Los Angeles, a man shot point blank at two police officers before fleeing. This attack, unexplained, outrageous: most ten most viral posts on Facebook in the country are devoted to it. They all come from conservative sites or media.
One such site is The Police Tribune. This is the new name of a portal that was previously called Blue Lives Matter: the name of a movement that became known in 2016, initiated by American police officers in reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests denouncing the brutalities policewomen.
Since then, Blue Lives Matter supporters have also regularly spoken out against their perceived unfavorable treatment of police action in the media, and have sought to spread other positive stories about US police action.
Over 2 million subscribers
The Police Tribune explains that it was “Founded and is fully managed by members of the security forces, active or retired”. He introduces himself on Twitter like the voice “Official of the Blue Lives Matter movement” and has a certified account on this network: a blue logo indicating that the Twitter teams have verified the identity of its owners.
The site is powerful. On Facebook, he distributes numerous articles to his more than 2 million subscribers every day in which police officers are victims of other American citizens. Some of his posts, such as a misleading article about the death of an African American man shot by a police officer, are shared more than 100,000 times on Facebook. In the month of August, The Police Tribune had racked up more than 1.3 million reactions, likes and shares – twice the page of ever popular conservative polemicist Bill O’Reilly.
The articles on the site regularly denounce the supposed laxity of judges who release delinquents, or the racism of leftist demonstrators, when it does not echo the stories, sometimes unverified, of police officers that restaurateurs have refused. to serve. More broadly, the site focuses on anything that confirms the idea, popular among supporters of Donald Trump, that America is threatened by a far left that hates the police, ready to give criminals free rein.
But The Police Tribune isn’t just one of the most powerful activist sites on US social media in 2020. It’s also, and above all, a business. The site is owned by a clothing company, Warrior 12, which sells T-shirts that are “patriotic” or with conservative messages, references to Sparta or the Crusades. Warrior 12 is advertised as a “sponsor” of The Police Tribune, all of whose advertisements link to the clothing brand.
According to our information, Warrior 12 is itself a subsidiary of a very discreet holding, Tea Kay Media LLC, registered in the Delaware tax haven. The identity of its owners is protected by the permissive laws of this state.
The company is not only interested in US law enforcement. It also manages a page dedicated to firefighters (20,000 subscribers), which also serves as a promotional vehicle for its T-shirts. It also has a whole network of pages which seem to be solely dedicated to promoting The Police Tribune. and Warrior 12 t-shirts: the Liberty or Death “patriot” Facebook page (150,000 subscribers); a Facebook page dedicated to firearms (160,000 subscribers); a page dedicated to patriots wanting “Denounce the behavior of the liberals” : Exposing Liberals (260,000 subscribers); and Always Back the Blue (300,000 subscribers).
Political operation, commercial operation, both? Warrior 12 did not respond to requests from World on the subject. When asked about this, Christopher Berg, editor-in-chief of The Police Tribune, said it was a ” partnership “, according to which “Warrior 12 pays the operating costs of The Police Tribune ”. A ” partnership “ made essential, according to him, by “The actions of anti-police activists who continue to put pressure on our advertisers”.
Statements that come in a context where The Police Tribune has experienced some recent setbacks. In June, Maven, an American media company in Seattle which notably owns the magazine Sports illustrated and who hosted a copy of the site on its news portal, ended their partnership after a revolt from disgruntled employees over unmoderated racist comments. The two main hosts of The Police Tribune, Mr. Berg, an ex-police officer very discreet about his past, and a journalist who made himself known by organizing weddings for a reality show, then renamed the site, abandoning the name of Blue Lives Matter.
For The Police Tribune, the Warrior 12 company is more than just a partner. The clothing seller is listed as the owner of The Police Tribune on the media’s own website, and its parent company owns up to the Blue Lives Matter brand. Warrior 12 was also in the process of organizing Back the Blue 5K, 5-kilometer charity races for law enforcement, which took place in several cities across the United States. The company claims to donate part of its profits to law enforcement charities, but does not detail how much or how much.
A very mobilizing subject
All these activities take place in a context where police violence is one of the main topics of the ongoing presidential campaign in the United States – on both sides of the political spectrum. But long before the protests of recent months, fueled by the death of George Floyd and also regularly denounced by Donald Trump, the question was already particularly eruptive for voters.
In 2016, one of the most successful operations of the Russian influence campaign on social media concerned the police issue. Fake accounts, fed by Russian agents, had managed to garner more than 110,000 likes for a supposed “back the badge” movement … which never existed.