Taken together, LifeSiteNews and Church Militant garnered nearly 10 million visits to their alt-right “news” websites during the last three months of 2020—a pair of powerful platforms that helped spread bogus election-conspiracy claims to a huge Catholic audience.
Along with other far-right websites that cater to Catholics, they pulled out the stops for President Donald Trump, even as he incited his followers to storm the Capitol on January 6. In the midst of the violence, their coverage was promotional; Church Militant went so far as to use Catholic imagery to glorify the rioters. Afterward, there were no apologies.
For the most part, these supposedly Catholic websites haven’t received the scrutiny they deserve. Targeted at Catholics, a swing vote, they serve up a potent mix of traditional piety and populist politics. According to data gathered by SimilarWeb analytics, LifeSiteNews in particular is among the most visited in the “competitive landscape” of faith and belief websites. Bishops have been reluctant to criticize such sites—whether because of their influence, the bitterness that the sites apply to perceived enemies, or the hope that they’ll go away. News media don’t pay much attention to their influence either, with some exceptions.
But their boosterish coverage of Trump’s attempt to subvert the presidential election should heighten alarm about what they are up to. And, it should be noted, they do have their champions in the Catholic hierarchy. In particular, they’ve showcased a certain former Vatican ambassador to the United States who treats the unproven election fraud claims as an article of faith.
That comes through in Church Militant’s coverage of the riot. As chaos permeated the Capitol at 3:30 p.m., Church Militant tweeted a meme with two photos: to the right, U.S. Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima; to the left, a parallel image of a group of people raising a cross at a Trump rally. Twenty-one minutes later, Church Militant tweeted a photo of a man holding up a statue of the Infant of Prague in the midst of the confusion at the top of the Capitol steps, surrounded by a burst of golden light.
At Church Militant, rioters are patriots. “Patriots furious at marxist media continually feeding them lies and ignoring 80 million [sic] votes for Trump,” senior producer Christine Niles tweeted in her description of rioters who were threatening journalists. On-scene social-media coverage celebrated the mob’s advance: “Fences fall as people angry with the steal rush the Capitol,” at 2:43 p.m.; “Election steal protesters break into the Capitol” at 3:08 p.m. “HERE’S 1776,” another meme declared.