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News / Nation & World

NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

By MELISSA GOLDIN
Published: March 1, 2024, 8:25am

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out.

ATF rules not updated to allow migrants to purchase firearms

CLAIM: An update to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ background check policy allows people in the U.S. illegally to purchase firearms.

THE FACTS: No such update has been made. Federal law prohibits people in the country illegally from purchasing or possessing firearms, with “limited exceptions,” an ATF spokesperson told The Associated Press. The ATF does not have the power to change federal law, only implement it.

Amid accusations from Republicans that President Joe Biden’s migrant policies are to blame for the recent killing of a nursing student in Georgia, social media users are falsely claiming that the ATF is making it easier for people who enter the U.S. illegally to obtain certain lethal weapons.

Many posts include a video of a woman who says that her husband, who owns a gun shop, told her that “the ATF has made updates to their background check policy and effective today, they give an exemption to illegal immigrants to be able to purchase firearms.”

But the ATF has made no such update — nor does it have the power to do so.

“It is unlawful for any person who is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States to purchase or possess a firearm,” Kristina Mastropasqua, a spokesperson for the ATF wrote in an email. “There are limited exceptions to these prohibitions that allow for the possession of a firearm issued for use by a federal, state, or local government or agency.”

Mastropasqua continued: “The federal laws governing the purchase and sale of firearms are the Gun Control Act and the National Firearms Act. ATF enforces those statutes as enacted by Congress. ATF does not make or change the laws, that role is reserved for Congress. Depending on the jurisdiction, state and local laws may also apply to the sale and purchase of firearms.”

The Gun Control Act, originally passed in 1968, prohibits licensed gun dealers from selling firearms to anyone who “is illegally or unlawfully in the United States.” ATF regulations outline how the agency implements federal law, which it has no power to amend.

These regulations, including those related to background checks, do not include any exceptions to federal law that would allow people in the U.S. illegally to purchase firearms.

The woman in the video spreading online also claims that the ATF’s alleged policy update “strangely coincides with California, New York, and Chicago making it legal for illegals to be police officers.”

Kirstan Conley, a spokesperson for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, told the AP that a police officer in the state “must be a citizen of the United States,” a requirement that has existed since at least 1909.

In California, police officers no longer need to be a U.S. citizen, but must be authorized to work in the country under federal law, according to Meagan Poulos, a spokesperson for the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. The citizenship requirement was removed by a 2022 bill.

The Chicago Police Department confirmed that its most up-to-date information regarding eligibility is available on its website, which lists either U.S. citizenship or legal residency as a requirement for its officers. However, the website notes that a 2023 bill that took effect on Jan. 1 “may provide a pathway in the future for certain non-citizens with work authorization to be employed as police officers,” similar to how California’s bill did last year.

Laken Hope Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student, was found dead near running trails on the University of Georgia campus on February 22. A Venezuelan citizen named Jose Ibarra has been arrested on murder and assault charges in connection to her death. Ibarra was previously arrested in September 2022 near El Paso, Texas, amid an unprecedented surge in migration and released to pursue his case in immigration court, the AP has reported.

It is unclear whether Ibarra applied for asylum, according to the AP. Federal officials say he was also arrested by New York police in August for child endangerment and released, though New York officials said Sunday they had no record of his arrest.

Republicans have blamed the Biden administration’s migrant policies for Riley’s death. Georgia House Republicans in particular are now pushing to require every eligible police and sheriff’s department to help identify undocumented immigrants, arrest them and detain them for deportation.

Israel’s intelligence agency did not label the US Air Force an ‘enemy’ of the Jewish state

CLAIM: Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency called the U.S. Air Force an “enemy” of Israel in a post on X after an active-duty member of the military branch set himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

THE FACTS: The account that made the post is not affiliated with Mossad and has previously published erroneous claims about Israel. Mossad’s official X account, to which the agency’s website links, has not posted anything since September 2020.

After 25-year-old airman Aaron Bushnell self-immolated outside the Israeli Embassy, while declaring he “will not longer be complicit in genocide,” social media users alleged that Mossad had denigrated the U.S. Air Force on X in response.

Many posts shared a screenshot of two posts from an account called “Mossad Commentary.” One includes an image of Bushnell on fire captioned with the widely-used expression, in Hebrew, “Am Yisrael chai,” meaning “the people of Israel live.” The second, made in response to the first, states: “Our enemies kill themselves.”

The first post had been deleted by Monday afternoon, but an archived version shows that it was still up early in the morning.

“BREAKING: Mossad labels United States Air Force an ENEMY to the state of @Israel,” reads an X post from a different account that included the screenshot. It had received more than 10,600 likes and shares on Monday.

But Mossad Commentary, which uses Mossad’s logo as its profile picture, is not affiliated with the Israeli intelligence agency and has previously made false claims about the Jewish state. For example, a post from October 2023 states that Yemen had “officially” declared war on Israel. The Associated Press reported at the time that Yemen’s internationally recognized government had done no such thing.

Mossad’s website links to its official X account, which is called in Hebrew “The Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks.” The most recent post is from September 2020.

The Israeli military said Mossad Commentary is “clearly not an official account” in response to an email query from the AP. Mossad Commentary did not respond to a message from the AP on X.

Bushnell died from his injuries. According to AP reporting, he had walked to the embassy shortly before 1 p.m. on Sunday and began livestreaming on Twitch, a video streaming platform. Law enforcement officials believe he set his phone down and then doused himself in accelerant and ignited the flames.

Israel has adamantly denied genocide allegations and says it is carrying out operations in the Israel-Hamas war in accordance with international law.

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