Spanish-language conspiracy theories drive Florida’s Latinos to polls

Disinformation campaign is spreading on social media, WhatsApp and radio

Roberto Giraldo, 63, a Cuban American at a Miami polling station. James Reinl for The National
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A disinformation campaign of conspiracy theories was motivating Florida’s Spanish-speaking voters as polling stations opened on Tuesday, driving support for US President Donald Trump.

The National spoke with voters in Hialeah, a Cuban-American neighbourhood of western Miami, who described Mr Trump as a crusader against evil, corruption and "deep state" forces, all of which are tropes from the QAnon conspiracy theory.

A barrage of conspiracy theories has been aimed at Hispanic voters in Florida, a key swing state that could determine whether Mr Trump beats his Democratic challenger Joe Biden and keeps the White House.

“Trump is like a messenger from God,” said Roberto Giraldo, 63, a Cuban American who has lived in the US for three decades.

“Trump wants to save America from the New Global Order, which is linked to the communists with China, with Russia, and they want to kill the system we have here in the United States.

“Trump is against that because God wants to keep America free.”

The New World Order is a decades-old conspiracy theory about a clandestine global government.

It has evolved in the US and elsewhere into QAnon theories about Mr Trump battling deep-state elites running a paedophile ring.

Before Tuesday’s presidential election, media monitors described a deluge of bizarre theories being peddled in Spanish to Latinos on social media, the messaging platform WhatsApp, radio and YouTube.

Bogus claims have clogged WhatsApp chats and Facebook feeds of Florida’s Latinos, who make up 17 per cent of the sunshine state’s electorate, hurting Mr Biden’s appeal among Hispanics.

They range from unproven claims of voter fraud to comparisons between the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement and Nazism.

Eduardo Gamarra, a professor of political science at Florida International University, told The National  that QAnon-style theories were being "mainstreamed" among Latinos in southern Florida.

“These YouTube channels are run out of Venezuela or Colombia and look professionally produced, like regular news shows with respectable presenters who look like they’re saying something important,” Mr Gamarra said.

“But they’re talking about Joe Biden’s sexual preferences ... or how Black Lives Matter is really dominated by black magic and funded by George Soros.

“And it’s all under the umbrella of anti-communist sentiment.”

Mr Biden has a wide lead over Mr Trump in national opinion polls, but the two men are neck and neck in Florida, where the Democrat has struggled to appeal to a Latino community that might be able to push him over the edge.

The latest average of opinion polls by Real Clear Politics suggested that Mr Biden leads in Florida with 47.9 per cent compared with Mr Trump’s 47 per cent, although that 0.9 percentage point lead is well within the margin of error.

Worth 29 electoral college votes, Florida is the most valuable battleground state.

Thanks to its razor-thin vote margins and fast-changing demographics, it is notoriously difficult to predict in elections.

Cuban Americans are the largest Latino group and make up 29 per cent of the state’s 2.5 million registered Hispanic voters.

They overwhelmingly vote Republican, which is often attributed to their support for tough US policies against Havana’s leftist elite.

The second-biggest group, the Democrat-leaning Puerto Ricans, make up 27 per cent of Florida’s Latino voters, followed by people from Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Peru and elsewhere, the Pew Research Centre says.

Four years ago, Mr Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 113,000 votes in Florida.

Even small shifts among Hispanic voters could swing a state he needs to win to keep the Oval Office for another four years.

Other voters expressed concerns about how mainstream media outlets did not report about Mr Biden’s alleged corruption over his son’s dealings in Ukraine, another popular trope among US conspiracy theorists.

"I had no idea the media was so bad at covering up for a lot of bad politicians," Rick Meyer told The National at a polling station in Hialeah, before casting his vote for Mr Trump.

“I’ve been doing some research on Biden in this Ukraine thing. I’m not saying Trump’s an angel but if you do a little bit of research on this Biden guy, nobody in their right mind could vote for him.”

Mr Trump has claimed Mr Biden and his son, Hunter, made millions of dollars from China, Russia and through the Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

The allegations have not been proven but they resonate with many of the president’s supporters.