June 15, 2020 / 4:42 PM / a month ago

Fact check: 35,000 “malnourished” and “caged” children were not recently rescued from tunnels by U.S. military

Viral claims on social media purport that a recent U.S. military operation rescued 35,000 “malnourished, caged and tortured” children from tunnels beneath New York City’s Central Park and other unnamed U.S. cities. There is no evidence to prove key aspects of this conspiracy claim.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

One viral example of the claim with over 14,000 shares can be seen here .

The central claims of the posts on social media point to an April 2020 publication on the website timothycharlesholmseth.com entitled, “Child Rescue Operation unfolding right now in NYC?” ( here ).

The website entry includes an audio clip of unidentified people claiming they know medical workers who treated the children. A video clip allegedly provides evidence of the existence of a child-trafficking ring and a plan for a rescue mission.

NO EVIDENCE OR REPORTING

Reuters was unable to find any reliable reports pertaining to the post’s central claim that 35,000 children had been found and rescued from “secret tunnels” in the U.S.’s largest city. Users on social media appear to take this as a sign of the media’s complicity in obscuring the relevance of this story, an argument often used in conspiracy theories. One example comment on the lack of reporting states: “They want this to be hidden.”

All online search queries related to the claim on social media point to results on YouTube, Pinterest, and the website Before It’s News, ( here ), which also fails to provide evidence to back its claims about the rescue mission of 35,000 children by U.S. military forces.

A spokesperson for New York City’s Child and Family Services told Reuters via email that to their knowledge, the claim circulating on social media is not true. A spokesperson for New York City’s Administration of Child Services also told Reuters that they were “not aware” of any rescue operation like the one described in the claim.

A spokesperson for the New York Police Department told Reuters via phone also said that they were “not aware” of the alleged rescue reported in the claim.

TIMOTHY HOLMSETH

Holmseth, the namesake and operator of the website tied centrally to the claims ( here ), is a Minnesotan investigative journalist and alleged FBI witness who for years has spread unfounded theories related to missing children and human-trafficking rings ( here ). In 2018, Holmseth was doxxed by the hacker group known as Anonymous ( here ). Holmseth confirmed to VICE News that he was a believer in QAnon, a fringe group that claims Democrats are behind international crime rings.

In the posts on social, Holmseth claims he is part of the “Pentagon Pedophile Task Force”, framed as an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense. No such division exists. A spokesperson for the Department of Defense confirmed to Reuters via email that “There is not a Pentagon Pedophile Task Force.”

VERDICT

False. There is no evidence to back the claim that 35,000 “malnourished” and “caged” children were recently rescued from tunnels in New York and other U.S. cities by military personnel.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here  . 

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