The Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked another baseless internet rumour, this time about the alleged capture of a senior NATO leader in Mariupol, Ukraine.
“Unconfirmed Russian military sources: The Russian military has captured US Major General Roger L. Cloutier Jr. … in the besieged Ukrainian camp of Azov in Mariupol,” said the April 4 tweet which appeared to start the rumour, according to CrowdTangle, a social network. media information tool.
The tweet is from an anonymous account that posted pro-Russian and conspiratorial content warning “globalists”. His Twitter bio says the owner’s previous account has been suspended.
The tweet not only misstated Cloutier’s military rank and title – he has been a lieutenant general and commander of NATO‘s Allied Land Command since August 2020 – but it also sparked a flurry of social media posts falsely claiming that Cloutier had been captured. A Facebook post spreading the same message received more than 4,000 likes within hours.
The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Learn more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The false claim was promoted in posts on pro-Trump and QAnon internet forums patriots.win and greatawakening.win, both of which have hosted far-right and extremist content in the past. Hal Turner, a far-right radio host who has a habit of raising conspiracy theories, also repeated the story on his website. The title of his April 4 article: “US Army General Captured in Mariupol with AZOV Nazis!
But Maj. Brian Andries, deputy public affairs officer at NATO‘s Allied Land Command, confirmed in an email to PolitiFact that Cloutier had not been captured.
“These rumors are completely false,” Andries said. “Our commander currently commands NATO’s Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey, and has not been to Ukraine since the land staff talks we conducted in July 2021. While the nations of the NATO are sending financial and military aid to Ukraine, no NATO soldiers or leaders are deployed in the country.”
On April 5, a day after he was allegedly captured, Cloutier shared photos from an event in Turkey on his LinkedIn profile. A commentator responding to the post asked Cloutier about the rumors that he had been taken prisoner by Russian forces.
Cloutier’s response was the same as Andries’ response to PolitiFact. “These rumors are completely untrue,” he wrote in response.
Cloutier is also in photos Allied Land Command posted to its official Twitter and Facebook accounts at the same April 5 event.
We assess the claims of Cloutier’s capture to be false.