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  1. From this basement came a piece of fake news about who had desecrated a church in Sweden
  2. UPPDATERAD 14:24 PUBLICERAD 06:30
  3. Fake news spread across the world from a shabby basement room in Macedonia.
  4. Fake news spread across the world from a shabby basement room in Macedonia. Foto: Anders Hansson
  5. Someone has masturbated in a church in Kristianstad. There is poo and used syringes on the floor.
  6.  
  7. The parish blames drug addicts – but in the US a different tale is shared with millions on Facebook.
  8.  
  9. Måns Mosesson tells the story of how a piece of fake news spread across the world from a shabby basement room in Macedonia.
  10.  
  11.  Skriv ut   Rätta artikel    Bokmärk
  12. Getting out of bed before dawn is a bad habit he is trying to quit.
  13.  
  14. But what to do when you're already awake?
  15.  
  16. So, as the sun begins to gleam in the shared pool in the residential area The Brittany in Florida, the former computer repair man Michael grabs his walker and goes to the living room. He pours some coffee and starts going through his feed.
  17.  
  18. He doesn’t trust CNN, nor CBS or NBC any longer. But on Facebook he has some of his favourite sources. This morning the site Focus News has posted a frightening piece of news.
  19.  
  20. It is about a church on the other side of the Atlantic.
  21.  
  22. ”When the Church of the Holy Trinity in Kristianstad, Sweden embraced a group of Muslim asylum seekers, they were shocked to find that the Islamists took advantage of their generosity in the sickest ways”, it says. The piece tells the story of a gullible parish that lets refugees stay in their church until they discover that ”the Muslims they gave food, shelter, and love were not only destroying the church property but were relentlessly urinating, defecating, and masturbating in the pews.”
  23.  
  24. The story becomes popular; it is soon shared on Facebook pages with over 10 million followers.
  25.  
  26. As I call Michael he can still recall how outraged he was.
  27.  
  28. “You do not desecrate a House of God”, he says. “The Muslims hate the Christians, OK? That's all Islam is, it's politics. It's not a religion, alright, although they want you to believe that. They have said they are going to take over the world. If you look in the Koran, I don't know where, but if you open the Koran you'll find that it's there too.”
  29.  
  30. Over 12.000 Americans see the article from Focus News, many of them adding a comment.
  31.  
  32. “Demons from hell”, writes a Texan with a puppy on her profile picture. “Send them back to their own country!!!!!”, adds Joan. Sandra, a mother of two: “Sickening if it is true, and like others have said, would not doubt it.”
  33.  
  34. But were there really no reasons for doubt?
  35.  
  36. The Holy Trinity Church rises proudly over the roofs of Kristianstad’s inner city.
  37.  
  38. In the summer busloads of Germans and Dutch people come here to admire what is considered to be one of Europe’s best-preserved Renaissance temples built of stone in 1628 by King Christian IV of Denmark.
  39.  
  40. Lena Bruce has been a parish priest for seventeen years, especially appreciated for her spiritual guidance, her talent for talking both to the frail and to the strong.
  41.  
  42. But in the last few years even she has begun to grow tired of everything that the Church has had to put up with.
  43.  
  44. “I was giving a sermon”, she says, “it must have been last spring. I had already started to be annoyed by two men who were clearly quite drunk, both of them. One of them leaned forward, his jacket opened and under it he had an enormous knife. And I sort of just felt… help! In the middle of my sermon!”
  45.  
  46. The man never turned violent and could be led out of the church, but this and similar incidents have forced the parish to reconsider its open attitude.
  47.  
  48. In the passage by the balcony steps, on the way to the toilet, the sharp smell of urine confronts the priest. Piss that has dried into the 400 year-old brick floor. The fact that the toilet is locked when the church is unmanned does apparently not stop some people from relieving themselves in here.
  49.  
  50. Both number one and number two.
  51.  
  52. “Over there someone had deposited a really big one”, says the caretaker Göran Kjell who was the one who had to hose down the poo. “It wasn’t, so to say, in solid form but it was…well, someone had serious digestive problems.”
  53.  
  54. The interior space of the church is lovely.
  55.  
  56. The giant chandelier, a gift from General Ulfeldt, son-in-law to the Danish king.
  57.  
  58. The organ, with more than 3,000 pipes, ordered from Holstein, Germany.
  59.  
  60. The altar, with a height of 15 feet, from Amsterdam.
  61.  
  62. Under the wooden pews, with carvings of snakes and fish, Göran Kjell has in the last years found bloody syringes, and cleaned away broken booze bottles.
  63.  
  64. And it was there, in the north pew quarter that a man lay one morning a couple of years ago. He wore a jacket, his penis sticking out.
  65.  
  66. “There were two lady policemen trying to shake some life into him, the caretaker remembers. They tried to talk to him but of course that was not possible, he was so into his own.”
  67.  
  68. Göran Kjell laughs at the memory.
  69.  
  70. “It took a while to pry loose his hands. That’s how high he was. Right out in the mist, kind of.”
  71.  
  72. The Kristianstad railway station is just 50 metres from the wooden doors of the church, on the other side of the street Västra boulevarden.
  73.  
  74. In the waiting room Pia Jönsson is leaning on her crutch. Fragments of mascara around her friendly eyes, dirt under her nails, painted in lilac. On the floor a family candy pack of coconut snowballs. And beer, 10,2 per cent alcohol. Sitting by her side is Larsa Jonssson, his nose swollen red and with a leather jacket under a neon-coloured quilted ski jacket.
  75.  
  76. “Both Pia and I are often at the church warming ourselves a bit. My problem is that I snore, when I get started it echoes all over the place.”
  77.  
  78. “Yes, it’s crazy”, Pia says with a laugh.
  79.  
  80. More friends are here, waiting for the shelter in Näsby to open for the night. Carola Stridh is taking a nap with her jacket covering her head. And Lars “Åke” Åkerman is sitting by the sliding doors casually setting fire to a Kinder egg. The plastic fumes dance away towards Espresso House.
  81.  
  82. The Parish Director, Bengt Alvland, is sitting in his office overlooking the church and its surroundings.
  83.  
  84. “For us it has been completely OK that our regular homeless people, those who used to hang around the station, have gone to the church to warm themselves. They have even been served buns and coffee in connection with the services. But all of a sudden there are new ones coming…”
  85.  
  86. He points out the window. On the other side of the church, as seen from the station, there is a newly opened clinic.
  87.  
  88. For more than a year heroin addicts have been coming there to legally receive Methadone and be helped with their illness.
  89.  
  90. “As the clinic opened we began to see people we had not seen in church before and they were much rowdier than our old homeless people. More lost minds, stronger forms of addiction.”
  91.  
  92. Bengt has been talking to the local police, who have the same view: The mess in the church is largely due to a new stream of addicts who come in to town to collect their daily ration.
  93.  
  94. “Our aim is to have an open church where you can come in to have a moment with God”, says Bengt. But we certainly do not want people to be afraid of coming to our church so therefore we were obliged to do something.”
  95.  
  96. The parish wants to have guards who can be present at services and christenings and patrol the church when necessary. For that they need a permit from the police in the major city of Malmö.
  97.  
  98. In September 2016 Bengt Alvland sits down to compile all the incidents that have occurred in the last years.
  99.  
  100. He describes the most dramatic one; a couple of years ago, at a christening, an intoxicated man ran up and tried to take away the baby. But also that someone tried to steal the church plate; that people have set fire to a programme folder in the candle holder; people pushing their way forward to take all the biscuits after the service; and, of course, all this with masturbation, poo and syringes.
  101.  
  102. It is a perfect little story: Excrement and masturbation in the House of God.
  103.  
  104. Of course there is a call from the local newspaper.
  105.  
  106. Who are the people who behave so badly in a church? asks the reporter from Kristianstadsbladet
  107.  
  108. Of course, Bengt Alvland does not quite know that. To many of the incidents there are no witnesses, but he still wants to describe the development, as he sees it, in connection with the opening of the new Methadone clinic. As is often the case when someone is guessing or is a bit sweeping in formulating a sentence, the result is not quite clear.
  109.  
  110. And it is probably pretty much right here that the ball is put in motion.
  111.  
  112. Let’s therefore quote the exact words from the piece that Kristianstadsbladet posted on its website on 7th December 2016.
  113.  
  114. “Bengt Alvland does not know who these disrupting persons are”, it says. “He says that they are not the usual homeless people, known to the staff, but ‘a new clientele’.”
  115.  
  116. Then the normal sequence of events when a piece of news sticks out unfolds. The article is quoted by the national news agency TT, as well as the evening papers Aftonbladet and Expressen. It appears on public service television SVT in the evening.
  117.  
  118. Some xenophobic sites also pick it up. They are posting quotes that are correct per se, but to many readers it is clear that “a new clientele” means something else than what Mr Alvland meant.
  119.  
  120. “The mass invasion now appears in more grotesque forms than ever, disrespectful apes” is one of the comments on Nordfront, the campaign organisation for the Nordic resistance movement. “Just as I thought that the gypsies couldn’t sink lower…” writes another. “If we take another Christian country, Poland for example, they would have dragged the gypsies out and given them a thorough beating.”
  121.  
  122. Fria Tider (Free Times) has already in its headline: “’New clientele’ crap and masturbate in church’”.
  123.  
  124. It is this very article that the anti-Islamic site Mad World News in the USA is referring to as they soon twist the story towards non-recognition.
  125.  
  126. But a considerable part of the spread outside of Sweden comes when the story is picked up by a number of people who, during the passed six months, have become a just as unlikely as important engine in the machinery of fake news: The poor but computer-savvy young boys in Macedonia.
  127.  
  128. In the middle of the town Kumanovo there is a pompous City Archives, the red and yellow Macedonian flag waving above the entrance.
  129.  
  130. As I make my way alongside the building and open a gate made of sheeted steel, I find myself in a courtyard full of junk. A broken cement mixer, some homemade ladders, a car being repaired.
  131.  
  132. Ivan Stankovic opens drowsily, bends down under the boiler sticking out from the wall and invites me in to his sofa, which is also his bed.
  133.  
  134. His grandfather built the house, which nowadays is leaning in many directions and looks like it will soon collapse under its own weight.
  135.  
  136. His father, living on the top floor, took out a bank loan and gave his son a computer.
  137.  
  138. It was from that computer that Ivan posted an article on his home page on the 8th December 2016. A piece about how Muslims had defecated and masturbated in a church in Sweden.
  139.  
  140. “It was a real hit”, Ivan says. “The second I read the headline I knew that it was going to run like crazy. It hits people right in the head.”
  141.  
  142. Ivan waves his arms about, making a pantomime of an outraged American citizien.
  143.  
  144. ”'How can this shit be!? It's not possible!' It has become my job to figure out what people in the US want to read, topics that they want to share with their friends. Donald, Melania… Islam, Muslims. Everybody clicks on stuff like that.”
  145.  
  146. The headline of Ivan’s article: “Liberal church houses Muslim refugees, horrified by what they find in pews.”
  147.  
  148. The numbers are pretty detailed:
  149.  
  150. The story reached 12,880 of those following Ivan’s page on Facebook.
  151.  
  152. The piece was shared 110 times.
  153.  
  154. Above all there were 3,324 Americans going further in on Ivan’s home page.
  155.  
  156. Around 11 per cent of these had also clicked on one of the ads.
  157.  
  158. Every American click is worth USD0.06 which means that Ivan earned almost USD22 from this article.
  159.  
  160. That may sound like petty money. It isn’t for Ivan Stankovic, aged 25.
  161.  
  162. “I have been out of work for four years”, he says. “So this is perfect for me. I can sit at home and make money and even have a smoke at the same time.”
  163.  
  164. Almost six months ago a friend from secondary school knocked on the basement door. There were rumours that Ivan had a modern computer. The friend claimed that one could make money by posting articles about American politics on the net.
  165.  
  166. “I told him to go fuck himself”, Ivan laughs. “Do you think I'm a kid who believes everything? I was sure he was just making fun of me.”
  167.  
  168. After finishing school Ivan had been spending his time on temporary jobs, doing gardening in a park, helping his father in his carpentry. He worked without pay for three months in a shoemaker’s workshop on a promise to get paid from the fourth, but when the time came he was apparently not needed anymore.
  169.  
  170. Now his friend sat down in front of the computer and showed him a programme which could be used for making money from net ads. The model is simple: You set up a website with, say, health advice. The programme arranges so that enterprises that want to sell lotions or herbal teas put their ads on your page. You earn money to the extent people click on the adverts.
  171.  
  172. You get most money from the Americans, who have a greater purchasing power. A click from USA can be three times more valuable than one from Belgium or South Africa.
  173.  
  174. During the late summer a rumour had been flying around among the boys of Kumanovo: You could get lots of Americans to read your articles if you wrote about the presidential candidate Trump.
  175.  
  176. Some people loved him. Others hated him.
  177.  
  178. They all clicked.
  179.  
  180. Ivan and his friend gathered some money, bought a domain and started watching instructions on Youtube about how to build a website.
  181.  
  182. Ivan picked the name from Focus, an action movie starring Will Smith that he had just seen. And then another word to show what the home page was about.
  183.  
  184. Focus News. That sounded serious and American enough.
  185.  
  186. The Macedonian troll industry was built in the town Veles, an industrial community climbing the ravines of the river Vardar’s long valley.
  187.  
  188. The black smoke from the smelting plant in the north, where zinc and lead has been produced for thirty years, has stuck on the walls and dressed the town in sticky grey. Around the turn of the millennium The World Health Organization listed the long valley as one of the world’s most polluted areas. The local population have protested to make sure the metal works remain closed. Jobs are not much worth when the soil cannot be used for growing food and children are beginning to be born with deformities.
  189.  
  190. Instead one out of three citizens in Veles is without income.
  191.  
  192. In the schoolyard of the Koco Racin School a small gang is standing smoking, waiting for their geography lesson to begin.
  193.  
  194. “Here there are 600 students”, says a guy with a fur collar and a thin moustache. “The girls are not so interested but there are easily 100 guys, just here in this school, who run websites. I have two myself.”
  195.  
  196. Slagan, a 16 year old with braces, heard about fake news in the beginning of the summer.
  197.  
  198. “There are two brothers who are a few years older than we are. I was told that one of them had been to The Maldives on vacation. The other one bought a BMW. Things like that stick out in such a small town. The rumour about them became viral here in Veles. Then I had a friend who, in the beginning of the autumn, tested posting some lie about Hillary Clinton. He received almost USD550 in one single day! That’s when I started too.”
  199.  
  200. “It’s so simple”, the guy with a moustache says smiling. ”You don’t even have to bother about how the page looks. You just start posting stuff. Some who do this can hardly speak English, the only thing you need to know is how to cut and paste.”
  201.  
  202. It was the Macedonian paper Meta that in the spring of 2016 was first to notice that six home pages filled with lies about American politics were registered at addresses in Veles.
  203.  
  204. When the American magazine Buzzfeed continued the investigation this turned out to be just the tip of an iceberg. Towards the winter at least 140 pages could be linked to the polluted industrial town. They all had names that were supposed to feel American and trustworthy: USA Daily Politics, US Conservative Today, or World Politicus.
  205.  
  206. Some actually tried to borrow credibility from established media giants, like NY Times Politics and NBC Info.
  207.  
  208. The sites from Veles seem to have had an impact on the final stage of the election campaign in the US. Their power did not emanate from producing the texts – that was almost always done by someone else – but in how clever they were at spreading the articles in social media.
  209.  
  210. Let’s take a concrete example. In the end of October 2016 the Macedonian site Conservative State posted a piece about how Hillary Clinton a few years earlier had wished that Donald Trump would run for president because businessmen like him are ”very honest” and “can't be bought.”
  211.  
  212. Within a week or so almost half a million Americans reacted to the article on Facebook by sharing, commenting and clicking. It did not seem to matter that the news piece originally came from an American satirical site and that Clinton, in her quote, never mentioned Donald Trump.
  213.  
  214. Many times the articles that have the greatest impact are those that are the most trolled. The claim that the Pope supported the Trump candidacy, for example: totally taken out of the blue. Or that Vice President Mike Pence should have called Michelle Obama “the most vulgar First lady we've ever had.” Pieces of news made up by Americans, shrewdly spread by Macedonians with a good Internet connection.
  215.  
  216. The boys in the schoolyard have seen it clearly. You don’t need to be afraid of twisting stories. Quite the reverse.
  217.  
  218. “Sometimes it's hard to understand how people can believe this stuff, says Slagan with a laugh. “That Obama has joined Isis and things like that. Totally stupid things. But people click on them.”
  219.  
  220. “We make a lot of money lying”, says the friend with the fur collar. “I don’t care about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or any other politician. I just want to make some money.”
  221.  
  222. They both laugh and pick up their backpacks.
  223.  
  224. “We are kids and we earn more than the grown-ups around here!”
  225.  
  226.  At first the founder of Facebook dismissed the criticism.
  227.  
  228. “Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small part of the content, influenced the election in any way – I think is a pretty crazy idea” , Mark Zuckerberg said at a seminar in California days after Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States.
  229.  
  230. In the summer of 2016 Pew Research Center, which continuously gauges the net habits of the American people, had found that social media seriously had started to challenge TV, radio and newspapers as a source of news. Now 62 per cent said that they got their news from Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
  231.  
  232. Naturally that put Facebook in the line of fire. A company that has always been stressing that it is a tech company, hardly publicists, had turned into one of the prime conveyors of news in the USA.
  233.  
  234. Was this really the promise of the democratic web? The algorithms of a company helping people to lock themselves inside their own digital bubbles? Bubbles that were now filled with pure lies dressed up as journalism?
  235.  
  236. Stories from inside the Facebook HQ in Palo Alto were beginning to leak, where members of staff claimed that they had for a long time noticed the spread of fake news and had tried to alert the top management, but with no response.
  237.  
  238. After a massive storm of criticism Facebook now seems to have taken on the issue in a serious way.
  239.  
  240. Last December the option for users to report content suspected of being fake was simplified. The piece is then looked into by an external part, specialised in viral vetting. If they find errors the article can be marked as false. At the end of January Facebook also announced that they had changed their algorithm to make it suppress false news in the flow, leading to fewer people seeing them. And in Germany the company has begun collaborating with a group of investigative journalists ahead of the general election there this autumn.
  241.  
  242. In front of his computer in Macedonia Ivan Stankovic shrugs off his worries.
  243.  
  244. “They can try to stop this as best they can, but you can always find ways around it.”
  245.  
  246. He takes a puff at his cigarette. A couple of times so far he has noticed that Facebook has managed to suppress the spreading of an article. But how do you decide what is the truth? Many of his articles, such as the one about the church in Kristianstad, are not completely taken out of nowhere. People actually have been messing around in the church. Then bits are taken away, others added. The end result is a twisted mess. It takes time to sort out what is correct or not.
  247.  
  248. In short: His business is doing better and better. Focus News now has close to 200,000 followers on Facebook and so far not one single article of his has been flagged as false.
  249.  
  250. He starts work at 10 in the evening, just when the Americans on the other side of the globe are coming home from work.
  251.  
  252. He puts a few logs in the old stove, the only heat source in the room.
  253.  
  254. He makes some Turkish coffee on the flame from the gas tube, puts on his quilted jacket and two pair of socks.
  255.  
  256. Then he starts fishing for content. He has five, six favourite pages from which he nicks most of his stories. They have writers who know how to spin a story. These sites have names such as Freedom Daily and Conservative Fighters.
  257.  
  258. Ivan doesn’t care what the articles are about. He looks only at the numbers.
  259.  
  260. “This one is for sure false”, he says opening an article from the site Mad World News. “But it has gotten 200 likes and 28 shares in a short time. This one is popular. That means it is a good article. So I copy it and I post it on my site.”
  261.  
  262. He found the story about the masturbating and drug-using Muslims here, precisely, on Mad World News, an anti-Islamic site whose writers pose with weapons declaring their will to ”fight back against the liberal media” by reporting ”the stories that the mainstream media ignores.”
  263.  
  264. They referred to Free Times but had twisted the article a whole lot.
  265.  
  266. Even if bloody syringes were mentioned in this text, the bit about drug addiction had been brushed off. Instead politically motivated actions were described, some of them completely made up: ”Aside from leaving their offensive bodily fluids everywhere, the migrants scream Islamic chants and smash liquor bottles on the floor in an attempt to silence Christian worshippers from praying to God.” And more: ”When churches open their doors to the heathen religion of Islam, they are inviting in the very ideology that commands their death for not bowing down to their false god.”
  267.  
  268. Ivan Stankovic laughs in front of the computer.
  269.  
  270. “Drug addicts in the church isn’t very exciting, is it? So I guess they changed it to Muslims to make the article more popular. It’s as simple as that.”
  271.  
  272. And it did become popular. The story was shared in different versions by other young men in Macedonia, but also on similar websites in Georgia and Kosovo. Several of these sites have, just like Ivan, hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook.
  273.  
  274. Articles about Sweden and immigration are often popular among Trump supporters in the USA. That’s what Ivan noticed when he shared a piece saying that ”many towns in Sweden banned the use of Christmas lights on the streets to avoid offending the millions of Muslim migrants that have flooded their country in the last two years.”
  275.  
  276. In reality the Swedish Transport Administration had decided not to use their lampposts for Christmas decorations in certain Swedish towns because the poles were not considered strong enough to carry the weight of the lanterns hanging across streets.
  277.  
  278. Ivan’s article, saying that Muslims were the reason for this ban in Sweden, became his first big success.
  279.  
  280. “It went totally crazy”, Ivan says. “I earned a month’s salary in one day. I had never made that much from a single article before.”
  281.  
  282. He walks over to a couple of hooks by the door. Proudly he takes down a wool coat by the brand Inter Klas by Safari. That coat, and a pair of Turkish low-price jeans, are what he bought for the money that he got from the article about Christmas decorations being banned in Sweden “to avoid offending Muslim 'refugees'.”
  283.  
  284. It is now Tuesday in Kristianstad.
  285.  
  286. There is a fuss on the stairs in front of the drug addiction clinic, just by the Holy Trinity Church.
  287.  
  288. Lilac lips, dried nose blood on a cheek, thin jackets in the winter cold.
  289.  
  290. The new clientele.
  291.  
  292. “Has she opened this one already, or what?”
  293.  
  294. A bloke with a big beard is trying to fiddle open the safety lid on a bottle of Methadone. His buddy bends towards him, the tattoos on his neck showing under the collar.
  295.  
  296. “No. It’s unopened.”
  297.  
  298. “I’m just thinking… so that the cunt hasn’t tricked me”, answers the beard, who has come by a local train to reclaim what he lent his female friend last night. “You see, I had a 150 dose and then I gave her 10 metres. Otherwise she wouldn’t go to sleep”, he mumbles.
  299.  
  300. In December Camilla Wallin, the Clinic Manager, was provoked when her patients were given the sole blame for the disturbances in the church. The police was quoted in the local paper saying that addicts had come in from the cities of Malmö and Helsingborg with an “aggressive attitude”. On local radio, Kristianstad Channel 4, Wallin answered that the patients were not at all from the big cities but from the local area. Furthermore they were seeking health care voluntarily in order to change their lives. Hardly the type that goes peeing in a church on the way home.
  301.  
  302. To some listeners this was proof that the Church Administration wasn’t telling the whole truth: Look! The addicts weren't behind this. That means someone else must've been.
  303.  
  304. As I now speak with Camilla Wallin her picture is more nuanced.
  305.  
  306. “Well, I was pissed because of people generalising so much”, she says. “Addicts are human beings too. And most of those that come here are careful of situations where they might be arrested by the police or revert to their drug addiction. But we are neither naïve nor stupid. A lonely life makes you stick to your old friends. So more people in treatment mean more people moving around the church. And I can understand if the church staff is afraid if someone who is high on drugs comes into the church. Of course!
  307.  
  308. Outside on the pavement Jompa is having a dry cinnamon bun with vanilla filling. He has been on heroin since he was 20 and after all the relapses lately he is under order to come here every day for his medicine.
  309.  
  310. Jompa says he understands why the church janitor has begun to find syringes in there.
  311.  
  312. “I have to drink my Methadone in front of the staff. But some people get a couple of bottles to take home, so they can shoot it instead. It also gives a ride quicker. So I have seen people walking directly from here to the church with syringes and shit. I guess they can't stand to wait until they get home, so they shoot their stuff in there instead.”
  313.  
  314. He walks away towards the trains to go home.
  315.  
  316. Inside the waiting room of the station the old gang is still hanging around this afternoon.
  317.  
  318. Carola Stridh is perkier today. She has crawled out of her jacket and is treating the others to the coconut snowballs that are left over from yesterday.
  319.  
  320. “Åke” is out on the platform peeing against the train that will shortly be leaving for Hässleholm.
  321.  
  322. And it will soon be clear that it was premature of parish director Bengt Alvland to disregard this old gang altogether.
  323.  
  324. “The church has taken a lot of shit from us”, Pia says with a sigh. Shouts and screams and unnecessary things. Lots of people bring their quarrels along to church after having been sent off by the guard here. And I suppose it has happened that the abbess has been chased away when she has tried to tell someone off.”
  325.  
  326. Pia pulls on her dirty ear lobe.
  327.  
  328. “With alcohol and pills, when that mixture is made, things can be real nasty. Sometimes I am ashamed on my friends’ account. God forgives, they say, but I suppose you can’t take advantage of that too much.”
  329.  
  330. Everybody here knows who masturbated in the church.
  331.  
  332. “Well, yes, Bäckström brought it out in lots of places in the borough”, says Larsa with a laugh. ”It wasn’t that he was keen to show it. He was just a little horny.”
  333.  
  334. I ask the caretaker Göran Kjell, who was an eyewitness to the incident. He points at the same person.
  335.  
  336. So I speak to Bengt Alvland again. Why did he not tell the local paper that the old clientele was just as much involved as the new one?
  337.  
  338. “Well, I haven’t been digging into these things in that way”, he says. “I have a job to do as well. What we can say for sure is that we have begun to see new faces. And by listing all the incidents we hoped to get the police's permission to employ guards. And so we did. It was a very quick decision on the police side.
  339.  
  340. Let us stop for a while.
  341.  
  342. What actually remains of the article that Ivan Stankovic and other Macedonian guys have helped spread so successfully in the USA? Let’s go through the incidents that are most explosively contentious.
  343.  
  344. Broken bottles. In the railway station, a few metres from the church, a gang of Swedish drug addicts are hanging around. They admit to partying and making a nuisance in the church a bit too often.
  345.  
  346. Masturbation. One of them has also pleasured himself in there at least once. He died a couple of years ago, Bäckström.
  347.  
  348. Syringes. On the other side of the church there is a clinic for heroin addicts who sometimes shoot up their dose of Methadone in there.
  349.  
  350. The church plate. A known addict was caught red-handed as he was trying to slip a silver candelabrum into a plastic bin bag.
  351.  
  352. Urine. Difficult to tell. Judging from the stench it seems lots of people have been pissing in the church through the years.
  353.  
  354. So, the most dramatic incident then, the one that is described, in Ivan’s article, as an attempted kidnapping carried out by a migrant.
  355.  
  356. It turns out to be the same person who was carrying the big knife during Lena Bruce’s sermon. Born in the south of Sweden. He is feeling better nowadays. Attended church last time on Christmas Eve happily cheering the priest.
  357.  
  358. Well.
  359.  
  360. Can’t there be more people involved here after all?
  361.  
  362. I speak to Göran Svensson, local policeman in Kristianstad.
  363.  
  364. “We have deprived areas here as well”, he says. “They are above all Gamlegården and Charlottsborg, where we have problems with young immigrant boys, drug trafficking and also fireworks being fired at emergency service personnel. No use trying to hide that. But regarding the church we are talking serious addicts.”
  365.  
  366. Can’t these groups overlap?
  367.  
  368. “Of course they can. An immigrant can become a drug addict. But I can say that I don’t know many here with that background who are heavy addicts. A handful, at the most.
  369.  
  370. To be on the safe side I request to see all police reports concerning The Holy Trinity Church during the past two years, looking for traces of Muslims there too. The closest I get is a control of two individuals, carried out outside the church in July 2016. “2 addict type of guys” it says in the protocol. “One red sweater. The other African, hoodie.”
  371.  
  372. The police leave them without further proceedings.
  373.  
  374. On second thought. One more incident.
  375.  
  376. The poo.
  377.  
  378. “Foreigners should not be blamed for that”, says Carola Stridh at the station. “Of course there are immigrants in this borough, but here in the town centre it is pretty white. I haven’t seen any gypsies here in a long time, a few beggars sleeping or so, as the case may be in many other Swedish towns. No, it is us, the Swedes.”
  379.  
  380. Carola says that she knows who did the crapping.
  381.  
  382. “He was in a psychosis. A lot can happen then. It wasn’t at all about desecrating the church or being rude or something. It’s his brain that's not working. This guy is banned everywhere; from the shelter, from the station. I have been with him to the psychiatric emergency room, they also push him away.”
  383.  
  384. She gives a faint smile.
  385.  
  386. “Anyway he is Swedish, living in Kristianstad. I want to add that since that is what we are talking about.”
  387.  
  388. Pia Jönsson leans on her crutch, thinking.
  389.  
  390. “Why is it so important to you who did what?”
  391.  
  392. Now, that’s a good question.
  393.  
  394. There will hardly be less poo for caretaker Göran Kjell to hose off whether it is a Christian or a Muslim who has defecated.
  395.  
  396. And maybe it is also a problem that this text differentiates between people and people?
  397.  
  398. The priest Lena Bruce has the same worries. Ever since they first saw the rumours flying through the net the parish has vigorously denied that the troubles have had anything to do with immigration or refugee policies.
  399.  
  400. But that also mean they have to point out other groups.
  401.  
  402. “Here we have people who have been in the church. And then we were caught up in a discussion where we have been forced to sort out for each and everyone who these people were. What colour was their skin? Did they speak Swedish or not? Were they blonde? Or did they have dark skin – a discussion that actually should not have been necessary to hold.”
  403.  
  404. The priest is agitated now.
  405.  
  406. “I have not met with all of those who have been messing about in our church, but I have met some of them. They are not immigrants. They are not Muslims. They are not refugees. They are Swedes by birth, nothing else. That's... that's how it is... I will not budge a millimetre.”
  407.  
  408. Many people would say that you are covering something up.
  409.  
  410. “Why would I be lying? Why would I say something that is not true?”
  411.  
  412. Because you do not dare to tell the truth.
  413.  
  414. “Holy Moses! That makes me raging crazy, really. I cannot sit here and twist the truth just to please people. To please the population. Listen, now I am really angry.”
  415.  
  416. Lena’s voice is cracking.
  417.  
  418. “I am wondering… does it really matter what I say? Or what you write? Noone cares a shit about it, because people have already made up their minds. They believe what they read. And what they want to believe. It makes me angry as a bull. Don’t you accuse me of lying about which people are coming into our church. I know that better than the people sitting in Macedonia. Or in the USA.
  419.  
  420. The priest leans forward looking straight at me.
  421.  
  422. Her eyes are filled with tears of rage.
  423.  
  424. Ivan Stankovic lights another cigarette and starts going through the numbers from the night before.
  425.  
  426. The article that is doing best right now stems from a two year old article in a local Texan paper. In it was a quote that, taken out of context, looks sharp. “The Sharia law is greater than the Constitution, therefore Muslims are ABOVE the law.”
  427.  
  428. In six hours this article has been seen by 16,222 of his followers. 2,322 have clicked on the link leading to his home page. Yet another smash hit.
  429.  
  430. This does not mean that Ivan is without qualm about his new occupation.
  431.  
  432. He thinks about the consequences his article has had in a small community hundreds of miles away where he has never set foot.
  433.  
  434. ”Oh, it is not right, for sure. It's foolish. It's not OK to blame someone for something they haven't done. But how am I to know what is happening in Sweden? I have no idea. I haven’t even had the money to go to Skopje the last five years.”
  435.  
  436. What are your thoughts about yourself spreading lies and blaming Muslims?
  437.  
  438. “Well, what can I say? Of course it’s not good. I have lots of Muslim friends, the neighbouring house here is full of them, I feel sorry for their situation in the world right now. But some fool has written that, not me. I have just found a text and passed it on to others.”
  439.  
  440. Ivan sweeps his arm over the room.
  441.  
  442. “You see how I am living. Everything is broken; there is a draught from the door and from the windows. I want to fix the holes in the wall and paint them, buy a stove that keeps the heat better, be able to drink something else than water here at home.”
  443.  
  444. He picks up the mobile from beside the ashtray. The phone too, a Xiaomi from China for around USD60, is a result of fake news. It looks as though this is going to be the second consecutive month when Ivan will earn more than USD600 after having paid taxes and the web hotel and given his friend his share. He gives half of his earnings to his parents in gratitude for being allowed to go on living at home.
  445.  
  446. And as a birthday present Mummy will get a mobile too.
  447.  
  448. “I’ll show her all the apps and how to set up a profile on Facebook so that she can see what my work is about, I have noticed that she is pretty curious about that.”
  449.  
  450. He stubs out the cigarette in the ashtray thinking ahead a few weeks.
  451.  
  452. “I think a lot about her smile as she opens the package. That’s why I work.
  453.  
  454. A runaway dog coming back to his owner after several years.
  455.  
  456. A gifted girl dazzling the jury in a talent show.
  457.  
  458. A cartoon where Barack Obama flushes himself down the toilet.
  459.  
  460. And then an article claiming that nowadays sharia laws are in force in Irving, Texas.
  461.  
  462. Michael in Florida loves to share interesting articles with his Facebook friends. He found the article about the church in Kristianstad particularly good because it showed how ungrateful refugees are: ”The same tolerance and love leftists are screeching at us to extend is never expected from the migrants who illegally cross into our countries, live off our benefits, and demand adherence to their religion and values”, the article in Focus News said.
  463.  
  464. ”The Church extended a Christian hand to these Muslims and they took advantage of it, they rely on Christian charity to keep them going”, says Michael. ”I would love to have someone show me that kind of kindness.”
  465.  
  466. Michael says that he began falling ill when he was in the military. His legs and his back got worse and worse and the dream of being sent to Vietnam died. He is now living on a combination of social security and disability benefit. He has to make do with just a little more that USD800 a month.
  467.  
  468. “It's by the skin of my teeth that I make it. My legs are getting weaker and weaker, still I've seen one doctor after the other, with cancelled appointments all the time.”
  469.  
  470. I tell Michael of the Methadone clinic in Kristianstad. About the drug addicts in the railway station. That every one of those who have been close to the incidents denies that it was Muslims who peed, defecated and masturbated in the church.
  471.  
  472. “Don't you think maybe that the people in the Church are saying this just to save face?”, he muses. “We have an expression here in the States: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – then it's a duck.”
  473.  
  474. What do you mean by that?
  475.  
  476. “In this case, more than likely it was infact the Muslims who were desecrating the church. And I think that the Church people are a bit embarrassed about it and they are trying to blame someone else. To take the heat of the Muslims.”  
  477.  
  478. He reflects over the phone.
  479.  
  480. ”And it's not just Sweden. I mean, it's scary worldwide. I stand behind Donald Trump for anything he is going to do in this country to rid us of them. As far as the muslims go... we just need to get rid of them.”
  481.  
  482. NOTE: The names Larsa Jonsson, Lars “Åke” Åkerman, Slagan, Jompa and Bäckström have been changed.
  483.  
  484. English translation by Lars Ryding
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