A congressional candidate is connected to a fake newspaper that’s plastered the South Bay, which mirrors several other misleading websites created by her consultant with ties to Roger Stone and an extreme right-wing agenda.
With a few weeks until Election Day, voters across Silicon Valley are finding a newspaper in their mailboxes called The South Bay Chronicle. It looks convincing with an editorial font title, headlines and stories that mimic major publications.
But a closer look reveals the paper is peddling propaganda and misinformation. The articles contain no author names or dates, and its pages attack San Jose Rep. Zoe Lofgren while promoting one of her political challengers: Charlene Nijmeh.
Nijmeh, chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe since 2018, is working with political consultant Matthew Ricchiazzi who’s notorious for creating a slew of fake news sites — including The Buffalo Chronicle and San Francisco Inquirer. The tribe is one of Ricchiazzi’s clients, and he calls himself the “chief of staff to the chairwoman” in emails sent to federal lawmakers obtained by San José Spotlight.
The Buffalo Chronicle published stories alleging Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bribed his way into suppressing a sex scandal, among other claims. An investigation by BuzzFeed News and the Toronto Star found that Ricchiazzi offered to publish positive or negative coverage of political candidates for money.
Ricchiazzi was exposed by the San Francisco Chronicle last year as the operator of the San Francisco Inquirer, another fake news website that posts sensational and politically-slanted articles. It contains more attacks on Lofgren — including a recent post blaming her for sex trafficking — alongside real news releases including one from San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan on artificial intelligence.
The newly-launched South Bay Chronicle — which doesn’t appear to have a website — features more than 20 pages in its February edition accusing Lofgren of thwarting regulations to protect kids from online predators because of support from “Big Tech,” orchestrating the housing crisis, voting against immigration measures and claiming her “crusade for abortion” and “transgendering” children without consent is alienating conservative Latinos, among other claims.
Ricchiazzi said he volunteers his time to help with Nijmeh’s campaign, but does not work for her. He claimed the publication is not paid political advertising and is not affiliated with Nijmeh’s campaign. He said his publications are a counter reaction to what he called the corporate media agenda.
“It’s an independent hobby project of mine,” he told San José Spotlight. “It’s not campaign material. It wasn’t produced or authorized by the (Nijmeh) campaign. It wasn’t funded by the campaign. I produce my independent journalism, independently. I’ve done this for many years under many different mastheads.”
One of the paper’s most outlandish headlines accuses Lofgren’s attorney husband of making “millions” off the displacement of people of color due to the Bay Area’s housing crisis.
Lofgren’s husband is an estate attorney who works on wills and trusts, not housing laws or policy.
“I urge anyone trying to enter public service to be honest and civil,” Lofgren told San José Spotlight. “It is sad for American democracy when disinformation and lies are what a candidate relies on.”
The paper features numerous articles promoting Nijmeh and her candidacy — and unlike other political campaign materials, it does not have a campaign ID number or disclosure about who paid for it as required by law. Campaign identification disclaimers are required for any political messages.
“They are definitely violating the law,” said Ann Ravel, a Silicon Valley attorney and former member of the Federal Elections Commission. She added that fake newspapers are a common form of political campaigning.
“Especially when they’re attack ads,” she added. “That is probably the reason they’re not identifying whether they exist or who they are, because they probably believe it is in their interest to attack and have people think it’s something that is a newspaper or some other commentary that is legal and thoughtful — one that actually exists.”
In one article, Nijmeh is posing next to longtime East San Jose leader Blanca Alvarado — and claims the matriarch has endorsed her campaign to unseat Lofgren.
Alvarado told San José Spotlight she did not endorse Nijmeh.
“I am aghast at this propaganda of lies,” Alvarado said. “I did not endorse her nor do I even know how to contact her.”
Ricchiazzi denies publishing a false endorsement from Alvarado and insisted she endorsed the campaign in his presence by signing Nijmeh’s campaign petition.
“Blanca is a legend, whom I respect very much, but she is 92 years old and she is being pressured by Democratic Party operatives to reverse her endorsement,” he told San José Spotlight.
The paper also touts the endorsement of a Watsonville mayor who left office two years ago.
Nijmeh acknowledged the publication appears to be Ricchiazzi’s work — whom she called an “indigenous independent journalist” — but claimed she knew nothing about it.
Nijmeh added that she does not endorse the publication and neither does her campaign.
“I am very upset about any publication that would print an endorsement by Blanca Alvarado that she did not offer,” she said. “I consider Blanca to be a friend of my mother, my tribe and myself and I did have a conversation about my candidacy during a get together but she never offered an endorsement.”
Alvarado isn’t the only politician being dragged into the fray.
Some of Nijmeh’s campaign materials feature photos of herself with Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, a close friend and colleague of Logren’s, to insinuate support. Pelosi shot down the claim in a letter this week.
“We were quite surprised to see that somebody who is running against our colleague and friend Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren had recently sent a campaign brochure with our photos, giving the false impression that she may have our support in this race. That is not true,” Pelosi said in a letter co-signed by House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries. “Visitors often ask to take pictures with us — and we always try to be courteous and accommodating. Politics can be a messy sport, but it’s pretty disgraceful to use our images to try to mislead voters.”
Ricchiazzi has troubling ties to convicted felons and controversial figures like Roger Stone. He’s also promoted lies about the Jan. 6 insurrection and former President Donald Trump’s debunked claims of voter fraud after his 2020 election defeat.
Ricchiazzi in 2018 called for Stone to begin whipping votes to become the next speaker of the House after Paul Ryan’s departure.
Stone and Ricchiazzi both wrote articles for another outlet named Artvoice.
Artvoice owner Frank Parlato, Jr. ran his articles in Ricchiazzi’s publications, and wrote dozens more lambasting Lofgren on a separate site called Frank Report. Parlato in 2022 was convicted of fraud and taking money from a liquor heir charged in a criminal conspiracy involving sex trafficking, identity theft and money laundering. Parlato called Stone a “friend” and solicited donations for his legal fees. His articles also appear on Stone’s website, The Stone Zone.
Ricchiazzi also operates a Facebook page called Reform New York that’s posted racist and homophobic content, along with more attacks on Lofgren. He tags Trump and his children in the posts criticizing Lofgren.
In San Jose, The South Bay Chronicle is raising red flags for many.
“Has anybody heard of this newspaper?” a resident posted on Reddit. “Someone put it on all the porches in my neighborhood. It seems super politically slanted and I’m thinking it’s propaganda.”
The question was met by dozens of responses — people from San Jose to Gilroy — who said they also received The South Bay Chronicle at their front doors. All questioned its validity.
The paper also features ads from companies and organizations that appear to have no ties to the publication. The ads include KSBW, an NBC affiliate in the central coast, and a collective of wineries and car dealerships in Morgan Hill. It advertises a website that appears to post anti-Israel ideology.
A spokesperson for the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley Association said the ad in The South Bay Chronicle appears to be from 2022 and was likely pulled off another website.
“We never advertised with this paper and don’t support plagiarism or spreading fake news,” said Stacy Giannini, the association’s director of marketing.
Ricchiazzi did the same thing in San Francisco. He published logos of prominent companies in the San Francisco Inquirer to imply they’re advertisers. Many of them told the Chronicle they’d never heard of the outlet.
Lofgren and her team disputed the paper’s claims — from her record on immigration to her stance on tech industry regulations.
The veteran congresswoman said sowing confusion about issues like immigrant and transgender rights plays into “despicable right-wing bigotry.”
“This fake news and disinformation model — used consistently by the Trump-Stone-Ricchiazzi right-wing ecosystem — and now actively embraced by Charlene for Congress leads to public skepticism and undermines the integrity of our elections,” Lofgren said. “To think that using GOP culture war bills, with misleading names and dangerous policy consequences, will sway the savvy voters in this district is insulting and deeply troubling.”
Her colleague in congress, Rep. Anna Eshoo, said Lofgren has a great deal of integrity and denounced the attacks from Nijmeh.
“I’ve been in elective office for 42 years and I’ve never met anyone as deceitful as this woman. She constantly misrepresents the truth,” Eshoo told San José Spotlight. “This woman should be as far away from the Congress as possible.”
The crusade by Nijmeh and Ricchiazzi against Lofgren traces back to a January 2023 meeting with the veteran legislator.
The meeting, which included Eshoo and Bay Area Reps. Ro Khanna, Eric Swalwell and Jimmy Panetta, focused on the Muwekma’s fight for federal recognition. The tribe’s request for recognition — which provides access to federal benefits and protections — was denied by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2002.
Lofgren has supported the tribe’s efforts to gain recognition, but opposes granting them gaming rights. Most federal bills that have recognized tribes include anti-gambling provisions, the congresswoman’s office said.
Nijmeh said her tribe deserves the same gaming rights granted to others. The South Bay Chronicle featured a full-page article envisioning what the tribe’s casino could look like — including replacing the “indefensibly tacky” Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
The article, which has no author, claims the tribe has been approached by developers who propose a 300,000-square-foot casino, 4,000 hotel rooms and condos, and a public square and amphitheater spanning three blocks.
The tribe won’t cede its gaming rights, Nijmeh said in the article, and would consider gaming if approached by a city like San Francisco or San Jose.
Lofgren said that’s a nonstarter — especially after the baseless attacks leveled by Nijmeh, Ricchiazzi and the misinformation they’re spreading through The South Bay Chronicle.
“It is disrespectful to the voters in California’s 18th congressional district that one of my opponents has chosen to embrace fake news and disinformation and deceive the public about endorsements as part of her campaign,” Lofgren said. “It’s disgusting that anyone running to represent this district would spend thousands of dollars to spread transphobic and anti-immigrant propaganda.”
Editor’s note: Ann Ravel serves on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.