Where the old video used by a Trump advisor to condemn the Gaza attacks really came from

Trump campaign advisor Katrina Pierson used an old video, which was originally filmed in Belarus, in a tweet about the Gaza attacks.
Trump campaign advisor Katrina Pierson used an old video, which was originally filmed in Belarus, in a tweet about the Gaza attacks.

After deadly violence broke out between Israel and Gaza last weekend, senior US President Donald  Trump advisor Katrina Pierson used a 2015 video of a rocket attack to criticise Representative Ilhan Omar, demanding that the congresswoman respond to the escalating conflict.

"What is @IlhanMN response to this violence? Will she condemn it?" Pierson, an advisor to Trump's re-election campaign, tweeted on Sunday.

Many online users quickly noted that the video had been posted on YouTube four years ago and reportedly shows Ukrainian forces firing missiles in Donbass, which has been swept up in conflict between government and Russian-backed separatists since 2014. (You can also use a reverse image search to find the YouTube video.)

Online users accused Pierson of using a misleading video in her comments about the Gaza violence. "Pull the video down and stop lying and gaslighting," one Twitter user wrote.

But the video in fact wasn't filmed in Ukraine. Aric Toler, a researcher for the open-source investigative website Bellingcat who focuses on Eastern Europe, tracked down the original video and found that it was taken in Belarus in 2014.

“I looked on Russian social media”

Toler told the FRANCE 24 Observers team he turned to VKontakte, a social media website in Russia similar to Facebook, to try and find the source of the video.

As soon as I saw the video, I knew I had seen it before. People said it was from Ukraine, but I had some doubts. I started doing keyword searches on VKontakte and other Russian social media sites for "Grad," the name of the artillery system in the video, and some other terms. I also tried searching different types of artillery exercises.

Then I searched the terms on YouTube and filtered them by the oldest. I eventually found a video published in 2014 showing the same scene, but from a slightly different angle.

A video of the Polessky firing range in Belarus, which Toler used to identify the location of the video shared by Pierson.

It was filmed at the Polessky firing range in Belarus. I found lots of other videos with very similar-looking landscape, with similar tree lines. 

It’s clear that this video is from 2014 or earlier, though I can’t fully determine the date. But it was likely filmed then because there were military exercises carried out in the area that year”.

Israeli and Palestinian militants reached a ceasefire on May 6, after two days of intense fighting. At least 31 people were killed in Gaza and four in Israel.

Omar later called for an end to the violent clashes in Gaza. "The status quo of occupation and humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unsustainable," she wrote on Twitter.

If you want to learn more about verifying images online, check out our guide.


This story was written by Liselotte Mas (@liselottemas).