fact check
Wes Nofire speaks during a 2nd Congressional District debate Monday, June 20, 2022, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. (Megan Prather)

Ten of the 14 Republican candidates competing for Oklahoma’s open 2nd Congressional seat met for a debate on June 20 in Bartlesville, which was co-hosted by NonDoc and News on 6.

The Frontier found no shortage of exaggerations, half-truths, and outright falsehoods to fact-check as the discussion jumped from abortion law on tribal land to allegations of Ukrainian money laundering. We used public documents, tribal and U.S. government sources and other records to investigate some of the candidates’ claims.

If you missed the event, you can read a recap of the debate or watch the full video below.

Claim: The federal government gives migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally a bus ticket to anywhere they want to go and a free cell phone.

Chris Schiller said: “What the left does now instead of detain and deport is they catch the illegal immigrants, release them into the United States wherever they want to go with a bus ticket and a free cell phone, and that is unsustainable.”

Fact check: Mixed

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does provide modified cell phones to some people who cross the southern border illegally. The phones are part of the department’s Alternatives to Detention program, which aims to help individuals in the immigration system comply with release conditions, court hearings and other orders.

The devices can’t make phone calls, except to 911, and don’t have internet access. Migrants use the devices to access an application called SmartLINK to upload documents, receive notifications for upcoming appointments and court hearings, message case specialists and find community service providers. ICE has used the SmartLINK application since 2018.

“(Alternatives to Detention) effectively increases court appearance rates, compliance with release conditions, and helps the participants meet their basic needs and understand their immigration obligations,” the agency said in a statement. “Those who do not report are subject to arrest and potential removal.”

The devices have to be returned once a person completes the Alternatives to Detention program.

ICE does transport people released from its custody to regional airports, bus stations or other locations, where those people have made their own transportation arrangements, according to a statement. But recent reports have detailed potential plans from the Department of Homeland Security to alleviate overcrowding along the border by transporting migrants waiting for immigration court proceedings to cities further away from the border, according to NBC News and The New York Times. DHS did not respond to questions prior to publication.

— Kayla Branch 

Claim: The United States has been caught laundering money through Ukraine.

John Bennett said: “They (Ukraine) are laundering money. Our own U.S. government is using Ukraine to launder money. They’ve done it in the past and been caught.”

Fact check: False

Bennett told The Frontier that his source for this claim was an article with the headline, WHY ARE DEMOCRATS, RINOS AND THE FBI HANGING OUT WITH UKRAINIANS? written by former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency analyst Larry C. Johnson.

In the article, Johnson claims U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have pushed for tax dollars to go to Ukrainian arms deals so that some of this money can go to entrepreneur Igor Pasternak, who allegedly funds their campaigns. fact-checked these claims and found that Pasternak has not benefited from any Ukrainian arms deals. Pasternak was born in Kazakhstan and raised in the Soviet Ukraine, but he is an American citizen. Pasternak’s company, Worldwide Aeros Corp., manufactures airships and is based in the United States. Campaign finance records show that Pasternak has periodically made political contributions to both Republicans and Democrats.

Bennett did not respond after The Frontier presented him with this information.

Johnson is also known for spreading hoaxes, including that Michelle Obama had used the slur “whitey” and that British intelligence agents wiretapped former President Donald Trump. Pertaining to Russia’s war in Ukraine, Johnson has also claimed that Russia defeated Ukraine in 24 hours.

— Garrett Yalch

Claim: The Cherokee Nation administration is trying to set up illegal abortion clinics in eastern Oklahoma.

Wes Nofire said: “They (tribal leaders) are trying to put illegal abortion clinics right here on the reservation. We don’t want to see that.”

Fact check: False

After Oklahoma passed the strictest anti-abortion law in the country earlier this year, many — including Gov. Kevin Stitt — surmised that Oklahoma tribes might begin offering abortions to tribal members on tribal land. This belief likely stems from the  2020 McGirt v. Oklahoma U.S. Supreme Court decision. The high court ruled that a large portion of eastern Oklahoma was still an Indian Country reservation, limiting the state’s jurisdiction on some criminal matters. But U.S. federal law restricts federal funding from going toward abortions except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. told The Frontier that due to that law, “the Cherokee Nation will not set up abortion clinics.”

“This is a serious topic for the Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma and shouldn’t be used as a ploy by a political candidate or to fight tribal sovereignty,” Hoskin said.

— Dylan Goforth

Claim: The Cherokee Nation violated its own constitution by admitting Freedmen as citizens.

Wes Nofire said: “Whenever the Cherokee Nation admitted them in there, they violated their constitution. So they violated their own citizens’ rights. That’s what they did there. And so whether the tribe wanted to accept them into their citizenship or not, it’s self-determination, and the members have to speak up. The tribal government, the tribal chief specifically, worked with the Supreme Court and undermined the rights of the people and invalidated their constitutional rights, and sent them to D.C., where Deb Haaland illegally signed an unratified constitution, so she’d be in violation herself.”

Fact check: False

In 2017, a federal judge ruled that the descendants of slaves owned by Cherokee citizens — known as Freedmen — were entitled to full citizenship rights.

“The Cherokee Nation can continue to define itself as it sees fit,” U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan wrote in his ruling, “but must do so equally and evenhandedly with respect to native Cherokees and the descendants of Cherokee Freedmen.”

The ruling came a decade after Cherokee citizens voted to take citizenship away from the Freedmen, who were originally granted citizenship after emancipation. The United States government opposed that vote and eventually withheld millions in funding from the tribe.

The Cherokee Supreme Court ruled last year that the descendants of Freedmen would be granted full citizenship rights, removing the phrase “by blood” from the tribe’s constitution. About 4,000 enslaved Black people were living among the Cherokee people by 1861, according to the National Museum of the American Indian, and the tribe abolished slavery in 1863.

“Freedmen rights are inherent,” Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice Shawna S. Baker wrote in the opinion. “They extend to descendants of Freedmen as a birthright springing from their ancestors’ oppression and displacement as people of color recorded and memorialized in Article 9 of the 1866 Treaty.”

While Nofire said during the debate that the tribe “violated” the rights of its citizens by admitting Freedmen and their descendants, Hoskin told The Frontier it was the 2007 vote stripping Freedmen of citizenship rights that was “invalid.”

“The United States, through Secretary Haaland, approved the Cherokee Nation Constitution after the ‘by blood,’ language was stricken as required by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court on the basis that the Cherokee Nation had agreed by treaty to grant Freedmen full citizenship more than a century prior to denying them citizenship through an invalid constitutional amendment,” Hoskin said. “Although this approval by the United States was not legally necessary, it was welcome.”

— Dylan Goforth

Claim: Half of candidate Johnny Teehee’s campaign donations came from the family of former Senate Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee. 

Wes Nofire said: “They (the Cherokee Nation) have bought out current candidate Johnny Teehee by accepting nearly half his contribution(s) from the Coffee family.”

Fact check: Mostly False. 

Former Oklahoma Senate Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee has represented both the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations in court cases related to the landmark McGirt U.S. Supreme Court decision. Federal Election Commission records show that Teehee accepted $17,400 from six Coffee family members between March 15 and March 31. The vast majority of the $279,399 raised by Teehee’s campaign during that period was from $210,479.83 that Teehee loaned himself. Excluding the loan, about 45 percent of Teehee’s contributions came from the Coffees for those two weeks in March. Since then, Teehee has reported raising another $30,520 between April 1 and June 8, none of which came from Coffee family members. While the Coffees are among significant contributors to Teehee’s campaign, their contributions account for around a quarter of all funds raised from outside sources. 

— Clifton Adcock

Rating system

  • True: A claim that is backed up by factual evidence
  • Mostly True: A claim that is mostly true but also contains some inaccurate details
  • Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate or unproven information
  • True but misleading: A claim that is factually true but omits critical details or context
  • Mostly False: A claim that is mostly false but also contains some accurate details
  • False: A claim that has no basis in fact