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Saudi Billionaire Buys Buford, Wyoming, to Build Mecca-Fiction!

Saudi Billionaire Buys Buford, Wyoming, to Build Mecca-Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:
A Saudi billionaire purchased the entire town of Buford, Wyoming, and has hired the Binladen Group to build a “Western Mecca” that will ban non-Muslims.
The Truth:
Reports that a Saudi billionaire purchased Buford, Wyoming, and hired the Bin Laden family’s construction firm to build a “Western Mecca” were drudged up by a fake news website.
Real News Right Now published a story in November 2015 under the headline, “Saudi Billionaire Begins Construction of ‘Western Mecca’ in Wyoming.” Sheikh Mohammed Kamel Alsaud bought the small town for $1.8 billion to fulfill his “lifelong dream of bringing Islam to America,” the story reports:

Alsaud has hired the Binladen Group, a Saudi Arabian construction company founded in 1931 by Mohammed Bin Laden, to develop the $650 million project. Dubbed the ‘Mecca of the West’ by Shiekh Alsaud, the site is designed to replicate the original Mecca, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the most sacred site in the Islamic faith, located in Hejaz, Saudi Arabia.

Like the original holy city, only Muslims are permitted access to the ‘Mecca of the West.’ However, Alsaud told Forbes, “Our non-Muslim patrons will have the option to view the holy shrine using high-end telescopes installed at way-points around the perimeter.” The telescopes, according to Alsaud, are pay-per-view and cost $15 to operate. “A fair price in comparison to that which our Muslim brothers and sisters will pay to make their annual pilgrimage to Buford,” Alsaud said.

At the time, the story didn’t gain much traction. That’s probably because Real News Right Now is notorious for publishing fake news articles with a radical right-wing bend. The site doesn’t clearly identify itself as satire, but reading between the lines of its “About” page tells the story. Its credits include the Stephen Glass Distinction in Journalistic Integrity (Glass is a disgraced journalist who fabricated stories) and the Oscar Mayer Award for Journalistic Excellence (Oscar Mayer is the world’s foremost purveyor of bologna).
The false report about a Saudi billionaire’s plans to build a “Western Mecca” in Buford, Wyoming, resurfaced in January 2016 when the story appeared at Before Its News, a website that publishes user-generated content “as is.” This time, it gained more traction.
This rumor is a classic example of a fake news story using a kernel of truth to dupe its readers. In this case, the kernel of truth is the odd town of Buford, Wyoming. The town lies on about 10 acres and includes one convenience store, gas station and a modular home. Don Sammons, the town’s mayor and only resident, auctioned Buford off in 2012. An unidentified Vietnamese businessman bought Buford for $900,000, completing his dream of “owning a piece of property in the U.S,” Reuters reports.
Buford’s buyer was later identified as Nguyen Dinh Pham, a 38-year old Vietnamese businessman who “distributes home- and personal-care brands in Vietnam.” By 2013, Dinh Pham was working toward making Buford “the face of a new Vietnamese coffee company,” the New Yorker reports:

Now, as drivers approach Exit 335 on I-80, they see billboards announcing the town’s rebranded name: PhinDeli Town Buford. (Officially, the town will remain Buford.) In one of the signs, a photo of Sammons has been replaced with an image of Nguyen, with his arms folded, wearing sunglasses. The other billboards show Nguyen and Sammons shaking hands and holding up a T-shirt, consummating the town’s handover.

Other than that, little has changed so far in Buford. Nguyen’s marketing plan is predicated on the town’s enduring charm. Tourists can still pose in front of the population marker, which will remain at one; after the town’s relaunch, Nguyen planned to return to Saigon, where he lives with his wife and two children, but a caretaker will occupy Sammons’s old house. Two employees will work at the store and gas pumps. The convenience store, in addition to selling PhinDeli Town Buford trinkets, will now sell bags of PhinDeli coffee. Visitors can try samples while seated at a new coffee counter; on the wall behind it, a ten-foot painted mural illustrates PhinDeli’s manufacturing process in Vietnam.

So, Buford has a colorful past as the only town in the U.S. with a population of one, but reports that it’s been purchased by a Saudi for a billion dollars have been totally fabricated.