A woman claiming to be from Connecticut made an explosive allegation of sexual assault against Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on Friday. Her account quickly made its way through conservative chat forums, where contributors roundly called for the Senator to address the allegations and be held accountable for them.
But it is not entirely clear that the woman making the charge actually exists. In fact, a quick search shows that the account ripped off bio photos of women in Texas and London and misspelled the name of the accuser’s Connecticut hometown. The account was quickly shut down once the accusation went viral on rightwing media, with the user then emerging to claim she’d been hacked. After that, the account was suspended.
And in a statement to The Daily Beast, Blumenthal’s office strongly denied the charge.
It began at 5:56 pm, on Thursday, when the initial tweet was posted. In it, “Linda Flores” said that she had “waited almost 40 years to tell my story” about how she was “an intern at a law office with @SenBlumenthal & was sexually assaulted by richard countless times.”
“Told the story to my husband has been eaten me alive since,” Flores tweeted.
The picture accompanying the account was of a cowboy-hat wearing woman posing cheek-to-cheek with her goateed husband. A reverse Google Image search of that photo revealed that it was actually a different Linda Flores—a Linda Flores Olson who served as the former Executive Director of the Houston Hispanic Forum.
When reached by The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for the Houston Hispanic Forum told The Daily Beast that Olson is no longer working for the nonprofit, but said she had nothing to do with the Twitter account.
“She's aware of the tweet. That is a fake account,” the spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
Hours later, the picture on the Linda Flores account had been changed to a picture of another woman who was not, it seems, actually Linda Flores. A reverse Google Image search revealed that woman pictured was actually Sarah Brook, an HR specialist in the U.K. whose Twitter and LinkedIn accounts predated the creation of “Flores’” account by several years.
According to the LinkedIn page, Brook is employed at Genesis Housing Association which did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. Brook, likewise, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brook appears to still have a real Twitter account where she identifies herself as a commercial HR director based in London. The picture on the account matches the one on her LinkedIn page.
The “Linda Flores” account continued to tweet accusations at Blumenthal, including responding to a video clip of him saying that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore was unfit for office.
“That’s extremely rich senator blumenthal;” the person alleging to be Linda Flores wrote. “If sexual harassment is grounds for removal then you’ll be unemployed shortly stay tuned I have a big surprise-well not really you remember what you did to me & how you tried to silence meThose days are over!”
The “Flores” account had several other questionable features. It was created earlier this week and tweeted only a handful of times. “Flores” also claimed she was from “Chesire, Ct,” which does not exist. It is Cheshire, Connecticut, and there is no Nexis search result for a Linda Flores from Cheshire.
By Friday afternoon, the account had been locked. But shortly thereafter, it was reopened, with Flores tweeting:
"Thank you everyone for the outpouring of support. My account has been on the receiving end of numerous hacks including posted pictures of people unaffiliated with me. Per advice of my legal counsel I am deleting my account more will follow. #metoo"
After the piece was published, Olson tweeted that the account using her picture was fake.
By that point, however, the accusations of sexual assault against Blumenthal found their way around the Internet, illustrating the ease with which such charges can spread, and the degree to which a profoundly important and consequential #MeToo moment can become weaponized for political purposes.
A post titled “NEW ACCUSER AGAINST DEMOCRAT SENIOR SENATOR FROM CONNECTICUT, RICHARD BLUMENTHAL!!” made its way to the front page of Reddit’s r/the_donald, the most active pro-Trump forum on the web, only an hour after its posting. It was appended by a moderator with a “You’re Fired” tag and remained on The_Donald’s front page at press time.
The popular far-right disinformation Twitter account Imperator_Rex3 spread the accusation as well. Imperator_Rex3 was one of the strongest drivers of disinformation against one of Roy Moore’s accusers, pushing a tweet by the now-deleted user Umpire43, who claimed accusers were offered $1,000 by The Washington Post to go public.
Drew Liquerman, who identifies himself on Twitter as the chairman and founder of Scotland’s GOP, tweeted about the false accusation and amplified it. And Guy Benson, the Political Editor of Townhall.com, wondered if Linda Flores would get a “fair hearing.” He later deleted the tweet.
Blumenthal has long been a target of Trump and Trump’s allies. The president has attacked him over Twitter, calling him a con artist and a cry baby, for embellishing his service in the Vietnam war.