Prominent alt-right media personalities and websites framed a Michigan man that one labeled an “anti-Trump druggie” for Saturday’s car attack on anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Va that killed one and injured 19 others.
Police said the suspect in the incident is 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. from Maumee, Ohio. That is not the name of the man identified by the websites Gateway Pundit and GotNews earlier in the day.
“REPORT: Driver in Virginia Car Attack Was Anti-Trump Protester,” Gateway Pundit blared, plus the name of the Michigan man, whose name The Daily Beast is withholding. “WOW! DUDE HIT THE WRONG CROWD,” the subheadline read.
The “report” Gateway Pundit cited was a now-deleted tweet by a Twitter user named @Aristotle_Code, who goes by “Michael” and whose profile picture is of a sportscar. “Michael” has less than a thousand Twitter followers.
The post was deleted with no retraction.
“BREAKING: #Charlottesville Car Terrorist Is Anti-Trump, Open Borders Druggie,” reported GotNews, a website owned by far-right provocateur Chuck Johnson.
The post, which does not have a byline, cites a “Facebook crawl” of relatives of “license plate searches of the Dodge Challenger” that was used in the attack.
“[Name redacted] likes taking drugs and getting stoned, a look at his social media shows. What he under the influence when he crashed into the crowd at Charlottesville?” the post read.
That post has since been removed.
Still, readers flocked to the Facebook page of the Michigan man who was falsely accused of the homicide. Users finally began to slow the harassment on his page when he posted to Facebook several times while the suspect of the car attack was in custody.
The wrongly accused man has since set his Facebook page to private.
Users on 4chan also believed they had identified the car’s owner by viral posts allegedly identifying the vehicle’s VIN number and license plate. They used that to claim the Michigan man was truly behind the attack.
The publisher of the Federalist and CBS contributor Ben Domenech fueled speculation that 4chan was about to crack the case.
“I told you last night it could get worse. Awful. Particularly if 4chan is accurate as to the identity of the driver,” he wrote. They were not.
Daily Caller reporter Ian Miles-Cheong also pushed his readers to 4chan’s /pol/ message board.
“What if I told you that /pol/ has mobilized to find out who the driver of the #Charlottesville car is, and it isn't who you think it is?” he tweeted. “I've been reviewing the evidence, the Ohio license plate, etc. The owner of the car is anti-Trump and made posts supporting communism.”
Cheong, who has appeared on Fox News’ Hannity in the past month, wound up being incorrect.
“/pol/ is now saying it might be some guy who might be alt-right guy now. Hah. Who knows with anything anymore. Just wait for the police,” he later wrote.
This is not Gateway Pundit’s first time this calendar year accusing the wrong person of a terror attack. In January, Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft claimed CNN had lightened a picture of a man named Esteban Santiago, who had shot up a Fort Lauderdale airport.
Not only had CNN not even identified a suspect, let alone lightened a picture of one, Hoft’s post featured a picture of an entirely separate Esteban Santiago, who was not the same age or from the same state as the one who perpetrated the shooting.
The post was shared by the former Republican Congressman representing Fort Lauderdale, Allen West, before it was changed to say “this may be a different Esteban Santiago” hours later.
In 2014, GotNews’ founder Chuck Johnson wrongly identified the accuser in the famous University of Virginia rape story that was later separately retracted by Rolling Stone. (UVA’s campus, coincidentally, is in Charlottesville).
Johnson made headlines earlier this week for setting up a “fundraiser” for James Damore, the author of the anti-diversity Google memo that went viral this week. He’s raised $43,000 on Johnson’s WeSearchr site, which uses “Make Journalism Great Again” as its catchphrase.