Amid surging national unrest over police violence, Virginia state senator and gubernatorial candidate Amanda Chase on Sunday shared a series of screenshots purporting to show violent plots against white people.
The first image, which Chase shared on Facebook, showed a user named “Blacklivess Matter” claiming that “we will be assassinating white families until justice is served!” The second showed a Twitter account called “Antifa America” threatening to “move into the residential areas … the white hoods … and take what’s ours.”
Both screenshots were bogus, one originating from a now-deleted account and another from a white supremacist organization. Nevertheless, Chase’s post, which shared the screenshots and implied readers should take up arms against the spectral threat, was still live on Tuesday.
Though Chase appeared to be the only elected official of any prominence sharing the Black Lives Matter hoax, her post joined a flurry of digital disinformation surrounding protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. While social media broadcast Floyd’s killing worldwide, a series of bad actors have used it to sow division in a country already on edge.
Black Lives Matter is a racial justice campaign with some official chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada. What it is not, however, is a Facebook account called “Blacklivess Matter” that threatens random executions. Nevertheless, in the final days of May, the account posted in at least three pages for communities outside Houston, Texas.
“WE WILL BE ASSASSINATING WHITE FAMILIES UNTILL [sic] JUSTICE IS SERVED!!!” the posts read. “WE WILL SET UP IN WHITE NEIGHBORHOODS AND CITIES. ITS TIME TO TAKE ACTION!!!!! ALL WHITE PEOPLE MUST PAY FOR THEIR SINS. THEY ARE EVIL AND JEALOUS HUMAN BEINGS. LETS SEE YOU MOURN OVER YOUR UNCOOKED DISEASE HAVING FAMILIES FOR ONCE. WHITE BABIES, OLD WHITE PEOPLE, LAWYERS, POLICE, ETC!! P.S. THERE ARE OVER 100 OF US THE MISSION WILL BE DONE!!!!”
The account looked like an obvious hoax, misspelling the name “Black Lives Matter” and leaving typo-laden screeds with no profile picture. It soon disappeared from Facebook, which has rules barring inauthentic activity. But denizens of the right-wing internet took screenshots of the threat and shared it across Facebook, where some users appeared to take it very seriously. Facebook did not return a request for comment on the account.
“Well there it is,” one user captioned the screenshot, in a typical example of how the post was being shared across the site. “Don’t leave your house unarmed!!”
The posts also spread across Twitter, the image-sharing site iFunny (where users’ screenshots also indicated it was spreading across Instagram stories), and on the notoriously troll-heavy /pol/ message board on 4chan. Some 4channers noted the post was an obvious hoax—“it could be one of us,” one mused—but others took it at face value and used it to fantasize about shooting looters.
After a week of protests—marred by the fatal shooting of a black protester by a white bar owner, and the shooting of a police officer, among many other violent acts—white people being made to expect an attack by African-Americans was unlikely to ease tensions.
Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said phoney social media accounts have long plagued left-wing causes.
“There's a long history of right-wing extremists posing as different types of people on social media,” he told The Daily Beast, adding that “there's also some history of the reverse being true to where people on the left have posed as people on the right, but that's much less common and it's usually done for satirical purposes.”
One example of the more typical breed of hoax was revealed Monday, when NBC News reported that the Twitter account @antifa_us was actually run by the white supremacist group Identity Evropa.
“Antifa,” short for anti-fascist, is not an official nationwide group, but a political stance that describes some localized U.S. groups who organize in opposition to the far right. Identity Evropa, whose members have clashed with anti-fascists at 2017’s deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and elsewhere, have long-standing beef with antifa. President Donald Trump and other Republicans have also made anti-fascists a bogeyman of the ongoing racial justice protests, threatening this weekend to label the non-group a terrorist organization.
As protests kicked off across the country last week, the @antifa_us account posted a tweet playing on right-wing fears. “Tonight’s the night, Comrades,” the hoax account claimed, “tonight we say ‘Fuck The City’ and we move into the residential areas … the white hoods … and take what’s ours.”
Right-wing commenters and blogs, like the website RedState, wrote articles about the tweet as if it came from a real organization.
A different antifa hoax played out in Idaho this week, after a right-wing militia started a rumor that anti-fascists were boarding planes to come riot in Boise. “Their plan is to destroy private property in the city and continue to residential areas,” the Facebook post read. “We are calling on all business owners to contact us if you are concerned for your business and your private property immediately. We are here to protect you, your private business, and have teams on the ground standing by.”
The baseless claim spread widely before police debunked it on Monday.
Pitcavage said hoax accounts like these were on the rise in recent years, among U.S.-based extremists as well as foreign actors attempting to sow chaos: “Russians, Chinese, Iranians, et cetera,” he said, referring to international trolling efforts, like one that saw Russian actors pose as Black Lives Matter activists.
Black Lives Matter hoaxes have also tried to fool the left. Organizers with the group Movement for Black Lives warned this weekend that an inauthentic email account purporting to be their group had sent out a fake protest advertisement.
State Senator Chase, whose office did not immediately return a request for comment, shared the fake antifa tweet alongside the fake Black Lives Matter post.
“Virginians, 2A Supporters, believers in Liberty and those with family and friends,” she wrote. “You ALL need to guard your families and homes tonight. This is serious and I don’t want you to be caught off guard. Stay safe Virginia🇺🇸** SHARE with your friends and family.”
She also shared a screenshot from a real anti-fascist group that operated in her Virginia constituency. That post, by the group Anti-Fascists of the Seven Hills, did not call for attacks on white people or neighborhoods. But it associated the real group with the fake calls to violence, alongside Chase’s warning not to be “caught off guard.”
Ironically, the left-wing group that Chase accused of agitation accused her of the same.
“Amanda Chase has a skewed perception of reality, and regularly tries to promote right-wing conspiracies and promote fear throughout her constituency and beyond,” the Seven Hills antifa group told The Daily Beast.