A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Charlottesville Driver Mix-up


Q: Did the man who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, meet with former President Obama in the White House?

A: No. A satirical website confuses the driver with the organizer of the rally, who is rumored to have been a past Obama supporter.

FULL QUESTION

I read that the driver of the car that killed the female in Virginia was tied in with Obama and that he also was a Democrat as his politics, not a Republican and not a Trump fan. Is this true?

FULL ANSWER

An Aug. 15 story on ourlandofthefree.com, headlined “White Supremacist Who Killed Protester Is A Democrat And Visited Obama In Oval Office,” gets the facts wrong — intentionally. It is a satirical website.

“Conservative author Dinesh D’Souza uncovered something that blows the Left’s whole narrative to bits,” the story starts. “While they have been throwing around claims that the white supremacist who ran over a protester who was blocking the road is a Republican, D’Souza discovered he [is] actually an Obama-supporting Democrat.”

That’s not the case.

D’Souza’s tweet, which is embedded in the story, was about Jason Kessler, whom D’Souza called the “white supremacist organizer” of the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally resulted in deadly violence. D’Souza shared a link to a Southern Poverty Law Center profile of Kessler that suggested the white nationalist blogger was once a Democrat.

“Rumors abound on white nationalist forums that Kessler’s ideological pedigree before 2016 was less than pure and seem to point to involvement in the Occupy movement and past support for President Obama,” the SPLC profile says.

The ourlandofthefree.com story includes that excerpt from the SPLC. The profile, however, goes on to say: “Regardless of Kessler’s past politics, the rightward shift in his views was first put on display in November, 2016 when his tirade against Wes Bellamy began.” Bellamy is the only black city councilman in Charlottesville, and Kessler unsuccessfully attempted to have him removed from office.

Regardless, Kessler is not “the white supremacist who ran over a protester,” as the satirical website’s story says.

Twenty-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, was charged with second degree murder after police said he drove his Dodge Challenger into a group of people counterprotesting the rally. Heather Heyer of Charlottesville was killed in the crash, and 19 others were injured.

The ourlandofthefree.com story makes no mention of Fields, who is a registered Republican, according to BuzzFeed News, which cited Lucas County, Ohio, voter registration records as its source. (We also found Fields listed as a registered Republican on another website that compiles public voter registration data.)

The bogus story also claims that Kessler “visited the Oval Office in 2016,” and includes an obviously altered photo. The doctored image shows Fields’ face, not Kessler’s, sloppily added atop Will Ferrell’s body in a photo of the actor with President Barack Obama.

Facebook users flagged the ourlandofthefree.com story as potentially fake news, and some of our readers asked us about it. The website publishes satirical stories. Its “about us” page says: “Ourlandofthefree.com makes no guarantee that anything you find here will be based at all in reality. All posts should be considered satirical and all images photoshopped to look like something they’re not. It’s not you, it’s me.”

But not every site that republished the story included such a disclaimer.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label viral fake news stories flagged by readers on the social media network.

Sources

Foxtrot, David “Tango.” “White Supremacist Who Killed Protester Is A Democrat And Visited Obama In Oval Office.” Ourlandofthefree.com. 15 Aug 2017.

Jason Kessler.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Accessed 17 Aug 2017.

McCausland, Phil, et al. “Charlottesville Rally Turns Deadly: One Killed After Car Strikes Crowd.” NBC News. 13 Aug 2017.

Angry crowd attacks ‘Unite the Right’ organizer in Charlottesville.” CBS News. 13 Aug 2017.

Hanna, Jason, et al. “Virginia governor to white nationalists: ‘Go home … shame on you.’” CNN. 13 Aug 2017.

About Us.” Ourlandofthefree.com. Accessed 17 Aug 2017.

White Supremacist Who Killed Protester Is A Democrat And Visited Obama In Oval Office.” Newsfeedobserver.com. 15 Aug 2017.

Admin. “White Supremacist Who Killed Protester Is A Democrat And Visited Obama In Oval Office.” Patriotusa.website. 15 Aug 2017.

James Fields.” Voterrecords.com. Accessed 17 Aug 2017.

Graff, Henry. “Charlottesville Judge Dismisses Petition to Remove Bellamy from Office.” NBC29.com. 8 Mar 2017.

Press release. Facebook update on violence at “Unite the Right” rally. Charlottesville Police Department. 13 Aug 2017.

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False

“White Supremacist Who Killed Protester Is A Democrat And Visited Obama In Oval Office.”

Ourlandofthefree.com
Tuesday, August 15, 2017