Politically charged social media posts have wrongly identified pictures as showing the Minneapolis police officer who was seen kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, who died shortly after. The two photos circulating do not show the officer, Derek Chauvin.
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, following his arrest on May 25 has prompted uproar and protests in the city’s streets.
Floyd, a black man, died shortly after he was detained by officers. A video of the arrest emerged in which Floyd can be heard repeatedly saying, “I cannot breathe,” as an officer kneels on his neck for several minutes. The Minneapolis Police Department has confirmed in a statement that the FBI will investigate, and the city’s mayor said that the “four responding MPD officers involved in the death of George Floyd have been terminated.”
But the furor online has at times been accompanied by politically charged misinformation about the officer at the center of the case, Derek Chauvin — who was identified in news reports as the officer seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
Viral posts on Facebook and Twitter have falsely claimed that two different photos, of two different men, show Chauvin. They don’t.
“Does this surprise any of you?” reads one Facebook meme showing the picture alongside a screenshot of Chauvin from the video of Floyd’s arrest. The rapper Ice Cube also shared the two photos side by side on Twitter, writing: “A wolf in wolves clothing. The demons are among us. #Fightthecowards.” His tweet was shared more than 50,000 times.
The man in the hat, however, is not Chauvin. The man was later identified by HuffPost reporter Luke O’Brien as Jonathan Lee Riches, who is known for his penchant for filing lawsuits. O’Brien profiled Riches in a 2019 story.
Riches has “filed thousands of actions in federal courts throughout the country, most of which have been dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted,” a Montana federal judge wrote while dismissing a 2016 complaint he filed against then-candidate Donald Trump. In that complaint, Riches said he supported Trump “100%” and “I love Donald Trump like a brother/father,” but sought an order to stop him from running for president because he feared for Trump’s safety.
The HuffPost story on Riches detailed his “trolling” practices, including setting up fake social media accounts.
The photo of Riches was posted on a since-deactivated Facebook account under the name “Derek Chauvin” on May 26, one day after Floyd’s death, with a caption “Better times.” That profile is no longer active.
We reached out through Riches’ Facebook profile directly for comment and didn’t hear back. But an account connected to his — one for “Joseph A Camp” — which spent the day May 27 posting about the viral photo and the news coverage it spawned did get back to us. (The Camp and Riches profiles list one another as a domestic partner on Facebook, though Camp said they are not actually in a domestic partnership.)
Camp said in a message: “JLR(c) and I are political satirical artist who are both well known for massive controversial satire” and that “JLR(c) is the individual in the image.” He claimed the hat in the viral image had been photoshopped — though he couldn’t provide an original photo to support that claim.
We asked whether Riches created the “Derek Chauvin” account that posted the photo, and Camp said: “I can’t confirm or deny if JLR(c) created the account in question, but I will confirm that Mr. Riches has been accused or assumed to have created massive social media profiles, groups, and pages in an attempt to use satire to prove a point.”
Separately, another viral photo shows an arrow pointing at a man at a Trump rally, and appeared with captions identifying the man as Chauvin. The rally photo was taken at an October 2019 campaign rally in Minneapolis and shows attendees wearing shirts reading, “Cops for Trump.”
But Minneapolis Police Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis who is also seen in the photo, told the Associated Press that “none of the officers in the [George Floyd] incident were near the Trump rally.” He said the individual in the rally photo is actually Michael Gallagher, president of the Bloomington Police Officers Federation.
Kroll and Gallagher didn’t return our requests for comment.
Frey, Jacob (@MayorFrey). “Four responding MPD officers involved in the death of George Floyd have been terminated. This is the right call.” Twitter. 26 May 2020.
Ibrahim, Mukhtar M. “‘Trump hates us’: President’s Minneapolis visit gets no welcome from Minnesota Somalis.” Sahan Journal/MPR News. 11 Oct 2019.
“Investigative Update on Critical Incident.” Press release, Minneapolis Police Department. 26 May 2020.
“Pres. Trump brings Mpls. police Lt. Bob Kroll on stage.” KARE 11 News. YouTube. 10 Oct 2019.
Mannix, Andy. “What we know about Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao, two of the officers caught on tape in the death of George Floyd.” Star Tribune. 26 May 2020.
Michels, Scott and Sarah Netter. “World’s Most Litigious Man Suing Guinness Book of World Records?” ABC News. 12 May 2009.
O’Brien, Luke. “Anyone Can Get Trolled — Even The New Yorker.” HuffPost. 4 Mar 2019.
O’Brien, Luke (@lukeobrien). “Riches just emailed me. That pic of him began circulating after he found people harassing Chauvin’s wife on FB and tried to intervene, he claims. FB users assumed he was a relative. ‘Took a photo of me & spread it like I was [Chauvin].’ (He also claims the hat is photoshopped.).” Twitter. 27 May 2020.
Swenson, Ali. “Officer who kneeled on black man’s neck was not onstage at Minneapolis Trump rally.” Associated Press. 28 May 2020.