False claims that nearly everyone involved in George Floyd’s death — including Floyd — are “crisis actors” have spread widely online. But the pictures that supposedly prove this theory actually show unrelated people.
National tragedies are often followed by calls for change. In the case of George Floyd’s death, there have been calls for an overhaul in policing; in the case of school shootings, there had been calls for tougher gun laws. In recent years, those calls have been followed by a wave of conspiracy theories aimed at undercutting them.
Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, a standard component of these conspiracy theories has been the claim that the incident was an orchestrated show performed by “crisis actors.”
This claim is an offshoot of the “false flag” idea, which means that the incident was planned to advance a particular agenda and conducted in a way that would hide the identity of those who are responsible.
“The idea of the ‘false flag’ has been around for a long time,” said Joseph Uscinski, an associate professor at the University of Miami who researches conspiracy theories.
Asked in an interview with FactCheck.org about the origins of the “crisis actor” claim, specifically, he said, “you can go back in time and find things that are similar.” He noted that following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, there were claims that the victims were really still alive or that the planes never existed. But, he said, “Sandy Hook is when… the whole theory came together.”
Vice traced the origins of the term to an October 2012 press release for a Colorado acting studio that was offering to help schools and first responders create safety exercises and active-shooter drills with actors from the company who would be “trained in criminal and victim behavior.” The press release called them “crisis actors.”
Two months later, 20 children and six staff members were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and, within weeks, conspiracy theorists had seized on the term “crisis actor.”
They had also misrepresented what the acting studio was offering.
“We started getting hacked and stalked,” said Jennifer McCray Rincon, founder and artistic director of the studio, in an interview with FactCheck.org. “I was getting emails personally saying that I had staged Sandy Hook,” she said. “It was quite frightening.” After that, the studio stopped offering the training service.
Now the term “crisis actor” belongs to conspiracy theorists, and they’ve trotted it out for the death of George Floyd.
One video has been circulating widely on social media, making claims that have been parroted in other types of posts, too.
We’ll address the primary claims made in the video.
- Regarding George Floyd: “He is not even dead.”
The evidence presented to support that claim is a photo of a man in sunglasses with a hooded sweatshirt about which the video says, “That, my friends, is George Floyd at his own funeral.”
The photo shows Stephen Jackson at a press conference in Minneapolis City Hall.
Jackson, a former NBA player who grew up with Floyd in Houston, Texas, has been vocal in the demonstrations that have followed Floyd’s death.
The two men bear a resemblance, though. Jackson has actually referred to Floyd as his “twin.”
As for the simple claim that Floyd isn’t dead, two separate autopsies have been performed on his body — one by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office and the other by doctors commissioned by Floyd’s family.
- Regarding Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with second and third degree murder and second degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death: “This is no cop. This is an actor. This is a crisis actor.”
The evidence presented to support this claim includes two pictures of law enforcement officials in other settings — the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
The picture from the Boston bombing has been featured by conspiracy theorists since that incident happened. Shortly after the bombing, a popular conspiracy theory that was amplified by Alex Jones’ InfoWars claimed that the photo showed mercenaries who should be considered “persons of interest” in the bombing.
That theory was based largely on the blurry image of a logo seen on one of the men in the picture. InfoWars and others claimed that this was the logo for a company called Craft International, which had offered law-enforcement training before filing for bankruptcy in 2014. The company did not offer mercenary services.
Despite the bogus basis for the claim, it was recycled along with the photo two years later in a related conspiracy theory claiming that the 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California, was carried out by the same mercenaries.
Now the photo is being used to claim that it shows Chauvin as a “crisis actor.”
That’s bogus, too.
The three men in the photo are members of the National Guard’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, said Lt. Col. Matthew Woolums in an interview with FactCheck.org.
Woolums, who was in command of the National Guard unit that day, is one of the three pictured. The other two were members the CST unit.
“We’re in a little bit of hurry here,” he said, looking at the picture. The crowd was being evacuated and his team was assessing the area near the finish line of the race, where the first bomb detonated.
The National Guard’s CST was stationed at various points in the race course in case of emergency, as it had been in previous years, according to a report from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Case Program.
So, Chauvin is not shown in that picture.
The Sandy Hook example is a screenshot taken from a CBS News interview with three Newtown police officers who responded to the scene at the elementary school. The video zooms in on the officer in the middle, claiming that it shows Chauvin.
It doesn’t show Chauvin, either.
It shows Newtown Police Lieutenant David Kullgren. At the time of the shooting, Kullgren was a sergeant. His promotion to lieutenant two years later was covered by the local newspaper, as were several other developments in Kullgren’s career, showing that he has been in the community for years rather than moving from crisis to crisis as an actor.
- Regarding Maya Santamaria, who owned the club where Chauvin had worked for over a decade and Floyd had worked for a short time: “Their boss, the one who the cop and the guy worked for — she is a crisis actor.”
The evidence for this claim is a picture of Nicole Hockley with her 6-year-old son Dylan, who died in the Sandy Hook shooting.
It does not show Maya Santamaria.
Hockley is a co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise, which is aimed at preventing gun violence. She has maintained an active Twitter profile from Newtown over the years, while Santamaria has been featured in Minneapolis-area publications talking about her club.
- Regarding Tou Thao, one of the four former officers who has been charged in Floyd’s death: “Crisis actor. That badge is painted on… Not a cop.”
The video doesn’t offer any evidence to support the claim that Thao is a “crisis actor” other than the baseless assertion that his “badge is painted on.”
Thao, though, has accumulated six complaints over the years with the Minneapolis Police Department and, in 2017, he was named in a lawsuit alleging excessive force that resulted in a $25,000 settlement paid by the city.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.
Uscinski, Joseph. Associate professor, University of Miami. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 10 Jun 2020.
Koebler, Jason. “Where the ‘Crisis Actor’ Conspiracy Theory Comes From.” Vice. 22 Feb 2018
McCray Rincon, Jennifer. Founder and artistic director, Visionbox Studio. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 11 Jun 2020.
“Stephen Jackson, Karl-Anthony Towns attend rally in support of George Floyd.” NBA.com. 29 May 2020.
Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office Autopsy Report, George Floyd. 26 May 2020.
“PHOTOS: PRIVATE MILITARY OPERATIVES HIRED TO ‘WORK’ THE BOSTON MARATHON.” InfoWars.com. 18 Apr 2013.
Woolums, Matthew. Lieutenant colonel, National Guard. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 12 Jun 2020.
“Defending the Homeland: The Massachusetts National Guard Responds to the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings.” Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government Case Program. 2017.
CBS News. “Newtown first responders: Don’t call us heroes.” YouTube. 24 Dec 2012.
Hockley, Nicole. Sandy Hook Promise, co-founder and managing director. Accessed 11 Jun 2020.
Swanson Lindahl, Laura. “An Ambitious Approach — Entrepreneur Maya Santamaria ’94 leads businesses that break boundaries and build community in Minneapolis.” Augsburg.edu. 14 Nov 2016.