By Aaron Sankin & Will Carless
In this week’s roundup: lots of confusion over whether the Florida school shooter was a white supremacist, the argument for being friends with racists and more.
This issue of The Hate Report begins with a deep, world-weary sigh.
On Thursday, news broke that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspect in the Florida school shooting, had trained with a white supremacist militia called the Republic of Florida. By the end of the day, the story began to fall apart.
Here’s what we know:
- An anonymous user on the anarchic far-right message board 4chan posted a message Wednesday, the day of the shooting, claiming to be a former member of Republic of Florida and that Cruz was also part of the group.
- The Anti-Defamation League saw the 4chan post, visited the group’s website and called the contact phone number listed. Over the phone, the group’s leader, Jordan Jereb, said Cruz was a member of the Tallahassee-based hate group and had participated in some of its military-style training exercises. The league published a blog post with its findings Thursday morning.
- Jereb gave additional interviews with other media outlets, such as The Daily Beast and The Associated Press, and claimed that another member of the group had purchased a gun for Cruz, though not the one used in the shooting.
- ABC News reported that three of Cruz’s classmates said he was a member of the Republic of Florida.
At this point, things start to go sideways:
- Law enforcement officials told the Tallahassee Democrat they had found no connection between Cruz and the Republic of Florida.
- 4chan users began to openly talk about how the entire thing was a hoax designed to trick journalists into accidentally reporting fake news. 4chan has a long history of intentional deceptions, so both the initial assertion of a connection between Cruz and Republic of Florida, as well as the claims that it was a hoax, could be fake.
- A thread on the white supremacist site The Right Stuff claimed a private group on the video gaming chat platform Discord, in which Jereb participates, was responsible for the hoax. As with 4chan, everything about these claims should be treated with extreme skepticism.
- Posting on the alt-right social network Gab, Jereb claimed the entire thing was “a legit misunderstanding because we have MULTIPLE people named Nicholas in ROF, And I got a bunch of conflicting information and I have not slept for like 2 days.” Naturally, he blamed the “lying Jew media” for the mix-up. We reached out to Jereb to figure out what’s actually happening, but he did not respond.
So where does that leave us?
The two things we know for sure are that 17 people were shot dead at a Florida high school and Jereb is involved with a hate group called the Republic of Florida. Whether those two facts are in any way connected is inconclusive. Regardless of the connection, several of the suspect’s former classmates told The Daily Beast that Cruz did harbor racist views, and BuzzFeed News reported that he wrote racist posts online.
There are some lessons we all should take away from this incident:
1. It’s often difficult for the media to get accurate information in the wake of a mass shooting. Refer to On The Media’s Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook when there’s a mass shooting in the news. It’s crucial information for how to process what you’re reading.
2. Whenever you read about anything having to do with 4chan, remember the site’s users love nothing more than lying to outsiders for kicks.
3. Take all public statements from white supremacist leaders with a grain of salt. Many of these groups seek the spotlight to increase their profile. In a 2014 blog post, the Southern Poverty Law Center noted that Jereb was desperate for attention, begging the organization repeatedly to get mentioned on its list of hate groups.
4. The internet was a mistake.
A little more background on Republic of Florida
The group proudly promotes violence in support of white supremacy. A code of conduct on the its website urges members to prepare themselves to engage in violence:
If battle is to become necessary I pledge to fight to the best of my ability, And to train to become better. I will do my best to maintain a level of physical fitness- You cannot fight if you are tired and weak.
Here’s a screenshot from an FAQ hosted on the site: [See link below.]
The group, which labels itself a militia, posted a low-quality videoshowing members doing military training exercises and shooting guns last year. The lyrics of the song playing over the montage say, “Am I ready to fight for race and land? / We are marching on the streets at night. / We’re racists and we’re ready to fight.” The video was removed Thursday morning.
One aspect of the group highlights a growing trend within the white supremacist ecosystem: Republic of Florida’s website indicates it is officially a Christian organization; however, its membership is nearly half Odinists. A neopagan religion based on Nordic mythology, Odinism increasingly has become a driving spiritual force within the white supremacist movement.
As we reported last year, professed racist Odinists have been convicted of plotting – or pulling off – domestic terrorism attacks in at least six cases since 2001. …