How I Became Fake News
Read every word of this. It’s chilling.
Last Sunday evening, I received a worried call from my sister asking if I had spoken with my mother and father. I had spent the day doing interviews about the vehicle attack I witnessed the day before while protesting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and had not been in front of a computer all day. She told me that my parents’ home address had been posted on a neo-Nazi conspiracy theorist message board.
“They are suggesting that you arranged the attack, Brennan,” she said. “There are death threats against you.”
On Saturday morning, I witnessed James Fields smash his car into a crowd of demonstrators, killing Heather Heyer and wounding 19 others. Although I immediately shared the footage with police on the scene, it took me a half-hour to decide to post it publicly. I was concerned about how the footage might be used by the “alt-right” and felt uncomfortable knowing that I had probably filmed someone’s death. I did not want the attention posting the video was likely to bring. I consulted with friends and family, some of whom were also at the counterprotest and some of whom were watching the coverage from outside Charlottesville. They all urged me to share the video, and when I heard from friends that some media outlets were suggesting that it might have been an accident or that the driver might have been attempting to escape an angry mob, I knew I had to post it. The video I took—and the scene I witnessed with my own two eyes—clearly showed the attack was intentional. Fields drove down two empty blocks and plowed straight into the crowd before fleeing in reverse.
So I tweeted it out:
Video of car hitting anti-racist protestors. Let there be no confusion: this was deliberate terrorism. My prayers with victims. Stay home. pic.twitter.com/MUOZs71Pf4
Within the next 24 hours, nearly every major American news network and a variety of international press outlets asked to interview me about the attack. I was too shaken to sleep on Saturday night, but I spent all day Sunday conducting interviews. I tried to give a frank account of what I had seen on Fourth Street and respond clearly to questions about the situation more broadly. I said there was one side and one side alone responsible for the death I witnessed—the Nazis and white supremacists who brought their ideology of violence and hate to our town. It was their man who drove his vehicle into the crowd. I thought these points were straightforward and uncontroversial.
Boy was I wrong.