A week after police called a homemade clock that Ahmed Mohamed brought to school a “hoax bomb,” then dropped the charge, viral posts have called the 14-year-old everything from a fraudulent inventor to an Islamist plant who planned all along to get himself handcuffed.
DALLAS — Conspiracy theories about Ahmed Mohamed are spreading nearly as fast as the boy’s celebrity.
A week after police called a homemade clock that Ahmed brought to school a “hoax bomb,” then dropped the charge, viral posts have called the 14-year-old everything from a fraudulent inventor to an Islamist plant who planned all along to get himself handcuffed.
Most of these theories cite no evidence, many contradict each other and some clash with known facts — like a statement from Irving City Hall that the MacArthur High School freshman never intended to frighten anyone with his circuit-stuffed pencil case.
Yet rumors of a sinister plot are moving into the mainstream, intersecting with celebrities like Richard Dawkins and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
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“My theory: For some reason Irving is important to the Islamists,” former Fox News host Glenn Beck told the Texas city’s mayor in a televised interview posted Tuesday. “And you’ve pissed them off, and now this is a dog whistle.”
From the couch beside him, Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne laughed, grinned and looked down. Before Irving became a symbol of Islamophobia to Ahmed’s supporters across the world, the mayor had spent the summer giving speeches that cast suspicion on Muslims in the United States.
Beck pressed the mayor about his theory. “It is a possibility that that’s true?”
“It’s nothing I want to have to face,” Van Duyne replied. “I would hate to think that that’s true.”
She sat mostly silent for the next half hour, as Beck and another guest laid out their likely endgame for Ahmed’s “set-up.”
“(They) weaken and weaken and then it becomes violent,” Beck concluded. “Any doubt this is the final throes of weakening us to the point where we don’t ask any questions, to ready for the final confrontation?”
The first rumors that Ahmed’s clock was not just a clock were simpler than Beck’s grim prediction — though no better supported.
A Facebook post by a self-professed electrical engineer spread by the thousands after the teen hit the news. The writer claimed Ahmed had made no ordinary clock, but a “COUNTDOWN clock” that would have alarmed any teacher.
But the only evidence the post offered was a stock photo of a countdown clock next to the Irving police photo of Ahmed’s device. That countdown clock’s dimensions didn’t match the screen that Ahmed had soldered to a circuit board and strapped inside a small case.
If Ahmed hadn’t made a countdown clock, some wondered, perhaps he’d made nothing at all.
“Why are you so annoyed about this kid?” someone asked Richard Dawkins on Twitter, after the famous biologist linked a YouTube video claiming the boy had merely rearranged a store-bought clock inside a case.
“Because he disassembled & reassembled a clock (which is fine) & then claimed it was his ‘invention’ (which is fraud),” Dawkins wrote back.
Ahmed, who was famous in middle school for bringing handmade gizmos to class and robotics club, did tell reporters who knocked on his door last week that the clock was “my invention.”
But Ahmed also said the clock was a “simple thing … that’s easy to make” that he’d hoped his new high school teachers would understand. He said he’d soldered it together in about 20 minutes. It was no match for the hand-wired, micro-soldered radio transmitter he showed off on his bedroom floor.
Other theories cast suspicion less on Ahmed’s clock than on his family and Muslim groups that have supported him since his ride in a police car.
On his blog, national columnist Mark Steyn called Ahmed’s father “a belligerent Muslim activist,” citing Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed’s occasional runs for president of Sudan.
Steyn didn’t mention that Mohamed had campaigned in his native country by promising to end its links with terrorism and abolish repressive laws. A devotee of a mystical branch of Islam called Sufism, Mohamed also made the news a few years ago for trying to convince a Quran-burning pastor in Florida that the book espoused peace.
But after Mavericks owner Cuban told reporters that he’d heard Ahmed’s sister feeding the boy answers to his questions, many have wondered if the family is coaching the boy through his fame.
The Mohameds have largely managed Ahmed’s first week of celebrity via cacophonous family meetings in a cramped living room. The father rushed in and out of the house as he struggled to run his passenger pickup company between reporter visits, and Ahmed’s teenage sister fielded press requests to her Gmail account.
The family sounded surprised to learn over the weekend that they were being accused of conspiracy.
“There is truth, and there is mischief,” said the boy’s father.
“Ahmed is just a 14-year-old boy who’s trying to do what he loves to do,” said his sister, Eyman Mohamed, 18. “Just trying to build.”
THEORIES, THEORIES …
—Countdown clock theory
Soon after Ahmed’s story hit the news, a Facebook post claimed that the device he built counted down to zero. The only evidence was a catalog photo of a countdown clock that looked somewhat similar to the clock display Ahmed strapped inside a pencil case.
But the two displays had different dimensions. Police have never mentioned the clock counting down. And Ahmed told The Dallas Morning News last week that the screen flashed “12:00” when plugged in, “like at home.”
—Fraudulent clock theory
The same Facebook post claimed that Ahmed didn’t really make a clock, but merely reassembled the components of a store-bought clock inside a case. Other posts and YouTube videos have advanced this theory.
Ahmed’s clock is still in police custody, according to the family. But last week the boy told the News that he spent just 20 minutes soldering a digital display to a circuit board and power supply, which he put inside a pencil case. His description matched a photo of the clock that police later released.
—Arrested on purpose theory
Online theories hinge on the claim that Ahmed planned to get arrested and later embarrass police in the news. Some speculate without evidence that Islamist groups plotted the operation.
No theory that the News has reviewed cites any evidence that Ahmed, who routinely brought electronic creations to his middle school and said he wanted to impress high school teachers, planned to get handcuffed and hit the news. A statement sent out Tuesday from Irving City Hall acknowledged that a police “investigation determined the student apparently did not intend to cause alarm bringing the device to school.”
—Muslim activists theory
Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, leads a small Irving mosque that practices Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. Mohamed was once in the national news for trying to convince a pastor who burned a Quran that true Islam is peaceful. He has run several times for president of his native country, Sudan, campaigning on a platform to end the country’s support for terrorism, abolish repressive laws and let people convert from Islam.
The family appeared surprised by Ahmed’s sudden fame, and in early days his teenage sisters helped him manage countless media requests and offers from corporations. A reporter for the News visited Ahmed’s house several times after the boy’s story went viral. The family let the reporter talk to Ahmed alone, and no one coached him during these visits.