Far-right and neo-Nazi groups are spreading racist and false information about a black jogger who was fatally shot in Georgia to promote their agendas on social media platforms, according to organizations that monitor online extremist activity.
The campaigns gained traction after the release this month of a video showing the moments before Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was shot dead in February. Two white men were arrested and charged in the shooting after the video drew widespread attention to the incident.
Some of the online posts, which include racist language, memes and graphics, claim that Arbery was carrying a hammer and wearing boots when he was killed, as the groups try to create false narratives about his death, analysts said.
In the video, Arbery is wearing a white T-shirt, shorts and running shoes. Security footage shows a man in similar clothing who is believed to be Arbery entering a house under construction just before the shooting. The owner of the property has said nothing was stolen from the site.
“The most remarkable finding is that an alternate narrative was created, most notably that Arbery was carrying a hammer and wearing Timberland boots – two claims which CCTV footage and mainstream media reporting does not support,” said a senior terrorism analyst for the Middle East Media Research Institute, which is collecting information related to the case. The analyst spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
The groups portray the two arrested men, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, as victims, the analysts said. Both men have been charged with murder and aggravated assault.
Gregory McMichael, a former police detective, told authorities that he believed Arbery was responsible for burglaries in the area.
Members of the far right say the arrests are an example of alleged anti-white bias in the mainstream media and perceived injustice against white people.
“White-nationalist groups have long pushed a narrative that there is an epidemic of black-on-white crime in the U.S. that has gone unreported, and that black men in particular are inherently violent and represent an especial threat to white women,” said Cassie Miller, senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“White nationalists are using the murder of Ahmaud Arbery to further prop up this narrative,” Miller said.
Some supporters of the groups have also attacked President Donald Trump for calling the killing “horrible” and saying Arbery looked like a “wonderful young guy.” A video clip of the president speaking about the incident was posted on a far-right channel with nearly 3,000 users on the messaging app Telegram. Using racist language, the poster said the reaction to the killing was a reminder that the United States “is the Great Satan.”
“Although initially we saw white supremacists embrace some of his rhetoric, this particular incident brings to light the criticism they have for his comments condemning this attack. Largely they are concerned that he is not representing the white race,” said Joanna Mendelson, associate director of the center on extremism for the Anti-Defamation League.
More expressions of anger toward Trump and conservatives appeared on the same channel after the Justice Department said it would review the case and determine whether federal hate crime charges should be pursued. The post, which includes a story about the announcement, ends by saying that the coronavirus is the plague the United States deserves.
The posts are not limited to users in the United States. A Norwegian neo-Nazi posted a graphic showing a black man whose face is covered by a racist illustration jogging and carrying a hammer. Other neo-Nazis based in Europe have discussed the killing on social media as well, the analysts said.
A private Facebook group called Justice for Gregory and Travis McMichael and several GoFundMe pages created in support of the two men were infiltrated and shut down, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute.
The video of the final moments of Arbery’s life show him jogging on a road on Feb. 23 in a neighborhood about two miles from his home in the city of Brunswick. Two armed white men approach in a truck, and the younger man and Arbery struggle. Gunshots can be heard, and Arbery staggers and collapses.