On Thursday, the media began pushing the theme that the shooter a the Parkland, FL, high school, 19-year-old Nikolaus Cruz, was a member in good standing of a white nationalist group called the “Republic of Florida.” This assertion was made on the strength of an interview, of sorts, its leader, a guy named Jordan Jereb, had via a 4chan message board. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how real journalists do the news gathering thing.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Mr. Jereb was a fantasist. People who actually study these groups were skeptical that Cruz traveled the 430 miles, one-way, to meet. Others had never heard of his name. Eventually, Jereb admitted that he’d made it up.
Last night, AP sent out this tweet as they finally ran a retraction/correction of their story:
White nationalist appears to have lied to the AP, other news outlets when he claimed that Florida school-shooting suspect was a member of his group. https://t.co/E09NtwL5qF
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 17, 2018
Apparently, it is the fault of Jereb that AP spun a yarn about Cruz’s white nationalist connection. Seriously, guys? Haven’t we been told forever that the thing that separates the “real” media from us guys posting in our Speedos is the layers of fact checkers and editors that makes that reporting more accurate?
What happened here is really simple. The entire membership roster of the Republic of Florida could fit, easily, into a single, close-up snapshot. The group, to the extent that it is real, is already infiltrated. Much like the Ku Klux Klan of the 1960s, “A good rule of thumb for hard-right, Nazi or Nazi-adjacent groups is that one-third of its members are petty criminals, one-third are gay, and one-third are informants.” (link) This is why law enforcement was able to bat down this story in just a few hours. Jereb, like all the slithering creatures who survive on racism–and this would include a lot of groups who are not white supremacists–needs publicity to attract recruits. The reason why he was willing to connect himself with this odious act (other than his pig ignorance of how the FBI would turn RICO loose on him if it were true) was that no one he was trying to attract would care and many of those people would be excited by the notoriety of joining a group that had even a tangential association with the shooting. In other words, he wasn’t communicating to normal people.
The AP, for its part, was pursuing a story line. Because there was nothing illegal in the way Cruz obtained his weapon, the next line was to attach him to some violent, non-Muslim group. The “alt-right” was the easy target and Jereb played them like a violin. He gave them the story they needed to maximize the impact of their reporting.
The fault for this lies squarely with AP. Jereb lied, sure. But what the hell did they expect? It was their responsibility to actually verify his story. The didn’t because the story was just too good to check.