“Justice for Gregory and Travis McMichael” is Fake News. Why Did We Fall for It?

Last week, social media erupted over a video of the horrific killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man who was shot to death by Gregory and Travis McMichael. The footage showed the two men with a shotgun waiting for Ahmaud as he jogged towards them, swerved to avoid them, wrestled for the firearm, and was then shot. Soon after, many people were appalled to discover a Facebook group (now with over 100K members) named “Justice for Gregory and Travis McMichael” which announced that “These 2 God fearing men were only trying to protect their neighborhood. This area has had a string of break-ins and this man fit the description and did not comply with simple commands. Our hearts go out to the McMichael family in their time of need. Amen.” [UPDATE: this group appears to have been shut down as of Sunday morning]

Christians and non-Christians alike both reacted with horror, citing this group as an example of how “White faith communities have always been essential in white supremacy by promoting it or staying silent about it (which has the same effect).”

The problem?

The group is fake.

“Good-time-having trolls”

“Justice for Gregory and Travis McMichael” was created (or -more accurately- renamed) to poke fun at racist Christians and to inflame racial tensions. When it was started in 2017, the group was called “Christians Against Google” and parodied fundamentalists trying to bring down “Satanic” Google with prayer. Its small following reacted to these posts with laughter, recognizing them to be parodies. The group was renamed “Justice for Gregory and Travis McMichael” on May 7th, 2020.

These facts were available to anyone who clicked on the group’s public page and perused the posts of “Christians against Google.” Moreover, the group’s administrators had public profiles that were, to put it mildly, very unlikely to belong to right-wing Christians. Many contained incredibly explicit sexual content and very foul language. To join the group, you had to answer two disgustingly racist questions, which I won’t repeat but which parodied racist tropes (they contained deliberate misspellings and were clearly meant to enrage). Also relevant was the fact that many of the admins had “liked” other parody Facebook groups such as “Christians Against Harry Potter: Wizards Unite,” “Christians Against Cussing,” and “Dinosaurs and Christians Against Black Jesus.” Much of this information is still publicly available. However, as of Saturday night, CAG appears to have scrubbed its former content and most of the admins locked their profiles. Anyone who joins the group will see that it has grown to its present size almost entirely as the result of enraged Facebook users joining it to repudiate its stated purpose. All of this information should have been enough to make us very skeptical of the group’s sincerity.

However, I also discovered a public dialogue between Stan Anderson, one of the group’s administrators, and Stephanie Lynn, one of the group’s members, that makes the group’s purposes very clear. It begins with Stan posting a screen shot of the newly-renamed, 100k-member group. His friends react with laughter. Stan and Stephanie joke about offensive comments she made which generated a huge number of angry responses. Then Stan writes: “You guys know that we do this for our little community right… I don’t want anybody thinking that any of us 213 people anything but good time having trolls.” Another friend comments: “People big mad posting about it in Atl. As soon as i saw ‘Christians against…’ I died laughing.” A third friend writes: “You’d think that people would realize by now that fb is troll central and stop taking everything so f****** seriously and being such snowflakes. But then again some people still think the earth is round, so itz whatever..” Stan “liked” this comment.

Given this exchange, it’s clear that the group’s administrators deliberately played on the most derogatory stereotypes of right-wing Christians in order to troll “snowflakes” and inflame hatred. In this, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Why Did We Fall For It?

While we can condemn the actions of these admins and recognize that anyone willing to make numerous racist statements for the sake of angering others is despicable, we should also ask: why did we fall for it? Why did we think these people were serious when their intentions were visible to anyone who did a bit of digging?

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis offers a typically insightful and convicting suggestion:

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

Lewis understood that there is a part of the human heart that likes to discover evil in others because, in abhorring the sins of our neighbor, we can position ourselves as just a little better than them.

However, I think an additional dynamic is at work in this case. Many Christians are so (rightly) appalled by racism, sexism, and other forms of injustice that the existence of a deplorably racist Facebook group of this size would be something of an asset. It would function like the persistent cough that finally convinces your husband to go to the doctor. Or like the tragedy that finally causes your atheist sister to ask questions about the meaning of life. In themselves, these events are bad and we wouldn’t wish them upon anyone. But when they occur, we recognize that they can wake people up to the seriousness of their situation.

While that can indeed be the case, we must be committed to truth over narrative, especially as Christians. No matter how useful a particular story or a particular incident would be to a just cause, our allegiance to truth must take precedence, and we should admit when we’ve been mistaken.

We can resist racism, sexism, oppression, and injustice without succumbing to the temptation of bending the facts to suit our purposes. We honor God by seeking justice rooted in truth.

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