It started out as a gag on alt-right and racist websites: The idea that someone should claim credit for Nikolas Cruz after he was charged with killing 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Republic of Florida leader Jordan Jereb took the joke into the real world, telling news outlets that he trained Cruz and describing him as a member of his small group.
Police were not amused.
Jereb, a 23-year-old from Tallahassee who lives with his mother, was arrested Tuesday afternoon at the Leon County Jail. He’s charged with knowingly making a false report to law enforcement.
In the hours after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in south Florida on February 14, Jereb told various media outlets he trained the 19-year-old Cruz despite the 450 miles between the Fort Lauderdale suburb and the state capitol in Florida.
But he couldn’t provide any specifics about Cruz or his training.
Jereb spoke with law enforcement the next day, an interview that proved to be the basis for the charges. Details of what Jereb told investigators were not immediately available Wednesday.
The comments, though, also caused a different legal issue for Jereb, who was on probation after pleading no contest in an unrelated extortion case in 2016.
The FBI used Jereb’s remarks about Cruz as the basis for a search warrant on his home on April 2. While there, agents removed computers, documents, cellphones and two KA 6 tactical knives.
Jereb, who has multiple arrest on his record, has been in the Leon County, Florida, Jail since the search turned up the knives. The conditions of Jereb’s probation stemming from the extortion case barred him from having any weapons, including knives.
Police say Cruz took an AR-15 rifle into his former school, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, on February 14 and killed 17 people before dropping the weapon and briefly escaping in the mass of fleeing students.
Law enforcement officials have said they’ve found no connection between Cruz and the Republic of Florida, a would-be militia of about a dozen members, that once printed its own money, but has also been considered something of a joke in alt-right circles.
The idea that Cruz was an alt-right warrior became something of a gag on sites, users of 4Chan joked about duping the media.
Jereb ran with the joke and others pushed the fictional story forward.
Noted troll Andrew Anglin ran with the notion that Cruz was affiliated with Jereb and ROF and paid particular attention to Jereb’s apparent espousal of iconography associated with the violence-prone neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division.
With his second arrest stemming from his comments about Cruz, it would appear that the joke is on Jereb.