Chauvin Trial Inspires Racist Conspiracy Theories
White supremacists, far-right extremists and other reactionaries set the tone early during the trial of Derek Chauvin by repeatedly intimating that the former Minneapolis police officer committed no offense while brutally kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man.
The propagandists did this both by suggesting that no trial ending in a conviction of Chauvin could be fair and by disproportionately hyping to their audience the arguments Chauvin’s defense team presented. By the time the jury found Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter on the afternoon of April 20, propagandists switched to a more apocalyptic tone, framing the verdict as the latest salvo in what they perceive to be a relentless culture war targeting white people. Hatewatch has elected to highlight influential propaganda about the Chauvin trial due to its historical importance to the country, adding context where possible to mitigate the spread of racist disinformation.
Cheerleading the defense of an accused murderer
Chauvin’s early defenders chose to ignore basic facts of the case, such as the degree to which prosecutors merely had to prove that his conduct served as a “substantial causal factor” in ending Floyd’s life, rather than its sole one. Similarly, propagandists focused on details that held little bearing on whether Chauvin may have acted with reckless disregard for his life, such as Floyd’s drug use. Although Floyd ingested illegal drugs, medical experts testified that he did not overdose, and the impact they had on his state of mind at the time Chauvin crushed him with his knee has been disputed.
Ann Coulter, a far-right, anti-immigrant pundit with nearly 2 million Twitter followers, propped up Chauvin’s defense early in the trial with posts published by the white nationalist non-profit VDARE. VDARE first published Coulter’s musings about the Chauvin trial on March 31, two days after it started. She called the then-accused murderer a “human sacrifice” in that post and stated her belief that our society “offer[s] up white men as human sacrifices to the PC gods.” Coulter’s post framed the discussion of the trial only around Chauvin’s plight and ignored Floyd’s suffering outright. VDARE, which Fox News talking head Laura Ingraham and former Trump adviser Stephen Miller have cited in the past, published two more posts authored by Coulter during the trial that indulged in the concept of Chauvin’s innocence and victimhood.
Coulter also wrote that Chauvin’s defense team put him in a strong position to be acquitted. Legal experts repeatedly stressed the degree to which the opposite was true – that Chauvin’s defense team faced substantial obstacles in making their case, due to the existence of video evidence of their client appearing to crush Floyd for over nine minutes. But Coulter and others ignored consensus assessments about the strength of the evidence in favor of creating positive spin for Chauvin.
“Now you know why prime-time cable suddenly went back to covering COVID vaccination schedules this week,” Coulter quipped in an April 7 post, implying that mainstream media outlets were too scared to present to the public information that would cast doubt on Chauvin’s guilt. Mainstream television and online news in fact broadcast the entirety of the trial.
Disinformation peddler Jack Posobiec, a correspondent for the low-standard cable network One America News Network (OANN), repeatedly churned out misleading content about the trial through his Twitter account, which has more than 1 million followers. For example, Posobiec pushed on March 3 the idea that the city of Minneapolis could not be trusted to provide Chauvin with a fair trial, helping to create what went on to become a sustained far-right narrative. He later referred to Chauvin’s defense attorney as “crushing it” while linking to an obscure blog post depicting the prosecution as struggling to present a coherent case. (Twitter even promoted one of Posobiec’s tweets about the trial to their user base while proceedings were ongoing.) Posobiec also posted misdirecting comments and analysis about the subject of “intent” on the part of the accused murderer, a subject that he referenced multiple times on Twitter. Prosecutors had no requirement to prove Chauvin intentionally murdered Floyd – only that he intended to use illegal force.
“Has the state presented any evidence that proves Derek Chauvin had intent?” Posobiec tweeted on April 14.
Posobiec’s ally Will Chamberlain, a reactionary social media personality, also posted videos of himself to Twitter with titles such as “DEREK CHAUVIN WILL BE ACQUITTED: Why the trial on George Floyd’s death is going so poorly for the prosecution,” repeatedly framing the now-convicted officer’s case in a positive light. Highly trafficked, reactionary YouTube performer Tim Pool also hyped the performance of Chauvin’s defense team. “Chauvin Trial Defense Scores MAJOR Win As Medical Expert Says George Floyd Death Was NOT A Homicide,” Pool titled a video he published to YouTube on April 14. In the YouTube video, Pool floated what has now become a commonplace conspiracy theory on the far right, suggesting that the jury would only convict Chauvin to protect themselves from potential mob violence at the hands of left-wing rioters.
“The jury is going to watch [footage of] riots. They likely already have been,” Pool told his audience. “They’re going to be sitting there saying, ‘Well, I think there’s reasonable doubt but they’re going to find out who I am, and they’re going to hurt me.’ And, so, we’ll say guilty and then Chauvin will go to prison. That’s the point of terrorism. … The [left-wing] extremists know that if they can cause fear, they can drive a political victory. They want Chauvin in prison. They want to exert their authority and show you they control the system.”
The junk news website National File further fleshed out this conspiracy theory during the trial. On the afternoon of April 20, around the time it became apparent that the jury had a verdict to deliver, National File falsely suggested on its site that “armed rioters” had been shipped into Minneapolis “on 20 to 40 buses.” The far-right conspiracy website Infowars then aggregated the National File story under a title even further divorced from reality.
“POLICE SOURCES: Dozens Of Buses Arriving Full Of Armed Rioters Before Chauvin Verdict,” Infowars proclaimed, buoying conspiracy theories surrounding the protest movement antifa.
Less visible, hardened white supremacists also made comments defending Chauvin, most notably on the encrypted messaging app Telegram. Far-right personalities that operate on the outer orbit of the political discourse commonly defend police shootings against Black people regardless of the context surrounding the violence that took place. Hatewatch has elected not to summarize the views of these men in detail in order to avoid granting them the type of larger platform that they desire.
Far-right extremists have for years exploited cultural resistance to Black Lives Matter (BLM) to create propaganda suggesting that Black people are deliberately targeting white people with destruction. Following the verdict, extremists pursued that line once again.
“BLM is a demon and it should have been destroyed as soon as it surfaced but nooo ‘conservatives’ instead pandered and tossed this demon enough crumbs for it to feed and grow into a gigantic monster,” white supremacist former congressional candidate Lauren Witzke posted to the fringe social media site Gab in the aftermath of the verdict. “How did taking down our ‘racist’ historical monuments work out for us? Great, right? Nothing will EVER be enough. It’s obvious they want blood and will settle for nothing less. With every small compromise we made we in turn handed over our entire country to a satanic Marxist mob.”
White nationalist live-streamer Nick Fuentes tweeted, “RIGGED SYSTEM” after the jury handed Chauvin a guilty verdict, echoing language President Trump characteristically employed. Fuentes participated in the so-called Stop the Steal movement, which sought to discredit Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
“Our entire country is being held hostage,” Fuentes also wrote on April 20.
White supremacist Jared Taylor, writing for both his own website American Renaissance and VDARE, described the verdict as being a foregone conclusion due to what he perceives to be prejudice against white people.
“How could anyone expect a jury to be fair to Derek Chauvin?” Taylor wrote. “The jurors listened to two weeks of testimony. The lynch mob – and the media – saw a few snatches of video, but they knew better. They always know better if knowing better puts the white man in the wrong. This is perversion of justice.”
Tucker Carlson, the popular Fox News host known for making racist comments, insinuated that the jury convicted Chauvin due to threats of intimidation, rather than on the merits of the evidence presented by the prosecution.
“Everyone understood perfectly well the consequences of an acquittal in this case. After nearly a year of burning and looting and murder by BLM, that was never in doubt,” Carlson told his audience.
Cassandra Fairbanks, a far-right Twitter personality who has blogged for a collection of different junk news websites, described Chauvin as a political prisoner.
“Poor Chauvin. This is awful. He is a political prisoner. Nobody can change my mind on this,” Fairbanks wrote on Twitter after the verdict was reached.
Coulter and the white nationalists at VDARE returned to the subject of the trial on April 21 to rehash her opinions about Floyd’s death in bitter tones and suggest that the jury made a decision based only on their own personal safety.
“To the unwitting citizens of Minnesota who will soon have their lives snuffed out, just remember: The jurors were worried about their own personal security. It was your life or theirs, and they decided the better part of valor was to sacrifice yours,” Coulter wrote.
Coulter provided no clear evidence to support her belief that jurors made their choice on the basis of fear, rather than the merits of the case presented by prosecutors.
Photo illustration by SPLC