It was on local news last night and the Wheeling Intelligencer’s homepage previewed its coverage yesterday on its homepage. This morning’s paper made it the top story:
Planned Protest in Wheeling Canceled After Rumors of Threats
A protest planned Tuesday afternoon in Wheeling ended before it began when rumors of violence caused organizers to nix the demonstration.
The demonstration was planned to be held at noon, but by Tuesday morning the event had been canceled, apparently due to rumors of violence against protesters and accusations that out-of-area protesters would be bussed en masse into the city, according to posts on social media.
Rumors continued during morning hours leading to the event’s cancellation. Additionally, several city businesses as well as the city-county building were also closed.
Context and research are missing from the Intelligencer story
Reading today’s paper may have led local readers to conclude that this was a legitimate threat. I do not know for certain if it was or wasn’t but after doing some research, I strongly suspect that there was never any real threat. If you go online, you will discover that this “threat” to Wheeling was happening throughout the United States. Here is last evening’s AP story:
In the days since President Donald Trump blamed antifa activists for an eruption of violence at protests over police killings of black people, social media has lit up with false rumors that the far-left-leaning group is transporting people to wreak havoc on small cities across America.
The speculation was being raised by conservative news outlets and pro-Trump social media accounts, as well as impostor Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Twitter and Facebook busted some of the instigators behind the unsubstantiated social media chatter. Twitter determined Monday that a tweet promising antifa would “move into residential areas” and “white” neighborhoods was sent by the white supremacy group Identity Evropa. The tweet was shared hundreds of times and cited in online news articles before Twitter removed it Monday, a company spokesperson said.
The AP article goes on to describe that a “threat” like the one described in Wheeling, was taking place in numerous small cities throughout the country. Corroborating the AP story were NBC News and fact check.org -- both of which confirmed that the tweets in question were likely from Identity Evropa, the white nationalist group.
The results from a web search readily supports the AP’s conclusion that this “threat” was widespread. For example, here’s the headline from Coos County, Oregon:
Hundreds turn out to stop rumored riot
And the beginning of the story:
Nearly 200 locals, some armed, waited outside Coos County Courthouse ready to meet buses of rioters.
As of 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, those buses never arrived.
The Coos County Sheriff's Office said it was inundated with reports that three buses holding Antifa would arrive at the courthouse at 8 p.m., an “anti-fascist” political protest movement currently being blamed for the violence across the nation. Small cities throughout the state and country are reportedly getting similar false reports of Antifa arriving in buses.
On the other hand, there were police and city officials who realized that they were being played. From the Idaho Stateman:
Police: No, antifa not sending ‘a plane load of their people’ to Idaho to incite riots
In my web search, I could not find any town or small city where Antifa has arrived as threatened. The Intelligencer report described the cancellation but provided little context. That’s too bad; some readers may conclude that Wheeling dodged an afternoon of rioting and vandalism even though there was little evidence for such a conclusion.
(By the way, I thought that the best job of covering this locally was by WTOV’s Gage Goulding who interviewed Wheeling's police chief and linked to the AP article.)
Winners and losers
The big winner was Donald Trump whose handling of the coronavirus has demonstrated to a wider audience what some of us already knew: in times of crisis, Trump has no leadership skills. Luckily for him, the protests and the violence in the cities have conveniently changed the subject. With both the non-violent and violent protests, Trump still has not displayed any leadership but at least now he can run a fear campaign in which antifa, violence, African Americans, and Democrats will all be linked. From communists to nuclear war to immigrants to Muslims to other minorities, fear has been a regular feature of our presidential campaigns. The enemy/scapegoat frequently changes but the strategy remains the same – connect your opponent with something to be feared.
The big losers were those who non-violently demonstrate and push for a better nation. Another peaceful rally in Wheeling (as well those other towns and cities where rallies were canceled) would have helped to counter the network and cable channels featuring violent, rather than peaceful, rallies in our big cities. (Peaceful rallies, as MSNBC and CNN likely see them, are boring.) On the other hand, Fox’s agenda has always been to play to their viewers prejudices and so peaceful rallies aren’t just boring, they’re democratic and Democratic -- consequently, they are ignored while the violence of the protests is featured.)*
I would mention one other winner. Sadly, those who are working to undermine democracy have won another battle.
*Note – as I finish this post, the Washington Post just reported the results of a study of the use of the word “antifa” on the cable channels:
Fox News mentioned antifa nearly five times as much as CNN and three times as much as MSNBC. It talked about rioting or rioters six times as much as CNN and nearly eight times as much as MSNBC.
I was not surprised but it is nice to see statistical verification.