You may have seen the story pop up over the weekend: “New York DHS will pay you $500 to rat out ‘prepper’ neighbors buying legal goods.”
It would be a scary example of Big Brother in action — if it were true.
But the problems with the story run deep, starting with the months-old YouTube video on which the story is based, which was picked up by the website Truth and Action and then, on Sunday, by the Event Chronicle.
In the video, a man identifying himself as “Van Prepper” shows viewers a sign allegedly taken from a New York Army Navy surplus store, along with a letter sent to the store owners.
The sign shows the number for what Van Prepper calls the “SAFE Act narc line,” a hotline for citizens to report illegal guns.
Van Prepper claims that the government will “give you $500 to rat out your fellow citizens” if you call the line, and there seems to be a grain of truth there: As WRGB-TV reported a year ago, the state will grant awards up to $500 for illegal firearm tips, but only if those tips lead to an arrest.
In his video, Van Prepper moves quickly from the sign to the letter, sent from the state’s Office of Counter Terrorism, which asks the store owners to look out for suspicious individuals purchasing large quantities of gas masks, meals ready to eat (MREs), flashlights and so forth.
Van Prepper does not say the state will pay $500 for a tip about the purchase of goods such as gas masks or flashlights — but it seems Truth and Action and the Event Chronicle got that impression.
In a funny bit of regurgitation, InfoWars initially reported on the video on April 23, two days after the video was first posted without stressing the “$500 for reporting legal purchases” angle.
On Saturday, InfoWars reported on the Truth and Action story, without mentioning the original video they had already reported, and did stress the $500 angle.
That is to say, InfoWars reported the same exact story twice, three months apart, but made it seem like they were two different stories.
On Monday, TheBlaze contacted LZ Army Navy Surplus, the Auburn, New York, store where the sign that inspired the video was originally posted, and while the managers were apparently out of town, store manager Dawn Baker was more than happy to set the record straight.
“This has been totally blown out of proportion,” she said. “People did not look at it properly.”
Baker said the sign was placed in the store window — with her permission — by the FBI, “because they’re just trying to get a handle on illegal contraband.”
She said she jokes about the sign with regular customers.
“We laugh about it,” she said. “I have customers who buy MREs, they’ll go, ‘You gonna report me?’ and I’ll say, ‘Yeah, hold on.’”
Has Baker ever made a call to report someone for purchasing legal goods?
“Never,” she told TheBlaze.
She dismissed the $500 reward as well.
“If that was true,” she said of the supposed reward, “don’t you think I’d be a rich lady by now?”
A spokesman for the New York Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the letter from the state counterterrorism office was totally separate from the state police “if you see something, say something” campaign that the sign advertised.
Baker added that the store’s owners had contacted the maker of the original video and demanded that he take it down when it was originally posted back in April.
“I don’t think they realize it’s still up,” she said, adding that the video’s resurgent popularity might force the owners to pursue legal action.
Van Prepper did not respond to a request for comment from TheBlaze.
To sum up: The claim that New York is offering a $500 reward to citizens for reporting their neighbors’ flashlight purchases does not seem to be true.
It seems, instead, that someone misinterpreted an old YouTube video, spun it into a hackle-raising headline, and the misinterpretation spread from there.
Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter