A new conspiracy theory circulating on widely read alt-right websites and Alex Jones’ Infowars.com suggests at least some of the counter-protesters opposing white nationalism at the violent Charlottesville, Virginia, protest on Saturday were actors hired to stir up trouble, but the claims promoted by the alt-right don’t hold up upon closer scrutiny.
Early Thursday morning, alt-right news and commentary website ZeroHedge published an article claiming a Craigslist ad had been discovered that raises “new questions over whether paid protesters were sourced by a Los Angeles based ‘public relations firm specializing in innovative events’ to serve as agitators in counterprotests” in Charlottesville.
The ad — which was posted by an organization called Crowds on Demand on August 7, the week before the Charlottesville protests — offers to pay “actors and photographers” $25 per hour to participate in events in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area that “include everything from rallies to protests to corporate PR stunts to celebrity scenes.”
“The biggest qualification is enthusiasm, a ‘can-do’ spirit,” the ad also reads. “Pay will vary by event but typically is $25+ per hour plus reimbursements for gas/parking/Uber/public transit.”
The conspiracy theory has since been promoted by numerous alt-right leaders on social media and other websites, including by Alex Jones’ Infowars.com. At the time this article was written, the ZeroHedge article alone had been shared more than 22,500 times.
There are at least three serious problems with the suggestions made by the article. First, as the ZeroHedge article notes, the CEO of Crowds on Demand provided a statement to Snopes.com in which he denied any involvement “in any capacity with the recent tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia.”
Second, the Craigslist ad was advertised for the Charlotte, North Carolina, region — not Charlottesville. By even suggesting the ad could be linked to Charlottesville, the ZeroHedge article seems to imply these two cities are in close proximity, but they aren’t. Charlotte is 272 miles south of Charlottesville, which means these two cities are further from one another than New York City is from Washington, D.C. It takes more than four hours to drive to Charlottesville from Charlotte, so it seems strange any organization would want to recruit protesters from an area that’s so far away from the target location.
Third, if an organization were going to plan to hire protesters, there are other large cities that are much closer to Charlottesville than Charlotte. Richmond, Virginia, the state capital, is only 72 miles from Charlottesville. Washington, D.C., is 117 miles northeast. Norfolk, Virginia, another sizable city, is 164 miles away. Virginia Beach, the largest city in Virginia, is also closer than Charlotte, located only 178 miles east of Charlottesville.
There is absolutely no reason to believe this Craigslist ad is linked in any way to the protests at Charlottesville on Saturday. The only reason anyone who knows these facts would attempt to make such a connection is to create controversy and sow further discord.
Justin Haskins is executive editor and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.