There are increasing doubts about claims that the suspect in Wednesday’s mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was tied to a white supremacist group, the Republic of Florida (ROF).
On Thursday morning, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that a spokesperson for the ROF had “admitted” the suspect, Nikolas Cruz, was “associated” with the group:
A spokesperson for the white supremacist group Republic of Florida (ROF) told the Anti-Defamation League on Thursday, February 15, that Nikolas Cruz, the man charged with the previous day’s deadly shooting spree at a Parkland, Florida, high school, was associated with his group.
After self-described ROF members claimed on the discussion forum 4chan that Cruz had also been a member, the Anti-Defamation League called the ROF hotline and spoke with an ROF member who identified himself as Jordan Jereb.
Jereb said that Cruz was associated with ROF, having been “brought up” by another member. Jereb added that Cruz had participated in one or more ROF training exercises in the Tallahassee area, carpooling with other ROF members from south Florida.
The Associated Press later reported that the ROF had “confirmed” Cruz was a “member” of the organization:
BREAKING: Leader of white nationalist group has confirmed suspect in Florida school shooting was member of his organization.
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 15, 2018
However, the AP’s report noted that Jereb “didn’t know Cruz personally.”
The Daily Beast went further, reporting that the shooter had been seen wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.
But the story soon began to unravel.
The Tallahassee Democrat quoted local law enforcement officials as saying they had no evidence linking Cruz to the ROF:
Local law enforcement sources have not found a connection between accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz and a Tallahassee-based paramilitary group.
Leon County law enforcement sources told the Tallahassee Democrat that they could not find information linking Cruz, 19, to the Republic of Florida Militia, as claimed by the group’s self-proclaimed leader Jordan Jereb.
His comments to the Anti-Defamation League and The Associated Press set off a media firestorm Thursday at about midday that Cruz was connected to the alt-right, white nationalist group.
Even left-wing reporters and pundits — hardly shy to link mass shooters with the far-right — began to doubt the story.
I’m surprised at how many outlets and reporters are flatly asserting that the Florida shooter was a white supremacist. The evidence is actually pretty thin!
— Zack Beauchamp (@zackbeauchamp) February 15, 2018
UPDATE: Florida officials say there are no “known ties” between the Parkland shooting suspect and any white supremacist group https://t.co/UfrRyRuY7a
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) February 15, 2018
A team of reporters at HuffPost published an article Thursday evening under the headline, “Evidence Linking Alleged Florida Shooter To White Supremacist Group Is Really Thin.”
The HuffPost article names the ADL as the original source of the claim that Cruz had ties to the ROF. It notes, however, that Jereb himself seemed to have backtracked on his statement to the ADL, posting on the Gab social media forum that his statement to the ADL was the result of a “misunderstanding.”
It adds that the Southern Poverty Law Center “has not been able to confirm any ties between Cruz and ROF.”
Rumors have circulated on social media that the entire story was a prank planted by users of the 4Chan message boards, or an attempt by Jereb to seek attention.
The ADL, for its part, is not backing down, telling HuffPost that “it is for law enforcement to 100% confirm that he was a part of this group.”
An attempt by Breitbart News to reach the ADL for comment was unsuccessful.