The ‘Rape Melania’ Sign Hoax of Jack Posobiec

 

Jack Posobiec describes himself as the Special Projects Director of “Citizens for Trump”. He was one of the coordinators of the so-called ‘DeploraBall’ which was held in conjunction with Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. He has described alt-right leader and white supremacist Richard Spencer as “indispensible”.

He’s the sort of person who says “Infowars is not fake news”, referring to the conspiracy theory media outlet run by 9/11 Truther Alex Jones. He’s also, like Jones, something of a Birther, posting fake videos of Obama discussing his birthplace and plugging Alex’s own ridiculous Birther propaganda.

Jack has over 65,000 followers on Twitter, where his bio describes him as “Fmr CBS News.” The vaguery in that description is apparently to obscure the fact that the job it’s referring to was a 14-month stint as Promotions Assistant for WPHT 1210 AM, a Philadelphia conservative talk radio station. But exaggerated credentials are the least of Jack’s offenses against honest discourse.

Posobiec was directly and publicly involved in multiple viral hoaxes in the latter days of 2016, from Pizzagate to #DumpStarWars, including making dozens of Twitter posts accusing Hillary Clinton of being involved in a Satanic pedophile ring:

But none of those may approach the story of the “Rape Melania” protest sign.

The Photos

Following the Presidential election, there were a series of anti-Trump protests around the country, including at Trump’s new hotel in Washington D.C.

One such protest was held outside the Trump International Hotel on November 12. And between 7:30 p.m. and 7:33 pm EST, Trump supporter Alan Beck posted three tweets with two pictures from the event:

Social media promptly blew up over these photos, with outrage from Trump supporters and accusations of fraud from opponents. And while the pictures were shared and tweeted across the web, with observations such as how the words on the sign were facing the street rather than the hotel, or how the sign wasn’t visible in other photos or video of the protest, one fact quickly got obscured: the only two photos of this supposed sign were taken and published by a known Trump supporter.

The Follow-Up

Beck was new to Twitter, having only joined a few weeks earlier, with his first tweet on October 18. He didn’t last much longer either, as his last tweet (to date) was just four days later, on November 16. And yet in that short, short span of time, he happened to stumble onto a supposed scoop that predictably went viral.

He was also not only friends with Posobiec on Twitter (tweeting at him three times on his second day alone), but also in real life, posting videos and pictures of the two of them out in DC together. Most significant, however, is that the two of them were out in DC together on the night the “Rape Melania” photos were taken. And they filmed a video about it together.

Starting shortly before 8 pm, Beck live-broadcast a Periscope video, apparently about the protest and the sign, but that Periscope video was soon deleted and Beck’s entire Periscope account was later scrubbed. His tweets linking to his Periscope video that night were also deleted, although retweets from others survive:

Another Periscope video, featuring Beck and Posobiec and almost 22 minutes long, was subsequently uploaded to the YouTube channel of The Last Stand, apparently around 11:00 pm.

The video is titled “Anti-Trump Protester Created “R4PE MELANIA!” Sign and The Rest of the Protesters Do Nothing”, and the description is “Anti-Trump Protester creates a vulgar sign during a Protest in Washington DC. Pretty disgusting that he stood there with this large sign and not a single person said anything to him about it until Trump Supporters talked to him about it.”

This may or may not be the same Periscope video that Beck broadcast at 8 pm, however. Because although Posobiec makes several references to their Periscope viewership numbers, about nineteen minutes into the video, Beck and Jack drive past the Trump International Hotel, which is shown as having no protesters outside of it. If the live video started at 8 pm, then this drive-by would be taking place at approximately 8:20 pm, and other photos and live Periscope videos show the protest still going strong an hour after that, a fact confirmed by protest attendees. Did the protest temporarily disband and then reassemble, or was part to this video shot later and edited in (and was that why the original Periscope video was deleted)? Either way, it’s not terribly relevant to the matter of the sign, and is more of an inexplicable curiosity.

In the video, Beck claims that while standing and watching the protest, he saw a protester hold up the “Rape Melania” sign, and that the protesters around him did nothing. He goes onto say that a Trump supporter waded into the crowd, grabbed the guy holding the sign by the arm, and the guy simply fled the scene. Beck further claims that after spotting the “Rape Melania” sign in the crowd, he asked Jack to join him at the hotel, but the guy holding the sign left before Jack arrived. And he openly encourages his viewers to share the photos he tweeted.

Beck only wrote a handful more tweets before disappearing from Twitter, but Jack remained prolific, and in the wake of their video, he continued to post about the sign, saying that the Secret Service had been notified and complaining about the lack of press coverage. #RapeMelania became a trending hashtag on Twitter, being used over 38,000 times, which then resulted in further posts with Jack calling for the resignation of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. He was even still talking about it a month later.

Press Coverage

All that attention on Twitter led to some attention in the press, including a Washington Post story and a Snopes article debunking claims that the images of the sign were Photoshopped.

The Washington Post then ran a follow-up article on November 15 about accusations that the sign was a hoax, quoting protest attendees who said they suspected the sign-holder was engaged in a dirty trick, holding the sign for a friend with a camera nearby.

Posobiec is briefly mentioned in the Post article; this is literally everything the Washington Post article had to say about him:

Filmed in a parked car near the site of the protest, the video also features Jack Posobiec, special projects director of a group called Citizens for Trump.

In the video, Posobiec sports a dark-gray hooded sweatshirt that appears to resemble the one worn by the sign holder. Then again, dark-gray hooded sweatshirts are rather common.

“Jack’s here; he was in the area, and I told him to stop by just to check this out with me,” Beck says in the video. “The guy had left by the time Jack got here.”

After the Washington Post article ran, Jack broadcast a 30-minute Periscope video where he dubbed the story “Hoodiegate”, and had this to say:

“The Washington Post has blamed me for the anti-Trump riots. The Washington Post essentially is saying that I am to blame for the anti-Trump riots, me, Jack Posobiec.”

“So yeah, the Jeff Bezos blog, the Washington Post, is now out there libeling me, and basically putting out this misinformation, total disinformation campaign, about me and something I didn’t do, and saying that I’m the one to blame for the George Soros-inspired riots. NOW KEEP IN MIND THERE IS A MOUNTAIN OF EVIDENCE that George Soros is to blame for these riots.”

Pretty much all of this is false. The Washington Post didn’t blame Jack for any riots; it merely pointed out his clothing resembled that of the sign-holder, and thus at most implied that he might be responsible for a single sign at a peaceful protest. There is, in fact, no evidence that George Soros is responsible for any riots. Jack later claims in the video that “Zero Hedge has video of the buses”, a viral false story had already been debunked by Snopes. He also subsequently misrepresents the WaPo story even more (again, this is Jack talking, but pretending to speak in the ‘voice’ of the newspaper):

“Therefore, based on our evidentiary standard, it’s clearly Jack Posobiec who’s not only behind the Rape Melania hoax, but who’s being everything else that’s going on.”

He goes on to claim that on the evening of November 12, he initially went to Capitol Hill to observe protests, that Beck called him and told him to come to the hotel to see the ‘Rape Melania’ sign, but that it was gone by the time he arrived. So then he and Beck Periscoped a video about it, and the subject hit the Top 4 on Twitter.

The Hoaxer Exposed

Apart from being periodically raised as an example of out-of-control anti-Trump protesters, the ‘Rape Melania’ sign story lay fallow for a couple of months, until Buzzfeed published a story on January 12, featuring screenshots of text messages sent by Jack Posobiec as he planned the sign hoax, and reacted to its subsequent viral success:

Buzzfeed’s scoop got picked up by multiple outlets, and attracted a lot of attention because it seemed to expose one of the most inexcusable actions on the part of anti-Trump protesters to, in fact, be the work of a vocally pro-Trump troll.

There were no half-hour-long Periscope videos from Jack after the Buzzfeed story ran; just terse denials posted to Facebook and Twitter, without any additional criticism or commentary. (Though he did broadcast a Periscope video titled “Responding to Today’s Dramedy,” where he didn’t respond to the accusations.) According to Posobiec, Buzzfeed’s story was merely “a complete fake news hit piece made up by my haters.”

Buzzfeed’s evidence is pretty solid, but in the interests of comprehensiveness, what other evidence is there to support the conclusion that Jack Posobiec was responsible for the ‘Rape Melania’ sign?

Well, for starters, Jack retweeted all three of Beck’s photo tweets almost immediately after they were posted, with lag times of, respectively, zero minutes, zero minutes, and one minute. Almost as if he was watching over Beck’s shoulder as they were posted.

The Washington Post noted back in November that the sign-holder in the photos was wearing a dark hoodie, not unlike the one Posobiec can be seen wearing in his and Beck’s YouTube video. And as the Post notes, that is hardly conclusive. Even beyond the fact that dark-colored hoodies are not rare, what evidence is there to suggest that Jack Posobiec would attempt to join an anti-Trump protest, rather than watch it from the sidelines?

As it happens, on November 10, just two days before the DC hotel protest, Jack live-broadcast a Periscope video from an anti-Trump protest in Baltimore, where he walks amongst the protesters. Wearing a dark-colored hoodie with the hood pulled up over his head.

Still, even if Jack was walking into anti-Trump protests wearing a dark hoodie on November 10, that’s not proof he was walking into this anti-Trump protest wearing a dark hoodie on November 12. After all, he claimed twice, in videos on the night of the protest and following the Washington Post story, that he wasn’t even present at the hotel when the sign was seen, and that the man holding it had left by the time he arrived.

And yet, one doesn’t even need leaked text messages to undermine this story. Because Jack posted a video to Twitter at 7:11 pm on November 12, with the caption: “200 protesting Obama children at Trump hotel,” with the tweet’s location tagged as “Trump International Hotel.”

7:11 pm is some twenty minutes before Beck posted his photos

Amy Whetzel was one of the protesters quoted in the Washington Post story, and was one of the people who actually confronted the man holding the ‘Rape Melania’ sign. And at 7:38 pm, she posted pictures of her fellow protesters to Facebook “after asking Trump supporters to leave with the “Rape Melania” sign…when confronted, he said some [] very nasty things and confirmed it.”

Whetzel confirmed that this post was made within 10-15 minutes of the confrontation with the sign-holder, putting that event sometime around 7:20 to 7:30 pm. Well after Posobiec posted a video from Trump Hotel at 7:11, contradicting his twice-told story about only arriving on-scene after the sign disappeared. And also some twenty minutes before Jack and Beck broadcast their Periscope video where they told a very different story.

Moreover, upon first learning Posobiec’s name in the wake of the Buzzfeed story and seeing his picture, Whetzel stated “That is the first time I had read about the actually identified person — and, I will tell you that the guy you mentioned – Jack – does look like the person that I saw.” She stated there were two men involved, and that “immediately they were asked to stop and told how horrible that was by women and men alike.” It was Trump protesters, not Trump supporters, who asked the man to take down his sign.

This is also consistent with the account of Dana Fikes, who told the Washington Post in November “He was holding the sign facing away from the crowd and toward his friend, who had a camera. As soon as nearby protesters saw his sign, I saw at least two people go over and talk to him. He rolled up his sign, and he and his friend left.”

And so, to recap, Jack Posobiec is a prolific troll who has been involved in multiple online hoaxes, who was dressed like the man holding the ‘Rape Melania’ sign on the night it happened, who had just two days earlier attended an anti-Trump protest in Baltimore dressed the exact same way, whose account of the confrontation with the sign-holder was publicly contradicted by other protesters within minutes of the event itself, who those same protesters affirmed looked like the mystery man holding the ‘Rape Melania’ sign, and whose twice-stated alibi is directly contradicted by his own Twitter posts, which instead place him at the Trump hotel well before the sign first appeared.

Meanwhile, the best competing evidence that the ‘Rape Melania’ sign wasn’t the work of Jack Posobiec? His own word. And as established upfront, he’s a well-documented liar.

If Citizens for Trump had any interest in credibility, they would sever all ties with Jack Posobiec immediately. But then again, if they prioritized honesty and credibility, they wouldn’t support Donald Trump.

– Loren Collins is an Atlanta attorney and the author of Bullspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation.

Originally posted on February 6, 2017.