The danger of relying on fragmentary video clips posted on social media by politically motivated witnesses to chaotic street protests was on full display on Saturday night in Dallas, where a right-wing video blogger captured a shocking act of violence on camera, but posted a misleadingly edited version on Twitter that was viewed more than 30 million times in 24 hours.
Among the Twitter users who unthinkingly swallowed the misleading video — which was edited to remove footage of a white man who was beaten charging at black protesters with a machete before they pummeled him — was the president of the United States, who tweeted about the clip with an outraged call for “LONG TERM jail sentences” for the protesters.
The edited clip was the work of Elijah Schaffer, a freelance producer for Glenn Beck’s Blaze TV and a pro-Trump political activist who hosts a YouTube talk show dedicated to mocking left-wing protesters.
Just before 10 p.m. local time in Dallas on Saturday, Schaffer uploaded 24 seconds of video that showed a white man, face down on the street, being kicked, stomped on and beaten with rocks and a skateboard by a group of mainly black protesters. Before posting his video on Twitter, Schaffer edited out the first 18 seconds he had recorded, which showed what happened immediately before the beating began, and wrote a caption that gave the false impression that the man was a store owner who had been attacked by looters.
BREAKING: man critically injured at Dallas riots
It appears he attempted to defend a shop with a large sword
Looters ran at him, then he charged rioters
They then beat him with a skateboard and stoned him with medium sized rocks
I called an Ambulance and it’s on the way pic.twitter.com/kFxl3kjsBC
— ELIJAH (@ElijahSchaffer) May 31, 2020
On his Instagram account, where the same edit has been viewed over 500,000 times, with a close-up of the man’s bloody head on the pavement as a thumbnail, Schaffer explicitly cast the protesters as the aggressors, writing: “It appears he attempted to defend a shop with a large sword. Looters ran at him, then he charged rioters.”
In a subsequent appearance on Blaze TV, Schaffer told the conservative commentator Steven Crowder that the victim of the attack was “a man who was defending his store,” and passed on a false rumor that he had died.
The tweet linking to Schaffer’s video that Trump commented on echoed the false claim that the man who was beaten “was protecting his business,” and added a new one: that he had been “stomped and stoned by Antifa.”
But Schaffer’s account of what prompted the fight and the man’s condition were both false, according to statements from the Dallas Police Department and a protester who also witnessed the incident and posted his own, far less viral video on Instagram.
Tamika Dameron, a Dallas police spokesperson, told The Intercept that the man who was beaten took to the streets of the Victory Park neighborhood on Saturday, “carrying a machete to allegedly protect his neighborhood from protesters. The victim confronted protesters while holding the machete and was subsequently assaulted by the protesters.”
The man, who has not been identified by the police, was treated at the scene by volunteer medics and brought to a hospital nearby where, Dameron said, “he remains in stable condition.”
The confrontation took place outside Hatchways, a co-working space and cafe at the intersection of High Market Street and Victory Park Lane, about half a mile away from a street where officers were firing tear gas at kneeling protesters chanting “No Justice, No Peace.”
According to Yoel Measho, a college student and videographer who took part in the protest, after it splintered, he was marching with a group that included a young skateboarder when they came upon the man with the machete. In a phone interview, Measho said that he started recording just after the man with the machete pulled it out and threatened the skateboarder, who was slightly ahead of the rest of the group.
Measho insisted that, although glass was broken at Hatchways at some point on Saturday night, there was “no violence or looting of any kind” when the man confronted the skateboarder.
The video Measho posted on Instagram showed what he described as the defensive action taken by the protesters after the man with the machete threatened the skateboarder. The images show protesters hurling rocks at the man, who started to retreat, but elected not to run away, and instead turned and ran back at the skateboarder, shrieking and raising the machete over his head as if about to swing or throw it.
Video posted on Twitter by another protester also showed the man screaming as he ran at the demonstrators with the machete held up.
Like Schaffer’s video, Measho’s recording then shows a group of nearly a dozen protesters, most of whom were black, brutally beating and kicking the man until he lay face down on the ground, bleeding from his head and unresponsive.
Measho said that what he hadn’t captured on camera was the man slashing the skateboarder’s hand with the machete before the group pounced on him. “The kid had a huge slash in his hand,” Measho wrote on Instagram, “under no circumstances does anyone deserve to get beat like this but this is his fault.”
“Do not believe the story of ‘looters attacked innocent white man,’” he added, “the Twitter video was cropped to make protestors look bad.”
The only sign of Antifa on the scene was an ironic one. As volunteer medics treated the man for his wounds in the aftermath of the incident, a white protester who held up the machete for the cameras was wearing a red t-shirt with the word “Catifa” on it, above a cartoon of a radical cat in a bandana. That scene was captured on video by Measho, who shared it in a Snapchat story, and by another witness.
This is the machete the man in Dallas charged at protesters with before he was brutally beaten. Video from a Snapchat story shared by a protester who witnessed the incident n Saturday night shows protesters looking at the weapon as the man was treated for head injuries. pic.twitter.com/2UEytkzlqw
— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) June 1, 2020
A spokeswoman for the company that owns Hatchways, and a neighboring saloon, Billy Can Can, said in a phone interview that the businesses were not looted, although windows and glass doors were smashed at both places, and elsewhere on the block, and “BLM” and “Fuck Trump” graffiti was sprayed on the exterior of the building.
Since video shot during the confrontation between the man with the machete and the protesters showed no damage to Hatchways at that time, it appears to have been inflicted later.
Schaffer, the Blaze TV producer and host, also had video of the man running at the protesters and shrieking while holding up the machete, which he made a conscious decision to not show in the tweet that went viral. We know that because he posted his raw footage, which suggests a more complex story than an innocent white man being attacked by black “rioters,” in another tweet later on Saturday night, directed at news producers.
This video, recorded by @ElijahSchaffer of Blaze TV in Dallas on Saturday, shows what he edited out of the viral clip he posted 90 minutes earlier: proof that the man who was beaten was a machete-wielding vigilante who was chasing a protester when attacked pic.twitter.com/Es40kob1aP
— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) June 1, 2020
There is also evidence, in the video Schaffer shot, that the young black men who beat the white man with the machete, were not simply “rioters” as he claimed, but had attended the earlier protest against police brutality prompted by the killing of the Minneapolis security guard George Floyd.
One of the Dallas Morning News journalists who covered that protest earlier on Saturday night, Kevin Krause, shared a photograph of one protester holding up a sign reading “The Revolution Has Begun!”
That same protester, holding his sign under his arm, can be seen 10 seconds into Schaffer’s viral clip, stepping in to stop the beating and saying “Stop! Stop!”
Even though Trump tweeted his video because he mistakenly thought that it showed a business owner who was attacked by Antifa, Schaffer was elated. “My coverage of the Dallas riots was just shared by the President of the United States,” he tweeted. “I started this journey 2 years ago. So many people discouraged me at first. Said I should quit while there was still time. Now my work is changing the conversation in America.”
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said that he had seen some video of the incident, according to WFAA, the local ABC affiliate. “It’s unacceptable for a beating to happen like that in my city,” he said. “The police are looking into that situation and that’s going to be addressed in our criminal justice system.”
The Dallas Morning News reported that the police had arrested about 90 people on Saturday night suspected of vandalizing buildings or inciting a riot. The city imposed a 7 p.m. curfew on Sunday.