Among rumors that quickly spread in the wake of the 1 October 2017 Las Vegas mass murder was one that the "Melbourne Antifa" (purportedly an Australian affiliate of the decentralized anti-fascism movement) claimed responsibility for the massacre, during which 58 victims were killed and hundreds injured by a man who opened fire on a crowd watching a Jason Aldean performance.
The Daily Mail and Puppet String News both carried versions of the rumor, and the former appeared to have taken its story straight from an unverified Facebook page (Melbourne Antifa/@antifamelb) without even obtaining comment from the operators of the page:
'One of our comrades has made those Trump supporting dogs pay': Left-wing 'Melbourne Antifa' extremists condemned for praising Las Vegas shooter after he shot dead 59 people
• Left-wing extremists Melbourne Antifa praised the Las Vegas gunman
• Post said Stephen Paddock, 64, had made 'fascist Trump supporting dogs pay'
• Since deleted post has been widely condemned under screen shots of message
• Paddock killed 59 people and 527 more were injured in worst ever US shooting
Left-wing extremist group Antifa has been condemned for posting a vile Facebook post praising a man who killed at least 59 people in Las Vegas in the worst mass shooting in American history.
Screenshots of the Melbourne chapter's deleted social media post have been reposted on to their site, highlighting their support for dead 64-year-old gunman Stephen Paddock.
'One of our comrades from our Las Vegas branch has made these fascist Trump supporting dogs pay,' it said on Tuesday morning.
Melbourne Antifa's post was published little more than 12 hours after the carnage across the road from the Mandalay Bay Resort, as Jason Aldean performed on stage to close out the third and final day of the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.
If either source investigated farther than a solitary Facebook post published by unknown parties on an unverified page, their reporting gave no indication that was the case.
The post was quickly deleted, but an archived version of it remains:
The Facebook Page "Melbourne Antifa" (@antifamelb) has just over 800 followers and features divisive rhetoric, but little evidence of its legitimacy. By contrast, the page "Melbourne Antifascist Info" (@melantifainfo) has more than 3,500 followers and a vastly different profile.
On 8 June 2017, @melantifainfo published a post declaring the smaller @antifamelb a phony page, linking to an instance they described as willful ignorance on the part of media sources referencing it:
Journalists occasionally contact this page looking for answers and leave dissatisfied to rake their muck from danker sources, like the very-obviously-fake and thoroughly-debunked "Melbourne Antifa" Facebook page, from which the sensational image and official-sounding Antifa quote in this article originates.
A note to journos, if any of you read our posts in the gaps between flare-ups in the news cycle: MELBOURNE ANTIFA IS FAKE. It is run as a honeypot to catch leftists and skew the media image of antifascism from an alt-right perspective. They're trolls, and you've been got. Grow a damn clue.
The post remained intact and unedited nearly four months later, and Melbourne blogger Andy Fleming (@slackbastard) pegged the page as fake as early as April 2017. BuzzFeed's Craig Silverman reported on the trend of phony "antifa" accounts in May 2017.
On 2 October 2017, @melantifainfo shared a screenshot of the Daily Mail article about the purported claim of responsibility, once again imploring journalists and readers to remain skeptical:
Once again the Daily Mail is exploiting an horrific tragedy and spreading lies to further its political agenda.
Its ridiculous we even need to address this.
Its even more ridiculous that our media is either a) so agenda-driven or b) just plain incompetent that they continue to report propaganda created by blatantly fake facebook accounts.
Do not buy into their lies. Do not let them make fools of you. Most importantly do not let them disgrace the victims and their families of this tragedy by spreading misinformation to suit their cynical agenda.
We contacted the "Melbourne Antifa" page as well as Fleming for further information. The @melantifainfo page provided us with a prepared statement:
The "Melbourne Antifa claims responsibility" controversy is the result of a false page operating under that name (Melbourne Antifa) which makes salacious content, usually timed to coincide with big news stories and giving sensational interviews to the Daily Mail (and assorted Murdoch Press journalists). The page can pretend to be real all it wants, it has been denounced by us, as well as most of the local pages it shares content from. We have no idea who started the page, but their aim seems to be to discredit antifascist activists and give journalists scary things to write about. For the most part they try as much as possible to post content that looks like what we post, then occasionally say something provocative and occasionally that post will go viral. Their material is only ever picked up by lazy, hack journalists, who we've usually turned down and pointed to reliable sources like Slackbastard, who they will ignore in favour of the unverified, denounced, sensationalist trolls at "Melbourne Antifa". Don't be taken in by them.
Fleming shared several posts in which journalists recognized (or failed to note) the @antifamelb page as phony:
Posts from a fake "Melbourne Antifa" page are going viral on Facebook. Post went up claiming one of their "comrades" was behind LV shooting. pic.twitter.com/0dw2EJG695
— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) October 2, 2017
Multiple credible news reports identified "Melbourne Antifa"/@antifamelb as a disinformation outfit, but disreputable sources based entire items on a single deleted post to the page with no secondary confirmation.
Active and responsive Melbourne Antifa pages, including @melantifainfo and @slackbastard, repeatedly denounced the phony page both prior to and after the massacre in Las Vegas. All available information points to purposeful reliance on poor information, shoddy reporting, or both, and no information has emerged to indicate the shooter was in any way linked to "Melbourne Antifa" or any other branch of the anti-fascist movement.