NEWS: An early claim that Islamic State (ISIS) sent a Twitter threat about the Chattanooga shooting has since been debunked.
On 16 July 2015, a shooting incident at two military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee left four Marines (and suspected shooter Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez) dead.
As with many incidents of its type, the Chattanooga shooting (which occurred at 10:45 AM local time) was reported first as a shooting in progress with scant of the details of the incident officially confirmed. As information filtered in to the media, Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge stated on-air:
[Fox News is] taking a hard look at a Twitter account … an ISIS-linked Twitter account … that seemed to have foreknowledge of the shooting in Chattanooga. The tweet went out at 10:34 with the hashtag Chattanooga referring to American dogs and a likely shooting. This of course was about 15 minutes before the shooting took place.
The tweet referenced by Fox News has since been deleted, but screenshots of it have been preserved. (The user who tweeted it has since been suspended, but whether the account was truly “ISIS-linked” has not been confirmed):
Fox News host Sean Hannity also referenced the tweet on his radio show, and mentioned again on The O’Reilly Factor with Bill O’Reilly. Towards the end of the latter segment, fellow anchor Bret Baier told O’Reilly that the tweet’s timestamp had since been disputed.
Misreporting of that nature isn’t uncommon during fluid reporting situations. The initial misreport has been traced to anti-Islamic blogger Pamela Gellar, who originally tweeted:
— Pamela Geller (@PamelaGeller) July 16, 2015
Gellar initially stated that “an ISIS supporter tweeted [the embedded tweet] at 10:34 am — the shooting started at 10:45.” She later retracted that claim:
UPDATE: The tweet appears to be Pacific time — so the tweet was posted after the shooting began.
While the misinformation was subsequently repeated by Twitter users and bloggers, both Gellar and Fox News conceded that an erroneous timestamp interpretation (most likely on the part of Gellar) had falsely suggested that the tweet was sent immediately prior to the shooting. As for the suspected Chattanooga shooter’s motive, FBI special agent Ed Reinhold said the agency is examining every lead and has yet to discern it:
We are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism — whether it was domestic, international — or whether it was a simple criminal act.
Geller (who became more widely known after her involvement with an ill-fated event involving drawings of the prophet Mohammed) has been responsible for the spread of a number of subsequently discredited claims about Islam and Muslims. After a March 2015 Germanwings plane crash, she falsely claimed co-pilot Andreas Lubitz (later deemed responsible for the incident) converted to Islam before purposely crashing the passenger jet as an act of terror. After that, Geller started a rumor suggesting that a U.S. embassy in Jakarta moved the 4th of July so as not to offend Muslims. Geller has also advanced unsubstantiated rumors that large chain stores have “submitted to Sharia law” by adding “Sharia-compliant lanes.”