There aren't many apologies given after fake news is posted. Yet, two days after a so-called "satire" site posted a false story smearing the "black soldier" who was killed during a 4 October 2017 ambush in Niger as a "deserter," administrators for the Facebook page that promoted the story apologized and took it down.
The "black soldier" referenced by the "satire" site FreedumJunkshun.com was U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, who was killed along with Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright when their patrol was attacked. The fake story cited a made-up quote from the right-wing web site Breitbart.com and seemed to play on the heavily-partisan political storm kicked up around the soldier's death:
It is unknown if he met anyone in the multiple days he was gone, but the attack occurred when three other members of his unit went out searching for him.
“I don’t want to raise the alarm yet, but it seems that he was trying to pull a Bergdahl,” said the soldier, who discussed the situation on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk about it. “It seems suspicious that these terrorists were waiting for them.”
We debunked that story on 26 October 2017, citing a statement from the Department of Defense that said:
At no point since the Niger attack has DOD ever considered Sgt. La David Johnson anything less than an honorable soldier who sacrificed his life for our country.
Two days later, America's Last Line of Defense (LLOD), a Facebook page run by Christopher Blair, also known as "Busta Troll" among other pseudonyms, posted the following statement (Blair also runs the page FreedumJunkshun and shares links from that site on LLOD's Facebook page):
The author of the article about a deceased soldier being a deserter decided to pull the story, and I fully support his decision.
It was pointed out to us that we should have used a fake name and photo, and we agree. The author got so caught up in paraphrasing an actual conversation he saw on Breitbart that he didn't think to do that because he was so furious with those idiots. He agrees with the general sentiment that he was wrong in not changing the facts more like we normally do.
This page and all its affiliated pages and websites are committed to posting nothing but pure satirical fiction, and we regret that facts made their way into our narrative.
As always, thank you for your continued support, and I offer a personal apology to the family of the soldier in the story. The revenue from the article will be donated to Operation We Are Here, a relief fund for Gold Star families.
Though the article was pulled off LLOD's official Facebook page, it was still live as of 30 October 2017 on FreedumJunkshun.com's web site. We sent questions to the e-mail associated with the story and got no answers—although in response to our fact check two days earlier, Blair sent us a curse-laden rant telling us, "Neither you nor anyone else from Snopes will ever get a quote from my organization again."
Blair and his organization employ a "satire" disclaimer on their stories but it's unclear what makes the articles satire as opposed to fake news with a slapped-on satire label. BuzzFeed News, in fact, reported the stories were being reposted without credit by Eastern European fake news farms.
On 26 October 2017, in response to questions we sent to the site, a writer using the pseudonym David Tango Foxtrot justified it by saying that in publishing the false information they were exposing "conservative stupidity" by tricking credulous readers into believing the information to be true:
Do I feel responsible for them sharing it even though I wrote it? Not at all. There is a mob of liberals waiting to fact check righties who believe the stories. There are as you mentioned disclaimers telling them not to believe it. The Facebook page itself makes fun of people on a daily basis for buying this crap. They have every opportunity to think "hey, this might not be true" and take thirty seconds to Google something but spend that time instead saying a bunch of racist bullshit.
Nothing I write comes from me. It's based on comments I see on right-wing websites. I just bring their idiotic fantasies to life so they can make bigger fools of themselves. This story, for example, is based on some ridiculous speculation I saw on Breitbart's Facebook page last night. Some parts of it are almost direct quotes. I'm not giving them new stupid ideas. They already have them. In some cases, I take requests from liberals who want to see them freak out about something ridiculous, but it's almost always something I saw idiots talking about.
According to the Fake News Codex, Blair uses a number of pseudonyms including Flagg Eagleton, Ezekiel Wilekenmeyer and Stryker. Aside from LLOD and FreedumJunkshun, Blair also runs a web site called As American As Apple Pie and Our Land of the Free, along with the Facebook page America - Love It or Leave It, which together with LLOD have nearly 240,000 fans.
We reached out to Operation We Are Here to inquire about the alleged donation and were told the site is a resource hub for military families as opposed to a "fund for Gold Star families." The site does not accept donations but does link to various charities. Its founder also told us Blair hasn't contacted her.
No organization bearing the name "Operation We Are Here" is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt charity.