By BEN R. WILLIAMS
On Sept. 9, the Roanoke Times ran a fantastic piece from the great Dan Casey.
It seems that a number of folks had contacted the Times about an article they found online called “Chaos is coming to Mayberry.” The article, written by a guy named Leo Hohmann, was originally published on a website called , which is to legitimate journalism as the Yugo is to quality automobiles.
The article was supposedly based entirely on the word of a guy named “Joe Mantle,” which is not his real name, who claimed that around 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 28, a half-dozen Black Lives Matter protesters angrily confronted diners seated outside the Roanoke restaurant 202 Social House.
Several of the diners attempted to flee, according to the article, and they were chased by the protesters. One protester supposedly threatened “Joe Mantle,” telling him to “either raise (his) fist in solidarity or … get on the ground and lay before us and beg for forgiveness.” When “Mantle” refused, a protester supposedly threatened to kill him.
But then a remarkable thing happened, supposedly! Mantle sprang into action, beating the protesters to bloody pulps! By the time the police arrived, the protesters had scattered like roaches!
Now of course, this story sounds about as legitimate as when a five-year-old tells you about the time he jumped a bicycle off a trampoline and Batman was there and he clapped. And so, being a member of that increasingly rare breed known as “legitimate journalists,” Dan Casey decided to look into this story.
What he found — brace yourselves, folks — is that there is absolutely no evidence that it ever happened.
Casey talked to the police; they had no record of the incident. He talked to the management at 202 Social House; they knew nothing about the supposed incident, it wasn’t captured on their security cameras, and they didn’t even offer outdoor dining that night. He also went on to refute a bunch of other things in the article, but at this point, you should probably just look up Casey’s article rather than marvel at my re-telling of it (it’s called “Fake news makes a pit stop in the Star City).
I read Casey’s column, shook my head sadly, and then went on about my day.
Imagine my surprise when a few days later, I saw several of my Facebook friends sharing a post from the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office had shared Hohmann’s thoroughly-debunked work of fiction and were presenting it as fact.
“Citizens should alert themselves to the true nature of this violence and realize the intent is for it to continue across our nation during the months ahead,” wrote Culpeper Sheriff Scott Jenkins. “Antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement is not peaceful and at their heart are violent. They may bring their violence to any community at any time and especially where they see weakness in local government officials. These are a few of the many examples across our nation.”
Now listen: I am not a Sheriff, and I have never pretended to be, except to impress women. But it seems to me that an important part of being a Sheriff is “not making up complete, ludicrous nonsense to rile people up.” But hey, I thought, maybe I should cut Sheriff Jenkins some slack. Surely he would recant his statement after being informed that it was based on, you know, BS.
Ah, but Sheriff Jenkins didn’t back down when presented with evidence! He doubled down! His office released a statement saying that they were aware that “a Roanoke newspaper reporter wrote that he was unable to substantiate the details of the story,” yet Leo Hohmann, the guy who made the story up, “stands by the story 100 percent,” so basically, what can you do?
But this column isn’t about Sheriff Jenkins, really, nor is it about this specific incident.
It’s about the Fantasy.
The Fantasy is this: Evil armed protesters are coming to your small town. They’re going to push you around. They’re going to burn down the Golden Corral. And when they come, you had better be armed.
Here’s the truth: The Fantasy is just that.
The purpose of a protest is to be seen and heard. I live out in the sticks myself. If someone came out to my place to protest, they would be seen and heard by me and possibly the possum that eats my food scraps. It would be a real waste of time.
No vans full of outside agitators are coming to Eggbornsville, or Lignum, or Rixeyville, or anywhere else in Culpeper. They’re not coming to Henry County or Martinsville, either. You might see some folks hanging around outside Walgreens holding “Black Lives Matter” signs, but they’re locals. I know some of them. They’re good folks. I worry they’re going to get shot.
And that’s the thing that disturbs me about the Fantasy. When I hear people talking about the mysterious armed mobs that are coming to their small town, I don’t hear fear in their voices. I hear excitement. I hear hope. I hear people who are excited that they might just finally have a chance to shoot somebody and get away with it.
American financier and political advisor Bernard Baruch said the following back in 1946: “Every man has the right to an opinion but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts. Nor, above all, to persist in errors as to facts.”
When elected officials present fantasy as fact, we have entered a truly dangerous territory.