Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
Fox News host Sean Hannity used his radio show to promote the inane conspiracy theory that “antifa agitators” who opposed the neo-Nazi and white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville, VA, on Saturday were actually actors hired by a publicity firm.
The claim seems to have originated from the fever swamp of pro-Trump online message boards and social media accounts before making its way through conspiracy websites and onto Hannity’s program.
For some reason, all parties involved in promoting the moronic claim have interpreted a Craigslist ad posted August 7 by the firm Crowds on Demand which offered $25 per hour to “actors and photographers” to participate in events in the “Charlotte, NC area” as evidence that the firm was hiring counter-protesters for the event in Charlottesville, roughly 300 miles away. Crowds on Demand has flatly denied the charge, saying that the company was “not involved in any capacity with the recent tragic events in Charlottesville.”
The Craigslist ad “began to spread on social media and chat forums like Reddit and 4Chan” on August 14, as Snopes detailed. Last night, the former actor and Trump supporter Scott Baio pushed a version of this fable on his Facebook page, promoting private messages he had received from an unnamed associate which claimed that the hired protesters traveled on “buses [that] were hired by media matters which is owned by George Soros” (none of this is true).
Earlier today, the claim made the jump to ZeroHedge, a regular clearinghouse for conspiracy theories. The post’s pseudonymous author, “Tyler Durden,” claimed the ad “is raising new questions over whether paid protesters were sourced by a Los Angeles based ‘public relations firm specializing in innovative events’ to serve as agitators in counterprotests,” and tied the “discovery” to President Donald Trump’s claim that there was “blame on both sides” for the Charlottesville violence. The ZeroHedge piece was reposted later today on Infowars.com, radio host Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory website.
From those conspiracy sites, the claim jumped to two of the most prominent radio shows in the country, with audiences of millions. “There’s a story out today that raises a question whether or not antifa agitators that showed up in Charlottesville on Saturday were bought and paid for,” Hannity claimed. Hannity continued, “Apparently it was uncovered, and some of the media reported it, that some suspicious activity by an LA-based company that calls itself Crowds on Demand.”
Hannity then seemingly read from the Zero Hedge article, saying, “A Craigslist post last Monday, a full week before the Charlottesville protest, raising questions about whether paid protesters were sourced by a Los Angeles-based PR firm specializing in innovative events to serve as agitators and counterprotests. 25 bucks an hour to actors, photographers in that particular case to participate in events in Charlotte, NC, area as opposed to Charlottesville, VA.”
“So maybe it’s just a coincidence,” he concluded. “I don’t know for sure. But we’re going to keep an eye on that.”
Rush Limbaugh also mentioned the conspiracy theory on his radio show, claiming that progressives “were hiring for Charlottesville in advance. The ad has been found on, I think it’s Craigslist.”
This is far from the first time Hannity has promoted trash from the dregs of the Internet. Most infamously, the Fox star embarked on an extensive on-air campaign in support of the obscene conspiracy theory that the late Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered because he was a source for WikiLeaks.
Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters