A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
Nashville explosion was caused by a bomb, not a missile
CLAIM: Video shows that Nashville explosion was caused by a missile or some kind of directed energy weapon.
THE FACTS: The explosion was caused by a bomb inside a parked recreational vehicle in downtown Nashville. Social media users shared grainy surveillance video from the Dec. 25 explosion, and pointed to a streak of smoke to falsely claim that the blast was caused by a bomb or a directed energy weapon. “Looking like a missile strike now. Video proof. Explains why the airspace was locked down,” wrote one Twitter user on Dec. 26. Similar false claims circulated widely on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Parler. Police were responding to a report of shots fired when they encountered the RV blaring a recorded warning that a bomb would detonate in 15 minutes. Police have identified Anthony Quinn Warner, 63, who was killed in the explosion, as the person responsible for the blast. A motive has not been determined. Surveillance video from a Metro Nashville Police Department camera at the intersection of 2nd Avenue North and Commerce Street captured the explosion and offers proof that the blast came from the parked recreational vehicle. Social media users were sharing a different grainy, black-and-white surveillance video from a local business that showed the explosion from a distance. WKRN-TV, a Nashville television station, aired the footage. Posts pointed to what appears to be a streak of smoke captured in the video, falsely asserting it was a “missile trail” from a strike in the area. Other posts said a directed energy weapon caused the damage.
A frame-by-frame review of the video revealed the smoke was ascending from the source of the blast. “That is not a missile strike. Missiles don’t leave smoke trails as they come back down,” Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies told The Associated Press in an email. The explosion outside an AT&T building in downtown Nashville, interfered with communications in several Southern states, damaged dozens of buildings and injured three people, the AP reported. Some posts falsely alleged a missile targeted AT&T because the company got a contract to do a forensic audit of Dominion Voting Systems machines and those machines were recently moved to the AT&T building in Nashville that was damaged in the explosion.
AT&T not conducting voting machine audit near Nashville explosion site
CLAIM: AT&T got a contract to do a forensic audit of Dominion Voting Systems machines and those machines were recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee — to the same AT&T building that was damaged in a Christmas morning explosion.
THE FACTS: AT&T did not have a contract to audit Dominion machines and was not holding Dominion machines in its Nashville building, both companies confirmed to The Associated Press. But as federal officials work to piece together a motive for the Christmas morning blast that rattled downtown Nashville, including damage to an AT&T-owned building, social media users have made baseless claims connecting the explosion to voting machines used in the Nov. 3 election. “AT&T got a contract to do forensic audit on Dominion voting machines and those machines were being moved to Nashville this past week,” read one post. “So, the explosion ‘just happened’ to be at the AT&T location where they ‘just so happen’ to control the cooling system for the super computer and house the dominion voting machines and drives for forensic audit…” Another groundless post reads: “Wait, the bombing in Nashville was at the AT&T data center right after they got the contract to audit the Dominion voting machines? That’s an interesting coincidence.”
Spokespeople for AT&T and Dominion confirmed to the AP that AT&T had no contract to audit Dominion machines, and no Dominion machines were to be sent to Nashville. Some of the posts attempted to further link AT&T to Dominion by claiming a former owner of the AT&T building was a board member of a firm that owns Dominion. Cerberus Capital Management, the firm named in the posts, does not own Dominion, nor does it own the company that does own Dominion, Staple Street Capital. “Dominion has no connection to AT&T, the building, Nashville, family members of the Bidens or the Clintons, and Staple Street is not owned by Cerberus,” said Tony Fratto, a partner at the public relations firm Hamilton Place Strategies who emailed the AP on behalf of Dominion. “These are conspiracies manufactured out of whole cloth.” Dominion has been the target of a wide range of false posts since American voters chose Joe Biden as their next president, despite no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities in the 2020 election.
Brother of Georgia SOS is not a Chinese tech firm executive
CLAIM: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has a brother, Ron, who works for a Chinese tech firm, Huawei.
THE FACTS: Social media posts and a fictitious story circulating online falsely claim that the top election official in Georgia has a brother named Ron, who works as an executive for the Chinese tech giant Huawei. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger does not have a brother named Ron, his office confirmed Wednesday. He has three sisters and a brother, his office said. A 2018 family obituary the AP reviewed also confirms his brother is not named Ron. Social media posts making the false claim suggest Raffensperger should be investigated because of his brother’s Huawei connection.
The company has been at the center of rising tensions between the U.S. and Chinese over technology security. President Donald Trump’s administration has imposed restrictions on the Chinese company, cutting off its access to U.S. components and technology. Trump also tweeted out the false claim about Raffensperger’s brother on Tuesday night. “Now it turns out that Brad R’s brother works for China and they definitely don’t want ‘Trump’. So disgusting!” Trump said in his inaccurate tweet. Raffensperger, who oversees Georgia’s elections, has been the target of death threats and misinformation since President Donald Trump’s presidential race loss in Georgia by more than 11,000 votes. A spokesman for Huawei did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment.