According to a vocal group of conspiracy mongers who dwell on the fringes of the internet, millions of antifa soldiers will commit mass decapitations of white parents and raid the houses of innocent gun-owning citizens this Saturday to launch a second American civil war.
The looming threat of a bloody Nov. 4 assault on everything that the ultra-right holds dear has been elevated beyond paranoid rumblings. Various permutations of the myth have now gained traction among notorious institutions such as Alex Jones’s InfoWars, which is also reporting news of nationwide riots leading to a civil war, and the John Birch Society, which is advising that people have buckets of water and sand ready to put out fires from antifa. Even the Gateway Pundit, a White House-credentialed pro-Trump blog, has helped spread the rumors of antifa beheadings. YouTube videos about it have millions of views, and it’s one particular video that helped to propel this exaggerated tale to prominence.
It is true that the left-wing group Refuse Fascism, affiliated with Revolutionary Communist Party, is planning non-violent demonstrations against the Trump administration in a number of major cities on Saturday. Antifa apparently do not have plans to protest. As for the cinematic hellscape that internet conspiracy theorists expect: It will not, in fact, be on the agenda.
How did rumors of a Nov. 4, 2017, kickoff date for the next civil war get so out of hand?
While pinpointing the exact origin isn’t easy given the sheer vastness of the internet, it seems that some key social media posts had referenced the upcoming protests. The posts blew up in ways that their creators hadn’t expected when other users and some relatively more established right-leaning media outlets latched onto them.
According to Will Sommer, a Hill editor who writes the Right Richter newsletter on conservative media, one of the first videos to gain steam was published at the end of August after the initial rumors had been stewing over the summer.
The video was filmed by a bail bonds contractor named Jordan Peltz and posted on his YouTube channel. In the video, Peltz sits in what appears to be a cop car and is wearing what appears to be a law enforcement uniform. (The badge is actually just printed on his shirt.) As Sommer writes, “Peltz looks, to the viewer, like a law enforcement officer. This is a guy who seems like he could really have police intel—and he says antifa is coming in November.”
Peltz, over the course of roughly four minutes, warns of the coming civil war. “[The antifa] are fundraising for weapons, training, ammunition, supplies…. They will start off by attacking police officers, first responders, anybody that’s in uniform,” Peltz says at one point. “If you’re white, you’re a Trump supporter, you’re a Nazi then to them. And it will be open game on you.”
I spoke to Peltz on Thursday night, and he portrayed himself as a small-time YouTuber who unexpectedly made it big and is now struggling to handle the newfound clout. He has also purchased a Lamborghini with recently-acquired funds capitalizing on the video's success. “I’m not sure how I became the poster boy for this,” he said. “The video that went viral was me talking about information I had seen on some websites. ... It is not from any official agency.”
Up until his Nov. 4 video went viral, Peltz says he mostly just posted content on YouTube as part of a dialogue with a handful of his right-leaning friends. His most popular videos before this garnered a dozen views at most, and he expected his Nov. 4 video to do the same.
A couple weeks after posting, Peltz’s friends then began telling him that the video was getting major attention. He said that it was edited and featured on well-known Facebook pages, where it got most of its views. Peltz indicated he was worried that antifa would use violent tactics on Saturday based on stories he'd read. Yet he's become convinced that there is nothing to worry about on Nov. 4 with all the media attention. Now looking to distance himself from the phenomenon, he wants to focus his efforts on combating cyber bullying. (The website that Peltz set up after his video went viral, called nazi-donkeys.com, has information both on suicides caused by cyberbullying as well as content ridiculing female “SJW’s”—social justice warriors—and “crossdressing leftists.” He claimed to me that he is thinking about changing the name of the site and directing more of the content towards combatting cyberbullying.)
The success of Peltz’s video was followed by others posting similar content on YouTube, predicting violent upheaval and advising viewers to stock up on water and prepare to defend themselves. Some of these posts have also gained millions of views.
The fracas intensified, according to Sommer, when a small group of activists blocked a Los Angeles Freeway in September with letter signs spelling out “Nov 4 It Begins,” and when InfoWars noted that there will be government tests of communication networks on Saturday. The Department of Defense will also be simulating a power outage as a practice exercise. These disparate events were grouped together as proof of a coming revolution.
The conspiracy theory had infested so much of the internet that Twitter comedian Krang T. Nelson—a white man— eventually decided to take it down satirically, posting a parody tweet on Oct. 27 that read, “can’t wait for November 4th when millions of antifa supersoldiers will behead all the white parents and small business owners in the town square.” In a first-person account that Nelson wrote for Vice, he claims that Gateway Pundit wrote an alarmist post about the joke when someone else tweeted the same thing. (The Gateway Pundit later updated its piece to acknowledge the posts were intended as a joke.) Twitter users shared the jokes as proof of the violent intentions of the left, and Nelson was temporarily suspended from the platform.
Saturday may very well be an eventful day of protest, but the Refuse Facism group appears to be hoping for something along the lines of Occupy Wall Street or the Women’s March, rather than a reign of terror. The lies and misinformation that have sprouted show us how a conspiracy-inclined community can turn benign plans and a random YouTube video into a plot against the country.