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Hoaxes and False Information Proliferated After Texas Church Shooting

Dubious news sites and social media users misidentified Sunday's shooter as a militant anti-fascist and a U.S. marine who converted to Islam, among other falsehoods.
Image: Devin Kelley in an undated driver's license photo
Devin Kelley in an undated driver's license photo.Texas Department of Public Safety

No, the man who killed 26 people at a Texas church on Sunday was not identified as Sam Hyde.

Nor was he an ex-marine and Muslim convert, Samir Al-Hajeed. And nope, he wasn't a member of the militant "anti-fascist" group, Antifa, looking to kick off a civil war by targeting white conservatives.

Related: Texas Church Shooter May Have Been Targeting His Mother-in-Law

But these and other hoaxes and falsehoods proliferated in the aftermath of Sunday’s mass shooting, burrowing in on social media outlets and dubious news sites.

Image: Rep. Vicente Gonzalez
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, speaks during a television interview in the Capitol on March 16, 2017.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call,Inc. - Getty Images

Even on CNN, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, twice on Sunday misidentified the shooter as Sam Hyde, saying that he’d received that name from officials who’d talked to his staff members.

Hyde is actually a member of a Rhode Island sketch comedy group, Million Dollar Extreme, and a promoter of false theories embraced by the alt-right, including Pizzagate, according to the Hollywood Reporter, which interviewed Hyde in December.

Hyde is also a favorite meme, and various images of him — his driver’s license photo, him holding a rifle — have appeared after previous violent attacks, including shootings in Orlando, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and after a van rampage in London.

Another version of the Sam Hyde meme uses the same rifle image with a different identity — a U.S. marine and Muslim convert, Samir Al-Hajeed. That picture and others — along with the name Sam Hyde — were circulated after the shootings in Las Vegas and Texas.

Gonzalez didn’t know any of this when he talked to CNN. In a statement, Gonzalez’s press secretary, Aryn Fields, said he doesn’t follow memes, “internet sensations, or twitter trends, and was unaware that this name is a viral internet hoax that has been connected to mass shootings in the past.”

Gonzalez was given Hyde’s name not by staff, but by media, she said. While awaiting a television interview, Field said, “a producer informed the congressman that reports indicated that the shooter was a man named Sam Hyde.”

Gonzalez then passed that name along during an interview that occurred immediately afterwards.

“Given how fast the events transpired Sunday, Congressman Gonzalez took this report as reliable information,” the statement said. “It is something that he deeply regrets. Congressman Gonzalez is always briefed by staff and expert officials before making statements to the media regarding sensitive information.”