If there was ever a time to show just a bit of caution when it came to stoking the fears of a shocked and wounded city, it might've been this weekend. Dallas was finally coming down from a week of uncertainty inspired by the murders of five of the city's police officers on July 7.
So the last thing the city needed was another reason to be worried about downtown. But here was The Dallas Morning News, the city's paper of record, highlighting an unsourced report from Dallas' Fox affiliate, KDFW, about something called a "Day of Rage" that was set to consume Dealey Plaza Friday night. As one might imagine, this stirred up the downtown Dallas community, leading to early closures for businesses like the Sixth Floor museum, which shut its doors at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, an hour and a half early.
"Now comes word, God forbid, that a hacker group known as Anonymous is organizing a 'Day of Rage' protest with Black Lives Matter followers around the country, including in Dallas," columnist James Ragland wrote for the paper, echoing its earlier report about the potential protest.
Anonymous was doing no such thing. The Twitter account around which the paper's supposition was based, @theanonnmessage, had sent a tweet to its 130,000 followers about what it was calling Friday of Solidarity demonstrations, but it explicitly said in a follow up tweets that anything about a "Day of Rage" was a hoax, that demonstrators were expected to be peaceful.
Today is meant to be a peaceful show of nonviolence and civil disobedience. #FridayOfSolidarity— TheAnonMessage (@TheAnonnMessage) July 15, 2016
Snopes.com, the internet rumor debunking website, had a breakdown posted about why the rumors of the "Day of Rage" were probably a fake on July 11, pointing out a near identical rumor that circulated during the summer of 2014 following the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. @YourAnonNews, widely regarded as the Twitter account that actually speaks for the Anonymous collective, said in a tweet posted on July 13 that "there is no such thing as an anonymous day of rage" and called @TheAnonnMessage an unreliable source. The next protest Anonymous had planned, @YourAnonNews said, was the Million Mask March set for November 5, the Saturday before the U.S. Presidential election.
The president of something called the Downtown Security Directors Association jumped on the rumors though, and sent out an email. The Morning News got its hands on it and went to town:
"Downtown Security Directors Association president Tony Rizzo sent members an alert about an Anonymous and Black Lives Matter protest. An unknown number of people plan to attend, the message said.
"It is unknown what type of actions the group will be holding at the location or if they plan to march," the email said. "Anonymous is reminding protesters to be nonviolent."
There are no hard and fast details in Rizzo's email because no Anonymous event was ever actually planned. When the Morning News talked to the Dallas County Sheriff's Office, the office didn't know anything either.
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Sheriff's spokeswoman Melinda Urbina said Friday that the department is still unsure whether or not the protest is happening. She said she had heard rumors about Anonymous and Black Lives Matter working in conjunction, but she couldn't confirm it.
"Usually for an event like this there's a lot of promotion to let people know about it," Urbina said. "We haven't seen anything that says it's for sure happening. That doesn't mean that people won't show up. We just don't know right now."
When the time for the protest came at 6 p.m. there was not a single demonstrator to be seen at Dealey Plaza, something Ragland himself joked about on Twitter.
None of this was that hard to figure out beforehand — the Morning News' initial article even mentioned the Snopes report, but only after a long string of credulity about the potential for more violence downtown. But it seems we're going to have to keep our wits about us as the rumor mill continues to churn hard and fast in the aftermath of the shootings.