The morning after after nine people were killed in in a historic South Carolina church, the Berkeley County government tweeted two images of the suspect, Dylann Roof, who at the time was still at-large.
The photo, below, shows him staring at the camera and wearing a jacket with two flags sewn onto it.
The photo has become perhaps the most poignant image of Roof. One reason is that the flags are for Rhodesia and Apartheid-era South Africa. Their presence announced his white supremacist beliefs.
In South Africa, the Facebook page belonging to the right-wing National Front party, which advocates for white secessionism, published a post about the presence of the old flag on Roof's jacket. Here's a translation:
Liberal zealots and the ANC shout and scream because the Church Assassin of Charleston in the US has the old [South Africa] flag on his jacket on a facebook photo. For this ... is proof enough that there will be a connection with South African right-wingers.
Six hours later, the page carried another post about Roof and his jacket. This time it claimed to have evidence that the image was Photoshopped to add the two flags on Roof's jacket. In reality, they said, he was wearing an Obama badge.
It appears that the fake Obama badge image first appeared on Imgur hours before it was picked up by the South African political party and its Facebook page. The image was uploaded late Friday afternoon, and has recevied well over 15,000 views.
The image showing Roof wearing a jacket with an Obama campaign badge is clearly the fake. The image itself shows telltale blurring around the Obama logo. It's also clear that it's not the original image because there are other photos of Roof in the same jacket with the Rhodesia and Apartheid-era South Africa flags. These were on his purported website, Last Rhodesian.
The Obama jacket image has only surfaced in a few places and only in low resolution versions -- meaning it is not the original image. The evidence is also supported by the fact that it's highly unlikely that a white supremacist would wear an Obama badge.
Of course, the conspiracy theory is designed to undercut the racial motivation for the killings and remove any ideological link between Roof and right-wing groups such as South Africa's National Front. Finding a way to align Roof with a left-leaning black president is very much the point, even if it strains logic.
The most effective propagator of the Obama jacket conspiracy theory has been the website South Africa Today. It usually carries stories of white farmers being attacked and news about the National Front. It reprinted the party's Facebook post.
Others are spreading the false claim. This South African woman has over 6,000 Twitter followers and runs a blog that uses extremely graphic imagery to support her claim that there is black-on-white genocide happening in South Africa. She shared the hoax.
Some Twitter users are replying to prominent Twitter accounts with the hoax claim. They often shared the South Africa Today blog post.
This person tweeted a link to a website that also wrote about the Obama jacket.
The tweet linked to a blog called Roman Catholic Imperialist. To prove its claim it offered nothing more than a link to FotoForensics.com, a free tool that can help determine whether digital images have been altered.
The photo of Roof in his jacket is one of the most uploaded images on the site from the past few days, according to. Dr. Neal Krawertz, a forensic image analyst and software developer who runs FotoForensics.
Craig Silverman is Media Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto.
Contact Craig Silverman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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