A small-town fundraiser was ruined due to a wild conspiracy theory involving former FBI director James Comey.
Each year on May 11th, parent volunteers at the Grass Valley Charter School in California throw a music-and-art festival called the Blue Marble Jubilee to raise money for environmental causes and student resources such as upgraded technology and recreation equipment.
“Kids spend all year creating art and garden projects to be sold at the festival,” Grass Valley Charter School Foundation president Wendy Willoughby, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s a huge deal for them.”
However, the K-8 event was canceled this week after Comey took part in the Twitter hashtag #FiveJobsIveHad. Per Newsweek, the hashtag took off in mid-April for people to boast or complain about their resumes.
#FiveJobsIveHad 1. Grocery store clerk
2. Vocal soloist for church weddings
4. Strike-replacement high school teacher
5. FBI Director, interrupted
— James Comey (@Comey) April 27, 2019
On Saturday, Comey wrote, “1. Grocery store clerk 2. Vocal soloist for church weddings 3. Chemist 4. Strike-replacement high school teacher 5. FBI Director, interrupted.”
According to Talking Points Memo, a Twitter user, Top Blog Sites, whose bio lists a page for QAnon — a right-wing, anti-Democratic conspiracy-theory group — started it all.
On April 28th, Top Blog Sites interpreted the hashtag as, “Five Jihad(s)” and circled the first letter in each of Comey’s jobs — G, V, C, S, F — and spelled out, “Grass Valley Charter School Foundation.” The account then flagged Twitter user “Joe M” of @StormIsUponUs about a “coded” terror attack at the school.
“Nothing better happen at Grass Valley Charter School during their Blue Marble Jubilee on May 11, Jim,” responded Joe M, tagging the school.
Rumors of a terror attack at Grass Valley scared the community. “Families started dropping out of the festival pretty fast,” Willoughby tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We thought it would blow over but then parents started emailing and showing up at school worried.”
Willoughby, a parent of two children in the Grass Valley district, called the police and an investigation found no threat. “No one was in danger, but as a parent, if the word ‘threat’ is linked to your school, it’s scary,” Willoughby said.
On Thursday, due to mass panic, the foundation canceled the festival. “In the current social and political climate, schools and communities must take into consideration matters never before imagined,” read the school’s website.
“Of course, there is no question about putting safety first, however, we are devastated by the impact on our festival,” wrote Willoughby. “Not only is it disappointing that the cancellation of this event deprives the families of our school and community a day of fun and connection, but the Blue Marble Jubilee also serves as a fundraiser. We now find ourselves not only out the potential dollars raised at the event, but also the money already spent in preparation.”
According to Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher in Los Angeles, who first informed Grass Valley Charter School of the hoax, people who stoked fear could have anticipated a real attack.
“People in the QAnon movement truly see themselves as digital soldiers in a secret fight between good and evil,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “By spreading misinformation, they believe they’re on the right side of history. But the movement is just theater and distractive busywork.”
Rothschild, who debunked the hoax in a blog post, says the non-threat resulted in a true security concern. “Because there was perceived idea of an attack, someone with bad intentions could have capitalized on that,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Willoughby tells Yahoo Lifestyle the children were sad to skip their event, but there is hope for next year. “I want to say to these fringe people, if you believe your job is to make the world a better place, shut off your computer and go volunteer,” she says. “You are helping no one.”
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