Ben Brody was wrongly accused of being a federal agent posing as a neo-Nazi. Supplied photo.
It was halfway through the Dodgers game he was attending with his mother when Ben Brody realized some of the worst people on the internet believed he was a federal agent pretending to be a neo-Nazi 800 miles away. Earlier in the day Brody, a 22-year-old recent political science grad from UC Riverside, had noticed people commenting on his Instagram account and calling him “a fed,” but he thought it was just trivial and would blow over. But while at the June 25 game, which saw the Houston Astros beat the Dodgers, his phone kept going off until he and his mother realized something horrible was underway. Before they left the game their home address would be leaked online. By the time they got home, they decided they couldn't stay there that night.
"In the car, I was freaking out and very nervous, very anxious, like 'oh my God, I can't believe this happened. You know, my life is over," said Brody. "Everything that I tried to work for and all this is just completely gone. And I genuinely felt very anxious, very nervous.""I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. I couldn't sleep. I was like, walking around and just, like, pacing because I was just so nervous about everything."One day earlier, over 850 miles away from where Brody lives, two far-right groups got into a scrum at an Oregon City pride festival. During the hubbub two neo-Nazis with the Rose City Nationalists had their masks pulled off and their faces exposed. The men’s faces were caught on video and internet sleuths quickly went to work. At some point, someone found a photo of Brody that looked similar to the man in the video and posted it as fact. VICE News attempted to find where it originated but was unable. At about 8 AM PST on June 25 that Brody's name began to be shared across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook amongst some MAGA and pro-Proud Boy circles. After his name appeared, the online right found a small blurb written about him on Instagram by his Jewish fraternity which said he wanted to possibly work for the government one day. This was enough to confirm one of the right’s favorite conspiracy theories: neo-Nazis are federal plants that are there to make them look racist.
Despite Brody being a young man who lived in California with public ties to a Jewish fraternity who just graduated college days before the public scuffle of the group of conspiracy theorists and right-wing influencers—almost entirely organized and spread by people who have purchased blue checkmarks on Twitter—went to work portraying him as a federal agent posing as a neo-Nazi. Multiple sources with information about Pacific Northwest Active Clubs–neo-Nazi groups organized around fitness and combat sports–confirmed to VICE News Brody was not the man in the video and has no ties to them. Many of the people spreading the fake fed information did so under the idea the neo-Nazi group in Oregon City was Patriot Front—likely because Joe Rogan made some noise calling the group feds last year—but the group in question was the Rose City Nationalists, a group affiliated with neo-Nazi Active Clubs. Almost immediately after Brody’s name and information were shared and it didn't take long for the usual suspects to amplify the conspiracy to their millions of followers. Twitter owner Elon Musk replied to multiple instances of false information about Brody being shared on his platform, boosting it to his over 147 million followers. In one case he responded directly to an article from Zero Hedge, a site well known for its far-right leanings and conspiratorial content.
“Looks like one is a college student (who wants to join the government) and another is maybe an Antifa member, but nonetheless a probably false flag situation,” Musk wrote under the article that shared Brody's name and photo. While Zero Hedge has deleted their tweet and walked back their accusations in the article, Musk has not deleted his Tweet which currently has over a million views.
“Obviously Elon Musk has a huge following and it amplifies stuff, so it definitely made the situation much worse," said Brody. “It was terrifying, I'm starting to sort of feel normal now about what happened, but it was just like it was a lot to take in.”The Zero Hedge article was headlined “Patriot Front Member was Just Unmasked as a Suspected Fed.” The article was just one of several by right-wing media, and one outlet was even less careful in its accusations and ran a blog with the headline “Who is Ben Brody, the Patriot Front member demasked by MAGA supporters in the viral video?” Musk was but one of many who amplified the conspiracy about Brody, he had by far the largest following. Stew Peters, a popular conspiracy theorist who created the anti-vax film “Died Suddenly”, dedicated an entire segment of his Rumble show to it. Another, a "citizen reporter" named Alex Sheppard who has over 70,000 followers on Twitter, posted "Ben Brody is a FED and a terrible liar!" As is outlined in this Medium article, the spread of Ben Brody’s name and face was widespread and much of the posts had a distinctive anti-Semtic ring to it.
“The Jews are behind everything,” one user wrote, posting Brody’s face.
Some other online figures were using the fed plant conspiracy theory to do a victory lap to prove they weren’t conspiracy theorists. "Remember when they called us conspiracy theorists for saying the feds were planting fake nazis at rallies?” Matthew Wallace, a man best described as a professional Musk reply guy, asked his over a million followers in a post about a conspiracy where he shared Brody’s social media information. He has still not deleted the Tweet. At first, Brody thought that it was best to not respond to the allegations because he “didn't want to amplify anything or make things worse” but eventually he couldn’t ignore it anymore. At the urging of his friends, he made an Instagram post on the account the mob was targeting, trying to clear his name. He then posted debit receipts showing his card was being used in California on the day of the scuffle and even went as far as to call one of the stores that he went to and ask for video footage of him in the store. He then posted the time-stamped footage which matches his receipts and posted them. Still though that wasn’t enough for people who were invested in this conspiracy. One Twitter user—an online "comedian" named Amiri King with about 150,000 followers on Twitter —was one of the most prolific spreaders of the accusation. King tweeted out Brody’s video and wrote a lengthy post about why he didn’t believe the young man. This includes Brody getting the term “Patriot Front” wrong, Brody looking forward at the camera rather than giving a side profile, and how he moves his hands.
“RETWEET IF YOU FEEL SUSPICIOUS,” it reads. The tweet remains up.It wasn’t just people that knew Brody who were upset about the young man’s treatment. In some of the darker corners of the web, neo-Nazis were annoyed with the conspiracy theorists as their belief they're all feds watered down their impact. "Musk Twitter is a massive setback for our discourse. It's a layered psy op making crazy people even crazier," wrote one prominent Nazi. "None of these... really believe Ben Brody is the same person, they are writing lies for attention."In the weeks since the incident, the online community that swarmed Brody has moved on to new topics—Musk has been posting about his and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s penis—and conspiracies to spread. While the harassment of Brody has stopped, the posts and accusations remain online. The possibility that a future employer will see these posts is a real worry to the recent university graduate. “Obviously, I'm more than willing to explain the situation and stuff like that, but just having that label up itself is very hard for employers," said Brody. "That is just like a lot to deal with... the uncertainty, the fear."
People being falsely identified online has become depressingly familiar during breaking news stories—especially in mass shooting events when political actors desperately try to control the narratives. In 2018, Infowar’s Alex Jones was sued by a Boston man after the conspiracy theorist’s website falsely accused him of being the Parkland school shooter. In May 2022, a conspiracy started on 4chan that the Uvalde school shooter was a trans man became so popular that Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted it out. The list goes on. Brody told VICE News that he has contemplated pursuing legal action because he fears all these posts may cause future employers to decide it’s probably just safer to stay away from him. He said in the end there was at least one silver lining in all of this mess. “A lot of my friends actually came through and reported a lot of it. Everyone at my school defended me, which is really cool. That's nice,” said Brody. “At least like the satisfaction I had was the people I know knew that it wasn't me. And that really touched me a lot. “As long as you always remember who you are and your family and friends will support you to be there for you. That's what matters the most.”