Harold Ray Crews, a lawyer based near Kernersville, North Carolina, moonlights as the chairman of his state’s chapter of the League of the South, a neo-Confederate network that wants the South to secede from the rest of the U.S. and establish an “Anglo-Celtic” majority.
Crews is also a key player in what white supremacists see as a righteous crusade to correct the record of what happened during August’s violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The campaign includes flooding Google and YouTube with clips and conspiracy theories about DeAndre Harris, a black man whose brutal beating by a gang of white supremacists was captured on video and went viral.
The beating left Harris, 20, with a head laceration that required multiple staples, a broken wrist, and a chipped tooth, among other injuries. But if you search for information about that incident, Google and YouTube feed back a stream of videos and blog posts that portray Harris as the attacker and Crews as the victim.
Earlier this week, Crews managed to get Harris charged with a crime. A magistrate’s office in Charlottesville issued an arrest warrant for Harris based on video of him taking a furtive swipe at Crews with a flashlight, as Crews ran at Harris and a group of others with a metal pole. Now, Harris faces a felony charge for allegedly assaulting Crews. If he’s convicted, he could wind up in prison for up to five years.
“The victim went to the Magistrate’s office, presented the facts of what occurred, and attempted to obtain a warrant,” Charlottesville police said in a statement on Tuesday. “The magistrate requested that a detective respond and verify these facts. A Charlottesville Police Department detective did respond, verified the fact, and a warrant for Unlawful Wounding (VA Code 18.2-51) was issued.”
Harris’ attorney, Lee Merritt, concedes Harris did swing an object at Crews but argues that a separate melée caused his injuries. Merritt says that the magistrate’s office signed the warrant, which he describes as “unusual.”
The charge is real-world impact of a blizzard of false and misleading information spreading across the web. Earlier this week a video created by the League of the South, “Conclusive evidence that DeAndre Harris ATTACKED protesters,” was the top result for a search on “DeAndre Harris” on both Google and YouTube.
The snippet of video was taken just before Harris was chased into a parking garage and violently beaten. Two of Harris’ assailants have been charged, but at least three others have not. Charlottesville Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the Harris case. The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office also did not respond.
Hunter Wallace, who runs public relations for the League of the South, wrote multiple posts trying to recast a story about a black man getting beaten up by white supremacists as a story where whites were the real victims. He’s also a regular contributor to Occidental Dissent, a blog that’s closely affiliated with the League of the South.
“If it weren’t for platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and WordPress, the public would have certainly never learned the truth about DeAndre Harris’s actions on Aug. 12,” Wallace wrote.
Several of Wallace’s posts on the alleged “DeAndre Harris Race Hoax” purport to “reconstruct” that incident through various videos on YouTube as well as links out to conspiracy theory content already online.
One blogger under the name “Marcus Cicero” wrote a racial-slur laden post on Aug. 24 that describes Harris as a “bouncing little BLM thug” who was scamming the public by crowdfunding online to cover his medical costs.
“I want him charged for his attacks on us,” Cicero wrote. “I want all of the money he raised under fraudulent means given over to the Alt-Right for further training and organizational purposes.”
In a post on Monday, Wallace claims that he and others “completely reconstructed DeAndre Harris’ actions” and had “indisputable video evidence against him” by Sept. 6. But, he says, when he took it to Charlottesville Police Department, they showed “no interest” in arresting Harris for allegedly assaulting Crews.
This, according to Wallace, was a glaring example of bias, given that two of the six white supremacists who viciously beat Harris were arrested soon after the incident. Nobody else was either or charged.
The commonwealth attorney wasn’t interested in their video either, wrote Wallace. The only other option was the magistrate’s office, which has signing authority on issuing arrest warrants. There, they claim to have found a sympathetic ear. The magistrate’s office was unable to comment on pending cases, a spokesperson told VICE News.
But the effort to rewrite the history of Charlottesville goes far beyond Harris. Wallace also claims, for example, that Heather Heyer — the counterprotester who died when a young man with neo-Nazi sympathies drove into a crowd in Charlottesville — died instead from a heart attack. Wallace includes photos of her holding a packet of cigarettes and remarks on her weight as “evidence.” (Crews, on his podcast, also expressed deep skepticism over the official account of the events leading to Heyer’s death).
Five days after Charlottesville, on his weekly podcast on Southern Nationalist Radio, Crews rehashed what happened but only briefly mentioned that he was “attacked.” One thing was clear: Crews and his guest Brad Griffin, a white nationalist blogger, felt like they were mistreated that weekend, not just by counterprotesters, but by Charlottesville Police Department, city officials, and the media.
Since then, they’ve been remarkably successful in retelling the story of what happened, using digital tools to alter and amplify their narrative. YouTube would not comment specifically on the Harris situation. A spokesperson said platform is “heavily investing in tools” to be sure the news it presents is authoritative:
“When people come to YouTube looking be informed about what’s happening in the world we want them to find credible and authoritative sources. We are heavily investing in tools that present these types of sources to those searching for current events and newsworthy topics on YouTube, including our ‘Top News’ and ‘Breaking News’ tools. “
In addition to running a family law practice in Kernersville, Crews hosts a regular podcast and has his own YouTube channel. One recent video showed former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke delivering the keynote address at the League of the South’s annual conference in June in Alabama. That video has accumulated over 13,000 views.
Crews also has a criminal record of his own. He was arrested in 2001 for allegedly spraypainting “KILLER” in orange paint on the door of an abortion clinic, according to Winston-Salem Police Department in North Carolina. The charges were eventually dropped.
Crews, reached by VICE News on the phone, said he had no interest in commenting.