A viral story that spread through right-wing social media and online sites this week contained an outrageous and as it turned out, false claim: that 25-year-old Army Sergeant La David Johnson, one of the four United States soldiers killed by ISIS militants in Niger on October 4, was actually a traitor who betrayed his own troops to the militants, setting up the deadly ambush. But the smear against the slain soldier was exposed as fake news this week, in an Associated Press report.
A story attributed to a writer using the name “E.T. Williams” on a right-wing blog titled Common Sense Nation appeared on October 23, with the headline, “Was La David Johnson another Bowe Bergdahl?” a reference to the Army Sergeant who was held captive by the the Taliban in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2014.
Bergdahl pleaded guilty last week to “desertion and misbehavior before the enemy,” and at his military trial, prosecutors claimed that by deserting his post Bergdahl bears responsibility for serious injuries sustained by three of his fellow troops during a search mission to locate him.
The death of La David Johnson has been at the center of a political firestorm sparked by insensitive remarks made by Donald Trump during what was supposed to be a condolence call to Johnson’s pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson, in which Trump told the grieving woman that her young husband “knew what he signed up for.”
Johnson was the only African-American of the four soldiers killed in the Niger ambush, and the only one to whom Trump has been reported to make callous remarks. Myeshia Johnson told the ABC TV program Good Morning America that Trump could not even remember her husband’s name without consulting notes.
Previously, Florida Congressmember Frederica Wilson, a longtime friend of the Johnson family, had revealed Trump’s remarks during the phone call. As a result, both Wilson and Myeshia Johnson have been the subject of attacks from Trump supporters in the media and online.
The Johnson widow was the target of a previous internet hoax, when a forged Facebook post attributed to her circulated widely among conservative social media accounts, claiming that she had attacked Wilson and supported Trump. But the post was quickly debunked as a crude fake, and Myeshia Johnson herself denied that she had written the post.
The fake news story attributed to “E.T. Williams” was also published on a right-wing site named Raw Street Journal, where it was bylined “Robert Eaden.” The story claimed that La David Johnson “was the one who had leaked the position of the patrol to Islamic militants who then launched the ambush, which killed three of Johnson’s fellow soldiers.”
As for Johnson’s motive to commit the supposed act of betrayal, the fake news story went on say that even though Johnson has previously been an “exemplary soldier,” that “something changed for Johnson when Donald Trump was elected as President in November 2016….Johnson hated Donald Trump and thought that he was a white supremacist and a racist and made that clear in conversations with other soldiers. Whereas before, Johnson was more than happy to serve under former president Barrack Obama, the thought of serving under President Donald Trump was something that he had not prepared for.”
When contacted by the Associated Press, the Defense Department shot down the hoax. “At no point since the Niger attack has DOD ever considered Army Sgt. La David Johnson anything less than an honorable soldier who sacrificed his life for our country,” the Pentagon said in a statement to the AP, also debunking the story’s claim that Johnson was carrying a letter with him calling Trump a “racist.”
But even readers on the Raw Street Journal‘s own Facebook page saw through the hoax, with one commenting on the implausibility of the scenario claiming that Johnson betrayed his own troops — and that the White House is covering up his actions.
“Let me be sure I got this straight,” wrote one skeptical commenter. “Johnson wanted out so his plan was to tell a kid about an upcoming patrol so that kid could go tell some militants to ambush the patrol HE WAS IN and shoot at him on the off chance he could get away, go through hostile territory to return to the US so he could be court martialed for desertion and spend years in Leavenworth. Does that seem rational in any way shape or form?”
“This is DISGUSTING of you people to even post. You have a raggedy 265 followers and will STOOP SO LOW in the name of BS journalism. You’re a rag mag. I hope you get SHUT DOWN,” wrote another commenter.
[Featured Image by U.S. Army Special Operations Command/AP Images]