Cassandra Fairbanks and her right-wing media colleagues solicited nearly $25,000 in a fundraiser benefiting Fairbanks after she claimed she was targeted by anti-fascists who, she said, shot fireworks and guns at her home in Washington, D.C. A Right Wing Watch investigation found little evidence to support Fairbanks’ telling of events.
Fairbanks is a writer and activist who has been employed by the Russian government-funded media outlet Sputnik, as well as far-right outlets like Big League Politics and The Gateway Pundit, where she is currently a contributor. A leftist libertarian turned pro-Trump social media star, Fairbanks has deep ties to Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. Over the last year, Fairbanks has positioned herself as a vocal supporter of the extremist right, appearing on podcasts with such far-right media figures as VDARE’s Peter Brimelow and attending a gathering hosted by white nationalists during this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in the Washington, D.C. area. Fairbanks, who has more than 220,000 Twitter followers, has defended white supremacists and shared racist sentiments on Twitter and was retweeted by President Donald Trump in May. She has also made dubious claims against “antifa,” a loose coalition of anti-fascist activists who have been known to clash with right-wing groups and police.
Early in the morning on June 1, amid the first week of anti-racism protests following the police killing of George Floyd, Fairbanks called 911; in a recording of the call that Fairbanks obtained from police and released publicly, her voice trembles as she claims someone is attacking her home with guns and fireworks while she and her daughter cower inside. Within days, right-wing media fans had given her tens of thousands of dollars, believing that Fairbanks needed to pack up and flee her Washington home to keep her family safe.
While it is true that fireworks were set off within earshot of Fairbanks’ home and that she called 911, that’s about as much as RWW was able to independently verify in Fairbanks’ story.
RWW did not find evidence supporting Fairbanks’ claims that fireworks were directed at her home, that guns were fired, or that anti-fascists were responsible for the incident. District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department officers who arrived at the scene reported surveying the area only to find used fireworks packaging down the block, more than 100 feet away from Fairbanks’ home. Police checked the city’s gunshot detection system, which uses acoustic sensors to alert law enforcement to potential gunfire, and found negative results. Officers did not report any evidence that ammunition had been fired or claims from Fairbanks’ neighbors that any home or person had been so targeted. Neighbors of Fairbanks interviewed by RWW questioned Fairbanks’ assertions that the fireworks were a targeted attack. Two minutes after the fireworks reported by Fairbanks occurred, a nearly identical incident happened about a mile away, suggesting that the fireworks were a part of a series of events that did not target Fairbanks.
Fairbanks declined RWW’s requests for additional corroborating evidence and names of people who could validate her claims, publicly accused this reporter of harassment for seeking comment, and claimed she was instead giving “all the actual details” to “another reporter” who would refute RWW’s investigation. (RWW gladly welcomes such evidence if it can be produced.)
While it is possible that Fairbanks believed she was being attacked at the time, the evidence indicates that, at best, she misinterpreted what was happening the night she called police. But with her substantial following, Fairbanks’ accusation against anti-fascists not only raised tens of thousands of dollars but spread fear among right-wing audiences, adding fuel to the right-wing paranoia surrounding protests following the police killing of George Floyd—fear stoked by Attorney General William Barr’s ludicrous naming of “antifa” as a terrorist organization.
Explosions, Gunfire, and Nearly $25,000
Minutes after she called 911 at 4:07 a.m., Fairbanks opened the Twitter app on her iPhone. She drafted and posted a tweet to her hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers that stated people had shown up at her house to attack her. She included 11 seconds of video in which faint crackling sounds are heard and the image is unclear.
Prior to her claims that she had been targeted and shot at, Fairbanks posted messages on Twitter calling for protesters to be harmed and possibly killed by the government, expressing her desire for Trump to authorize lethal force against demonstrators. She pleaded to Trump, “Please for fucks sake end this shit by any means necessary using any force necessary.”
The story, as told by Fairbanks on Twitter, went like this: After days of making “hundreds” of death threats against her, anti-fascist activists angered by her tweets sent people to her home in Washington, where they banged on her windows and “fired gunshots and fireworks” at her home. Fairbanks says she yelled for her daughter to get in her room, lock the door, and lay down on the floor. She called 911 but, according to Fairbanks, the dispatcher told her it was unclear when police would be able to get to her home due to logistics involving the protests. Fairbanks says that after her 911 call, she called “someone with guns” to come to her house in the meantime. The rest of Fairbanks’ recounting reads like a movie script: Car tires squealed as the perpetrators made a getaway. With her knuckles wrapped around the grip of a firearm, she looked out her window but saw nothing. Those out-of-eye shot people could count themselves lucky, Fairbanks tweeted; if she had spotted them, she swore she was ready to shoot them dead.
Fairbanks added that her armed friend reached her home 15 or 20 minutes before police get to the scene. When officers finally arrived, she claimed, they found used fireworks and spoke to her neighbors, who she says “saw it all.” Fairbanks vowed that she’s “getting the fuck away from cities forever.” If only the government came down harder on “rioting terrorist scum,” she mused, then perhaps “this would be over by now.” Fairbanks wrote that she grabbed her daughter, her pets, and fled her home.
It’s an epic scene suitable for a blockbuster film, but Right Wing Watch found very little evidence suggesting that events occurred as she described or for the reasons she attributed. Police records, conversations with eight of Fairbanks’ nearby neighbors, and nonexistent coverage in local press all suggest that Fairbanks has a false impression of what happened that night and has solicited funds on false premises—whether she did so wittingly or unwittingly.
Right-wing media outlets and social media personalities promoted Fairbanks’ claims as proof that anti-fascists were threatening conservatives; a short burst of articles with her retelling of events appeared on right-wing news sites including Breitbart News, Russia Today, The Gateway Pundit, and Infowars. Even Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona joined the mix, condemning Twitter for not taking action against users who sent Fairbanks menacing messages.
These are terroristic threats. Criminals are using twitter, and as a now confirmed publisher, Twitter is aiding criminals through its editing and publishing. It’s time for @TheJusticeDept to protect citizens from interstate criminals, racketeering and criminal enterprise. https://t.co/XBCWdgcGm3
— Paul Gosar (@DrPaulGosar) June 4, 2020
RWW emailed representatives from Infowars, Gateway Pundit, Russia Today, and Breitbart News to inquire how they determined that Fairbanks’ claims were legitimate before publishing articles containing them on their respective websites. None of the outlets responded.
With Fairbanks’ permission, Ezra Levant, founder of the far-right Canadian outlet Rebel Media, launched a GoFundMe page to raise money he said would be used to relocate Fairbanks and her daughter to a new, safe home. Levant did not respond to an emailed request for an interview.
The page on the fundraising portal repeats many of Fairbanks’ dramatic claims. It states:
Cassandra Fairbanks is a mom and a journalist in Washington, D.C.
After she criticized the riots, she was deluged by death threats and her home address was published by Antifa. Rioters showed up at her house, pounding on the windows and firing guns and fireworks at her home.
She fled her house with her daughter and pets, and is now looking for a new, safe place to live.
All funds will be sent to her for relocating to a safe place. She has approved this fundraiser.
Donations were encouraged by right-wing media figures including far-right operative Jack Posobiec, Trump-beloved meme maker Logan “Carpe Donktum” Cook, Lifezette TV host Rob Maness, and The Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft, who employs Fairbanks as a contributor to his outlet.
At the time of publication, the fundraiser had received $24,300 in donations. Less than a week after the alleged incident occurred, Fairbanks announced she “got a new place in a red red state” and told RWW she planned to move mid-June. “My new house has a badass security system and I’m building an arsenal of guns. It’s not a liberal land of mushy feelings. You can defend your home. Don’t even try me,” she tweeted.
On Monday, she announced she had moved.
No Evidence to Support Fairbanks’ Key Claims
Takoma, the historically diverse neighborhood where Fairbanks lived, hugs the Washington-Maryland border and is home to a vibrant multiracial and multiethnic community. On the street reside several older residents and a young couple who have a “Black Lives Matter” sign proudly displayed in their window. People living there describe their neighbors as mostly liberal and progressive, Fairbanks being an exception.
Fairbanks reacted publicly to RWW’s investigation after becoming aware of it via an ex-boyfriend. She posted on Twitter: “Some antifa reporters are nosing around trying to prove my house wasn’t attacked. Too bad literally all of my neighbors also spoke to the police and saw it/heard it all and the car screeching away. Sorry, this happened. It’s on you guys.” Of the eight people in Fairbanks’ neighborhood that RWW spoke with on June 9, none could recall details that would support Fairbanks’ version of events.
RWW contacted representatives from three police departments in the Washington metro area seeking information related to the incident Fairbanks describes. A Metropolitan Police Department public information officer provided us with a copy of a police incident report matching the time, date, and location of Fairbanks’ story.
The report mentions fireworks, but that’s where the similarities end. Just four sentences long, the incident report provided to RWW contains nothing to support Fairbanks’ claims that she was targeted by anti-fascists or that gunshots were fired. What the report states is that officers arrived and “canvased the surrounding areas” for gunshots “with negative results” and located used fireworks down the block from Fairbanks’ home. The report does not mention Fairbanks or describe any kind of attack. An MPD public information officer told RWW that no other reports were publicly available for the incident.
Despite Fairbanks’ claims that the fireworks had been targeted at her home, six nearby neighbors told RWW that the fireworks had been launched from a bend in the street that is more than 100 feet away from the house Fairbanks was in. One neighbor, who asked not to be named, walked this reporter to a spot near the sidewalk where a piece of fireworks packaging was still present. From that spot, Fairbanks’ former home is barely visible. Fairbanks has posted photos of identical fireworks packaging, suggesting she had walked down the street and was therefore aware where they were fired from.
That neighbor told RWW they assumed the fireworks were set by protesters in defiance of curfews imposed in Washington and that they did not believe gunshots were fired. When told that Fairbanks claimed the fireworks were meant to target her at her home down the street, they said they thought her story sounded “fucking ridiculous, completely.”
“This person is stealing money from people, basically, to get the fuck out of their house,” the neighbor said.
Jeffrey Proctor lives down the street from Fairbanks’ former home and says he woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and was still awake in bed when fireworks started going off outside. He said he looked out his front window to see a multi-shot aerial fireworks display blasting colors into the air and sending loud bangs through the neighborhood. Proctor told RWW that Fairbanks’ description of events sounded ridiculous to him, especially given the fact the fireworks were going off so far away from her home.
“There’s no antifa around here or anything like that,” Proctor told RWW. “There ain’t no fucking way that was targeted at [Fairbanks] and her daughter.”
Across the street from Proctor, Deborah Williams said when she heard explosions that night, she initially mistook the sounds for gunshots and proceeded to roll out of her bed and crawl into her hallway. She says her boyfriend went outside on their deck and saw fireworks, people, and a vehicle.
“I’m pretty sure everyone thought they were being shot at,” Williams said. She told RWW that after she learned from her boyfriend that the sounds she heard were fireworks, she assumed they were set by “some kids” as a prank. Williams said she hadn’t seen or heard anything that lead her to believe the fireworks were part of a targeted attack against one of her neighbors.
Up the street and across from Fairbanks’ old home, a couple who answered the door but did not provide their names for this story told RWW they woke up to the sounds of fireworks that night, and the woman at the home said she saw two cars peel away from the scene and turn at an intersection in front of their house. Neither said they had heard anything about gunfire or a targeted attack.
Of the eight neighbors RWW spoke with, none recalled gunshots being fired or said they had seen or heard anything that would support Fairbanks’ belief that the fireworks detonated in their neighborhood were meant to target her and her daughter.
Nearby police departments were unable to produce additional information. Capt. C. Thomas Jordan, the director of Montgomery County Department of Police’s public information division reviewed information provided by RWW and reported his department received no calls for service “that even come close to what she is describing.” Takoma Park Police Department’s Chief of Police Antonio DeVaul said that his department received one call that night reporting fireworks in an area about a mile from where Fairbanks lives just two minutes after Fairbanks had dialed 911, but recorded no reports of targeted harassment or banging on windows.
After becoming aware of RWW’s investigation, Fairbanks shared cell phone screenshots on Twitter she said proved she had been telling the truth. The photos show messages she said she received on Twitter in response to her posts against the protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Many messages displayed in the screenshots contain menacing messages, some wishing Fairbanks death.
According to one screenshot, a Twitter user who has since deleted their account sent Fairbanks a message stating they would be at her house “soon” and that they had her address. Fairbanks claims that the messages she showed were in her inbox “right before” she was allegedly attacked in the middle of the night, but the only message mentioning her home has a clearly visible 9:15 a.m. timestamp. The date the message was sent is unknown and nothing in the screenshot indicates the person who sent the message is affiliated with any anti-fascist activism. An archive is unavailable for the account in question.
It remains unclear where exactly Fairbanks’ address was allegedly posted online and how many threats she actually received. Fairbanks has publicly claimed that Twitter removed all the accounts that posted her address and sent her death threats. After she became aware of this investigation, Fairbanks released a recording of the 911 call she placed, offering convincing proof that she was genuinely terrified. Even if it is assumed that everything Fairbanks has shared in reaction to RWW’s investigation is factual and accurately presented, it still does not prove her foundational claims of gunfire, targeting, or anti-fascist involvement.
RWW reached Jason Charter, an organizer and activist with an anti-fascist collective, All Out DC. When reached via phone on June 4, Charter said he was surprised to hear what Fairbanks alleged. Charter denied that any members of All Out DC were responsible for what Fairbanks alleged.
“All Out DC did not set off fireworks at Cassandra’s house,” Charter told RWW. “It is our belief that Cassandra is lying about the entire incident as she does with many of her so-called claims of anti-fascist violence.”
It is possible that Fairbanks genuinely believed that the fireworks detonated near her home were meant to target her for her inflammatory posts on Twitter. But Fairbanks took her claims a step further, using her belief of what happened that night to solicit thousands of dollars from her supporters and move to a new home.
Legal precedents show that deceptive fundraising on GoFundMe has resulted in criminal charges for perpetrators; Fairbanks and Levant, who started the fundraising page, could face similar consequences if either intentionally misled funders.
Right-Wing Audiences Are Primed to Believe Lies About ‘Antifa’
Conservative audiences have been exposed to years of alarmist propaganda vilifying anti-fascism causes and claiming that major Democratic politicians support violence and the destruction of property if it harms President Trump and his supporters. Fairbanks is a creator of such alarmist propaganda herself, but it remains unclear whether her latest accusation against antifa was wittingly created or if she has fallen for the same faulty assumptions enabling dangerous disinformation to spread in communities across the United States.
Fairbanks’ allegations arrived as President Donald Trump and his allies attempted to lay baseless blame for nationwide civil unrest in response to the police killing of Floyd at the feet of a tried-and-true boogeyman: anti-fascist activists. Right-wing media have tried and failed to substantiate claims that anti-fascists organized violence and destruction at protests in major cities, perpetuating internet hoaxes in multiple instances. Right-wing activists and politicians have also used the term to refer to not just anti-fascist activists, but reporters, politicians, and groups that are viewed as enemies of Trump.
Federal law enforcement agencies have been unable to produce evidence that anti-fascists are responsible for plotting violence and destruction at protests after the police killing of Floyd. As of last week, none of the people arrested and charged with federal crimes during the latest period of civil unrest have been linked to antifa. Rather, law enforcement has scooped up right-wing extremists who were allegedly plotting to harm and kill demonstrators and police.
Since demonstrations began after police killed Floyd, Fairbanks has published article after article to her site, District Herald, amplifying, attacking and mocking people who were filmed at protests destroying property or fighting. In one article posted, she described a Dallas man who was beaten after he threatened and charged protesters with a machete as the “victim of a heinous gang of rioters.” In another, Fairbanks stated white nationalist and anti-Semitic podcast Nicholas Fuentes was brave for interrupting a local news reporter covering protests by chanting “America First”—a slogan used by the white nationalist youth movement “groypers.”
The Gateway Pundit, which publishes Fairbanks’s posts as a contributor, is a prominent source of hysterical claims about antifa. Two years ago, The Gateway Pundit faced national scrutiny after it reported as straight news a joke tweet that stated “millions of antifa supersoldiers will behead all white parents and business owners in the town square.” The Gateway Pundit baselessly claimed the author of the tweet was “one of the leaders of the domestic terrorist group ANTIFA” and claimed that the tweet was proof of “anti-white racism.” After reporters pointed out that the tweet in question was obviously satirical, The Gateway Pundit doubled down, refusing to admit it had botched its reporting and instead continuing to argue how seriously the tweet should be taken in an update attached to its story.
Despite the lack of evidence that anti-fascists planned violence and property destruction at protests for George Floyd, conservative audiences have proven themselves eager to believe anything that supports what their political and media favorites are claiming about antifa. The Associated Press reported that at least five counties in the United States have experienced false antifa scares; NBC News reported that right-wing extremist groups have actively contributed to the hoaxes. Fox News continues to host network personality Laura Logan as an expert on anti-fascism, despite the fact she has repeatedly fallen for hoaxes related to antifa and reported them as fact. And armed white vigilantes have patrolled towns and cities across the country against baseless antifa threats.
Fairbanks has been tweeting happily about packing up for her move to a new home with money she received for her accusations against antifa, and on Monday, tweeted that she no longer lives in D.C.
Whether her initial fear of someone attacking her and her paranoia of antifa was genuine or not, Fairbanks’ claim that fireworks down the street were a targeted attack had her neighbors scratching their heads.
Fairbanks’ neighbor who lived across the road from her old Washington home gazed across the street after RWW told him about her claims and her fundraiser. He sighed.
“She’s full of shit, man.”