Gavin McInnes, the Canadian founder of the Proud Boys extremist group, was streaming an episode of his podcast last week when it happened. He paused his program, looked off camera, and asked: "We're shooting a show. Can we do this another time?" He stepped out of frame and away from his microphone, but the faint chirps of a radio could be heard through the dead air.
Speculation on Twitter ran rampant. Was Gavin McInnes arrested?
A comedian with a show on McInnes' platform said the hatemonger was "rotting away in jail." A press release purporting to be from his company was passed around on Telegram. It stated McInnes was arrested "under Federal warrant." Proud Boys chapters spread links to articles detailing what had appeared to happen. Right-wing pundits like Tim Pool ran with the claims. Partisan junk blog the Post Millennial stated plainly in an article: "Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes was arrested."
Some higher-profile people who regularly criticize the far-right on social media let their guesses rip. Among the prevailing theories, I saw some folks spit-balling along these lines:
Had Alex Jones' cell phone data, surfaced in a recent defamation trial, produced evidence to charge McInnes with a crime?
Did the Proud Boys' involvement in January 6 get the group's founder arrested?
Was this all just a stunt for McInnes' show?
Something something... DARK BRANDON!
But the story would soon fall apart, bit by anti-climactic bit.
Enterprising journalists called around hoping to corroborate what allegedly happen, but all of them I saw chasing for facts came up empty handed. No law enforcement agency said they arrested McInnes. A VICE reporter tweeted that a Proud Boys source told him McInnes had been posting in "a number of closed PB Telegram groups" the morning after. Over the weekend, a couple Proud Boys chapters posted a video clip with McInnes' face imposed on the music video for "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley--a dated homage to Rick Rolling pranks. Then, racist and anti-Semitic comedian Owen Benjamin posted text messages on Instagram he said showed McInnes admitting his arrest was a prank.
"Don't tell," McInnes allegedly wrote to Benjamin. (I should note here that Proud Boys chapters and Benjamin are not credible sources on their own.)
I will admit that I also wondered about the "arrest" when I initially saw the video. Though I did not participate in the hot-take churn that followed online, I'm still reminded of a hard truth: liars often lie. There are few reasons to believe this happened the way McInnes was apparently able to convince some--particularly his media allies at junk news sites--to think it did.
I did some light digging and found that McInnes hadn't managed to convince even his biggest fans. In a Reddit community dedicated to his streaming platform, fans doubted the "arrest" in the hours after it supposedly occurred. These aren't folks I'd ever describe as astute, but I do think it's interesting to see what trigged their skepticism. Here are a few standout points from a thread arguing the "arrest" was a joke:
"3. Gavin makes extra clear, more than usual, at the top of the show that this is LIVE, (where he just so happens to be wearing a shirt that just says '[website name]', by the way).
4. The ad read is the first thing they do (to get it out of the way for their contract), and then it just so happens that right as the ad read ends, the 'feds' show up.
8. Also on the call with Matty [Jamboree] last week, after saying he would be there next Thursday, Matty asked Gavin 'well, I don't know, are you gonna be around next week?', to which Gavin replied 'no, I'm...' before stopping himself and saying 'well, we'll see.'
To further support this, Elijah Schaffer and Josh Denny who both tweeted about the 'swatting', both linked to the Dallas tickets page and mentioned [McInnes' upcoming] tour, which doesn't seem like a top priority if the headlining guy is currently 'rotting away in jail'."
The top reply on that thread?
"I can't believe people are falling for this again."
Longtime researchers of McInnes seem to have spotted this one correctly from the get-go. Samantha Kutner called bullshit immediately. Juliet Jeske, who has watched more of McInnes' show than any human should, had this to say:
With every day that has since passed, it has become less realistic to believe that McInnes was arrested during a taping of his show. It is unthinkable that such a notable hate figure could be scooped up in an on-camera cop encounter and that so many days would pass without a single new detail emerging about what happened. There's no mug shot. No records. There's only the claim of a liar and his lying associates.
There's a lesson in all of this, even if some might not want to hear it. But hey, don't arrest me; I'm just the messenger.
(Update: A prior version of this post contained a short quip about a fan's allegation there was "jump-cut" in the footage of McInnes' supposed arrest. It has been removed.)