On May 1, 2017 tragedy struck my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. A student named Kendrex White apparently snapped, went to campus, and stabbed 4 people. Three victims survived, and one student, Harrison Brown of Graham, TX, died. He hadn’t yet declared a major, and judging from the comments of his friends and a circulating youtube video, he was a great guy with a wonderful singing voice.
The sadness and disgusting event itself was disgusting. Given the fact that this happened in my city right at a college campus that I love and remember fondly, I found myself captivated by the question of why this happened.
Given that I went to school there, my own social media feed is pretty tightly intertwined with the college. So, I saw tweets and social media posts about the attack as it was happening.
Details are murky when an attack is going on. Initially, speculation ran rampant that the attack was linked to recent graffiti and statements aimed at Greek fraternities on campus. The language there is disturbing, and given the fact that at least one of the victims was known to be a fraternity member, it seemed fairly reasonable at the time. However, as things unfurled, the idea didn’t hold up.
That didn’t stop the right wing echo chamber from firing up to use this to further their agenda. Immediately, tweets and social media posts started alluding to the fact that this attack couldn’t have happened if it wasn’t a gun free zone. The only problem with that statement is that Texas has a campus carry law. The University of Texas, by law, allows the concealed carry of a handgun (with concealed carry permit), with the exception of bars, areas where children frequent, single occupancy offices, and labs with hazardous materials.
After that argument failed, the right wing Twitter trolls took a different approach. They started spreading rumors that a student with a concealed handgun license threatened the attacker with his gun and forced him to run away and the police then caught him. This, again was debunked as the police, in their press conference, said that there was no evidence to support that. There are some statements circulating that say there was a plainclothes officer involved, and that may be the kernel of truth to those rumors, but using those rumors to further this claim is disgusting, especially given the fact that at this point this narrative has taken on a life of its own. It’s out there, and to a large portion of the country, it is factually what happened, even though it isn’t.
The next thing the alt-right chose to focus on was race. The claim was made that the black attacker targeted white people in a hate crime. What we know is that there were three white victims and one Asian. The alt-right internet trolls chose to seize on this and decided that this person was a Black Lives Matter activist who was an Antifa member targeting white fraternity members in a hate crime.
Reviewing Kendrex White’s Twitter feed, which I won’t link, shows that he was probably much like his friends describe him, a Christian, positive, smart guy. He likes hip hop music, smokes marijuana, and studies often. They say he’s smart, and funny, and normal. In fact, if you look at Snapchat and Twitter posts from that morning, he was posting positive things right up to the time when he went to campus and attacked people.
Police say he’s recently been involuntarily committed, and seems to be suffering from some sort of mental illness, for a few reasons that they have as yet chosen not to elaborate on. Again, according to the police who arrested him, the attacker is not a member of a group or coordinated attack, and he is a disturbed person who did something awful.
The way the alt-right has sprung into action to troll over this and spread misinformation is unfortunate. There are pockets of the country where the way this happened is not the actual way this happened. The death of a young person with a bright future is being twisted into a political narrative. The last thing the family deserves at this time is to have a circus going on around this tragedy.
It is all encapsulated by the completely unfounded and false headline that I read which went something like, Trump supporting UT student stabbed by Antifa thug in hate crime and stopped by concealed handgun carrying student. Reviewing Harrison Brown’s Twitter, which I also won’t link out of respect for privacy, shows little mention of politics. A few times last year during the primary season he tweeted about Bernie Sanders. A few times this year he tweeted less than positive things about Donald Trump. Honestly, there is little there to derive any knowledge about any party affiliation that he might have had, and it shouldn’t matter. The rest of the headline, about the concealed handgun and the affiliation with Antifa, has been debunked by the police. Unfortunately, this misinformation is everywhere now.
Another key claim is that, “the left” is coddling the attacker by pointing out that this is more likely the violent act of a disturbed person than the act of someone racially motivated. That also isn’t true. It doesn’t remove responsibility from someone if you think their actions are more likely due to them being a disturbed person. The truth is that we can’t know the motivations of Kendrex White now or maybe ever. It will all depend on the information that the police get from him in the coming days.
I won’t link or provide pictures of any of the false articles that are being spread, but they’re on popular right wing blogs. Google searches would reveal that they are many and loud enough that searching for this attack will yield as much false information as factual. I even spotted bot swarms pushing articles with a false narrative.
Two days later, when I think about the horrible events, I’m still baffled. I’m sad that it happened to someone who seemed to be so loved, and I’m also sad that so many lies have been spread about the incident to further a narrative. It shouldn’t be this way. I saw the rumors spin up in real time. I saw the false narrative take root. There is so much falsehood out there about this event.
Here are links for a few Gofundme fundraisers for two of the victims:
If this attack prompts you to any action, try helping these people out with their expenses related to this tragedy.