CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — An online crowdsourcing campaign is underway to identify demonstrators who attended white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
The campaign, led by a Twitter account, @YesYoureRacist, asks people on social media to identify white nationalists who appear in news photos of “Unite the Right” rallies. It’s been credited with outing a University of Nevada student, who acknowledges attending a rally in Charlottesville Friday night but maintains he is not a racist.
“I did not expect the photo to be shared as much as it was. I understand the photo has a very negative connotation,” Peter Cvjetanovic told CNN affiliate KTVN. “But I hope that the people sharing the photo are willing to listen that I’m not the angry racist they see in that photo.”
The @YesYoureRacist account began tweeting pictures of demonstrators on Saturday, asking, “If you recognize any of the Nazis marching in #Charlottesville, send me their names/profiles and I’ll make them famous.”
Social media users have been identifying demonstrators and tweeting their names to the account. @YesYoureRacist then tries to corroborate the names with pictures from demonstrators’ social media accounts.
Logan Smith, who runs the @YesYoureRacist account, told CNN he’s been overwhelmed by the response and the number of people willing to help. The account’s Twitter following swelled from 65,000 followers before the weekend to more than 300,000 followers by Monday afternoon.
Smith, who works for Progress North Carolina, a left-leaning nonprofit, says he runs the account in his spare time and first set it up in 2012.
“It originated as basically almost kind of a comedy account where I would search for people tweeting the phrase, “I’m not racist but,” and then would go on to say something completely racist,” he told CNN on Monday.
“As the years have gone on the mission has kind of evolved somewhat,” added Smith, whose employer is not affiliated with the Twitter account. “I think the situation with race in America has deteriorated, especially with the election of Donald Trump.”
Nevada student in spotlight
One of those identified in Charlottesville as a result of Smith’s efforts was Cvjetanovic, 20, a student at the University of Nevada in Reno.
In an interview with CNN affiliate KTVN, Cvjetanovic acknowledged he attended the rally to protest the city’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
“I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture,” Cvjetanovic said. “It is not perfect. There are flaws to it, of course. However I do believe that the replacement of the statue will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland. Robert E Lee is a great example of that. He wasn’t a perfect man, but I want to honor and respect what he stood for during his time.”
In a statement, the University of Nevada acknowledged that one of its students had been identified as one of the “Unite the Right” marchers, although the school didn’t name the student.
“Racism and white supremacist movements have a corrosive effect on our society. These movements do not represent our values as a university,” the university’s president Marc A. Johnson said in the statement.
Cvjetanovic told KRNV, another CNN affiliate, that he had received multiple death threats since being identified online. He condemned the man who drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville Saturday, killing a woman.
“It was a huge tragedy,” he told KRNV upon returning to Reno from Virginia. I didn’t go to see anyone hurt, and especially anyone killed.”
Cvjetanovic maintained that people like himself just want to preserve their culture and bear no ill will towards minority groups.
A photo appearing to show Cvjetanovic posing in a small group of people with US Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada, also is being shared widely online. Heller responded to the undated photo Saturday on Twitter, saying, “I don’t know this person & condemn the outrageous racism, hatred and violence. It’s unacceptable & shameful. No room for it in this country.”
‘These are your neighbors’
In the online rush to name white nationalists in Charlottesville, some mistakes were made.
Kyle Quinn, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, was falsely identified by Internet sleuths as one of the people carrying torches at Friday’s rally in Charlottesville.
Quinn took to Twitter to say he was in Arkansas on Friday night when the rally was taking place. The University of Arkansas also said it had verified that Quinn was not at the protest.
Quinn was not misidentified on Smith’s @YesYoureRacist account, but Smith had to issue a correction after misidentifying another demonstrator.
Publishing another person’s private information, such as a Social Security number or home address, is a violation of Twitter’s rules. But the rules do not appear to apply to individuals’ names, according to the social media platform’s policy page.
In his interview with CNN Smith defended his efforts to identify the Charlottesville demonstrators.
“I started seeing all of these photos from the torch march on Friday night and then the tragic events of Saturday. What struck me most was that these people aren’t afraid anymore. They are not hiding behind their hoods,” he said.
“If they are that proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with KKK members and neo-Nazis, I think they should be out there in the open and have their names known. These are not just random faces in an angry crowd. These are your neighbors, your co-workers, maybe even your friends.”
Smith said he was sorry to hear that Cvjetanovic has received death threats and added that he and his family were also the target of death threats over the weekend.