Dueling protests became dueling narratives in Portland, Oregon on June 29 2019 when clashes erupted between Proud Boys attendees and anti-fascist demonstrators, quickly devolving into rumors that milkshakes thrown at one person contained one or more damaging or caustic substances — including quick-dry concrete, quicklime, and caustic chemicals.
Rumors to that effect were spread by the verified Portland Police account as protests continued:
According to that tweet, police in Portland “received information” that some of the milkshakes thrown contained “quick-drying cement.” Approximately half an hour later, video game blogger Ian Miles Cheong tweeted without citation or evidence that the milkshakes contained “quicklime” in addition to “concrete mix,” and that they would “produce chemical burns in addition to being heavy”:
Claims of concrete in milkshakes solidified, as it were, after Quillette writer Andy Ngo was pelted with a milkshake. The day before the Portland protests, Ngo tweeted a claim that he was concerned for his safety ahead of the rallies:
Just before 12:30 PM local time, Ngo shared a photograph to Twitter depicting a backpack with what was presumably milkshake spattered on it:
Ngo also retweeted a reporter’s tweet about the purported clash:
As is often the case, the quickly moving story became embellished with claims supported by stock images (not photographs of injuries sustained at the rally). One popular tweet used a 2011 photograph stolen from DeviantArt to claim that attendees sustained chemical burns from adulterants in the milkshakes:
On June 30 2019, people on Twitter continued to ask @PortlandPolice to substantiate the rumors they spread about concrete in milkshakes as reporters filed information requests. A spokesperson for that account responded to questions, but failed to corroborate the claims that the account spread:
As reporter Katie Shepherd noted, an email shared by the Portland police as evidence of concrete in milkshakes was received after their tweet was sent — not before:
Additionally, users pointed out that the thrown milkshakes were clearly liquid, defeating the point of “concrete” in the first place, and that even a small amount of sugar (an important ingredient in milkshakes, even vegan ones) disrupts the process of cement or concrete drying to the point that it is well known as an inhibitor.
Logistically, thrown milkshakes were either liquid (rendering concrete a pointless addition) or solid, the aims of which could be easily achieved by throwing rocks or bricks instead:
By July 1 2019, no one had appeared with any concrete-related injuries relating to milkshakes, either by ingesting them or being pelted by them. Nevertheless, news articles from that same day bore headlines like “Protestors threw milkshakes containing ‘quick-drying cement’ as far-left and far-right groups clashed in Portland, according to police.”
Inaccurate claims spread during clashes in Portland are not the first time milkshaking-related disinformation has been spread in smear form, nor is it the first time such rumors were reported as news by multiple news organizations. Although tweets claiming that Portland police had confirmed that milkshakes at the rallies contained quick-dry cement, quicklime, or other caustic chemicals accrued tens of thousands of shares, those rumors were false and unfounded.