On June 4 2020, Facebook user Sam Wood shared a photograph of a broken military bench (archived here), alongside a lengthy rant insinuating that the damage it showed took place during June 2020 protests over the death of George Floyd:
As of June 11 2020, Wood’s post was nearing 200,000 shares. Alongside three attached photographs, Wood complained about being called “racist,” and attributed the damaged memorials to Black Lives Matter protests:
You take a knee and even though it’s your right I don’t agree with the action I am racist.
You riot and loot and because I am against it I am a racist.
I say all lives matter and I am a racist.
You destroy monuments that have no meaning to you but to me they are sacred and you still think I am racist.
Well the hell with you and your MOVEMENTS. You don’t know shit about me or my fellow veterans.
ALL LIVES MATTER AND OUR FREEDOM IS SACRED. You play your bullshit games and twist shit to meet a bullshit agenda. You talk about sacrifice but have no clue what real sacrifice is. Men and women of the armed forces have been called on to defend a foreign land is that racist? Men and women of the armed forces have been called upon to defend other religions besides their own is that racist? Men and women of the armed forces have been called upon to defend people of another color is that racist? Called upon to defend freedom is that racist?
We been given shitty medical care, we been called names, yet we are the ones that protect and give you freedom, we give you safety and protect those that need protecting no matter what color, religion or nationality.
What do we get in return? Our monuments to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice destroyed. The places we gather to try and make sense of all this bullshit destroyed because of what? A bad man killed another man. Oh what that’s not an agenda. A BAD cop killed a man. Oh shit I am sorry let’s justify these pictures A BAD WHITE COP KILLED A BLACK MAN. There that justifies desiccating and destroying these monuments. BULLSHIT that doesn’t fly with me but hey I am a racist remember. The color of my skin made sure I never had a hardship in my GREAT WHITE PRIVILEGED LIFE.
Veterans get to watch some asshole that makes millions of dollars take a knee for some injustice he never experienced. We get to be told it’s not disrespectful to us it’s towards the meaning of bullshit political movement that THEY MAKE UP and OUR meaning and feelings are not taken seriously.
We get to watch some Asshole burn, shit on or step on the flag for some bullshit political protest and if we say we don’t agree with the flag that has given us a sense of brotherhood and has been draped over the coffins of our dead being desiccated we are told it’s not against us but some bullshit political made up meaning.
We get told by politicians that the freedom we swore to defend is not their definition of freedom. We are labeled as over the top, ptsd ridden or just disturbed.
YOU ALL NEED TO STRAIGHTEN YOUR SHIT UP BECAUSE IF YOU PUSH HARD ENOUGH VETERANS MAY HAVE A MOVEMENT AND TRUST ME THE SHIT WILL GET REAL.
Don’t think we are not watching and don’t think we will sit on the sidelines forever. We all made a decision, swore an oath and wrote the check and trust me we know the meaning and it is NOT SOME BULLSHIT POLITICAL AGENDA THAT IS MADE TO DIVIDE. We know what UNITY is. We know what sacrifice is and it has NOTHING TO DO WITH RACE, COLOR, NATIONALITY or POLITICS it has to do with BROTHERHOOD.
In the post, Wood claimed that “monuments to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice [were] destroyed, “because of what … [a] bad man killed another man … A BAD cop killed a man.” A number of commenters took the claims at face value, replying:
“This just breaks my heart for all the men & women who have fought for this country! This act was beyond disgusting & the people who did this should be prosecuted & pay to replace them! You know someone has video of it. That’s all this world does today. Record everything or just what fits your agenda????”
“I am fucking livid. Bunch of fucking punks . these people fought for these stupid ass people to do what. Act like a bunch of punk asses. Hang these bastards yes you heard me. My whole familyis military and this is a disgrace what they have done .”
“This racist is just an excuse to destroy how would they feel if we went to their house and threw a fire bombed through their window and shot everyone that come out. I would not be guilty because I was protesting my against racism your racism. Remember ONE THING VERY CLEAR. IF YOU DISH IT OUT YOU BETTER BE READY TO TAKE THE SAME BACK. Of course in the name of freedom. Don’t do onto others that you don’t want done yo you. PAY BACKS WILL REALLY BE A BITCH. GOD BLES AMERICA????????????????????????”
However, some commenters disputed the veracity of the images juxtaposed with the claim, primarily by linking to a June 10 2020 Pensacola News Journal article about that very Facebook post. That article reported that the images used were from a completely unrelated story of theirs from 2014, and that the memorial was actually damaged in 2012:
A photo that appeared in a Pensacola News Journal story published in 2014 resurfaced over the weekend in viral social media posts that incorrectly suggested a Pensacola military memorial was vandalized during the George Floyd protests.
A file photo that ran with the story in 2014 shows a Marine Corps commemorative bench at Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola that was damaged in June 2012. The Vietnam Veterans Legacy Motorcycle Club paid $1,000 for a new bench, which was installed a few months later.
Over the weekend, a mash-up photo of the Marine Corps bench broken into two pieces and a vandalized memorial wall in Philadelphia’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial covered in graffiti, along with the words “f—ing scum bags,” made the rounds online. The Philadelphia photo was taken in 2016 after several star medallions were allegedly stolen from the memorial.
Subsequently, the outlet noted “Facebook has since added a disclaimer to the post marking it as ‘false information.'” Wood’s post bore no such flag, and continued spreading on Facebook as of June 11 2020 — without a “false information” marker.
The Pensacola News Journal contacted Veteran Marine Corps helicopter pilot Dan Lindemann, who was originally quoted in their 2014 reporting. Lindemann described the fallacious claims as “disgusting,” and lamented their use to incite and inflame racial divisions:
“It’s extremely disturbing … It’s absolutely disgusting to think that anyone would publish anything like that just to incite hatred. It boggles my mind, I don’t know what kind of sick puppy would think about doing this. I will never understand why anyone would distort the truth to create social unrest.”
Finally, Lindemann explained that the bench was not ever vandalized in the first place. In fact, he confirmed that the original damage was sustained “as a result of a lawn mowing accident.”
In short, the post claiming a military memorial in Pensacola was vandalized during protests over the death of George Floyd was a flat-out lie. The bench was broken in a 2012 lawn mowing accident, and images from a six-year-old regional article were swiped to (successfully) incite and inflame divisions on Facebook. Facebook purportedly flagged some of the posts, but not the one nearing on a quarter of a million shares.