(JTA) — A Los Angeles synagogue found itself having to deny misinformation about the George Floyd protests after a rumor spread — and was briefly amplified by the White House — that its security barriers were actually tools for looters.
Chabad of Sherman Oaks installed vertical barriers filled with rocks last year in a move aimed at increasing security. The barriers, called bollards, are meant to stop people from ramming vehicles into people and buildings.
But when unrest moved through Los Angeles this week, so did rumors that the rocks were actually planted to provide supplies for looters. Even after the synagogue dismantled the barriers and rebutted the rumors, the White House amplified the misinformation in a video that it tweeted and deleted Wednesday afternoon.
The Orthodox synagogue had already put out a plea for calm on its Facebook page Tuesday.
“To all our concerned neighbors and friends, there were false pictures and videos going around today, claiming some bricks or rocks were placed at our center,” it wrote. “Here is the truth: THESE ARE SECURITY BARRIERS and have been here for almost a year!”
Still, it announced it would remove the bollards to alleviate concerns. On Wednesday, the synagogue had plywood in its windows and no security barriers in place.
“It’s quiet, it’s pleasant, it’s peaceful, the police are here,” Rabbi Menachem M. Lipskier told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He repeatedly said he did not want to comment further, and that he was not aware of the White House posting and deleting the video.
The post, Lipskier added, “was mostly for the neighbors. Many neighbors asked questions, so we posted to clarify, and that’s it.”
Many people who commented on the post thanked the Chabad center for correcting the record.
But in a sign of how deeply misinformation can take root, others said they didn’t believe the explanation. “No try again this is a set up and planned all across at all of the big cities,” one person wrote.
And as with any rumor that takes hold online, the rebuttal didn’t stop its spread. This afternoon, it reached the White House, which shared a video featuring the bollards in a post claiming that “antifa and professional anarchists” are instigating violence in the nationwide protests that have erupted in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. President Trump has said he believes left-wing agitators are behind the violence; federal prosecutors announced charges Wednesday against three men with ties to right-wing groups for planning to instigate violence.
The White House deleted the video from its Facebook and Twitter pages Wednesday afternoon, several hours after Arieh Kovler, a Buzzfeed News reporter who has written about misinformation about building supplies being plants by looters, called attention to it.
Kovler’s screenshot of the White House tweet indicates that 6,200 people had “liked” it an hour after it went up. Chabad of Sherman Oaks’ clarifying post, in contrast, elicited just 143 reactions, not all likes, in more than two days.