The Truth About ‘The Truth About’ Memes

This week, protests erupted around the nation after a Louisville grand jury did not charge any police officers in the killing of Breonna Taylor. And on social media, false and exaggerated claims about Ms. Taylor began recirculating, using a years-old format that was popularized years ago by far-right YouTube personalities.

Charlie Kirk, the right-wing founder of Turning Point USA, posted a video titled “The Truth About Breonna Taylor,” which was among the most shared Facebook posts about Ms. Taylor on Wednesday, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned data platform.

Graham Allen, Candace Owens and Brandon Tatum, three other right-wing commentators, also had popular posts calling attention to “the truth about” Ms. Taylor’s killing.

This playbook is not new. Years ago, Stefan Molyneux, a right-wing podcaster and YouTube personality, got millions of views with a series of videos claiming to tell “the truth about” various prominent news stories, including the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man whose killing by police in Ferguson, Mo., set off the original Black Lives Matter protests.

The “Truth About” format, which promised a kind of secret knowledge to viewers, was appealing to those who distrusted the mainstream media and wanted to hear an alternative explanation for police violence. And it was ultimately mimicked by other right-wing influencers, including the far-right conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, whose videos include “The Truth About Black Lives Matter,” “The Truth About Oprah” and “The Truth About Modern Art.”


Most “Truth About” treatments of police killings follow a standard format. In each case, an influencer calls into question the mainstream media’s framing of the episode, and barrages the audience with details about the victims’ pasts and the circumstances of their deaths in an attempt to prove that, while they may not have deserved to die, they were far from innocent. (Mr. Molyneux, who eventually became a full-fledged white nationalist, has since been banned from YouTube for promoting hate speech, and the videos on his channel have been deleted.)

Like Mr. Molyneux’s videos half a decade ago, the “Truth About Breonna Taylor” content going viral on social media this week contains a mixture of truths, half-truths, exaggerations, red herrings and outright falsehoods.

Mr. Tatum’s Instagram post, for example, claims that Ms. Taylor was “terminated” as an E.M.T. in 2017. This is false. In reality, she quit that job, frustrated by the long hours and low pay.

Mr. Tatum also claims that Ms. Taylor was “knee deep in criminal/drug dealing activities” with her ex-boyfriend. This claim is exaggerated at best. Ms. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, was a convicted drug dealer and had been in and out of jail during the four years that they dated, but it’s unclear if Ms. Taylor was involved in his criminal activity. In 2016, she was interrogated alongside him by police officers after she rented a car, lent it to Mr. Glover and he in turn handed the keys to another suspected drug dealer, who was found dead in the car hours later. But police then concluded that Ms. Taylor had no foreknowledge of how the rental car would be used, and she had no criminal convictions of her own.

In his “The Truth About Breonna Taylor” video, Mr. Kirk claims that Louisville police had a “no-knock warrant to go arrest Breonna Taylor.” This is false. Police had a search warrant for her apartment, not an arrest warrant.

Left-wing sources have also spread false information about Ms. Taylor’s death, such as the claim that she was “asleep in bed” at the time of her death. (She was in the hallway with Mr. Walker walking toward the front door, according to his account to investigators, having been woken up by the loud knocks on her door.)

But the right-wing misinformation is more ambitious, in that it seeks to reframe the Black Lives Matter movement entirely, drawing attention away from police officers’ actions and onto the personal lives of Ms. Taylor and other victims of police shootings. In this, it is similar to Mr. Molyneux’s videos, which sought to justify the killings of unarmed Black men by painting them as criminals whose actions played a role in their own deaths.

“This is a case that comes down to personal responsibility,” Ms. Owens said of Ms. Taylor’s killing, in a video posted Wednesday that got more than a million views on Facebook.

Rukmini Callimachi contributed reporting.