“It’s pretty nutty.” That was the conclusion drawn by many in the Grass Valley Charter School community when the school’s annual fundraiser was canceled over the reaction to a tweet. The tweet was posted by James Comey, of all people. Somehow a whole conspiracy theory developed around it. The small charter school in Northern California serving students from pre-K to eighth grade was thought to be the target of a terror plot.
It was the Blue Marble Jubilee (a great name), one of two annual fundraisers for the school, that was canceled over Comey’s tweet. He participated in the #FiveJobsIHad game going around on Twitter, a popular hashtag that’s drawn celebrities, politicians, and other public figures. Comey’s tweet was as you’d expect given his public engagement over the past year. The five jobs he listed included everything from a church wedding vocalist to a chemist to a union scab. Oh, and FBI director — “interrupted.” The tweet was a mix of run-of-the-mill jobs and victimhood.
#FiveJobsIveHad 1. Grocery store clerk
2. Vocal soloist for church weddings
4. Strike-replacement high school teacher
5. FBI Director, interrupted
— James Comey (@Comey) April 27, 2019
Liberals weighed in on one job in particular, the “Strike-replacement” teacher job. Comey was a scab. The replies included one from the President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten. “Why would you brag about being a scab?” Ouch.
— Molly Jong-Fast (@MollyJongFast) April 27, 2019
Then there was the reaction from a deep state conspiracy theorist. That person came up with an acronym from Comey’s five jobs that are the same as the five initials of the school’s foundation – Green Valley Charter School Foundation, or GVCSF. The theorist found letters in the hashtag (#FiveJobsIHad) to spell out “jihad” and posted them on social media. (I told you it was nutty.) The message spread among other conspiracy theorists. The former FBI director had leaked plans of a covert attack, they claimed. The school foundation’s president is embarrassed by the whole thing now.
“It’s quite difficult to talk about …. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s pretty nutty,” said Wendy Willoughby, the foundation’s president and one of the festival’s organizers on Tuesday, who said making the call to cancel the event left her “heartbroken.”
“We had a combination of followers trying to find if we were legitimate and others who follow this madness and were concerned. They felt we were being targeted by Comey and that they alerted us to the disastrous event that would befall the festival,” Willoughby said. “Many put up videos (or) went to photos on our website – there were photos of our children. It became very personal, very frightening.”
“In today’s world, based on recent events, regardless if it is debunked … it mobilizes unstable people to take action,” Willoughby continued. “How do you contend with a threat that you don’t even know is there?
Email traffic to the school increased and came from across the country as conspiracy theorists, like devotees of QAnon, spread the story. One conspiracy theory researcher in Southern California, Mike Rothschild, debunked the story as “incredibly poorly conceived”.
“This theory is so incredibly poorly conceived, it’s a wonder anyone believes it,” Rothschild said. “It’s just so much crap, but it taps into our need for secret knowledge. It’s why QAnon exists. It’s puzzling out the huge conspiracy in front of you. It sucks you in and it gets harder to separate fact from fiction.”
Rothschild says people’s belief in conspiracies is usually harmless, satisfying our need to find patterns, uncover secrets, connect the dots.
But the concocted plot against the foothill school event is “weird even for QAnon,” he said Wednesday. “It’s harassment. It’s a step down into the swamp. This feels like a real-world consequence.”
Rothschild went on to say that the people spreading this kind of information think they’re doing good but they are freaking people out over nothing. What they think are positive actions only make others’ lives more difficult. In this case, the school suffered from the cancellation of a major fundraiser. The foundation members are embarrassed and a money-making opportunity was missed, with the school having expected to make between $20,000 to $25,000. That’s a tidy sum for a small institution.
As is true in schools across the country, the parents are volunteers and trying to do the right thing for the students. Unfortunately, this time it was to cancel an event because of a silly Internet rumor.
“We are parent volunteers. We do this because we love our school,” Willoughby said of the festival. “We felt we did the right thing. As an individual, I say would put my shoulder to the grindstone and forge on. But as an organizer, I don’t think anyone would come to that decision.”
Maybe when the time comes for the next fundraiser, James Comey won’t participate in a game on Twitter.