Daily Beast Exposes Racist Alt-Right Conspiracy Theory About Fort Lauderdale Shooter
Right-Wing Fringe Falsely Accused CNN Of Doctoring Photo Of Shooting Suspect To Make Him Look More White
Daily Beast exposed how fake news purveyors pushed a race baiting alt-right conspiracy theory about accused Ft Lauderdale shooter, Esteban Santiago, which alleged that CNN doctored a photo of Santiago. In reality, CNN has not shown a picture of Santiago, and right-wing media outlets that ran with the racist conspiracy theory, namely Gateway Pundit, have had to repudiate their own false claims.
Santiago is accused of opening fire at the Fort Lauderdale airport on January 6, killing five people and injuring multiple others. Santiago was apprehended at the scene and is currently being interviewed to determine the motive of the shooting.
The Daily Beast detailed how “alt-right” fringe sites like InfoWars and Gateway Pundit falsely claimed CNN published a doctored photo of Santiago that made the person in the picture appear to be lighter in complexion “to make the suspect look more white.” The article  noted that “in reality, CNN had yet to air a picture of Santiago, let alone lightened a picture of him.” Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft wrote up the story and linked to “alt-right Twitter accounts,” before being forced to admit the mistake and retracting the post:
Far rightwing figureheads immediately invented an elaborate and racist conspiracy theory that CNN had lightened a photo of alleged Fort Lauderdale airport shooter Esteban Santiago shortly after the Friday attack.
In reality, CNN had yet to air a picture of Santiago, let alone lightened a picture of him. The conspiracy also used a picture of an entirely different man named Esteban Santiago—not the alleged shooter.
Still, writers at websites like InfoWars and Gateway Pundit tweeted about CNN’s nonexistent Photoshop job. Former Republican Florida Congressman Allen West, who represented Fort Lauderdale itself, even tweeted about the conspiracy and linked to an article about it on his own website.
Alt-right Twitter accounts appear to have helped create the confusion. After media personality Tariq Nasheed tweeted, “there are reports that the identity of one of the Ft. Lauderdale shooting suspects is a white Hispanic named Esteban Santiago,” verified alt-right Twitter user @BakedAlaska tweeted a screenshot of Nasheed’s tweet, along with a picture of the wrong Santiago.
Hoft’s story links to a tweet by the user @alphakangz, whose account has only existed since November.
“UNDOCTORED PHOTO vs. photo @CNN USED PHOTO of Esteban Santiago, the alleged FLL airport shooter #FortLauderdale pray for the victims,” the account tweeted.
Minutes later, a copy of the lightened photo of the 39-year-old Santiago, falsely claiming CNN attribution, appeared on Watson’s Twitter feed.
Update 6:31 p.m.: Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft emailed The Daily Beast about an hour after this story's initial publication.
"I pulled the post," he said.
"UPDATE — THIS MAY BE A DIFFERENT ESTEBAN SANTIAGO," the story now reads.
The Daily Beast reached out to both Watson for comment. His tweet is still visible on his account.
The ecosystem of fake news and the alt-right, dubbed the ‘Misinformer of the Year ,’ continues to evolve and expand. Media Matters has created a glossary  to help understand what fake news is and the ecosystem underpinning the phenomenon. Episodes like Pizzagate show how social media platforms like Facebook help to empower total lies , and conservative media outlets like Gateway Pundit help to mainstream these lies.