If you followed any Twittering about the recent Michigan state Capitol protests, you probably knew him as Rob Cantrell. He was in the famous picture that purported to show him, mask-less, screaming in a police officer’s face.
“Meet Rob Cantrell who lives in Los Angeles,” a tweet from one popular liberal social media personality claimed. “Rob is a white supremacist who is being paid to attend protests in blue states all over the country. This #Deplorable is the face of the Republican Party.”
He was also, per the user’s hashtags, a reason that #RepublicansAreKillingUs and a member of the #COVIDIOTS.
Meet Rob Cantrell who lives in Los Angeles. Rob is a white supremacist who is being paid to attend protests in blue states all over the country. This #Deplorable is the face of the Republican Party#RepublicansAreKillingUs #COVIDIOTS#RobCantrell pic.twitter.com/Z4f6W4XOXs
— Stone (@stonecold2050) May 3, 2020
Others made the same claim about the protester’s identity.
Let’s talk about the now famous image of the man shouting past Police Officers in Michigan (below). The man featured is not an authentic Michigan protester…. he is a white supremacist from LA.
Google “Rob Cantrell Proud Boys”, and you’ll find more images of him. pic.twitter.com/H0XemJDgyY
— Leisa Conrad (@winemom1) May 3, 2020
Except that’s not Rob Cantrell. He’s not a white supremacist. And when the Detroit Free Press tracked him down, the politically independent 52-year-old flooring installer was very high.
A marijuana activist who voted for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and Donald Trump in the general election, Brian Cash confirmed that’s him in the now-famous photo taken by Jeff Kowalsky of Agence France-Presse.
Cash, who lives in New Hudson, Michigan, said he looked up Cantrell and thought he was a “racist.”
He went on to say that the photo was misleading in another way: He wasn’t yelling at the officers in the foreground of the picture, but instead one positioned right behind them. That officer, according to Cash, was involved in a controversial removal of three women from the audience area of the Capitol on April 29.
“I didn’t scream in anybody’s face,” he said.
“I was there chanting, ‘Let us in,’ and I saw that guy and I just, I just kind of lost it a little bit,” Cash said of the photo, which was taken the next day. He said he was asking that officer “if he wanted to try to throw me around like he did that girl yesterday.”
Whatever the situation was, Cash quickly found himself the subject of massive invective.
One social media user wrote: “These are the same people who tell you to ‘respect the police.'”
“Would officers show this much restraint if black men were yelling in their faces?” another said.
In response, Cash said that “anybody of any color should have the right to do what I did.”
The protest, whatever your feelings on it, has been a galvanizing moment in the current political environment. It’s been used as a sort of poster child for how the protests are an out-of-control dark circus of the worst elements of the extreme right wing.
“Displays like the one that we saw at our Capitol is not representative of who we are in Michigan,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said of the protests in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“There were swastikas and Confederate flags and nooses and people with assault rifles,” she said.
“We have to listen to the epidemiologist and health experts and displays like the one we saw at our capitol is not representative of who we are.” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reacts to protesters descending on her state’s capitol, including some who were armed. #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/lfPgGnpkGC
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) May 3, 2020
White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, meanwhile, said the protests were dangerous.
“It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a comorbid condition and they have a serious or a very unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives,” Birx said on Fox News. “So we need to protect each other at the same time we’re voicing our discontent.”
Granted, Cash isn’t your guy for that.
Is he concerned about the virus? “Not at all,” he told the Free Press. He said he never wears a mask.
He’s one of those who believe the Chinese government actively released the virus from a lab (sigh) and doesn’t mind going out because people are going out to pharmacies and gas stations anyway, which makes him wonder “what is the point of staying at home?”
He also never voted in an election before 2016, “Because f— the government, you know?”
He thinks the media “twists everything,” at least in regard to painting the protesters as far-right hoodlums. He says he wasn’t even armed at the protest.
He’s also a very big fan of a certain intoxicant, having conducted the interview high on pot.
“If I’m awake, I’m high,” Cash said. “But I’m not high; I’m normal.”
All right, then. This probably isn’t your set of beliefs or values, but it’s protected under Michigan law and the First Amendment.
It’s also clear this is something the government in Michigan is going to have to get used to if it keeps on extending a stay-at-home order that’s among the nation’s most restrictive.
If he was yelling at someone behind him, the photo — galvanizing though it may be — is spatially misleading. Sans video evidence, it’s difficult to tell either way.
Cash isn’t particularly concerned about it, mind you. “I love it. It’s great,” he said of the attention, saying people have “their right to disagree and call me names.”
One thing’s for certain, though: The guy isn’t who they thought he was.
Many on Twitter ran with this without bothering to fact check whether the protester was a member of the professional racist class, as they characterized him. When it turned out it was someone else, uh, whoops?
I suppose it’s good that they hit upon someone too mellow to care whether you spew your invective upon him, but calling someone a white supremacist without definitive info is pretty reprehensible and irresponsible in the whole scheme of things.
Keep in mind some of the people who put this out inexplicably have large social media followings. This didn’t just go out into a vacuum. There’s a whole subset of political Twitter that thinks this guy is a professional white supremacist hired by someone to attend these protests.
You might not agree with what he has to say, but Cash’s background is clearly fake news. He deserves an apology.
The good news is that he’ll probably forget this ever happened by tomorrow.
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