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UA professor misidentified as white supremacist, 'shocked' by social media response

By Emma Pettit

This article was originally published August 15, 2017 at 8:03 a.m. Updated August 16, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

torch-bearing-white-nationalists-gather-around-a-statue-of-robert-e-lee-during-a-demonstration-friday-night-in-charlottesville-va

Torch-bearing white nationalists gather around a statue of Robert E. Lee during a demonstration Friday night in Charlottesville, Va.

Kyle P. Quinn

University of Arkansas assistant professor Kyle P. Quinn hasn’t slept in his own bed in three days. Not since a web-sleuth posted his home address online and strangers began clamoring for his resignation — all because he was wrongly identified, and a social media mob quickly condemned him.

As a white pride rally in Charlottesville, Va., spurred a slog of violence Friday night into the weekend, including a death of a 32-year-old woman, social media became the next battlefield. Enraged anti-racists took to Twitter to bash the bigots shown in photographs at the rally, and Quinn got caught in the fray.

Quinn, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, runs a university lab that works to understand abnormalities in the “wound healing process,” and is not, as hundreds of social-media users assumed, a white supremacist.

[GALLERY: Read 60+ emails sent to professor's email after he was misidentified]

But in the aftermath of the Virginia violence, online accounts began posting cropped photos of the men who attended the Unite the Right rally and asking users to identify them. Among those photos was one showing a brown-haired white man with glasses who touted a torch and wore a red University of Arkansas College of Engineering T-shirt.

A Twitter account called “Yes, You’re Racist,” which boasts more than 350,000 followers, shared the picture and captioned it, “Any Arkansas Engineering folks recognize this guy? Must be awfully proud of his school to represent it at a Klan rally...”

Social media answered, wrongly, with a yell.

Internet sleuths shared side-by-side photos of the torch-wielding man next to Quinn’s headshot from the University’s website, saying this was their guy. The two bear some resemblance, but the man at the rally is someone else.

Users also shared side-by-side photos of the engineering T-shirt man and Billy Roper, a brown-haired, bespectacled white supremacist from Russellville. After first telling hoards of angry people it was him in the photo, Roper wrote on his blog that he had lied to mess with “leftists.” He then commended rally-goers for their “acts of courage and manly self-defense."

Quinn, who was at home in Fayettevillle on the couch with his wife, got a call from Amy Schlesing, UA's director of strategic communications. She told him she was sorry she was about to ruin his weekend, Quinn said in an interview Monday.

The professor learned he’d been misidentified and that social media users were amassing an army through tweets and retweets.

“I thought it was ridiculous and I was shocked, but I didn’t really understand what was about to happen and the kind of emails and phone calls and posting online that I was about to get,” Quinn said.

Dozens of emails, tweets and phone calls poured in from fuming strangers. A petition posted on Change.org called for Quinn’s resignation. It's since been taken down.

“I checked my messages once, and then I knew I didn’t want to check my messages anymore,” Quinn said.

The threats he was getting, while not explicitly violent, were certainly full of vitriol.

“No one said, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ but basically, ‘I hope you choke on your white racism,’” something along those lines,” Quinn said.

Schlesing said in a phone interview Tuesday that once the university verified Quinn did not attend the rally, they started to reinforce the same, clear correction. They flagged the misinformation and reported any threatening message.

Still, news gathers steam on social media within seconds and is almost “impossible to stop,” she said. The university was inundated with emails filled with unprintable curses.

Schlesing, who noted she covered the Iraq and Afghanistan wars while at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, called the emails "some of the worst language I've ever seen."

“It’s still going on. It’s not over,” Schlesing said.

Acquaintances Quinn hadn’t seen in two decades reached out to ask what was going on, he said. One man with whom Quinn went to high school was unaware he became a professor. The man couldn’t believe the misidentification took off online, he told Quinn, because the photo didn't look like him.

On Saturday, Quinn and his wife stayed hunkered down at home, he said. They tried to do a little yard work but were mostly on the phone with the University’s communications people and campus police. Then, Quinn said, someone posted their home address online.

They shipped off to a friend’s house for the night and then left for Quinn’s parents’ home outside Arkansas borders the next day. His wife, and others in his life, are horrified and angry about the online hate that’s poured in, he said. Quinn said he’s upset as well, though he tends to be pretty even-keeled.

“You kind of have to be in this job,” he said. “You’re constantly getting rejections from grants or paper revisions. Having misunderstandings is part of the job. I think that probably helps prepare someone a little bit.”

To quell the misplaced outrage, the University issued a statement and got some of the comparison photos taken down, Quinn said. He defended himself on Twitter, saying whoever wore the shirt “obviously does not represent my values” or the college’s values. He then thanked people who supported him through the mixup.

Several Twitter users tweeted back apologies for their rash reactions. “I try to speak/spread only love," one user wrote, "and yet i (sic) jumped on the 1st ship accusing you of something you had no part of."

“i (sic) have so much to learn,” she continued, punctuated with a frowny face.

Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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Comments on: UA professor misidentified as white supremacist, 'shocked' by social media response

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NWABlkMale says... August 15, 2017 at 8:33 a.m.

My goodness! Social media....can't live with it, can't live without it. So glad things are clearing up for him. Thank God!

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hah406 says... August 15, 2017 at 8:34 a.m.

Another example of the idiocy that happens when mob mentality takes over, amplified by social media.

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Tigermule says... August 15, 2017 at 9:05 a.m.

Terrible thing this innocent person had to experience, all due to less than objective people believing everything they see/read on social media. I recall learning a lesson in SS class as a youngster about a certain mob mentality and its persecution of a faultless person.

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Kharma says... August 15, 2017 at 9:38 a.m.

It sure wasn't people center > right terrorizing this individual was it? People love their own freedom of speech rights but seemingly hate those of others. He shouldn't have left his home for this BS; he should have stayed and then wasted the first uninvited person(s) through the door.

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Packman says... August 15, 2017 at 10:50 a.m.

These antifa thugs are very, very dangerous. The rule of law means nothing to them. They disrupted a peaceful protest with violence in Charlottesville and now place an innocent person in harm's way because they are a bunch of morons. Just yesterday they broke several laws by pulling down a statue simply because it's existence hurt their feelings. It's time to get "woke" people; these antifa thugs pose a much greater threat to this country than any member of the KKK.

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Carville says... August 15, 2017 at 12:27 p.m.

Liberals are a mean, irrational lot. If law enforcement does not stop this idiocy, society will melt down into a very nasty place, and George Soros will have won.

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odinson says... August 15, 2017 at 12:36 p.m.

Neonazis writing about the rule of law... What a joke you racists are. Laws only mean something to you supremacist when you can wrap yourselves in them. My uncle was a side gunner in a B17 shooting you scum out of the sky. We're not going to sit by like sheeple and let you take this country down to hell with your kind of hate.

Never again.

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RBBrittain says... August 15, 2017 at 12:37 p.m.

Puhleeze, Packman. There are people on the far right (KKK and otherwise) who disrespect the rule of law even more than those who YOU just demonized. True guilt is never JUST by association, whether it's white supremacists or those who oppose them. (And I could tell the difference between the marcher and the professor from the initial pictures. You better be careful before you "doxx" anyone.)

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OldGuard says... August 15, 2017 at 12:47 p.m.

Odinson, that job was correctly called 'waist gunner'. My dad flew B-29's which was a little bit safer.

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wehavemettheenemyandheisus says... August 15, 2017 at 12:55 p.m.

Professor Quinn should sue for defamation and slander all the jerks who mis-identified him and posted to 'shame' him. They THINK they do the world a service, but they are lying hypocrites, starting with Jim Ross, teacher at UALR. He is one of the leaders of the shaming movement.

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