By Alicia Lee and Brian Ries, CNN
When Nathan Caraway joined a protest in Columbus, Ohio, he was going as a white man who wanted to help his city’s activists be safely heard, he said. But online, he was accused of more nefarious intentions.On Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, Caraway’s been called an anarchist and an Antifa organizer. Police called him a “person of interest.” Twitter users claimed he was instigating violence — accusations he strongly denies.”My mission was to go support the people who were there to let their voice be heard and to express that I’m an ally,” Caraway told CNN on Tuesday. “That was my only intention.”The 32-year-old Ohio native shot to infamy this week when he was seen in a widely shared video speaking to a group of black men during Saturday’s protest. “We’re building a barricade. Go get everything you can find,” Caraway can be heard saying. He appears to hand some money to one man out of his wallet.It’s unclear where the video originated. But what’s clear is how quickly it spread and where it wound up. After it was tweeted by many people, including conservatives such as podcaster Wayne Dupree, the Columbus Division of Police posted pictures of Caraway to Facebook, asking the public for help finding this “person of interest.”
In the comments of its post, the division linked to a YouTube video that claimed Caraway was a “Columbus Antifa paying people to do tasks in riots,” and on Twitter, thanked one of the people who tweeted the clip for tagging them.Local media carried the police’s message and the images of Caraway’s face even further.Then the President stepped in.”Anarchists, we see you!” President Donald Trump said in a tweet accompanying the video Monday, using a term long used as a fill in for leftist extremists, helping the clip rack up over 12 million views with hundreds of thousands of likes.After the President’s tweet, things took an especially nasty turn, Caraway said. His name and address were leaked online, and he’s received death threats. He even had a scary real-life encounter.
“Two individuals started chasing the vehicle I was in due to that misunderstanding,” Caraway said. “And that didn’t happen until after President Trump had shared that tweet because I believe he has one of the most powerful voices on the internet.”The Columbus Division of Police have since updated their social media posts to say they’ve identified the man in the video. On Twitter they said, “This person has been identified. Thank you for your assistance.” Caraway’s lawyer, attorney Sean Walton, said they haven’t been contacted by the police and his client hasn’t been charged. He said they did stop by Caraway’s house, but he wasn’t home.The Columbus Division of Police did not respond to CNN’s multiple requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s Office Southern District of Ohio said it would not comment on any matters potentially under investigation.
What the video shows
Caraway admits that, yes, he was hoping to help the protesters build a barricade — but that was for their defense.And while the video does show him seeming to hand over some money, a moment that has been interpreted as Caraway paying people to riot and be violent against the police, he says he had asked the men to buy supplies to set up a wash station for people who had been pepper sprayed.
“I took it upon myself to build a wash station for the street medics who could help clean people’s faces off. I had asked some young men that I had seen on bicycles if they would be willing to go fetch some supplies like water, baking soda, baby wipes and milk,” Caraway said, noting that he handed them $60 to buy the supplies from stores that were still open further up north.”I only had given the money because they had stated that they would be willing to help, but they didn’t have money,” he added. “Before they left (I asked them) to help me build a barricade.”Eric Stonewall, 22, was also at the protest. He saw Caraway there.”As soon as I saw him identified as a person of interest, I was frustrated,” Stonewall told CNN. While the two don’t know each other personally, Stonewall said they interacted briefly at the protest.”In terms of what I saw, honestly more than anything he was helpful and respectful. He came up to me and some other people saying that we need to help others get more cover with loose boards and trash cans,” he said. “Someone tried to empty out a trash can, but he said, ‘Grab the empty ones. We’re not trying to make a mess.'”
His first time at a protest, he says
This was the first time Caraway, who works as an extractor at a medical cannabis company, participated in any sort of protest, Caraway told CNN.Through his lawyer, Caraway said he has no political affiliation and was only doing what he could to help others. “Nathan is not a member of any organization whatsoever, let alone Antifa or any other group,” his lawyer Sean Walton said.Daniel Ortiz, a pastor who’s known Caraway for over two years, told CNN, “My heart broke for him. I know him and I know that’s not the type of person he is. He’s justice-oriented. He wants to help others and bridge the gap between people. He’s not a divider. He’s a uniter.”
Caraway and his lawyers did not comment on whether they will be taking any legal action towards anyone. What they want to do first and foremost is clear his name, his other lawyer Jalyn Parks said.”For him to literally be in the act of trying to help people and better his community. With one video, he’s been vilified and afraid for his life,” Parks added. “The goal here is to tell his story so that people know and understand some of the consequences of spreading misinformation.”While he’s still in fear for his life, Caraway said he has forgiven all parties involved in spreading the misinformation, including Trump.”I forgive him and I have no resentment in my heart,” Caraway said regarding Trump. “I’d like to see his office make our country a better place.”Google, which owns YouTube, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Twitter said they were looking into the video and corresponding tweets on Tuesday afternoon.
Trump and allies shift the blame
The claims that an anarchist or member of the Antifa, which stands for anti-fascists, was caught on tape comes as the second week of nationwide protests continues following the death of George Floyd, some on the right have sought to blame Antifa for the violence.Federal law enforcement officials have said that they are aware of outside groups using the protests as a cover to destroy property and incite violence, and Trump has pointed to far-left groups as responsible for that, though without offering evidence.
He has even tried to designate Antifa, short for anti-fascists, as domestic terrorists, despite the loose network of activist groups having no clear coordination or leadership and the clear constitutional concerns such a designation would surely invite.
CNN’s Evan Perez, Jason Hoffman, Donnie O’Sullivan and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.