McALLEN — A Rio Grande Valley congressman became the latest person to fall for an online hoax that has become a staple of the nation’s mass shootings.
During an interview with CNN Sunday evening, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, incorrectly identified the gunman who killed 26 Texas churchgoers in Sutherland Springs as Sam Hyde.
Gonzalez was among the first federal representatives to address the shooting on national media.
When asked if he knew anything about the attacker, Gonzalez replied, “It was reported to me that he’s actually not from this community. Apparently his name was released as Sam Hyde. That was the name I was given.”
Just a month before, Hyde was blamed for the Las Vegas mass shooting, in addition to other shootings across the country since at least 2015.
Hyde, it turns out, is an online comedian who has amassed an alt-right following that casts him as the repeated perpetrator of mass shootings in an attempt to troll media outlets looking to be the first to report details.
When asked how Gonzalez — whose district includes portions of Wilson County, but does not include Sutherland Springs — ended up with Hyde’s name, press secretary Aryn Fields said a television producer with Univision Network News “informed the congressman that reports indicated that the shooter was a man named Sam Hyde.” This occurred while Gonzalez was on standby to go live with Univision.
At the time, authorities had not publicly released gunman Devin Patrick Kelley’s identity. Gonzalez, Fields said, cited Hyde’s name during a subsequent CNN interview.
“Given how fast the events transpired Sunday, Congressman Gonzalez took this report as reliable information,” Fields said in a prepared statement. “It is something that he deeply regrets. Congressman Gonzalez is always briefed by staff and expert officials before making statements to the media regarding sensitive information.”
She added that the congressman does not follow “memes, internet sensations, or twitter trends” and thus had no idea that Hyde is a viral internet hoax.
“Reports have diverged from the real story: the tragedy at hand for the residents of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and the nation,” Fields said of the attention the situation has garnered, and emphasized that the congressman encourages everyone to shift their focus to assisting the victims and their families of the state’s worst mass shooting.