A conservative website portrayed Nikolas Cruz, who admitted to fatally gunning down 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as sharing views of certain Muslims and leftists.
"The mass murderer was immersed in Islamic and leftwing hate," stated a story on the Geller Report website on Feb. 14, the day of the shooting at the Parkland, Fla., school.
The author of the website, Pamela Geller, is an activist who co-founded Stop Islamization of America, also known as the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a far-right group.
Facebook users flagged the post as being potentially fabricated, as part of the social network’s efforts to combat online hoaxes. We found no evidence that Cruz was immersed in Islamic or left-wing hate.
Most of Geller’s story has nothing to do with political views held by Cruz. It largely repeats an initial story by Fox News the day of the shooting and showed some of Cruz’s alleged Instagram posts, identified by other teenagers as his, which included images of guns and knives as well as an image of a bullseye target with bullet holes that included the phrase "Group Therapy."
Geller included an image from what was believed to be Cruz’s Instagram account showing a Google search for the Arabic phrase "Allahu Akbar." The phrase, which means "God is greater," is used by Muslims on many occasions and in prayers but has also at times been uttered by people commiting attacks.
Cruz’s Instagram account has since been shut down; however, multiple media reports stated that Cruz appeared to make fun of Islam when he wrote that "at least we now know what it means when a sand durka says ‘allahu Akbar.'"
We sent Geller a summary of our findings and asked if she had evidence to support her claim.
"He mocked the phrase, but then he turned to violence himself. This indicates that underneath his mockery, he had an affinity with those who scream this phrase while murdering people," she told PunditFact in an email.
Geller said that Cruz’s interest in the phrase "Allahu Akbar" "doesn't mean he was an Islamic jihadi, but his mockery of it may have been an attempt to deflect attention from his aspirations, or maybe even to try to convince himself not to take the path he ultimately chose. Ultimately, we cannot know for sure what was in his mind, or what was left of it."
Law enforcement are investigating motives and his social media posts. The portrait that has emerged of Cruz so far is not of a person motivated by political views, but one of a young man who was drawn to firearms and had a troubled past.
Cruz had regularly gotten in trouble at school at least since middle school and had transferred out of Stoneman Douglas in 2017 and had since attended alternative schools. He had a history of mental illness, and police had been called to his home. Cruz’s mother died in November; his father died when he was a young child.
Ocean Parodie, 17, told The Daily Beast that Cruz wore patriotic shirts that "seemed really extreme, like hating on" Islam and would also deride Muslims as "terrorists and bombers."
In general teenagers who knew Cruz used words such as "off," "weird" and "crazy" to describe him to journalists.
Some initial news reports stated that Cruz was affiliated with a white nationalist group in Florida, but law enforcement said they didn’t have information to support that connection. A white nationalist appeared to have spread misinformation to media outlets.
We emailed spokespersons for Instagram, the FBI and the Broward Sheriff’s Office to ask some questions about Cruz’s Instagram account but not did get a reply.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel did not offer any involvement in Islamic or hate groups to explain why Cruz walked into the school with an assault weapon in a Feb. 18 interview with Local 10 ABC’s Michael Putney.
When asked why Cruz shot up the school Israel said: "Because he is an evil killer."
The Geller Report described Cruz as being "immersed in Islamic and leftwing hate." Law enforcement are investigating motives, but so far Cruz appeared to be a person who had mental illness and a fascination with guns. A mocking Instagram post attributed to him showed he Googled the phrase "Allahu Akbar" but that doesn’t prove that he was immersed in Islamic and left-wing hate. We found no evidence to support Geller’s claim. We rate this statement Pants on Fire.'