Fact check: 3 conspiracy theories about the Nashville bombing
Posted December 30, 2020 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated December 30, 2020 5:53 p.m. EST
Social media is home to several conspiracy theories about the explosion in Nashville on Christmas Day.
The following three posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about PolitiFact's partnership with Facebook here.)
Let's start here: The man behind the Dec. 25 bombing in downtown Nashville, Tenn., died of COVID-19, according to a popular — and wrong — Facebook post.
Fake CNN headline
The post displays a headline from a fabricated story by the Genesius Times, a satirical news website, that reads: "BREAKING: Nashville Bomber died from COVID-19 shortly after blowing himself up."
Below the headline is an image that looks like it’s a picture from a CNN broadcast, with chyron that announces the Nashville bomber "died from COVID."
Some users seemed to recognize the story as fake, but others didn’t. So we will clear it up: It’s fake.
CNN didn’t report that Anthony Warner, the person authorities have identified as the bomber, died from COVID-19. Warner died in the blast, according to authorities.
Breaking news meme generators are frequently used online to create fabricated headlines and chyrons such as this one. The Genesius Times describes itself as the "most reliable source of fake news on the planet" and that it strives "to provide the most up-to-date, accurate fake news on the Internet," the website says.
This screengrab is being shared on social media without that context.
'Missile strike' theory
Conspiracy theorists say the suicide bombing that rocked downtown Nashville was actually the result of a missile strike. Their evidence: a grainy black-and-white video.
The video, which was posted by a Facebook page called Red Pill Radio on Dec. 28, shows the outline of buildings and a highway in Nashville. Then, a plume of smoke rises behind three light poles.
"You can see as there’s a line flying in, there’s a little bit of a glow and then there’s the explosion," a narrator says in the video. "Very, very interesting."
Similar claims have been shared in hundreds of public posts, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.
In its video, Red Pill Radio cites a Dec. 26 article from WorthyPolitics.com whose headline claims the video "proves Nashville explosion was actually a missile strike." We have seen similar claims from others who say the missile was aimed at the AT&T Building. There is no evidence to substantiate that theory.
While federal investigators are still looking into the bombing, law enforcement officials have said Warner was responsible and died in the blast. The bomb was located in a recreational vehicle that Warner owned. Fact-checkers have debunked claims that the explosion was the result of a missile strike.
The video in the Facebook post is security footage obtained by WKRN-TV, a station based in Nashville. It shows smoke from the explosion over the skyline. The clip does not show a missile hitting the city.
Videos from law enforcement officials and local businesses show that the explosion occurred on 2nd Avenue North in downtown Nashville. The explosion injured three people and damaged several businesses, including the AT&T Building.
One clip captured an audio message warning people to evacuate the area seconds before the explosion. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department identified the RV at the center of the blast in a Dec. 25 tweet.
On Dec. 27, U.S. Attorney Don Cochran said the explosion appeared to be a suicide bombing carried out by a Warner. DNA from human remains found at the scene matched Warner, and investigators found financial records for components that he may have used to construct the bomb.
FBI agents are investigating whether Warner may have been paranoid about 5G technology. Conspiracy theories about the cellular data networks have blossomed on social media over the past year, falsely claiming that 5G spreads COVID-19 and could be used as a spying tool by the government.
The investigation of the Nashville bombing is ongoing, but the Facebook post is inaccurate and ridiculous.
Baseless theory about voting machines
Next theory: The bombing was an attempt to stop an AT&T audit into Dominion software and cover up election corruption.
In the wake of the Christmas morning explosion in Nashville, Tenn., a baseless conspiracy theory started circulating online that claims Nashville’s downtown AT&T complex, which was damaged in the blast, had gotten a contract to conduct a "forensic audit" on Dominion Voting Systems machines. The post implies that the bombing was an attempt to stop the audit and cover up voter fraud.
"AT&T got a contract to do forensic audit on Dominion voting machines and those machines were being moved to Nashville this past week," one Dec. 27 post says. "So, the explosion ‘just happened’ to be at the AT&T location where they ‘just so happen’ to control the cooling system for the super computer and house the dominion voting machines and drives for forensic audit…"
"Wait, the bombing in Nashville was at the AT&T data center right after they got the contract to audit the Dominion voting machines?," one from Dec. 26 reads. "That’s an interesting coincidence."
But none of this is true. AT&T does not hold a contract to audit Dominion’s software or machines and did not have any of the company’s equipment in its Nashville building.
The FBI confirmed that a man named Anthony Warner was responsible for the bombing and was killed in the blast. The bomb was located in a recreational vehicle owned by Warner.
The explosion injured three other people and damaged businesses in downtown Nashville, including an AT&T switching center, which resulted in widespread communications outages.
Law enforcement authorities have suggested that Warner may have been paranoid about 5G technology, a QAnon-related conspiracy theory that makes an array of unproven claims including that it helps spread COVID-19 and is used as a spying tool by the government.
Spokespeople for both AT&T and Dominion have confirmed that AT&T did not hold a contract to audit Dominion, nor had any of Dominion’s equipment been moved to Nashville in preparation for such an audit.
Jim Greer, associate vice president for corporate communications at AT&T, was blunt in an email response to PolitiFact: "That is not true," he wrote.
Dominion representatives have also denounced the conspiracy theory, calling it another "bizarre lie" with "zero credibility."
Some posts take the claim a step further, alleging that the former owner of the building was a board member of a firm that owns Dominion.
However, the firm cited in that version of the claim — Cerberus Capital Management — doesn’t own Dominion nor is it connected to Staple Street Capital, which acquired Dominion in 2018.
A public relations firm told the Associated Press on behalf of Dominion that the company "has no connection to AT&T, the building, Nashville, family members of the Bidens or the Clintons, and Staple Street is not owned by Cerberus. These are conspiracies manufactured out of whole cloth."
In an email to PolitiFact, a Dominion spokesperson said the company and AT&T are calling on everyone to reject these baseless rumors: "Americans should continue to seek information from verifiable, trusted sources, such as law enforcement authorities."
Posts online claim that the Christmas Day bombing in Nashville was an attempt to cover up election fraud because AT&T was conducting an audit of Dominion Voting Systems machines and that the equipment was recently relocated to the company’s building that was damaged in the blast.
This is bogus. There is no evidence that suggests that the explosion was election-related. Both companies have denied the posts claims, saying that there was no such audit and that Dominion’s machines were not recently transported to Nashville.