Reports that the Florida gunman who allegedly killed 17 people at his former high school this week was a member of a White supremacy group have now been withdrawn.
Nicolas Cruz, who opened fire with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, from which he had earlier been expelled, was reported as having had ties to a tiny hate group calling itself the Republic of Florida (ROF).
This small, self-styled 'militia' – comprised of mostly teenagers and young men headed by Jordan Jereb, aged in his early 20s – is believed to have seized on the tragedy and tried to exploit it as a PR opportunity.
Media reports cited the group as suggesting that Cruz had trained with the ROF, after a thread surfaced on the website 4chan, but it later emerged that the thread was a hoax deliberately perpetrated by trolls.
In response to an email query by the New Yorker regarding the hoax, Jereb said: "Technically, I was tricked too, I just played along once I realized ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) was helping the 4chan trolls shill the story."
Although the connection between Cruz and the tiny hate group turned out to be a fabrication, CNN later reported that, in a private Instagram group chat to which the news organization gained access, he "talked about killing Mexicans, keeping black people in chains and cutting their neck."
The Daily Beast also highlighted anti-Muslim slurs Cruz had posted on a previously public Instagram account.
Meanwhile, as Cruz appeared in court to face formal charges of carrying out the second-deadliest mass shooting at a public school in U.S. history, it emerged that he had legally purchased the assault rifle used in the killings, Reuters reports.
Cruz, charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, made a brief initial court appearance on Thursday, in which he was ordered held without bond. He spoke only two words - "Yes ma'am" - when a judge asked him to confirm his name.
Cruz's court-appointed lawyer said her client had expressed remorse for his crimes. "He's a broken human being," Public Defender Melissa McNeill told reporters. "He's sad, he's mournful, he's remorseful."
According to a court document made public on Thursday, Cruz confessed to police after being arrested and advised of his right to avoid self-incrimination that he had committed the attack.