An activist group in Texas was demanding, online and in letters delivered to homes in upscale Dallas-area communities, that “wealthy white liberals” pledge not to send their kids to top colleges — so that White people could make amends for past wrongs and “open up spaces for Black and LatinX communities.”
And then things got really weird.
Nor could CNN.
But at the very least, the available evidence raises significant questions. Some pertinent facts:
• The Dallas Justice Now website has a proven connection to a Republican political company.
• As the authenticity of Dallas Justice Now has been questioned in the media, neither Washington nor anyone else affiliated with the group has been willing to take even basic steps to prove that the group is real — such as speaking out loud to reporters or providing proof of its leaders’ identities.
• The first article about Dallas Justice Now, published months before the college pledge and months before the group had taken any action of significance, appeared on a website connected to a conservative businessman. The author of the article said “no comment” when we asked how she came to write it.
One local resident, Casie Tomlin, told CNN that she “knew” the college pledge request was “fake and meant to cause divide” immediately upon receiving the letter at her home in the affluent Dallas-area city of University Park — via FedEx, she said — on July 17.
Tomlin is not alone.
Again, CNN can’t definitively declare that this is indeed a hoax. The Dallas Justice Now saga shows, yet again, how hard it can be to distinguish truth from elaborate lies.
Let’s run through what we know and what we don’t.
A confirmed link to a Republican company
You don’t have to trust the “Antifascists.” Contacted by CNN, Arena chief operating officer Clint Brown acknowledged a connection between the company and the Dallas Justice Now site — but said that Arena abandoned its work with the client after discovering the client’s true intentions for the website.
“Arena did not and would never support an activity of this type. We were working with a client and when we learned what their objective was, the project was terminated. Unfortunately, it appears someone from the group copied the original code containing a link to the abandoned ‘under construction’ website, which linked to our server,” Brown said in an email.
Brown left important questions unanswered. Who was this client? What did Arena “learn” that prompted the supposed termination — that the client was intending to perpetrate a hoax, or that the client was planning to demand that White people sign a “college pledge”?
We don’t know. Regardless, it would be interesting for a young Texas social justice group to choose a Utah-based Republican campaign company as its web developer.
That means either that someone legitimately wrote a bunch of posts in another forum and then transferred them to this Dallas Justice Now site once it was ready, or, perhaps, that someone wrote a bunch of back-dated posts for the purpose of making Dallas Justice Now’s history look longer than it actually is.
The mystery of Michele Washington
But as far as we can tell, Washington has never shown her face to a media outlet inquiring about Dallas Justice Now — and it is not clear if Washington has even spoken to any media outlet out loud. In other words, it is not clear that this Michele Washington is a real person.
By last Friday, the account had been removed from public view. It remained down as of Tuesday morning.
CNN made numerous attempts to speak with Michele Washington. We sent messages through the Dallas Justice Now Facebook page; sent a message to the personal page for Washington before it was removed; called the Dallas Justice Now phone number three times. And because that number responds to phone calls with an auto-reply text message that says “Thanks for calling. Can I help you with a text instead?”, we tried texts, too.
So we went down another path — which was also a strange experience.
An early article on Dallas City Wire
Dallas City Wire and Metric Media did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
More unanswered questions
In this July 23 article, Fairley wrote that “Michele Washington” said Dallas Justice Now would soon unveil an Advisory Council “that includes Professor Troy Harden, director of the Race and Ethnic Studies Institute at Texas A&M.”
When we contacted Harden last week, he said that was not true.
“I know very little about them. Talked to one person, one time. Did not agree to be on an advisory board or express interest. I have no affiliation with them. I have no further comment,” Harden said in an email, declining to say who he spoke with or whether he had communicated out loud with them.
There is one other name attached to Dallas Justice Now. A first name, specifically.
The “college pledge” letters listed a “Jamila” as a contact at the group. And a Black woman who identified herself as Jamila appeared in a Dallas Justice Now web video talking about how a college education for her children would benefit her family for generations.
The woman in the video did not mention anything about a pledge or about White people not sending their own kids to elite schools. The woman in the video also did not employ the incendiary language Dallas Justice Now has used in its written materials.
After questions began to bubble about Dallas Justice Now, the video was deleted in late July. It is still not clear who Jamila is.
It’s important to note that the evasiveness of Dallas Justice Now is not conclusive evidence that it is illegitimate. A real group could be staying quiet amid controversy for a variety of rational reasons.
Still, it’s worth noting that Dallas Justice Now has not answered even basic questions in order to demonstrate its authenticity. Instead of having its leaders speak to reporters, it has published written statements blasting some of the people who have raised reasonable questions.
Tomlin began asking skeptical questions online after she received the letter in University Park. Tomlin said she also made a $3 donation to Dallas Justice Now, which she said was the minimum possible donation, to see if that would help her get more information.
Tomlin said the accusations of bigotry are “categorically false.” She said she has attended several Black Lives Matter demonstrations against injustice in policing and the judicial system; she said, “I am not a racist or white supremacist. They attacked me because I asked questions about their organization.”
Tomlin contacted the University Park police. Chief Bill Mathes told CNN on Monday that his department was not investigating Dallas Justice Now or the letters, saying “nothing has been brought to our attention regarding this incident that is criminal in nature.”