The latest wildfire spreading through the media and blogosphere is that armed neo-Nazis are patrolling Sanford, FL, in anticipation of trouble if George Zimmerman is not charged in the killing of Trayvon Martin.  In what has become a prime example of media malpractice, none of the major publications spreading the rumors bothered to check with local law enforcement.  I did, and the Sanford Police deny any indication of neo-Nazi patrols.

It all started with this blog post in The Miami New Times, Armed Neo-Nazis Now Patrolling Sanford, Say They Are “Prepared” For Post-Trayvon Martin Violence:

Neo-Nazis are currently conducting heavily armed patrols in and around Sanford, Florida and are “prepared” for violence in the case of a race riot. The patrols are to protect “white citizens in the area who are concerned for their safety” in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting last month, says Commander Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement. “We are not advocating any type of violence or attacks on anybody, but we are prepared for it,” he says. “We are not the type of white people who are going to be walked all over.”

Because nothing diffuses racial tension like gun-toting racial separatists patrolling an already on-edge community….

The patrols are comprised of between 10 and 20 locals and “volunteers” from across the state, including some from Miami, he added. He couldn’t go into specifics on what kind of firepower, exactly, the patrols had with them.

The blog post quotes someone from a supposed neo-Nazi group in Detroit, and contains photos of armed patrols not in Sanford, but in Arizona.  The author of the blog post provides no confirmation that such patrols actually are taking place.

The blog post already has generated over 1100 comments, and was picked up with reckless abandon by the usual suspects, including Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

You know all that rhetoric about “race war” that’s showing up at Breitbart.com and many other right wing sites these days? It’s not just rhetoric. There are some people in Sanford, Florida right now who are taking it very seriously indeed

And Pam Spaulding at Firedoglake:

And the right wing said it wasn’t about race (on their side), didn’t they? Neo-Nazis have never been affiliated with the left; they’ve always been on the fringe anarchist/chaos/gov’t overthrow wing of the GOP, because there’s no way these white supremacists would vote Dem. After all, that party is polluted with black, brown…you know, the Mud People….

I thought the police department was there to protect all of Sanford’s citizens (when it’s not torpedoing its own bad police work/f’ing up cases involving black folks as victims), but as there’s nothing like having this paramilitary crowd with strong views on race stepping in to do the job. You know, like the KKK, it’s not intimidating at all.

A writer at Mediaite joined in [note:  Mediaite has updated its post with a link here, and also has published a separate post on the Sanford denial]:

And just so we’re clear, the Neo-Nazis have no official position on the Martin case, because remember, George Zimmerman isn’t even white. But the Neo-Nazi commander is trying to assure everyone that they are trying to protect everyone, because “if something were to touch off a race riot, we’d already be in the area.”

Well said! Because whenever there’s a race riot, my first question is always, “Where are the armed racists when you need them? They’ll put a stop to all this violence!”

HuffPo and The Daily Beast are helping spread the story.

It even has spread to The NY Daily News [note:  The NYDN story changed tonight. after I contacted the writer, and now acknowledges police denial; the following is from the original story] :

The Trayvon  Martin case is getting even more heated as armed neo-Nazis are reportedly  patrolling the streets of Sanford, Fla.-where the black, unarmed teen was shot  and killed.

A representative for the Detroit-based National Socialist movement told  the Miami New Times that his group of roughly 10 to 20 volunteers aren’t there  to start trouble, but are prepared to protect the “white citizens in the area”  in the event of race riots.

Only Gateway Pundit asked the obvious question:

Is there any evidence that this is actually happening in Sanford?

Did anyone bother to contact the Sanford Police?  I did, and the Sanford Police deny any indication of Neo-Nazi groups patrolling in Sanford.  Here’s the e-mail exchange:

My initial e-mail (which included an embedded link to the Memeorandum thread):

“There are a number of reports in the media that Neo-Nazis are conducting armed patrols in Sanford.  Can you confirm or deny whether this is true, and provide any information you have on the subject? If someone is able to get back to me as soon as possible (and before Monday) that would be appreciated, since such rumors are spreading.”

Response from Sanford Joint Information Center:

“At this time the City of Sanford has not confirmed the presence of Neo-Nazis groups.”

My follow up:

“You say “not confirmed.” Is there any indication of such patrols that the Department is aware of?”

Further Response from Sanford Joint Information Center:

“We have no indication of any such patrols at this point in Sanford. The only large gathering was the children and their parents at the Easter egg hunt.”

I can’t say this is the worst example of rumor mongering and irresponsible conduct by bloggers and the mainstream media I have ever seen, but it’s a contender.

For The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Mediaite, and The Daily News to spread such thinly-sourced claims without verification at a time when racial tensions already are high is irresponsible in the extreme.

Update:  It’s now at Fark, Gawker, The Blaze [now updated with link here] …. And now Drudge has it at the top of the page — I’ve alerted them let’s see if they update with a correction… and The NY Post too.

Update 4-8-2012 7 p.m. – Finally the original blog post which gave rise to an internet craze about neo-Nazis partolling the streets of Sanford now, finally, after millions read the story or heard about it without equivocation, carries this disclaimer:

UPDATE: The Sanford Police Department says that it has no evidence of neo-Nazis in the area. “We have not seen any neo-Nazis on patrol nor have we had any reports of them,” says Sgt. David Morgenstern. He added that there had been no sign of the New Black Panther Party, either.

Drudge has not updated, and still has as its top link:

Armed Neo-Nazis Now Patrolling Sanford, FL...