A case of mistaken identity

ian-miller_allixandre-daniel-joseph-johnson_courtesy
Allixandre Daniel Joseph Johnson/Courtesy

“Y
our life is f*ng OVER, motherfucker.”

“Your days are numbered.”

“I am coming for you.”

This is a small sampling of the more than 200 emails sent to Ian Miller for allegedly beating up a Trump supporter at the anti-Milo Yiannopoulos protest earlier this month. The senders were hoping, presumably, to give this violent, Free Speech-hating anarchist a piece of their mind.

Too bad they’ve got the wrong guy.

Campus police and the FBI are currently investigating whether Ian Miller, a UC Berkeley employee, was involved in the peaceful-turned-violent protest after screenshots of his reported tweets gloating about the attack surfaced on Twitter.

But when the Yiannopoulos event rolled around, Ian Miller wasn’t at the protests.

“I saw all of the videos from the protests online,” Miller said. “Videos of people getting pepper sprayed and hit over head with wooden flag poles. It looked pretty bad.”

Turns out Miller, a campus senior majoring in cognitive science, has the unique misfortune of possessing the same name as the alleged attacker — their middle names even start with the same letter.

Miller wasn’t even on campus the day of the event. In fact, he wasn’t even in California: since September, he has been living in Texas for financial reasons. The next day, however, he received an odd email from an unfamiliar address.

“At first I just thought, ‘OK, there’s somebody who’s maybe just spamming everybody with a UC Berkeley address,’ and then I started getting a bunch more,” Miller said.

Soon he was flooded with emails. Most were simple notes of disdain laced with profanity. Some, though, were both explicit and creative in their condemnation and threat.

“Can’t wait to introduce myself , u sawed- off little prick. :))” one emailer wrote, while another seemed inspired by Trump’s now famous Twitter syntax, saying, “You are everything that is wrong in this world. What a loser!”

One person was particularly descriptive. After wishing Miller would get cancer and have a slow death, the sender noted that they and “lots of others” will further investigate Miller’s “stupid life” to “fuck (him) to the maximum degree possible.”

The email ended with the words “PRISON CIVIL LAWSUIT” 112 times. Its subject line was ominously labeled “hang in there.”

Miller isn’t a likely target for these Yiannopoulos fans, Trump supporters and general Angry People of the Internet: He’s a 35-year-old atheist white guy who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders during the primaries but ultimately voted for Hillary Clinton even though he doesn’t “really like her that much.”

“I don’t identify with the Democratic Party necessarily. If I were to choose sort of an ideal system it would lean more toward a social democracy,” Miller said. “Sort of the Nordic model of governing and economics.”

He knows that the protests for the most part were peaceful, but he also knows that anarchists showed up and used the peaceful protest as a form of cover. Yiannopoulos is a troll, and Miller disagrees with basically everything the Breitbart News editor says.

“But if the UC Berkeley Republicans want to invite him to speak, then he should have a right to speak and they should have a right to listen to him speak,” Miller said. “I think it’s fine if people protest and disagree with him, (but) I definitely don’t think people should intervene violently.”

Had Miller been in town, he would have showed up to Sproul Plaza for the event, not the protest — “If for nothing else, just the spectacle of the whole thing.”

The real spectacle of the night, however, became the graphic images plastered on social media: a flood light on fire, windows smashed, bloodied faces, people dressed in black. In the aftermath, people on social media scrambled to find a suspect, a guilty perpetrator of all the violent acts that night.

The swift and easy culprit was Ian Miller — the tax-payer funded campus University Development and Alumni Relations employee who, under a pseudonym, seemed to brag on Twitter about assaulting a Trump supporter in screenshots posted by another Twitter user. The user, whose pinned tweet declares “#IStandWithHateSpeech,” was able to connect the employee’s Twitter account page to a Facebook page that listed his real name. The employee could not be reached for comment.

Right-wing websites quickly picked up the screenshots and began to publicly shame Miller. But they ended up including a link to the UC Berkeley directory page of student Miller rather than employee Miller, where his email address — like many others in the directory — is readily available.

The UC Berkeley student simply became collateral damage.

Despite a few explicit death threats, though, Miller was and remains completely unphased by this case of mistaken identity. They aren’t trying to attack him, Miller said. The emailers don’t have a photo to verify who he is or what he looks like. He didn’t do any of the things he is being virtually criticized for, and for now, he is far, far away.

“To be honest, at first I was pretty entertained by it and I was trolling some of the people, in a nice way,” Miller said. “It was just kind of funny to me.”

When one emailer asked whether Miller had turned himself over to the authorities yet, he responded, “I’ll get around to it. I’m just having too much fun prancing around in my ninja costume and beating up innocent people at the moment.”

Notwithstanding his nonchalance, the depressing prevalence of fake news and “alternative facts” can lead to serious, potentially deadly consequences. Last December, a man was compelled to fire a gun at a Washington D.C. pizzeria because of a thoroughly debunked online conspiracy.

But campus police, who have already interviewed Miller extensively, do not plan to provide protective services for him.

“As I understand, we have reached out to the student Ian Miller, and he is not concerned for his safety,” UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich said in an email.

Still, Miller is working to clear his name in the online world. In an email to the author of a Daily Caller story that included a link to his campus directory page, Miller did not mince his words.

“I’m a student at UC Berkeley, and a completely different Ian Miller,” he wrote. “Your next order of business should be to publish a correction, along with an apology for being lazy, unscrupulous pseudo-journalists.”

The Ralph Retort’s owner and editor-in-chief Ethan Ralph, who first wrote about the UC Berkeley employee’s possible involvement in the protest, also later pulled the misleading link from his story.

“apologies if somehow you had some grief over it,” Ralph said in a direct message on Twitter to Miller.

As for the other 200 or so people who sent Miller their two cents, it would take far longer than it’s worth to respond to explain the mix up — the damage has already been done. Those he did correct were often apologetic about their misdirected verbal attacks. They were always quick to insist, however, that their allegations against the “real” Ian Miller are still 100 percent true.

“Don’t believe everything you read, maybe even don’t believe anything you read,” Miller said. “At least until you’ve corroborated the claim with multiple reliable sources.”

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks at at [email protected].