A Republican House candidate in Missouri has published her own half-baked report claiming that the video of George Floyd’s death—which has sparked nationwide protests to end the racial inequities in the criminal-justice system—is, in fact, a staged “false flag.”
Winnie Heartstrong, a candidate running for the St. Louis congressional seat held by Lacy Clay (D-MO), has pushed conspiracy theories about Floyd’s death for nearly a month on Twitter. In late May, a video featuring Heartstrong claiming that “George Floyd is alive” circulated among far-right Twitter accounts and received more than 100,000 views.
Heartstrong went further last week with a 23-page document laying out a series of incoherent conspiracy theories about Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Heartstrong insists Floyd actually died years earlier, and the video that shows his death is actually a bogus “deepfake” meant to stir up racial tensions.
“We conclude that no one in the video is really one person but rather they are all digital composites of two or more real people to form completely new digital persons using deepfake technology,” Heartstrong writes in the document, which she claims was created with help from “citizen investigators.”
Perhaps the strangest part of Heartstrong’s report is the claim that Ben Bailey, a comedian who surprises taxi passengers with the chance to win money on the game show Cash Cab, was somehow involved in playing the role of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer charged with killing Floyd. Heartstrong’s report is replete with graphics comparing Chauvin’s face to Bailey’s, including one declaring “Boom! Here’s the ‘killer cop.’”
“Citizen investigators have suggested that the ‘officer Chauvin’ who appears in the arrest video bears a striking resemblance to the actor and comedian Benjamin Ray Bailey who features in Cash Cab,” Heartstrong writes.
The Cash Cab conspiracy theory has caught on with some elements of the pro-Trump QAnon movement, based solely on the idea that Chauvin looks somewhat like Bailey. But it remains on the fringe of the conspiracy-theory internet and is unusual to see touted so openly—particularly from someone running for federal office.
Heartstrong declined to comment about her Floyd conspiracy theories, referring The Daily Beast to her document and her May video about the matter. In the video, Heartstrong laid out a gruesome scheme for how she claimed the murder could be staged.
“You lure in a homeless man, you give him some drugs laced with poison, and you kill him,” Heartstrong, who is Black, said in the video. “Black America, you all need to wake up and stop being so emotional,”
Despite her bizarre claims, Heartstrong stands a good chance of winning the Republican primary on Aug. 4, although she would almost certainly lose the general election. Heartstrong’s claims about Floyd have caught on with right-wing conspiracy theorists and have earned her appearances on internet radio shows, including a YouTube show hosted by conspiracy theorist David Zublick, who has more than 175,000 subscribers on the site.
More importantly, Heartstrong’s only primary opponent is Anthony Rogers, a podcaster and comedian whose social-media pages feature off-the-wall video endorsements from figures like Joe Exotic campaign manager Joshua Dial, and schlock director Uwe Boll. Former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who is awaiting a 40-month prison term, has also endorsed Rogers, calling him “exactly the kind of hellraiser we need to send to Congress.”
Rogers’ campaign website currently returns a connection error, making it difficult to connect to on most browsers. But his primary chances may be hurt more by his reputation for what St. Louis’ Riverfront Times described as “offensive posts,” including a 2014 Thought Catalog post about the shooting of Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown that said Brown was doing “hood rat shit.”
Rogers didn’t respond to a request for comment. While Heartstrong didn’t comment on her claims about Floyd’s death, she was happy to comment on her primary foe in an email to The Daily Beast, claiming that Rogers is “not actively campaigning.”
When she’s not promoting conspiracy theories, Heartstrong has positioned herself as a staunchly anti-abortion candidate. Before moving to Missouri, she ran as a Republican for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. She undertook that 2018 bid under the name Winnie Obike, and received just 5 percent of the vote.
Even if she were to prevail in the primary, Heartstrong is almost certain to lose in the general election to Clay, who has been in the House since 2001. Election analysts at the Cook Political Report rate the district as “D+29,” meaning Democrats are heavily favored.
“They’re going to take the ass-whupping, so it don’t make no difference,” said Mike Jones, a St. Louis political analyst and race and politics columnist for The St. Louis American. “And the lucky one might be the one that lost [the primary].”
Still, the prospect of Heartstrong, an outspoken Floyd truther, winning the primary could represent a new headache for the GOP as other conspiracy theorists win nominations elsewhere in the country. A QAnon believer won the party’s nomination for an Oregon Senate seat, while another QAnon supporter is poised to win a nomination in a heavily Republican House district in Georgia.
And, for her part, Heartstrong doesn’t seem poised to run her race quietly. She claims she represents a group of Floyd “investigators” who want a presidential investigation into whether the Floyd video was faked.
“We urge President Trump to open an investigation into these claims to help resolve the issue of deepfake technology once and for all,” Heartstrong writes.