In the confusion that followed Friday’s attacks in Oslo, Norway, some observers in America — including one Florida congressman — were quick to point to preliminary reports, which turned out to be inaccurate, that the perpetrator was an Islamic terrorist.
As those reports spread across social networks and the global media (including reliable outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post), U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, offered this reaction from his Twitter account:
Our thoughts and prayers go out to a steadfast ally and friend – the Norwegian people. We stand with you against Islamic terror.
That post has since been deleted, but has been captured — and broadcast repeatedly — by activists at Progress Florida (whose name indicates their political leanings). A PDF of a congressional web page that captures Ross’s Twitter feed, and still includes the post, can be found here.
Soon after the original tweet, Ross added, in a post apparently directed at U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:
Shooting kids, at a camp, is not human. There is no negotiating, no domestic trials Mr Holder, only victory. #standwithNorway
The gunman turned out to be a right-wing extremist with an apparent affinity for anti-Islamic rhetoric. Police are still looking for co-conspirators.
When taken to task for his earlier missive by another Twitter user, Ross responded that “early reports … were incorrect. Terror is terror and it cannot be appeased. God be w/Norway,” adding: “but we also can’t pretend that the threat is equal. Global Islamic jihad is a real and present danger. Seeing the Intel is clear.”
Some commentators, such as Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, have offered explanations as to why it was reasonable to reflexively suspect al-Qaida or similar groups, though he also notes a lesson learned about the peril of issuing knee-jerk reactions over the Internet.
Others have tried to piece together how an unconfirmed claim of responsibility by a jihadist group spread so quickly through the global media. This timeline from the BBC captures the conflicting initial reports, many attributing the attacks to al-Qaida or a similar group, that emerged after the attack. Soon after the tragedy, Jens Stoltenber, the Norwegian prime minister, made a statement of strength and resolve that acknowledged the culprit was not yet known.