MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. - Several alt-right websites quickly identified a Michigan man as the owner and possibly the driver of a car that slammed into a crowd in Charlottesville. The man is from Macomb County, and the accusation is completely false.
Reckless reporting made the man an instant target of death threats.
The images and video of a Dodge Challenger running down people protesting against hate speech is tough to watch, but put yourself in Jerome Vangheluwe's shoes.
While he was at a wedding, his cellphone started going crazy.
"I had about 35 unknown callers to my phone number," Vangheluwe said.
Then his son pulled him to the side.
"He said, 'Dad, this is blowing up on the internet. I don't know what this is,'" Vangheluwe said.
People were identifying Vangheluwe and his adult son as the owner and driver of the Dodge. Their names, home address and pictures were getting retweeted, forwarded on Facebook and published to websites. Then, the international press started calling.
"It was the Canadian television news, a reporter from there asking if I wanted to comment on the fact that my son had been arrested for driving into a group of people in Charlottesville," Vangheluwe said.
It turns out Vangheluwe sold the car to a dealership in 2012. He and his son never left Michigan, but death threats were pouring into Michigan from around the world.
"Honestly, I don't feel safe staying in my home right now," Vangheluwe said.
So he called state police and due to hostility of what happened in Virginia, they offered this advice.
"If there is any damage or vandalism to our home, that we should sell it. We should change all of our phone numbers and we should shut off and change any social media that we are on," Vangheluwe said. "I've not done anything wrong."
Now, this vice president of a company and his family are in limbo, caught in an internet farce.
"I understand anybody can look up anything on the internet and most people can say things, but, I mean, they're really truly affecting people's lives by doing something this stupid," Vangheluwe said. "I mean, it should truly be left to people who actually know what they do and have journalistic integrity."
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