Former Pennsylvania Republican congressional candidate Dean Browning has been accused of using a fake burner account to tweet as a gay black man, heaping praise on President Donald Trump's administration while criticizing Democrats in what has now snowballed into a full-blown controversy.
Dean Browning's 'Black Gay Guy' Tweet
On Nov. 8, Browning tweeted, "What Trump built in 4 years, Biden will destroy in 4 months." On Nov. 10, when another user pointed out that former president Barack Obama who was responsible for everything that Trump takes credit for, Browning responded, but as a black gay man.
"I'm a black gay guy and I can personally say that Obama did nothing for me, my life only changed a little bit and it was for the worse," he wrote. "Everything is so much better under Trump though. I feel respected — which I never do when democrats are involved."
Twitter users were quick to assume that Browning, who is both white and straight, had forgotten to sign into his fake account also known as a sock puppet account, before sending out the tweet.
Browning's Fake Account Linked to 'Dan Purdy'
Browning later addressed the tweet by saying it was all a misunderstanding and that he was only relaying a message sent to him by one of his 52,000 Twitter followers.
Not buying Browning's explanation, Internet sleuths began to comb through Browning's Twitter history in search of his fake-Black-Trump-supporter-sock-puppet account and eventually narrowed in on a Twitter account with the handle @DanPurdy322, which features a Black Man wearing a beanie as its avatar and a Trump 2020 logo as its header.
The user suspiciously posted replies in support of Browning publicizing himself as black and gay in nearly every single tweet, including posts either lauding the Trump administration or criticizing President-elect Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris.
'No, I'm Not a Bot' Says Man Claiming to Be 'Dan Purdy'
The plot thickened when the Dan Purdy account posted a video of "Dan Purdy" himself responding to the controversy.
"Hey guys, my name is Dan Purdy, and I am indeed a gay black man," the man says in the video. "The message that you saw on Dean's Twitter was posted — I don't actually know how it was posted, but I did send it to him because I had a problem with how people of my race and sexual persuasion are treating Donald Trump."
The account has since been deleted but Twitter users managed to re-upload the clip on the platform.
Who is William Holte?
Although the man in the video claimed to be "Dan Purdy," Twitter users noticed that the man in the video had a striking resemblance to a Facebook user named Byl Holte, a self-proclaimed "anti-feminist TV critic.
Upon further digging, users found that Byl Holte was an alias used by a man named William Holte. A quick Google search reveals "William Holte" to be the son of soul singer Patti LaBelle's son.
A LinkedIn search later confirmed that Holte works in landscaping in Pennsylvania, and his profile picture matches the face of the man in the Dan Purdy video, as well as the pictures on the Byl Holte Facebook account.
It was later revealed that Holte is not actually LaBelle's biological son, but her nephew, whom she adopted after the death of her younger sister, Jacqueline Holte, in 1989. A search through LaBelle's Instagram account confirms Holte's identity — LaBelle has posted photos of William captioned, "my nephew," and tagged an account called "byl322."
It does not come as a surprise that Browning could be behind the Dan Purdy sock puppet account. Since 2016, experts have identified huge networks of pro-Trump bot accounts and accounts for people who did not actually exist.
Last month, Clemson University social media researcher Darren Linvill told the Washington Post that he had identified more than two dozen Twitter accounts belonging to "Black Trump voters" with activity that raised doubts over their identities. Many used photos of Black men from news reports or stock images, including one in which the text "black man photo" was still watermarked on the image.