To Rebecca Nagle and the alliance of American Indian activists behind the elaborate spoof that refueled the Washington Redskins’ name debate, Wednesday was a major success.
Standing across the street from the George Preston Marshall Monument in front of RFK Stadium on Thursday, five of the activists responsible for creating the “Washington Redhawks” online campaign that quickly spread across social media spoke about small victories.
One of the biggest surprises, according to Nagle, was a statement from the Redskins denying the team would be renamed the Redhawks beginning next year. That came within hours of the group posting fake news stories on Web pages doctored to resemble legitimate news sources like Sports Illustrated, ESPN and The Washington Post, among others.
“Our goal for the campaign was to prove that changing the name would be easy, popular and powerful,” Nagle said. “So I think that we as native activists have had to fight out this argument of why it should change, and I think we were able to efficiently flip the script.”
Tony Wyllie, the Redskins’ senior vice president of communications, said the team would have no further comment beyond Wednesday’s statement, which read: “This morning, the Redskins organization was made aware of fraudulent websites about our team name. The name of the team is the Washington Redskins and will remain that for the future.”
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has vowed never to change the team name.
Addressing why the group opted to replicate news sites, organizer Nick Courtney said the difference between what they did and what others are calling “fake news” was their ultimate goal.
“It was our intention all along to say that this was not real and here are the reasons why,” Courtney said. “Just to have this conversation among you and among the community members and just all people. So I think we’ve been refraining from using the phrase ‘fake news’ in that regard.”
The organizers see their actions as satire. It was a way to start a conversation that had gone dormant, despite other commonly used tactics like protests, petitions and rallies, according to Nagle.
“Political satire and political parody are really, really important tools,” Nagle said. “It is important for us to see the difference in that and having a president who calls everything he doesn’t agree with ‘fake news’ and being able to make those distinctions.”
The organizers started imagining the online action in early September as they saw NFL players take a knee to protest racial inequality and the widespread call for the removal of Confederate statues. There were about seven people — all members of Rising Hearts, a D.C.-based women-led indigenous group — involved in the planning.
Courtney said they also planned how to disperse links to the news stories, using members on Twitter with large followings to get their pages out. Some of those users have said they knew it was a parody when they spread it. Others have not, and Courtney expects it to stay that way.
As for next steps, there will be a rally put on by the activists Sunday just outside of FedEx Field starting at 10 a.m., before the Redskins play the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. T-shirts with the Redhawks logo and mascot will be handed out for free.
“We were able to put forth a tactic where we disrupt the mainstream narrative and really put forth a message that non-native people needed to hear,” Nagle said.