Around the same time that the last U.S. soldier was leaving Afghanistan on Monday evening, a video showing a man dangling from a Blackhawk helicopter began to go viral on Twitter.
The original post claimed that the video showed a man being executed by the Taliban in the skies above Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Thankfully, that does not seem to be true. Other videos of the same Blackhawk—and a close examination of the first video—show that the man is attached to the helicopter with a harness rather than a noose. At one point, he seems to wave to someone inside the helicopter. While it's not clear exactly what is happening in the video, it seems safe to say that no one is being horrifically executed.
A viral video claiming to show a man being brutally hanged from a helicopter in Kandahar was likely an attempt to fix a flag over a public building, not a hanging. A separate video of the incident shows the man is clearly alive and waving in the air. pic.twitter.com/x6T5iDhpc9
— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) August 31, 2021
The initial video certainly seemed to confirm the worst fears about how the Taliban might use the piles of military gear it acquired as U.S. forces withdrew from the country. Without waiting for confirmation of what the video showed—and without applying the basic level of skepticism one should always deploy with content shared on the internet—war hawks jumped at the opportunity to score some easy points.
"This horrifying image encapsulates Joe Biden's Afghanistan catastrophe," wrote Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) as he retweeted the video to his 4.5 million followers.
This horrifying image encapsulates Joe Biden's Afghanistan catastrophe: The Taliban hanging a man from an American Blackhawk helicopter.
Tragic. Unimaginable. https://t.co/zOvNM5UXUW
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 31, 2021
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R–Texas), who has been a loud critic of withdrawal from Afghanistan, shared the video as well. "In what f***ing world was it a good idea to just hand over a country to these people," he wrote. Rep. Jason Smith (R–Mo.) did not share the video directly, but made reference to "innocent people hanging from an American helicopter" in a tweet criticizing Biden's decision to pull American troops out of Afghanistan. Like Cruz, neither Crenshaw nor Smith have deleted or updated their misleading tweets.
Of course, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is likely to be a loss for freedom even if the new regime isn't hanging political opponents from helicopters. Already, the new rulers of Afghanistan have indicated that they will crack down on women's rights, music, and ideas that do not conform with their strict reading of Islamic law.
But that does not give license for pro-war American officials to mislead and misinform the public—though, of course, that's never stopped them before.
For the most part, complaints about how the Taliban are using discarded American military gear—which also surfaced after video of Taliban fighters at Kabul airport wearing American-issued tactical gear went viral last week—are missing the mark. As I've written before, the Taliban have their hands on all that equipment because America invaded, not because the Biden administration finally brought the 20-year war to an end. Advocating for remaining in Afghanistan longer means advocating for sending more military gear to Afghanistan, some of which will inevitably be lost, stolen, or handed over to the very people America has spent nearly two decades unsuccessfully trying to oust from power.
The viral video of the hanging-that-wasn't is a good reminder of one of the basic rules of online political warfare. If a contextless video or post seems to confirm all of your biases, it's best to double-check before spreading it around.