Federal agents investigating racist messages sent shortly after the 2016 presidential election interviewed three men who graduated from Tulsa-area high schools in recent years, obtaining search warrants for the home and phone of one of them, federal court records show.
The FBI inquiries were in connection with messages sent to several University of Pennsylvania freshmen in November – an incident that sparked outrage at that university, made national headlines and was listed among several examples of race-based harassment that followed the election. The University of Pennsylvania is Trump’s alma mater.
The incident threw a spotlight on Oklahoma because the University of Oklahoma, where one of the Tulsa-area graduates was attending, suspended that student while an investigation occurred. News coverage also referred to the 2015 scandal over a video of OU fraternity members singing a racist chant.
None of those named in an FBI affidavit about the messages has been charged with a crime. In that search-warrant affidavit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, the FBI said it was investigating the matter under federal law that prohibits sending interstate messages threatening another person.
The affidavit details findings of the investigation. Oklahoma Watch is not identifying the students named in the document because of the absence of charges.
The messages in question were sent through the GroupMe app, on which users can create groups, share text messages, photos and videos, and create events.
On Nov. 10, a University of Pennsylvania freshman, who is African-American, began receiving messages from a group called “Trump is Love,” of which she was not a member. One user, using the handle “Daddy Trump,” sent a message to the student with a profane acronym and a racial slur for black people, the affidavit says.
The next morning, the student began receiving messages from another group she was not a member of, called “Mud Men,” that featured an automated greeting using the same racial slur and referring to Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the fraternity whose OU chapter was booted from campus after the racist-chant video surfaced.
The student told investigators that she received the message repeatedly. She then got an event invitation scheduled for that day, titled “Daily Lynching,” with the question, “Going?” and buttons allowing the recipient to select yes or no. The message thread also contained an old picture of several black people who had been lynched, the affidavit states.
Many other black University of Pennsylvania freshmen also were added to the group without their knowledge and began receiving messages and the invitation, investigators said.
One of those students scrolled through the racist messages to find who started them and came across a University of Tulsa student, according to investigators.
The University of Tulsa student told the FBI that he had been added by a friend to the “Mud Men” group on Nov. 10, and he added 70 to 150 of his own GroupMe contacts, including students from the University of Pennsylvania (where he planned to attend), to the group before any racially charged pictures or posts were made.
That student voluntarily allowed FBI agents to search his phone in December, records show.
The FBI also interviewed the OU student, who had been a part of one of the groups. The student, who is originally from the Tulsa area, told an agent that he and two other friends, including the University of Tulsa student, were added to the group by a third friend who was a student at Tulsa Community College.
OU suspended the student there because of the messages, the document states, and a university spokesman on Friday said the individual is no longer enrolled.
The FBI obtained search warrants for the south Tulsa residence and phone of the Tulsa Community College student. Agents interviewed the student, who at the time was on interim suspension from the school, according to the document.
The student told them he had started one of the message groups, called “Trump’s Disciples,” on Nov. 10 and posted the “Daily Lynching” appointment and the photograph of a mass lynching, the affidavit states.
The student also said he invited the OU student, the University of Tulsa student and another person to join. When the discussion began to spread rapidly, he became fearful and deleted the app from his phone, agents said.
During and after the interview with agents, the student “expressed remorse for his actions and advised he had no intention to harm anyone,” the affidavit states.
A spokeswoman for Tulsa Community College said the student was put on interim academic suspension on Nov. 15 as the college investigated the matter. However, before the investigation was completed,the student voluntarily withdrew and did not re-enroll.
A University of Tulsa spokeswoman said the university did not suspend the student, and that an investigation by the institution found no wrongdoing on the student’s part. He is still enrolled there, the spokeswoman said.
This story was updated Feb. 7 to include responses from Tulsa Community College and the University of Tulsa.