Students Created Deepfake Video of Principal Making Profane Rant: "I Am Bringing My Machine Gun to School"
The videos were fake, but parents assailed the school district for downplaying what they say is a real threat.
High school students in suburban New York posted TikTok videos last month purporting to show a middle school principal delivering a profanity-laden racist rant and threatening to bring a "machine gun" to school. Another video showed a sheriff's official threatening to hang students of color. The videos were deepfakes, meaning the images were manipulated to depict people saying things that are false or that never happened. The videos were quickly pulled down. But parents in the local school district said they were not adequately informed about the videos or the threats they contained. And they accuse district officials of not taking the incident seriously enough. Here's what you need to know about these shocking videos.
Where Did This Happen?
The videos appear to target George Fischer Middle School, a part of the Carmel Central School District in Putnam County, New York, according to The Washington Post, which reviewed the videos. Parents said their children have been subjected to bullying and racism in the district's schools in the past. A nearby school district, Mahopac Central School District, alerted parents of a racist threat by one of its students against a teacher and Black students, Vice News reported. Law enforcement officials identified the student and deemed the threat not credible.
What the Videos Showed
The Post described the videos: "In one, a male voice laid over a video of the middle school's principal, John Piscitella, goes on a 37-second tirade against Black students. In another video following the same template, a voice making racist slurs against Black and Latino students[ says nasty things]. Other videos show an animated version of George Fischer Middle School as the scene of a video game where a shooter runs into the building and begins firing…."
How Parents Found Out
The Carmel Central School District sent a letter to parents on Feb. 13 saying that three high school students had created videos of staff making "inappropriate comments." The letter said that the videos posed no safety threat. By the time parents received the letter, the videos had been pulled down, and many parents never saw them. The letter also did not tell parents that the district had called the Putnam County Sheriff's Office as soon as the videos appeared or that the sheriff's office closed its investigation after concluding that no crimes were committed and no students were in danger. The school district put out a statement decrying the videos' "blatant racism, hatred and disregard for humanity" but did not address the threats.
Parents Aren't Happy About What Happened
A couple of weeks later, the district held forums with families and law enforcement officials to talk about the videos and school safety. They left the parents with more questions than answers, some parents said. "Those meetings felt like a bunch of kumbaya and trying to brush up what happened without addressing the giant elephant in the room: How do we know are children are safe, and how do we know this won't happen again?" parent Abigail Santana told the Post. "There were a lot of questions from parents who didn't understand why the school was so vague about informing the parents about what had transpired about these threats," parent Norma Perera told Vice News. "Parents had no idea about these videos, and they never told us what the issue was at the elementary school," Santana said. "They took away important and necessary context from the letters they sent and left us with a very vague message at the end. It truly felt like they were trying to sweep everything under a rug." The district sent another letter to parents on March 8 outlining its plans for improving safety and communications and detailing how law enforcement investigated the incidents. District Superintendent Mary-Margaret Zehr did not respond to questions from the Post.
What Happens Now?
Some parents are considering legal action against the district, though no lawsuits have been filed yet. Others said that the videos reflect a larger problem of racism in the area's schools and that law enforcement officials are not taking the threats seriously. "The whole school system did not give proper notice to the parents, in fact they gave no notice to the parents that there was a terrorist threat to the school," Arthur Schwartz, a lawyer representing some parents, told Vice News.