Even after Joe Biden’s presidential win on Saturday, the news continued to be scary and weird. The losing candidate, incumbent Donald Trump, refuses to concede. Those around him are baselessly alleging voter fraud. It’s a nightmare. But some of the news is just weird, even when it involves recent failed Republican candidates. Such is the curious case of one Dean Browning, a fairly obscure political figure from Pennsylvania who started trending after tweeting that he was a “gay black guy.” And then things got really weird.
The story’s hairpin twists and turns unfolded over Tuesday afternoon into early evening, but places like Vox and Snopes have tried to make some sense out of the nonsensical. It started on Sunday when Browning — a former county commissioner who earlier this year lost the Republican primary for his district in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley — tweeted a pretty stock, if bold, conservative tweet: “What Trump built in 4 years, Biden will destroy in 4 months.”
That tweet went viral; it currently has over 12,000 retweets. (Browning has it pinned.) But it took two days until he received a reply that made him a sudden superstar. Someone pushed back, arguing that Trump tied to “take credit” for “what Obama built in 8 years.” Then came Browning’s inexplicable retort: “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. Everything is so much better under Trump though. I feel respected – which I never do when democrats are involved.”
Browning, as his avatar attests, is not black, and after several hours, after much of Twitter had sicced upon it, he took it down. Luckily people had screengrabbed it.
Dean Browning, former Lehigh County comissioner who seems to have forgotten to log into his burner account, was about 2,500 votes away from being the GOP's nominee in Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional district this year. pic.twitter.com/ftiY68wae6
— Jacob Rubashkin (@JacobRubashkin) November 10, 2020
Eventually Browning tried to explain, saying it was all a simple (if weird) misunderstanding. “Regarding the tweet that is going viral from my account — I was quoting a message that I received earlier this week from a follower,” he wrote. “Sorry if context was not clear. Trump received record minority votes & record LGBTQ votes. Many people won’t say it vocally, but do in private.”
Regarding the tweet that is going viral from my account — I was quoting a message that I received earlier this week from a follower.
Sorry if context was not clear.
Trump received record minority votes & record LGBTQ votes.
Many people won’t say it vocally, but do in private.
— Dean Browning (@DeanBrowningPA) November 10, 2020
Is it really so strange to quote someone who’s definitely not you without attribution? Sure! But this is where things got even more surreal. A lot of people called bull, even theorizing that Browning had one of those fake “black Republican” accounts so popular among Russian bots. One journalist even singled out one of Browning’s frequent reply guys: one “@DanPurdy322,” who was prone to…unusual tweets about black women.
Is this your totally real black gay conservative follower? pic.twitter.com/XSxgGjjxlc
— Don "Big Chooch" Moynihan (@donmoyn) November 10, 2020
Not long thereafter, Browning chimed back in, saying the message was from this Dan Purdy. He even included a link to this person’s Twitter account, which, by the way, has since been suspended.
Here is a message from Dan Purdy, who has decided to responded to the controversy.
I wish the media would pay attention to the voter irregularities in the state of Pennsylvania as much as they have this Twitter story. https://t.co/8UUpC0Y8UH
— Dean Browning (@DeanBrowningPA) November 10, 2020
That seemed fishy, too, but then the account posted a video of a black man claiming to be Don Purdy. ““I sent that message to Dean, Dean accidentally posted it somehow, that’s the end of the story,” the man said. “No, he’s not a sock puppet. No, I’m not a bot.” That video was soon deleted.
so the video was taken down, but here it is in case you want your brain to melt: pic.twitter.com/umGPjt5sN4
— alex (@alex_abads) November 10, 2020
According to Vox, even the video aroused suspicion, which some accusing him of being a hired actor. Soon internet sleuths like Jon Hendren (aka @fart) did some Googling and found the Dan Purdy account belonged to someone with a suspended account, as well as a number of aliases, one of them being “White Goodman.”
so from googling it would appear @deanbrowningpa's black guy identity "Dan Purdy" was also once used on the suspended account @soulcookie322. but before that account became Dan Purdy, it was a white guy named "Pat Riarchy" and "White Goodman". dean is really something else pic.twitter.com/gFkUPkNDPV
— food truck drove away with my debit card (@fart) November 10, 2020
But there’s (at least!) one more twist. Other internet sleuths went further, pointing out similarities between the face and the avatar of this professed Dean Purdy and one William Holte. And William Holte is otherwise known as Byl Holte, a regular on Medium who’s often written about feminism and anti-racism in media, caling himself an “anti-feminist TV critic.” And one other thing about him: He’s the adopted nephew of R&B legend Patti LaBelle. Because why not! 2020!
So there you have it. Sort of. Thing is, this is far from over, and there could be more twists, especially once Browning and Purdy respond to press requests. For now, we hope this has been a welcome surreal distraction from the news, which has been see-sawing between optimistic and grim, much as the Four Seasons Total Landscaping debacle helped us deal with a soon-to-be former president who may have to leave office by force.