No, conspiracy theorists, Pete Buttigieg’s staffers are not pretending to be a man from Nigeria on Twitter

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg

A viral conspiracy theory suggesting that Pete Buttigieg staff are running a Twitter account purporting to be a man from Nigeria has, unsurprisingly, been debunked.

Tweets went viral accusing the Buttigieg campaign of faking the @easychinedu Twitter account, which purported to be a “Pete Buttigieg supporter from Nigeria” and largely sent supportive messages about the Democratic candidate.

The conspiracy theories were sparked on Sunday when the account posted a message which read: “Team Pete. Hey. It’s Lis. It’s Phase 4. Time to leave it all on the floor. Phone bankers, we need you.”

Bizarre conspiracy spread by Bernie Sanders supporters.

The “Lis” in the message refers to senior Buttigieg comms advisor Lis Smith – and naturally half of Twitter jumped to the perfectly reasonable conclusion that, when she’s not running communications for a presidential campaign during primary season, Smith spends her spare time pretending to be a man from Nigeria on an erstwhile-little noticed Twitter account.

One viral message from New Republic writer David Klion directly accused Smith of “pretending to be a Nigerian fan of her candidate”.

Similar claims from an account titled “Yes Mayor Pete, You’re Racist” racked up thousands of likes and retweets and were shared widely in pro-Bernie Sanders circles.

However, it turns out, sometimes a man from Nigeria really is a man from Nigeria.

Chinedu, a man from Nigeria, ran the pro-Pete Buttigieg account

Chinedu, a man from Nigeria, ran the pro-Pete Buttigieg account

Buzzfeed News, Mother Jones and Newsweek all independently verified the identity of the man, Chinedu, who has spent several days being virtually hounded with abusive messages.

Speaking to the outlets, Chinedu confirmed he is a real Buttigieg supporter – and he even held up a sign bearing the message “16/02/2020 I am not Lis Smith”.

Pete Buttigieg supporter from Nigeria says he’s been bullied off Twitter by ‘Bernie Bros’.

Chinedu – who has asked for his last name not to be used due to the flood of abuse – explained that his “Lis” message was an in-joke based on the frequent supporters’ emails sent by the Buttigieg campaign on behalf of Smith.

He said: “My account is run 100 per cent by me. I am not affiliated with Pete Buttigieg’s campaign. I just support Pete passionately. Many others outside the US support Pete as well.”

After the flood of negative messages, Chinedu has since deleted his account.

He said: “It’s not all Bernie supporters [but] there’s a vocal minority of Bernie Bros that are very loud and prominent.”

In response to the drama, the real Lis Smith tweeted: “Yea guys I totally have the time to be running a sock puppet account from Nigeria. Find better conspiracies!”

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg's spokesperson Lis Smith

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg’s spokesperson Lis Smith (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

She added: “Gotta respect @easychinedu’s media game – going everywhere!!!”

In response to the resounding debunk, David Klion deleted his tweets and said he “messed up” – but added: “To be clear, I am not apologising to [Smith], and I have no intention of doing so.

“I’m apologising to the Bernie campaign, my employers, my friends, my family, and left Twitter, to whatever extent I embarrassed all of the above by going out on a limb here.”

He also continued to insist that “this whole thing seems fishy”.

It’s not the first time Buttigieg has faced resistance from left-wing activists since emerging as the main rival to Sanders in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.