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His anti-bullying video sparked an outpouring of support. Then came a radical twist, and a brutal backlash began

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 1:54pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 8:53pm

When sixth-grader Keaton Jones tearfully told of being bullied at school, the video of the heart-wrenching moment went viral.

Keaton’s mother Kimberly Jones publicly posted the video on Friday on Facebook, writing that her son asked to make it after he had her pick him up from school, in Knoxville, Tennessee, because he was afraid to go to lunch.

It was viewed 22 million times and shared more than 440,000 times.

But then came the backlash, aimed squarely at Keaton’s mother, amid accusations of racism and profiteering.

Before the story took its ugly turn, the video had sparked an outpouring of support from Hollywood celebrities, music stars, athletes and others.

“Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What’s the point of it? Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to ’em? It’s not OK,” Keaton Jones says in the video.

“They make fun of my nose, they call me ugly, they say I have no friends … (they) pour milk on me and put ham down my clothes, threw bread at me,” he says.

“I don’t like that they do it to me and I for sure don’t like that they do it to other people, ’cause it’s not OK,” Jones says, tears running down his face.

“People that are different don’t need to be criticised about it – it’s not their fault. But if you are made fun of, just don’t let it bother you – just stay strong,” he says, adding doubtfully: “It’ll probably get better one day.”

Chris Evans, the actor who plays Captain America, invited Jones to the premiere of the next Avengers film. “Stay strong, Keaton. Don’t let them make you turn cold. I promise it gets better,” Evans wrote on Twitter.

“While those punks at your school are deciding what kind of people they want to be in this world, how would you and your mom like to come to the Avengers premiere in LA next year?”

Rapper Snoop Dogg encouraged Jones to get in touch with him by direct message.

“Say lil Man U gotta friend in me for life hit me on dm so we can chop it up love is the only way to beat hate,” he wrote in an Instagram post.

“Keaton-Don’t waste time wondering why a bully would be so mean-They’re sad people who think hurting others will make them feel better because they really don’t like themselves,” tweeted Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga.

But then the story took a radical turn.

An Instagram account in the name of Kimberly Jones showed pictures of children – one of whom looks like Keaton – carrying Confederate flags, considered by many as symbolic of US racism.

The boy’s older sister Lakyn said the Instagram posts were not from members of her family and denied any alleged racism. But then a photo featuring a confederate flag, Keaton, and Lakyn brandishing a pistol was found on Lakyn’s own public Twitter feed.

The same photo also turned up on Kimberly Jones’ Facebook page, along with a message that “butt hurt Americans” should “stop crying”.

MMA fighter Joe Schilling said he was initially sympathetic to Keaton. But after he got in touch with the boy’s mother, she asked him to promote a GoFundMe page. When Schilling said he did not want to be involved in fundraising, Jones responded “what happened to us whites sticking together”, according to screenshots posted by the fighter.

As for the GoFundMe page, set up in Keaton’s name, it had raised almost US$60,000 before it was abruptly shut down on Monday by its organiser, Joseph Lam. He said he did not know the Joneses when he set it up, but that he had passed thousands of dollars on to Kimberly Jones when the page took off.

The original video of Keaton and other posts are no longer visible on Kimberly Keaton’s Facebook page.

Keaton’s school’s principal Greg Clay told the local Knoxville Sentinel newspaper he was unaware of the incident described in the video, but that he had spoken to the student body about bullying.

“It’s not as rampant as the video would have you believe,” Clay told the paper. “I can’t tell you what was done, but I can tell you action was taken with the children.”