Hunter Kelly is a 21-year-old Michigan man who says he is not accusing Pete Buttigieg of sexual assault; in a Facebook post Monday night, Kelly said he was set up by a “political figure.” In a subsequent interview with The Daily Beast, Kelly confirmed that those political figures were in fact Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, two alt-right individuals. Neither Burkman nor Wohl have responded to The Daily Beast for comment.
Earlier on Monday, an account claiming the identity of Kelly published a post on Medium that spread on social media on April 29 accusing the South Bend, Indiana, mayor of sexual assault.
The Democratic presidential responded to the social media post by calling the accusation “made up” when asked about it by a reporter during a press gaggle on April 29.
In the Medium post, the person or people claiming to be Kelly wrote that they have plans to share his “full story with the nation” in the “days and weeks ahead.” The post is titled simply, “Pete Buttigieg sexually assaulted me.” But the real Hunter Kelly says he is not the one who made the post and he was not assaulted by Buttigieg.
He posted on Facebook to say he is not behind the Medium post and an associated Twitter account. “I WAS NOT SEXUALLY ASSAULTED. It’s important for everyone to know that I was not sexually assaulted and would never falsely accuse anyone,” the real Kelly wrote.
Some had questioned whether Kelly is a real person, but public records and social media accounts found by Heavy show that there is a person affiliated with the account. Hunter Kelly is from Michigan and has studied at Ferris State University. Kelly could not immediately be reached for comment by Heavy and has not responded to other media requests.
“I’ve received hundreds of phone calls today from journalists doing dogged reporting. They’ve called my school, my friends, my family and people who barely know me. I’m now sorting through my messages to do an interview about my horrific experience. Please pray for me,” the “@realhunterkelly” Twitter account on April 29. But the real Kelly says that page is not associated with him.
The Medium account and an associated Twitter profile were created this month. Older social media accounts, including a Facebook page, show that Kelly has been a supporter of President Donald Trump since 2016 and has called himself a Republican. The Facebook page that disavowed association with the Medium post and Twitter profile has been active for about a year and is linked to the actual Kelly.
Buttigieg, who came out as gay in 2015, is married.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Kelly Says He Woke Up to a Fake Twitter Account & an Article That He Did Not Write or Endorse After Meeting With a ‘Political Figure’ in DC Who Was Planning an Attack on Buttigieg
The post in Hunter Kelly’s name was published on April 29 and also shared on Twitter by an account claiming to be Kelly that was created three days prior to the Medium post. In the post, the writer claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Mayor Pete Buttigieg at an unspecified date and at an unspecified location.
But the real Hunter Kelly later responded on Facebook and said he did not write the post and is not behind the Twitter account. Kelly wrote in a post the evening of April 29,
“It’s important for everyone to know that I was not sexually assaulted and would never falsely accuse anyone. To keep it brief for now- I was approached by a political figure to come to DC to discuss political situations from the standpoint of a gay Republican. When I arrived they discussed Peter Buttigieg and started talking about how they would be working a campaign against him. I went to bed and woke up to a fake Twitter @RealHunterKelly and an article that I in no way endorsed or wrote. I have since left and am working on a formal statement to give to everyone including the Buttigieg family. Thank you for standing behind me and knowing that I would never accept or allow any of this.”
Shortly after he wrote the Facebook post pronouncing his innocence, Kelly confirmed to The Daily Beast that Burkman and Wohl were the ones to approach him. What’s more, the publication reports that Wohl and Burkman approached another unnamed individual (only described as “a Republican source); to that individual, the two men reportedly explained a similar goal to the one they allegedly explained to Kelly: to injure Buttigieg’s campaign momentum.
To The Advocate on Monday evening, Kelly further explained that he flew into D.C. to meet with Wohl and Burkman, and that he even spent the night at Burkmans home. However, he is adamant that he agreed to nothing close to the plan that was unleashed the morning after he flew in.
Kelly said, “I woke up at 11am and spent my whole day saying I did not want this to happen…My sister and her armed husband came and got me.” The Advocate also shows an apparent screenshot of a direct message conversation on Instagram between Wohl and Kelly.
This isn’t the first time Burkman and Wohl have been accused of such behavior. In fact, the situation is similar to a right-wing smear attempt against Robert Mueller in October 2018, led by none other than Wohl and Burkman. It is also similar to a ploy to try to discredit The Washington Post by right-wing operatives in 2017, who sent a fake accuser against Roy Moore to try to trick the newspaper’s reporters into writing a story about her purported allegations.
2. Buttigieg Was Asked About the Sexual Assault Accusation During a Campaign Stop & Responded by Saying It Was Made Up & ‘It’s Not Going to Throw Us’
Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from Heavy about the sexual assault accusation and Medium post. But during a campaign stop on April 29 in New York City, Buttigieg was asked about the allegation by a reporter during a press gaggle.
Buttigieg responded, “I’m sure it’s not the first time somebody is going to make something up about me. It’s not going to throw us. Politics can be ugly sometimes but you have to face that when you’re in presidential politics.”
Lis Smith, Buttigieg’s communications adviser, appeared to be alluding to the accusations in an April 29 tweet showing the South Bend mayor responding to an unrelated CNN question with the answer, “I’m not a master fisherman, but I know bait when I see it and I’m not going to take it.”
3. Kelly Has Studied at Ferris State in Michigan & Has Worked as a Server at a Big Rapids Restaurant
A Facebook page found by Heavy and a Linkedin profile that was seen by Heavy before it was scrubbed of information provide biographical details about Hunter Thomas Kelly. According to his Facebook page, which has posts dating back several years, Kelly is originally from Traverse City, Michigan, and now lives in Big Rapids, Michigan. He has also lived in Texas and Florida.
Kelly says he is a server at a Big Rapids restaurant and has previously worked at a motel and in several fast food jobs. On LinkedIn, he wrote:
“From a young age I knew I was a born leader, or at least a born influencer. I try my hardest to put passion in my work. From fast food, to managing franchises, to serving tables I always put my heart and sole into what I do. I have acquired many skills in my days in the service industry such as: time management skills, leadership skills, proficient written and oral communication, plus many other areas of the industry I am proficient in.”
He graduated from Central High School in Traverse City and then attended Ferris State University in Big Rapids, where he graduated in 2018 with a degree in general business and small business management. A Ferris State University website post shows that Kelly was a Dean’s List student in 2018. He has been continuing his studies at Ferris State, pursuing a master’s degree in business administration, and is set to graduate in 2023.
4. He Made His Instagram Account Private, but a Cached Version Shows He Identified Himself as a LGBT Trump Supporter & a Log Cabin Republican
Archives of Hunter Kelly’s Instagram page provide more details about his background. His private Instagram account, @hkelly1997, now says simply, “value yourself.” But as of four days ago, the bio on the account read, “‘Log cabin republican”‘. LGBT for Trump. 2a. Patriotic. #MAGA #Trump2020.”
Log Cabin Republicans are members of the conservative party who advocate for rights for the LGBT community.
While the @realhunterkelly account follows several Bernie Sanders-affiliated Twitter accounts, the actual Kelly has been critical of the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate in the past. He wrote in an Instagram caption next to a photo of himself holding an American flag, “I take the #USA seriously. Don’t elect a sellout like #Berniesanders.”
Kelly’s still active Facebook page contains several references to President Donald Trump from 2016. His cover photo in October 2016 was a photo of Trump at a campaign rally. He also posted other photos of Trump. And in May 2016, he shared an anti-Hillary Clinton meme featuring a photo of the former Democratic presidential candidate next to Trump with the words “Trump that bitch!” His Facebook page also likes several pro-Trump pages.
He also shared a conspiracy theory that the Clintons were tied to the Flint water crisis and in October 2017 posted a photo of Clinton with the caption, “The face you make when you’ve committed years worth of felony offenses but it doesn’t matter because you’re a political elite.”
While Kelly’s most recent Twitter account is newly created, he has been active in the past. His previous accounts have either been deleted or suspended, but like the Instagram account, cached and archived versions remain. On one account, he retweeted President Trump talking about the need for a southern border wall.
In addition to his support of Trump and Republicans, Kelly did share a post on Facebook in 2016 in support of singer Kesha, who accused her former producer, Dr. Luke, of sexual assault. In addition to making his cover photo of a picture of the musician, he posted a photo stating, “I stand with Kesha.” In 2015, he changed his profile photo to include the filter, #StandWithPP in support of Planned Parenthood.
5. The Medium Post Was Pushed by Some Questionable Right Wing Media Outlets, While Other Right Wing Sites Expressed Apprehension About the Accusation
The Medium article began to gain attention on social media after it was pushed by fringe right-wing sites BigLeaguePolitics and Gateway Pundit, which is known for sharing unverified conspiracy theories and fake stories. Other questionable right-wing Twitter personalities, like David Wohl, whose son, Jacob Wohl, orchestrated a fake sexual assault accusation against Robert Mueller, have also been tweeting about the allegations. Wohl and BigLeaguePolitics tweeted, “Uh oh: BREAKING: Media Darling Buttigieg Accused of Sexual Assault.”
But other right-leaning websites, like Twitchy, have expressed skepticism. Twitch wrote, “Does something seem off about this ‘very serious accusation’ of sexual assault against Pete Buttigieg?”
Even Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory site InfoWars questioned the accusation’ credibility, writing, “Given that the accusation comes with little detail, it doesn’t appear to hold much weight.”
Other Republicans, including prominent Log Cabin Republican voices, tweeted about taking a careful approach to the post. Chad Felix Greene, a gay Republican, told LGBTQ Nation, “I’m a sexual assault survivor and victims need to be heard. But it is wrong to falsely accuse someone by name. This young man should be speaking with the police and not writing headline-grabbing blogs and teasing details. It just looks like a false claim.”
Gregory Angelo, the former head of the Log Cabin Republicans, tweeted, “Not a fan of Mayor Pete but this whole thing seems shady as hell. I certainly hope @Medium asked for and received proof/corroboration before running a story that has the potential to ruin a man’s life.”
Gay conservative Brad Polumbo tweeted, “All accusations should be taken seriously, but @PeteButtigieg deserves the 100% benefit of the doubt until any misconduct accusation is fully vetted, substantiated, and corroborated.”