As police in Florida continued searching for Bran Laundrie in connection with the death of his girlfriend, Gaby Petito, some social media users have been fiercely defending him and arguing that he was being maligned for being a bald man.
The case of the ill-fated van-life couple has sparked strong reactions from people across the US, with some deifying the victim, and others lionizing her boyfriend, who has been named a person of interest in her death.
Subreddits titled r/FriendsofBrian and r/BrianLaundrie have collectively drawn nearly 2,000 members and have become clearing houses for countless wild, baseless conspiracy theories.
One Laundrie supporter accused Petito of being a white supremacist who orchestrated her own disappearance to divert resources from missing people of color.
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A subreddit called r/BrianLaundrie has emerged as a clearing houses for wild conspiracy theories seeking to clear Brian Laundrie’s name
Laundrie, 23, has been named a person of interest in the killing of his girlfriend, Gabby Petito, 22. He is missing and being sought by the FBI in Florida
Some of Laundrie’s supporters have argued that he is being maligned because he is bald
Others argued that Petito, 22, was a domestic abuser, and that her boyfriend acted in self-defense, although police have yet to charge him with killing his girlfriend, or even name him a suspect in her death.
Petito, a white woman from Long Island, New York, was reported missing on September 11 by her parents after she didn’t respond to calls and texts for several days while she and Laundrie visited parks in the West.
Her body was discovered last Sunday in a remote area in northwestern Wyoming, with her manner of death being ruled a homicide.
Laundrie was reported missing in Florida on September 17.
Investigators have been searching for Laundrie in Florida for more than a week. On Thursday, federal officials in Wyoming charged him with unauthorized use of a debit card, alleging he used a Capital One Bank card and someone’s personal identification number to make unauthorized withdrawals or charges worth more than $1,000 during the period in which Petito went missing.
Social media forums have lit up with baseless theories about the case
Amateur internet sleuths have been sharing photos of possible sightings of Laundrie at a climate protest in Germany and a pub drawl in Madison , Wisconsin, claiming he was hiding out in Mexico, or was in the federal witness protection program.
One Reddit user even suggested that Laundrie took off to try and track down his girlfriend’s real killer.
A subset of the subreddit’s members have posited that Laundrie was being targeted because he is not conventionally attractive.
‘One has to wonder if there is body shaming at play here,’ one post read. ‘Brian is being accused of killing Gabby (with no evidence of doing so) and brians [sic] name is being dragged through dirt. These same people will watch a Ted bundy [sic] documentary and fawn and swoon…’
Another Reddit user penned an impassioned screed, arguing that Laundrie was a victim of discrimination because he suffers from male pattern baldness.
‘Seriously folx [sic], follicle privilege is a real problem in this country and I’m tired of people pretending it isn’t,’ the post read. ‘MPB-afflicted male-identifying individuals in this country are treated like complete crap.
Many online sleuths have argued that Laundrie was a victim of domestic abuse at Petito’s hands
The couple got into a physical altercation August 12 in Moab, Utah, that led to a police stop for a possible domestic violence case (seen in bodycam video). Ultimately, police there decided to separate the quarreling couple for the night
‘If you’re doubtful about the existence of this system issue, then answer just one question: when was the last time a cis-gendered follicle-endowed white man with a large digital footprint baselessly accused of murdering his ‘innocent’ blonde white girlfriend? I’ll spare you the trouble of googling because the answer is NEVER.’
A Gabby Petito supporter shot back, slamming the members of the subreddit as ‘Loser Incels’ – a term used to describe people who define themselves as unable to get a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one.
Prior to the tragedy, Petito and Laundrie documented their cross-country trip in a white Ford Transit van converted into a camper on social media.
They got into a physical altercation August 12 in Moab, Utah, that led to a police stop for a possible domestic violence case. Ultimately, police there decided to separate the quarreling couple for the night. But no charges were filed, and no serious injuries were reported.
Police in Florida are searching for Laundrie in the alligator-infested Carlton Nature Reserve
Laundrie was reported missing by his family on September 17, sparking an intense search in North Port, Florida
In the darker recesses of social media, Laundrie’s supporters sought to paint him as the real victim, with one person writing: ‘Brian was a victim of physical violence at the hands of Gabby. The violence he experienced was so bad that he had to call the police for help in one instance.’
Reddit was the the only corner of the internet drawing armchair detectives bent on clearing Laundrie’s name.
On the Facebook group Justice For Brian Laundrie, one user declared: ‘Brian was framed. This entire thing was a government coverup to distract from Biden’s Afghanistan mistakes as the Taliban flaunts their new American weapons and the southern border turns into a s***show. Brian will not be reappeared until it’s timely for us to need further distraction.’
Laundrie has been charged with a federal count of unauthorized use of a debit card
A similar conspiracy theory was said to have been circulating among alt-right QAnon supporters.
Rewards totaling $30,000 are now being offered for any information that helps find Laundrie.
On Sunday, FBI agents returned to his parents’ home in North Port to collect personal items for DNA matching.