ATLANTA — On Friday afternoon, Lawrence Sloan looked nothing like he did election week. With his beard shaven off, and his black hair dyed bright blond, he’s in the middle of another physical appearance change.
It’s all a short-term remedy for the damage done right before he went into hiding. Sloan, who allowed Channel 2 Action News to use his name since it’s already been published, is featured in a viral video that falsely accused him of destroying a ballot.
“These are the things that destroy people’s lives-put people in danger,” he told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr in his first television interview. “These are real people. And I’m talking like it didn’t happen to me. It did happen to me.”
[SPECIAL SECTION: Election 2020]
Sloan was a part of the team processing absentee ballots inside State Farm Arena during election week. The room was full of national and local media, county cameras, observers from both major parties, county and state
On Nov. 4, during what ended up being an 18 hour shift, Sloan was captured on-camera crumbling a piece a paper and slamming his hand down on a table. Someone posted the clip to Twitter, falsely accusing him of destroying a ballot.
The tweet was shared by several high-profile accounts, including both of President Donald Trump’s sons and Georgia’s state GOP chair David Shafer, who demanded an investigation and called out Twitter for flagging the video as false election information. Trump also shared a narration of the false allegation in a tweet.
Two nights later, at the top of a live 6:00 p.m. newscast, Fulton Elections director Rick Barron explained the worker, who was not named at the time, had gone into hiding the day before, after his license plate number was released online.
Barron explained what was actually happening in the video, where people saw Sloan at the ballot envelope cutting machine, used for separation.
“That crumpled piece of paper, they were instructions,” Barron said, adding that a ballot would have been 8 ½ by 19 inches long.
On Friday, Sloan told Carr the voter had mistakenly returned their instruction sheet in the ballot.
“The process you’re watching me do that- I am separating your identity from your vote,” he said. “That’s why there’s a white envelope inside with no markings on it, except for ‘This is a vote.’ That’s what we put on there. The instructions are on the ballot you fill out inside of there .”
“There’s instructions on every level of it,” Sloan added, pointing out nothing should accompany the ballot in the envelope. “People do not follow instructions.”
The day after the incident, Sloan started getting messages from family and friends, showing him the caption. He’d initially tried to reply to some comments, explaining what was really happening, but then he decided to start deleting his social media accounts. During a smoking break near his car in a State Farm Arena deck, Sloan said had to run to a public area because he’d been followed.
“I start seeing white pickup trucks and vans with Trump spray painted on the side, pulling up and honking their horns,” Sloan said. “And as a Black man in the South, I know when pickup trucks start pulling up and honking their horns, it’s time to go.”
Sloan’s friends picked him up from a nearby restaurant, and he began staying in different people’s homes, as information about him and his family, their car plates and other personal information hit the Internet with threats.
Sloan continues to move around. He also said that for now, he plans to keep changing his appearance. Masks worn to protect against COVID have helped him feel more comfortable when he is in Atlanta.
“People who know me do not recognize me on the streets,” he said.
Sloan credited state elections officials and Fulton County with providing support and protection, both cyber and physical. He warned the public against falling into a sea of online disinformation.
“In a noisy room you can’t tell who’s talking… what’s going on,” Sloan said. “And now you’re confused because you’re just going to start making decisions based on how you feel rather than based on what the facts are. And your feelings change every 20 minutes.”
He added that cable content outside of news, and featuring people’s opinions on the latest controversies and viral video, add to the confusion.
“It’s hard for people to parse,” Sloan said. “It’s hard for people to parse that information and to make good decisions based on it.”
“We gotta pause…We have a lot of problems to solve,” Sloan continued, shaking his head. “I just turned 36 on the 22nd, and I think about what the world is going to be like in 30 years. And I’m not hopeful for it.”
GEORGIA VOTER GUIDE:
- Key Dates for 2020 Runoff Elections in Georgia
- These are the races that are in a runoff in Georgia
- Did you know? You can still register to vote in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs
- How to vote by absentee ballot for Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff elections