Former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who shot and killed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, is now trying to sell the gun used in his attack — and it's stirred up pro-social trolling in its most useless form.
Earlier this week, Zimmerman told Florida news outlet WOFL that he recently received the pistol back from the Department of Justice, which he said had taken it after he was acquitted of murder for Martin's death in 2013. He posted a listing on auction site GunBrokers.com, starting bidding at $5,000. After calling the gun an "American firearm icon," he claimed that it had previously attracted interest from, among others, the Smithsonian Museum — which flatly denied the notion in a brief statement.
"We want no part in the listing on our website"
The response has been a predictable but dispiriting intersection of terrible people, vague internet protest, and online fundraising. Under criticism for hosting the listing, GunBroker.com soon removed it. "We reserve the right to reject listings at our sole discretion, and have done so with the Zimmerman listing," said the site owners in a statement. "We want no part in the listing on our website or in any of the publicity it is receiving." The item then reappeared on the United Gun Group, a "social marketplace" for firearms. After tweeting an announcement of the gun sale on Twitter, the group said its users were "solely responsible" for the listings, since "we do not post auctions," and that it was making no money directly from the sale.
But like many things that allows for public online participation, the auction was quickly hijacked. The Associated Press reported that actual bids for the gun were soon joined by probable joke offers from users like "Donald Trump" and "Tamir Rice" — the 12-year-old boy killed by Cleveland police in 2014. ("Rice" currently holds two of the top five offers, at around $430,000.) Then, an account named "Racist McShootface" suddenly drove the price past $57 million with a series of bids. By the time the user was suspended, a new top bid offered $65 million, bearing the name "Craig Bryant." The account since appears to have been deleted.
The auction money isn't the point here
Was Zimmerman ever going to get $65 million or more for an item whose sole claim to fame is shooting an unarmed 17-year-old? Almost certainly not. But people have proved more than willing to give him money in the past: he collected over $200,000 in donations following his arrest in 2012. It's also somewhat immaterial. Zimmerman has been trolling for notoriety since his acquittal, to the point of retweeting an image of Martin's body. Even if he receives no money, the auction gives him space to rant against "B. Hussein Obama" and the Black Lives Matter movement, while using online criticism to position himself as a persecuted conservative hero. And it's yet another way of needling Martin's family. Trayvon's father Tracy Martin has issued a short statement on the sale, saying that he is "laser focused" on fighting gun violence through the Trayvon Martin Foundation, and that the foundation "has no comment on the actions of that person that murdered Trayvon."
As always, reporting on someone like Zimmerman is to some extent just playing into their hands. But it's a case in which there may be no right way to proceed. Internet vigilantes can deny Zimmerman money, but they draw attention to the campaign in doing so, and it's simple for a real buyer to contact him after it's concluded. Media coverage can leave out his self-aggrandizing statements, but it still raises his profile. Using the auction to mock Zimmerman doesn't make it any less cruel to Martin's family. And totally ignoring it emboldens the echo chamber of people who think Zimmerman is a hero.
The only people who seem really comfortable with the situation are the internet carrion-birds nested in the auction listing comments section. "All of you need to get lives. Fucking losers," wrote Brez Morrell, whose name is attached to the current highest bid of $485,000, to anyone trolling the auction. "I hope your children get murdered," Morrell continued.
Barring another cancelation, the auction is currently scheduled to end in four days and 14 hours.