Chicago prosecutors filed hate crime and other felony charges Thursday against four people accused of holding captive and assaulting a man with special needs in a racially charged attack broadcast live on Facebook.
Video of the assault shows a terrified young white man cowering in the corner of a room as four black attackers taunt and beat him, at times yelling obscenities at US President-elect Donald Trump and "white people."
Police have yet to say whether the victim — who knew at least one of his assailants from school — was targeted because of his race, politics, or because he had special needs.
But thousands of social media users, including far-right commentators, claimed without offering evidence that it was linked to the Black Lives Matter movement born in protest at police shootings of African Americans. As a result #BLMkidnapping was one of the top trending hashtags on twitter.
Please get your facts straight. BLM doesn't condone violence and we are abhorred by this travesty. We hope he's well & receiving care. https://t.co/9GwNE4mlCQ— BLMChicago (@BLMChi) January 5, 2017
In the 30-minute video — which quickly spread online — the two female and two male attackers are seen cutting off parts of the victim's clothes, hitting him, and hacking off some of his hair at the scalp, causing bleeding.
Police identified the four suspects as Jordan Hill, Tesfaye Cooper, Brittany Covington — all 18 years old — and Tanishia Covington, who is 24.
All four face multiple felony charges, including for kidnapping, battery and hate crimes. The hate crime charge alone carries a sentence of at least a year in prison.
Police did not reveal the identity of the victim, who in the video appeared to be tied up and had duct tape over his mouth.
"It's sickening," Chicago police chief Eddie Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday evening. "The images in the video put on display the brazenness of the offenders who assaulted the victim and then broadcast it for the entire world to see."
The victim, who was found by police walking near the scene of the attack, was recovering after being released from hospital, authorities said, describing him as traumatised by the ordeal.
Police said the victim had likely been with the attackers for at least 24 hours and as many as 48 hours.
The victim's parents reported him missing on Monday in their Chicago suburb, and later received text messages saying their son was being held captive, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.