When two black men were accused of assaulting a white couple on the Charlottesville, Virginia, mall last month, the right-wing shriek machine immediately seized on the incident as the latest "knockout game" attack—a Drudge-fed race panic in which feral black youth are purportedly sucker-punching nice white people around the nation without reason or warning. But local law enforcement now says that the men were in fact incited by a verbal confrontation with the couple—a confrontation some witnesses say was related to their gayness.

The assault of Marc Adams and Jeanne Doucette, both 39, in Charlottesville's famous downtown market on December 20 went viral, largely because of Adams' and Doucette's efforts: In a long piece by C-Ville Weekly—complete with shaky cellphone photos Doucet had shot of the attack—the pair insisted they'd been savaged for no reason at all, and the police were dragging their feet:

Doucette said she threw her purse at the men, hoping that when they saw the cash inside they'd simply take the money and leave, but they had no apparent interest in robbing her. Instead, she said, they seemed to delight in the brutality.

"They were laughing, high-fiving, hugging, and then returning to kick [Adams]," said Doucette. "There was some kind of camaraderie to it."...

Doucette said she had never seen the men before and there was nothing in her behavior or Adams' that would have provoked the assault. Both victims wondered whether the episode was an example of the so-called "knock-out game," in which assailants randomly strike an innocent passerby with the goal of rendering them unconscious.

The story, predictably, was titled "Knockout." Elsewhere, Doucette told a similar story: "They didn't want to rob us. They wanted to beat us. It was like it was enjoyable to them to beat us...There was camaraderie to it."

The "knockout game" is a starter log for the inferno of white terror that burns in conservative media circles, and stoker-in-chief Matt Drudge linked to the Charlottesville story this week:

From there, it became a part of the Knockout Game master narrative.

Except the Charlottesville police concluded this week that nothing of the sort happened. "Despite the characterization that's been made that this was in fact a knockout [game], there was nothing in support of this investigation that would lead us to believe that that's the case," Police Chief Tim Longo told reporters in announcing assault and battery charges against the two black assailants, Richard Spears, 23, and Malcolm Stevenson, 25.

Longo also contradicted key parts of the victims' stories. Adams and Doucette had been walking along the mall after drinking, when Adams stumbled and fell. Spears, Stevenson and another man allegedly laughed at him, at which point Adams exchanged words with the men. "We don't know what those statements were," Longo said, but "what began as a verbal confrontation between two evolved into a physical altercation." Adams ended up thrown to the ground, punched repeatedly, and Doucette was injured when she tried to intervene.

What words could possibly have provoked the beating meted out to Adams and Doucette? David McNair, a local reporter and editor who maintains the DTM, a blog about Charlottesville's downtown mall, did some extra legwork and came up with a possible explanation:

As previously reported by the DTM, two separate sources, who wished to remain anonymous, but who were questioned by detectives in the investigation, said that Doucette told people that Adams had "said something that provoked the men." Longo did not offer any specifics on what might have been said, saying it was "not really clear what the exchange had been." As previously reported, sources the DTM spoke to said the attackers were known to be gay, and that they may have been angered by specific comments uttered by Adams and/or Doucette. Indeed, Stevenson, who delivered the majority blows to Adams, has a profile on a social media website called spring.me, under the handle "luverangel," on which he reveals that he knew he was gay when he was 12-years old. Stevenson also appears in a video of the former Hook Newspaper's "Question of the Week" feature, answering a question in May, 2011 about what he was going to do for the summer.

For his part, Police Chief Longo told reporters that he'd seen "nothing to indicate there was any other bias intent on any side." But that was in response to a question about whether racial slurs had passed between the parties before the attack, and after all, Longo conceded that police "don't know exactly what the verbal exchange was."

There was also this: Longo said that after the attack, "Mr. Adams did not participate in the initial investigation. He refused to provide his personal information or any account of what happened." He also refused medical treatment at the scene. Stevenson and Spears, on the other hand, "came together to turn themselves in," Longo said, adding: "They were cooperative and they acknowledged their presence there that night."

I emailed McNair to ask him how solid his sources were, and whether he thought homophobia had been a factor in the attack.

"At this point, I have a number of good sources telling me that Stevenson and Spears are gay, and that they believe that they were reacting to racist and/or homophobic comments made by the victims, and my gut tells me that is true," he wrote. "But, of course, I can't really confirm that." He added that the accused attackers have agreed to speak with him soon, and they may help shed some light on his theory.

The men "were originally portrayed and perceived as gangsta thugs," McNair says, and their gayness is "something I imagine will screw with the minds of all the people who went ahead and assumed that."

[Screenshot courtesy of WVIR-TV]