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Chad Hower, aka “The TikTok Fugitive” has a hell of a story to tell. He says both the the FBI and Interpol have been trying to extradite him to the U.S. for the past 16 years to face charges for a crime he did not commit. In hundreds of TikTok videos posted from Russia, St. Kitts and other nations, Hower taunts the authorities and explains the Byzantine details of how an innocent Microsoft computer programmer wound up an international criminal. Hower’s plight gained the attention and sympathy of some of the biggest influencers on TikTok, and his videos have been viewed over 120 million times on the platform. But is he telling the truth?

Hower’s story begins with a bitter divorce. He says his ex-wife falsely accused him of kidnapping his son, even though he had full legal custody of the child at the time. The FBI got involved, and an innocent trip to Europe turned into a stint in a Bulgarian prison and a life on the run.

Hower says the U.S. has tried to extradite him at least three times, from at least one nation with an extradition agreement, but they haven’t succeeded because the charges against him are bogus on their face. The FBI, according to Hower, knows he’s innocent, but refuses to end the manhunt. Even though his child is an adult now, and even though he has court documents he says prove his innocence in indisputable terms, Hower is still forced to live as an exile and fight to clear his name.

Hower says sympathetic journalists who tried to cover the story were scared off by the FBI, leaving no choice but to take his story directly to the people through TikTok, podcasts, online interviews, and petitions. If you search Hower’s name, you’ll be greeted with pages of sources discussing and amplifying his story and the injustice that’s been done to him, but few sources that critically examine his claims.

Anyone can say anything on the Internet, but Hower really is wanted by the FBI. He really is a fugitive who has been given asylum in Russia, and really has had his extradition fail. But when you pull on any other string of this complicated ball of yarn, it seems to unravel into an uglier story where the villain is not the FBI.

Is Hower an angry divorced guy?

According to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in the U.S., about 200,000 children are abducted every year by a parent or other family member. Most of the aggrieved parents who lift their children from court-ordered visitation don’t end up as international criminals, but this may have been the fate that Hower brought upon himself through his uncommon personal stubbornness and intelligence.

I’m not going to get into the legal nitty-gritty, but the evidence suggests that Hower is not being entirely honest about everything, to put it charitably. If you’re interested in specifics, check out this exhaustively researched and excellent video from YouTube’s CHUPPL, who carefully examines many of Hower’s claims (and also delves into Hower’s habit of eating locusts, his self-documented road rage, and his hobby of cosplaying as Gru from Minions.) CHUPPL’s conclusion: The best evidence indicates the legal case at the center of this whole mess was handled by the books, despite Hower’s increasingly complex conspiracy theories.

Broadly, Hower’s documents about the initial kidnapping seem to only indicate he’s innocent if you ignore other documents, court orders, and laws—it was a very complex custody case involving the state courts of Tennessee and Pennsylvania and eventually the Federal court. It’s the same with the extraditions: A more reasonable explanation for a failed extradition would be a lack of dual criminality. If Bulgaria doesn’t have a law against this kind of kidnapping, they wouldn’t extradite, no matter what information is presented to them.

Then there are the vibes.

The importance of a working bullshit meter

Within a minute of watching my first Hower video, I was skeptical—dude’s making some extraordinary claims—and from there, every new detail made the story seem less credible instead of more. I can’t speak definitely about the factual debunk without devoting my life to exploring it, but the story doesn’t pass my personal smell test.

There’s no plausible explanation of why the FBI would waste so much time and effort pursuing a relatively unimportant man that they know is innocent, leading to the suggestion that the CIA could be involved because they wanted to recruit Hower for the agency—another hard-to-swallow pill. (Free tip: When anyone mentions the CIA to cover a hole in their story, you can stop listening; 99 times out of 100, they’re lying to you.) Then there’s the suggestion that “mainstream” journalists were scared off the story by the FBI. A more reasonable possibility: Credible journalists showed interest, did some research, clocked the guy as a fake, and stopped returning his calls.

But most of all, Hower has a “this guy is so full of shit” feeling that I can’t explain rationally. He seems like an intelligent, driven, bizarre person with an axe to grind and a lot of time to hone it to a sharp edge. Maybe he’s motivated by righteous anger based on legitimate injustice from the court system, but his many half-truths and fanciful explanations feel intentionally crafted to influence people. It’s hard for me not to see something sinister there. He’s clearly a smart enough person to know he’s presenting one side of a complex story and calling it the whole truth (at best), and it’s troubling that so many people can’t see through it.

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