- President Trump spreads conspiracy theories all the time. But last night, he went too far, even for Laura Ingraham.
- He claimed shadowy figures were controlling Joe Biden and sending black-clad antifa members on planes to wreak havoc. When pressed for details, he said the story was “under investigation.”
- The fake story was born on Facebook, which has become the go-to venue for terrified suburban boomers pushing conspiracy theories.
- As “leader of the free world,” Trump is the most dangerously gullible boomer.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump famously, proudly, does not like to read. He does, however, “hear” things all the time.
He frequently hears “a lot of people saying” ridiculous, incendiary, and patently false things, many of which can be traced to far-right message boards.
From there, such conspiratorial lies often migrate to the cursed social-media website that replaced the paranoid chain email for terrified suburban boomers: Facebook. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before they reach America’s conspiracy theorist in chief, Trump.
In an interview in his Fox News safe space with superfan Laura Ingraham Monday night, the president appeared to parrot a particularly stupid Facebook-driven story, one so wild that even Ingraham told him it sounded like a “conspiracy theory.”
After he claimed that “people that you’ve never heard of, people that are in the dark shadows” were controlling former Vice President Joe Biden, the President of the United States added: “There are people that are on the streets; there are people that are controlling the streets. We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend. And in the plane, it was almost completely loaded with thugs, wearing these dark uniforms — black uniforms — with gear and this and that. They’re on a plane.”
Ingraham, to her credit, pushed for further explanation. Trump retreated, saying: “I’ll tell you sometime. But it’s under investigation right now.”
According to Ben Collins at NBC News, Trump’s delusion has roots in — where else? — Facebook. A widely shared post from early June read: “At least a dozen males got off the plane in Boise from Seattle, dressed head to toe in black.” The post also claimed one of the black-clad men had an “Antifa America” tattoo.
At the time, many conservatives cowering in fear of antifa supersoldiers fell prey over and over to fake antifa accounts — some run by white-nationalist groups like Identity Evropa — that claimed the leaderless anarchist group was going to bypass big cities and attack the suburbs.
After the fake story spread for months among hopelessly credulous conservatives, it appears to have reached the most powerful person in the world, Trump, who has now broadcast it on Fox News.
And then Trump doubled down on his “Antifa on a Plane” story on Tuesday, telling reporters: “A person was on a plane, said there were about six people like that person, more or less, and what happened is the entire plane filled up with the looters, the anarchists, rioters, people that were obviously looking for trouble. The person felt very uncomfortable on the plane.”
As I noted last week while the Republican National Convention was going on, the party has purged most of its intellectuals and luminaries in favor of Trump sycophants, cronies, and offspring. Gone are principled defenses of free markets and aspirations for shining cities on a hill — they’ve been replaced by right-wing YouTuber sloganeering.
Trump promoting the story about antifa on a plane, and claiming that it’s “under investigation,” shows that Facebook conspiracy theories are just as influential on the current state of the GOP, which is now the Party of QAnon.
We’re beyond the point of “Trump fatigue.” His supporters can’t be shamed by anything he does, and his critics — or even relatively neutral observers — can’t keep apace with debunking his lies.
But this is not “just trolling;” this is legitimately dangerous. Even if he’s done everything within his abilities to debase the office and undercut confidence in American institutions, the president’s words still matter — a lot.
Trump uses the bully pulpit of the presidency not only to stoke fear and anger but also to confuse and distract. Spreading stories of puppet masters in the “dark shadows” who are not only air-dropping violent anarchists into small-town America but also controlling the Democratic presidential nominee is much more consequential than “owning the libs,” it’s fomenting hatred.
Turning Point USA cofounder Charlie Kirk called Trump “the bodyguard of Western civilization” at the RNC last week. With Trump’s predilection for believing every wildly outlandish conspiracy theory on the internet, he would be more aptly described as “the most dangerously gullible boomer.”
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).