When Democrats choose their candidate, they’ll have to face the storm of a massive propaganda machine– Russian troll farms, targeted disinformation campaigns, and a tidal wave of vomit spewing forth from the Alt-Right and conspiracy theorists filled with lies, fear-mongering, and every dirty trick in the book. And nobody does this better than Donald Trump himself.
With my book American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness out in August, I thought that I would do a project this year where I try to catalog all of the times Trump promotes conspiracy theory. What I’ve seen in just two months is frightening, but not surprising.
To recap some #TrumpConspiracyCounter rules: In addition to his direct promotion of a conspiracy, I tally every time Trump retweets or endorses a known conspiracy theorist or outlet, even if he is just retweeting them saying “have a nice day” or something. Why? Because Trump is the President of the United States. He has a huge platform of 72 million plus followers on Twitter (though many are bots) and his tweets get retweeted tens and hundreds of thousands of times. That’s introducing these people and their ideas to a huge platform.
I try to keep track of things best I can, but you could have a whole team devoted to this and I’m just one guy. So think of the #TrumpConspiracyCounter as a highlight reel to what I can catch, which is still enough to keep the counter clicking away rapidly. Just over two months into the year and we’re already at 119.
Biggest stories so far: Some of the noteworthy stories from the last couple months include Trump awarding vile gasbag and conspiracy monger Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union address. He also heavily defended his former advisor, 7-time felon, self-described “dirty trickster,” Batman villain, and conspiracist Roger Stone. Over the last week Trump (along with Limbaugh, FOX News, and other outlets) have pushed the narrative that the threat of the coronavirus is a Democrat/ Fake News “hoax” to damage Trump’s reputation. He even suggested in an interview with Sean Hannity that coronavirus was equitable to common influenza and people would be fine going to work with it and in true Trump fashion said his info was based on a “hunch.” (Tea’s Weird Week health tip: don’t go to work if you have the coronavirus.)
The coronavirus conspiracies have spread faster than the virus itself. Anti-vaxxers, QAnon believers, and others are passing around theories that the virus was cooked up by mad scientist Bill Gates and that the government will enforce a mandatory vaccine as part of a mass brainwashing program.
Most under the radar story: A couple weeks ago, I wrote a column about how two dozen people in the 2020 race for Congress are QAnon supporters. Trump has retweeted DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero, a QAnon believer running against Nancy Pelosi, several times. I’m surprised I haven’t seen more press on this. My column is here: “There Are Two Dozen Members of QAnon Running for Congress.”
Most frequent: In our fist #TrumpConspiracyCounter entry, we talked about conspiracy in Trump’s daily language as he uses terms like “witch hunt,” “hoax,” and “fake news” (and I admitted I couldn’t tally it all due to the frequency he uses it). He’s also very much still obsessed with “Spygate,” the unfounded theory that Obama (with help from the FBI) wiretapped Trump Tower in 2016. He’s brought it up frequently this year, including at the Milwaukee Trump rally I attended and in January, he tweeted out the image below.
The most frequent theorists he’s retweeted so far include Dan Bongino, an InfoWars favorite and author of a book on Spygate and Tom Fitton, who runs a “watchdog group” called Judicial Watch which has spread conspiracies about voter fraud, climate change, and the “Deep State.”
Conspiracy outlets Trump has retweeted: Trump has retweeted these sources, which frequently pump out conspiracy: The Blaze (a media outlet run by Glenn Beck), Breitbart News, The Epoch Times (run by the Falun Gong, they’ve promoted QAnon and have spent over $9 million on Trump ads and created hundreds of fake accounts to promote them), and Big League Politics (started by a former Breitbart writer who says Alex Jones was “his Walter Cronkite.”) among others. Here’s the counter tallies from Feb. 20-March3.
97-100.) Feb. 20: Quadruple Hit! “… it appears that Trump combined claims of Democratic voter fraud, unfair media bias, intelligence-community misconduct, and the misreporting of his crowd sizes into one big mess of paranoia.” We’re counting that as 4.
Source: “Trump Enters Full Conspiracist Mode at Colorado Rally,” New York magazine
101.) Feb. 20: At the same Colorado rally, Trump brought up a frequent enemy: wind turbines. In the past Trump has bizarrely claimed that the sound of wind turbines causes cancer, that they are a mass bird killer (they do kill birds, but not nearly as much as windows, cats, and electric lines do) and, despite claiming “I know windmills very much,” says that people won’t be able to watch their TVs on a calm day, due to lack of power.
Here’s a line from his Colorado rally: “Blow wind please; please keep the birds away from those windmills, please.”
If you think it’s a little…I dunno…out of character for Trump to have an animal rights activism streak for the birds, you’re right. Trump does not give a flying fuck about golden eagles. In actuality, Trump began his quixotic quest after windfarms were proposed in proximity to his golf course in Scotland. Trump became furious at the idea of “ugly” wind turbines ruining the view of his golf course, saying it was an act of “public vandalism.” His crusade against these “eyesores” has been blowing in the wind ever since. Much like his theory that energy-efficient light bulbs make your skin look orange, this is a Trump conspiracy born of his own vanity.
Sources: “Trump Condemns California Wind Farm as Decrepit Eagle Killer,” Forbes.
“Trump resumes fight against windfarm near Scottish golf course,” The Guardian.
102) Feb. 21: Retweets Charlie Kirk (Turning Point USA).
103-104.) Feb. 24: two retweets from Lori Hendry about the plight of Roger Stone. Has promoted Pizzagate and a number of other anti-Democrat conspiracies/ falsehoods, including one that Chuck Schumer raped his 16-year-old daughter’s friend, who comitted suicide. That’s false. Here Trump was retweeting Hendry’s tweets about Roger Stone.
105-107.) Feb. 25: More Retweets and a tweet claiming Roger Stone got an unfair trial.
108.) Feb. 26: Retweets Eric Bolling of The Blaze conspiracy site.
109.) Feb. 26: Retweets Tom Fitton (Judicial Watch).
110-112.) Feb.26: 3 retweets from Mark Levin (The Blaze), 2 on Roger Stone.
113.) Feb.26: Retweets DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero, one of the two dozen QAnon believers running for Congress this year.
114.) Feb.27: Trump met for 45 minutes with the cast of a “low budget conservative play about the Deep State” titled FBI Lovebirds: Undercovers by playwright Phelim McAleer.
Source: “Trump Spends 45 Minutes With ‘Deep State’ Play Actors Amid Coronavirus Mayhem,” Daily Beast.
115.) Feb. 28: Trump joins in with Rush Limbaugh, FOX, and others in saying that concerns about the coronavirus are a “hoax” to make him look bad. Source: “Trump calls coronavirus Democrats’ ‘new hoax,’” NBC News.
116.) Feb.29: We’re giving one point for Trump attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). It’s a den of Alt-Right characters and conspiracy. Here’s an article about last year’s conference: “The Conspiracy Theory President Finds His Comfort Zone at CPAC,” Washington Monthly. This year, coronavirus conspiracies were a popular topic.
Interesting side note: Owen Shroyer of InfoWars was kicked out of CPAC this year after ambushing pundit Seb Gorka at the conference. That led Alex Jones to do the rational thing– he called CPAC Seb Gorka “a gay whale” and “snakeoil salesman” and challenged him to a bare-knuckle boxing match.
117-118.) March 1 & 3: Tweets endorsement of Charlie Kirk‘s (Turning Point USA) new book The MAGA Doctrine.
119.) March 3: Retweets Dana Loesch, a Blaze, Breitbart, and former NRA-TV personality.
My upcoming book American Madness features a journey through conspiracy culture. It’s out August 25, 2020 from Feral House. To pre-order: CLICK HERE
“That being said, I do believe there is a group in Brussels, Belgium, that do eat aborted babies.”– Matthew Lusk, QAnon member and Florida Congressional candidate
I wish I were joking with this week’s column title, but I’m not. Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group that monitors right-wing media, has identified 24 candidates (though two have already dropped out) who have launched 2020 campaigns that are promoters of the QAnon theory. Yikes.
QAnon is a cult-like conspiracy following that believes in a Trump Messiah. I wrote about them in a chapter of my upcoming book American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness (Aug.25, Feral House) in a chapter titled, simply enough, “Q.”
QAnon beliefs go in a number of crazy directions, but the heart of the belief says that Democrats are running a secret satanic pedophile ring (the Pizzagate theory ties into this) and are practicing cannibalism. They believe Trump is silently plotting a day of reckoning, referred to as “The Storm” when all of these liberal villains– “Crooked Hillary,” Obama, “Nervous Nancy,” members of the Fake News media, and everyone else part of the “Deep State” will be rounded up, given military tribunals and sent to rot in Guantanamo Bay. Cryptic messages about this “Great Awakening” are sent to the initiated by a figure known as “Q.” There is much speculation on who Q is. Some say it is John Kennedy Jr., who faked his death and is secretly helping Trump out, or that it is Trump himself or someone in his inner circle. Spoilers: Q is probably an Internet troll.
There are many times QAnon has pointed to Trump supposedly acknowledging them– most recently I was amused to see that the Associated Press talked to QAnon members at the Milwaukee Trump rally that I attended and said they “believed the president had traced the shape of the letter ‘Q’ as a covert signal to followers of QAnon.” [“‘QAnon’ conspiracy theory creeps into mainstream politics,”Associated Press.]
You can identify QAnon believers by the lingo they use, often signaled as hashtags. “Where we go one, we go all” (abbreviated to wwg1wga) is the QAnon phrase of solidarity. “The Storm,” and “The Great Awakening,” refer to the QAnon revolution and “trust the plan” is another common signature. Q leaves “drops” and “breadcrumbs” as clues.
Some analysis of the QAnon candidates: Twelve states have QAnon candidates. California and Florida are tied with the most QAnon Congress hopefuls at five each. California has two vying for the 36th district (a huge mass of land east of LA in the Joshua Tree State Park), while in Florida, two are also competing for the 22nd district (which includes Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton). Texas follows with three (though one dropped out) and Minnesota with two. The candidates are split almost 50/50 between men and women. All but one (a Libertarian) are running as Republicans.
The most infamous of these contests include Matthew Lusk, running in Florida’s 5th district (which includes Tallahassee, Jacksonville) unopposed, meaning he’ll be running in the general election against Democrat Rep. Al Lawson. Lusk’s website includes a page devoted to Q, which only has three words of information on it:
Danielle Stella of Minnesota is running against Ilhan Omar, a favorite liberal villain. Stella says Omar hired a hitman to kill a woman and was banned from Twitter after tweeting that Omar should be hung for treason. She’s been a guest on InfoWars, and on a QAnon YouTube channel called “Patriot’s Soapbox.” She apparently also has a problem with shoplifting “cat merchandise.”
Another QAnon contender (and InfoWars guest) is DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero, running against top Trump enemy Nancy Pelosi in California. As noted in the #TrumpConspiracyCounter, Trump has retweeted Tesoriero.
Here’s the list of known QAnon members running for office in 2020:
- Daniel Wood, Arizona’s 3rd District
- Dan Belcher, Oklahoma’s 5th District
- Matthew Lusk, Florida’s 5th District
- Michael Blumeling Jr., Florida’s 21st District
- Jeremy Brown, Florida’s 14th District
- Christine Scott, Florida’s 22nd District
- Darlene Swaffer, Florida’s 22nd District
- DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero, California’s 12th District
- Erin Cruz, California’s 36th District
- Ignacio Cruz, California’s 39th District
- Rhonda Furin, California’s 45th District
- Patrice Kimbler, California’s 36th District
- Joanne Wright, California’s 34th District
- Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia’s 14th District
- Steve Von Loor, North Carolina’s 4th District
- Rich Helms, Texas’s 33rd District
- Michael Moates, Texas’s 26th District (dropped out after sending creepy messages to teens)
- Joe Walz, Texas’s 22nd District
- Nichole Williams, Tennessee’s 1st District
- Gary Heyer, Minnesota’s 3rd District
- Danielle Stella, Minnesota’s 5th District
- Bobby Jeffries, Pennyslvania’s 10th District (has reportedly dropped out)
- Jo Rae Perkins, Oregon’s 4th District
- Lauren Witzke, Delaware, candidate for U.S. Senate
Source: “Here are the QAnon Supporters Running for Congress,” Alex Kaplan, Media Matters for America.
This is crazy, damn damn damn crazy. It shows how important local elections can be. Please look into your local elections and VOTE. Don’t let these candidates and their imaginary friend Q get into office.
My upcoming book American Madness features a journey through conspiracy culture, including QAnon. It’s out August 25, 2020 from Feral House. To pre-order: CLICK HERE
“Journalist Tea Krulos has made a curious and enlightening career out of examining groups of people with odd beliefs.” — Skeptical Inquirer
As noted in today’s column, Trump has already gotten a number of hits on the #TrumpConspiracyCounter by retweeting followers of QAnon, including some this week. Here’s the tallies for Feb.6-12.
64.) Feb.6: Trump, furious at Romney for voting for one of the articles of impeachment, posts a video that promotes Mitt Romney as being a “secret Democrat asset.”
65.-71.) Feb.6-7: Bongino! Dan Bongino has racked up the most #TrumpConspiracyCounter points so far this year. He’s a former InfoWars regular, NRA-TV host, and now a FOX contributor and author of conspiracy book Spygate.
72.) Feb. 6: G’day, mate: Trump retweets Australian conspiracy theorist Miranda Devine, who has promoted the white genocide conspiracy theory, as well as climate change hoaxes, including a strange one that suggests Boeing planes crashed because of pressures to make them more eco-friendly. Make your brain hurt here: “NY Post Columnist Miranda Devine Bizarrely Blames Climate Concern for Boeing Disasters,” Daily Kos.
73.) Feb.6: Trump retweets Charlie Kirk, founder of college orientated Alt-Right Turning Point USA, promotor of many conspiracies, most recently Iowa voting theories.
74-75.) Feb.9: Retweets of Big League Politics. Started by a former Breitbart News writer Patrick Howley, who has called Alex Jones “my Walter Cronkite.” Formed in 2017, the site has promoted several conspiracies including QAnon, the Clinton Body Count, and Charlottesville false flag conspiracies.
Source: “Roy Moore Consultants’ New Project: A Conspiracy-Theorizing Pro-Trump News Site,”Daily Beast.
77.) Feb.9: Trump retweets Red Pill Report, sharing a video of House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler being shouted at by a heckler. The video was made by a QAnon YouTuber called “In Pursuit of Truth.”
78.) Feb. 9: Trump goes on an ALL CAPS Tweet freakout, ranting about the Spygate conspiracy. It read, in part:
SIMPLY PUT, THE PARTY IN POWER ILLEGALLY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, BOTH BEFORE AND AFTER THE ELECTION, IN ORDER TO CHANGE OR NULLIFY THE RESULTS OF THE ELECTION. IT CONTINUED ON WITH THE IMPEACHMENT HOAX. Terrible!
79.) Feb.10-12: These could be stretched out to several counts, as over two days Trump tweeted and spoke to the press in defense of his old campaign advisor and conspiracy theorist (and possible Batman villain) Roger Stone.
Stone has a hand in Trump becoming president, being one of the early people to suggest a White House run to him in the 1980s. In 2015, Trump tapped him to unleash the “Stone’s Rules” playbook. Stone has a long career as being a self-described “dirty trickster” as well as being a conspiracy theorist, spreading ideas like the Clinton Body Count, the Deep State, and many others. He teamed up with Alex Jones and had his own InfoWars show.
Although Trump claims “nobody really knows what he did,” the 7 felonies charged against Stone are specific– obstructing an official proceeding, witness tampering, and five counts of making false statements to Congress for his roll in trying to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from WikiLeaks and intimidating witnesses to lie from him.
After the Department of Justice announced a 7-9 year reccomended prison term, Trump vigorously defended Stone, saying his sentence was a “miscarriage of justice” and “very unfair” and that the Stone prosecutors were “rogue prosecutors maybe? The Swamp!” Attorney General Bill Barr stepped in to say that the sentence wasn’t reasonable and would not “serve the interests of justice.” The four prosecutors who made the sentencing recommendation all withdrew from the case, with one quitting the Department of Justice completely. Many have speculated Stone will end up being pardoned by Trump, though he wouldn’t provide an answer when the press asked him.
More on Stone’s dirty trickster history: “A Brief History of Roger Stone,” The Atlantic.
80.-82.) Feb.10: Retweets of Tom Fitton/ Judicial Watch. Fitton is president of conservative activist group Judicial Watch, which has spread conspiracies about the Clinton Body Count, voter fraud, Spygate, George Soros, climate change, and others.
You can find the #TrumpConspiracyCounter on Twitter: twitter.com/TrumpConspirac3
On Tuesday, I stood in line and shuffled into the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena to witness a Trump rally. I like to have experiences outside of my comfort zone to try to figure out what this weird world is all about. This one was pretty intense– imagine a stadium of ten thousand people screaming, totally high on hatred. I wrote about just a few WTF moments at the rally for the Shepherd Express in an article titled “The Top Ten Wildest Lines from Last Night’s Trump Rally in Milwaukee.”
I had another reason for attending– this year I’m closely monitoring Trump’s promotion of conspiracy theories and have been working on a new feature of my writing here. I’ll end some “Tea’s Weird Week” columns with a tally called the #TrumpConspiracyCounter.
It’s a fact, of course, that Donald J. Trump is a conspiracy theorist, sometimes legitimately, sometimes opportunistically. This is one of the reasons I believe that my upcoming book American Madness is very timely.
To give you a quick rundown of Trump’s greatest conspiracy hits so far: he was the person with the biggest platform to promote Birtherism, the racist conspiracy that suggested Obama was born in Africa and forged his Hawaiian birth certificate; that there was massive voter fraud in California that led to Hillary winning the popular vote; he kicked off his presidency by saying a media conspiracy had underreported his inauguration size; climate change is a “Chinese hoax”; the sound of wind turbines “causes cancer”; Ted Cruz’s father was part of the conspiracy to kill JFK; vaccines cause autism; 79-year-old Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was possibly murdered; there is a liberal “War on Christmas” (and last year mentioned a sequel “War on Thanksgiving”); he’s also given many endorsements of personnel from InfoWars and other conspiracy theorists.
And that’s just off the top of my head. Why is this dangerous? Trump is in the highest position of authority, he has 72 million Twitter followers and a cult-like population that accepts his every word as fact.
Every time Trump speaks or tweets something that is a conspiracy or shares from a known conspiracy theorists this year, it’ll be added to the #TrumpConspiracyCounter. I can only take so much Trump talk, so if you notice his promotion of conspiracy, please do help me out by commenting on the blog here or e-mailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To be clear, this is only tracking claims or associations that have an element of conspiracy to them. To see a tracking of straight-up lies and deceptions, you can look at CNN’s collection of 15, 413 (and counting) gumballs.
Here’s where we are 16 days into the year.
1.) On January 2, Trump tweeted: “Their partisan Witch Hunt is hurting our Country do [sic] badly, & only bringing more division than ever!” It’s a term he tweeted out 11 times in December 2019 alone. In a rambling letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on December 17, 2019, regarding the vote on impeachment, Trump says he is being treated unfairly and that “more due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.”
At least 25 people were hung, pressed to death, or died in jail as a result of the Salem witch trials. Trump mentioned “witch trials” in tweets January 6, 12, and 13, to the press on January 7, and at rallies Jan 9 and 14.
I think this is a good place to start with the #TrumpConspiracyCounter. Note that Trump’s daily language is steeped in terms like “fake news,” a supposed media conspiracy perpetrated against him by CNN, NBC, the “Failing New York Times,” and the Washington Post, all of whom he refers to as “the enemy of the people.” Investigations into him are a “witch hunt” and equivalent to a “lynching.” All of this normalizes conspiracy ideas and the language surrounding it.
I was originally going to catalog ever time Trump says “witch hunt” on the counter, but his volume of using that and related terms ( “hoax,” “scam,” etc.) is too much. We’ll count this as number one and then move on.
2.) January 3: Trump retweets Alt-Right troll and conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, a correspondent of One America News Network. Posobiec has been a frequent InfoWars guest and promoter of Pizzagate, among other theories. The retweet was just a commendation of Trump’s killing General Soleimani, but the act of retweeting Posobiec is enough to get on the #TrumpConspiracyCounter.
3.) January 14: Back to the Milwaukee rally. I was wondering if he might leave some conspiracy gem, and sure enough, he brought back his old claim that Obama is guilty of “wiretapping” Trump Tower or in some other way spying on him, sometimes suggesting the FBI was part of “Spygate” as the conspiracy is known (there is no evidence of the theory). Here’s something I wrote for the Shepherd Express article but cut because of length:
“Barack Hussein Obama,” Trump told the booing crowd, “which [sic] administration loves spying on people’s campaigns. By the way, by the way, could you imagine if it was the other way and I spied on his campaign? What would these fake news people be doing?” Trump said, gesturing to the media in the back of the room.
With my book American Madness out this year, it’ll be interesting to see how many clicks the counter racks up by the book release date (Aug.25 2020). We’re at 3 now. What do you guess the number will be?
Pre-order my book American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness (August 2020, Feral House)
Read all my columns from last year collected in Tea’s Weird Week: 2019 Review ($1.99/ free on Kindle Unlimited)
“Journalist Tea Krulos has made a curious and enlightening career out of examining groups of people with odd beliefs.” — Skeptical Inquirer