If there was ever any doubt that conspiracy theories course through the dark, troubled mind of Donald Trump, his tweets in the weeks since he won the election should dispel that notion. Hot and bothered by the inconvenient fact that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by more than 2 million votes (and counting) and that he is president due only to the questionable decision by James Madison to deny direct voter election of our presidents and instead delegate that task to an Electoral College, the birther-in-chief-elect took to his preferred social media platform. On November 27, Trump tweeted, “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
Huh? That was quite a claim, given that no one had heard that alarming fact. At least no one in their right mind.
Turns out Trump’s fantastic claim came from his favorite bedside reading website, InfoWars, home of conspiracy monger Alex Jones, and the place where outlandish right-wing conspiracy theories come to thrive. Jones, a Trump pal (who privately boasts that Trump repeats his ideas “word for word,” according to the San Jose Mercury News), was one of the first people Trump called to thank after his upset victory on November 8. Jones is the guy who, among other disturbing lunacies, helpfully informed us that the Sandy Hook massacre of school children and teachers was all an elaborate hoax by the government to deprive people of their guns. (There is a special place in hell for people who buy into this hateful lie.) Jones has also peddled the notions that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are demons (“I been told this by high-up folks, and they tell me Obama and Hillary both smell like sulfur”); that the federal government orchestrated 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings; that juice boxes make children gay; and that old bugaboo, that fluoridation of our water is for the purpose of government mind control.
So, in a nutshell, Alex Jones is deranged and psychotic, and not in a good way at all.
In the case of Trump’s “fraudulent vote” tweet, it seems InfoWars picked up a tweet on November 13 by someone named Greg Phillips, a former Texas Health and Human Services employee and a member of a sketchy “voter fraud” monitoring organization called True the Vote. “We have verified more than three million votes cast by non-citizens. We are joining @TrueTheVote to initiate legal action.” Despite repeated requests to come up with proof of these allegations, Phillips demurred, although he specified some unnamed time in the future when he would release the information, though not to the media. Facts be damned, Phillips’ tweet was picked up eagerly by InfoWars, and then the Drudge Report (though even the factually challenged Drudge referred to the tweet as a “claim”). Next stop, Donald Trump, who apparently has never met a conspiracy he doesn’t embrace if it suits his purposes. Meanwhile Phillips, who is no one’s liberal icon, followed up his tweet on November 15 saying, “By the way, we have never said they all voted for Hillary. Why lie?” Wait, what? Meanwhile, a 2012 analysis of voter fraud came up with exactly 56 fraudulent votes in the U.S. over an 11-year period. Shocking.
Conspiracy theories have been plaguing the United States for as long as the nation has existed. Pilgrims were convinced Satan was conspiring with witches. In the 19th century, Freemasons were controlling the government. In the 20th century, communists were infiltrating the halls of the Capitol. A cabal of the CIA, the Mafia, Cubans, and LBJ brought down John F. Kennedy in Dallas.
Americans can be a gullible lot. Some polls (if we can believe them anymore) suggest that all of us subscribe to at least one conspiracy theory. Twenty-five percent of Americans believe there was a conspiracy behind 9/11; 61% of us think JFK was offed by more than one lone gunman; and 70% of us agree that wars, recessions and elections are controlled by a small secret subset of the population. Who peddles these theories? Mostly those outside the established system who use conspiracies to question the status quo or further their aims, be they political, monetary or otherwise. Think Joe McCarthy, Sarah Palin, and now Donald Trump, who has brought conspiracy theories out of the fringes and into the Oval Office.
“There’s something going on” may be Trump’s favorite four words. During the campaign he used the phrase constantly to imply that some mysterious “something” was manipulating America against the public welfare. The government was shadowy, evil and engaged in a coverup that dwarfed Watergate. And that, Trump implied, or outright stated, was responsible for your lost job or your diminished status or whatever ailed you. No need to be specific; Trump supporters could connect the dots themselves. Drain the swamp and America will be great again!
Trump seemingly can’t, or chooses not to, distinguish fact from fiction. He has a long history of adopting conspiracy theories. Here are 10 he has fully embraced.
1. Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. (aka the birther lie)
Birtherism is the the vehicle on which Donald Trump rode to political relevance. Beginning in 2011, Trump began publicly questioning the birthplace of Barack Obama, claiming he was born a Kenyan Muslim, not a Hawaiian Christian, and thus questioning the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president. The birther conspiracy did not actually originate with Trump. A fringe political candidate, Andy Martin, who tried to paint Obama as a secret Muslim in 2004, started it in Illinois. After Obama’s election in 2008, the birther lie more or less died down, until Trump took up its mantle in 2011: “Three weeks ago, when I started, I thought he was born in this country. Now I have a much bigger doubt than I did before. His grandmother, who was born in Kenya, said she was there and witnessed the birth.” When asked by Chuck Todd during the campaign if Americans could ever accept a Muslim president, Trump replied, “Some people have said it already happened, frankly.” This past February, when President Obama did not attend Antonin Scalia’s funeral, Trump tweeted that Obama would have attended if the funeral were “held in a mosque.”
Trump loved being Head Birther so much that even as he was supposedly disavowing and trying to move past it, he couldn’t help bragging (falsely), “I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate and I think I did a good job.”
2. Muslims in New Jersey celebrated 9/11
In November 2015, Trump categorically stated that thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrated when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11. “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering,” he said at an Alabama rally. When called on this fact-challenged claim, Trump doubled down, telling George Stephanopolous on ABC that he had seen them, and that only political correctness kept this from being common knowledge. “People over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down.” While there was celebration of 9/11 in the Middle East, reports of New Jersey celebrations have been thoroughly debunked. Although Trump pal Howard Stern reported on his radio show that celebrations occurred, the facts say otherwise, as the Newark Star-Ledger reported on Sept. 23, 2001:
Hours after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, a story spread across the state: Palestinians in Paterson were celebrating in the streets. Braced for a riot, the Paterson police rushed to South Main Street, the center of the city’s Middle Eastern community.
“When we got there,” Paterson Police Chief Lawrence Spagnola said, “They were all in prayer.”
In the ensuing days, the rumor went national, lighting up talk radio phone lines. In the end, it was nothing more than rapid-fire urban myth.
3. Vaccines cause autism.
Now here’s a conspiracy theory Trump shares with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, a doctor (!). The roots of the autism vaccine conspiracy are almost 20 years old. A medical researcher named Andrew Wakefield published a paper in 1998 linking the administration of the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles, rubella) with the onset of autism in children. Running with this, conspiracy theorists blamed Big Pharma for covering up the link in order to protect profits. In 2010, however, a panel of the British General Medical Council found that Wakefield, “failed in his duties as a responsible consultant” and acted against the interests of his patients and “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in his published research. Conspiracy mongers, including Donald Trump, couldn’t take “wrong” for an answer, and continued to spread the falsehood. In 2014, Trump tweeted, “Vaccines: Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!”
4. Daddy Cruz was in on the JFK assassination.
There have been a ton of JFK conspiracy theories over the years, but only one that Trump decided to make political hay of. After reading an article in the April 2016 issue of the National Enquirer (which he believes is an actual newspaper because sometimes they are right), he thought it was perfectly OK to bring up the fact that his primary opponent Ted Cruz’s father was maybe in on the Kennedy killing. His evidence was irrefutable: After all, a photo in the Enquirer that had been drifting around in conspiracy circles showed Cruz’s father with Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans before the assassination. Or someone that looked like Cruz’s father. Or someone…let’s just call him Cruz’s father just for conspiracy’s sake. In an interview with Fox News, Trump said, “His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being, you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous. What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. They don’t even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”
Yes, we wonder why no one brings this up. Just for the record, Rafael Cruz is shorter than the man in the photo, was a Cuban refugee who hated Castro (the photo was of Oswald handing out pro-Castro flyers), and was probably living seven hours away in Austin at the time the photo was taken. Also, even in the unlikely event that it was Cruz in the image, it has already been established that the two men with Oswald were strangers Oswald paid a couple bucks to hand out flyers with him for a half hour.
5. African American criminals prey on white folks.
On Nov. 22, 2015 (ironically, the anniversary of the JFK assassination), Trump took to Twitter in response to criticism from the Black Lives Matter movement, to retweet some misinformation about rampant crime in America. The tweet, originally sent by a white supremacist group (oops) purported to summarize statistics from the Crime Statistics Bureau in San Francisco, and claimed that 81% of whites who are murdered in America were killed by black people, and that 97% of blacks were killed by blacks. In other words, black folks do all the killing. Couple of minor points, however. The Crime Statistics Bureau does not exist. Also, the statistics are radically wrong. Eighty-two percent of white people are killed by white people, only a little lower than the percentage of blacks killed by blacks. (Since, according to the FBI, most people are killed by people they know, these statistics are not surprising.)
When confronted with the correct stats, as well as the true source of his tweet (again, white supremacists), Trump responded, “I re-tweeted somebody who was supposedly an expert and was also a radio show. Am I going to check every statistic?” Correct answer: I shouldn’t have done that, and yes.
6. Global warming is a hoax.
Ninety-nine percent of climate scientists believe that manmade climate change is occurring, mainly due to carbon emissions from power plants, cars and other non-renewable energy sources. Donald Trump, however, has a different opinion. “I think there will be little change here. It’ll go up, get a little colder, get a little warmer, like it always has for millions of years. It’ll get cooler, it’ll get warmer. It’s called weather.” Far be it for climate experts to point out that climate and weather are two different animals. Also, Trump’s uncle, an MIT professor not remotely a climate scientist, who died 35 years ago when climate science was in its infancy, didn’t buy it either. Good enough for Trump. Feh. It’s China’s fault.
7. The Clintons killed Vince Foster.
In 1993, Vince Foster, White House deputy counsel and close friend of the Clintons, killed himself. Despite five, count ‘em, five investigations into his tragic death, it remains what it always was: a suicide. Foster had been in treatment for depression, and an FBI-assisted investigation concluded he committed suicide. He even left behind a note: “I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport.” Clinton-haters never stopped spreading the conspiracy theory that the Clintons were behind the death of their friend, killing Foster to cover up their Whitewater real estate deal in Arkansas.
In May 2016, Trump picked it up again, calling the theories of foul play “very serious” and “very fishy.” He went on to say, with pointed innuendo, “I really know nothing about the Vince Foster situation. I haven’t known anything about it. Somebody asked me the question the other day. I said a lot of people are very skeptical about what happened and how he died. I know nothing about it.”
8. Obama was linked to the Orlando, Florida nightclub shooting.
In June 2016, a deranged Muslim man barged into an Orlando gay nightclub and killed 49 people. President Obama condemned the act, and said and did all the right things, including personally consoling the victims’ families. Not enough for Donald Trump. Why? Because Obama did not utter the three words he longed to hear. Radical. Islamic. Terrorism. “Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind — you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on,” he told Fox News.
9. ISIS pays for Syrian refugee cell phones.
One of Trump’s signature promises during the campaign was to stop the influx of Syrian refugees into the U.S. He claimed that to accept them would be to welcome terrorists into our country. For proof he pointed to all the cell phones they had! “It’s sort of strange. I mean, who’s paying for these cell phones? Where are they coming from? Who are they calling? These are people, can you imagine, millions, maybe many many many cell phones. Why? Where did they get cell phones? Who pays their monthly bill? What do they do? Don’t they get billed by the phone company? Or something?”
Apparently the idea that Syrian refugees are terrorists makes more sense to Trump then the reality that maybe they bought the cell phones like anyone else in the world buys them. Syria, prior to its civil war, was a relatively prosperous country (certainly more than Egypt, where cell phones proliferate). And before you flee your country, the first thing you want is a phone to communicate with family and friends. Apparently Trump is unaware of prepaid cell phones that don’t need a phone company sending a monthly bill to keep them operative. No. They must be terrorists.
10. A global cabal of Jewish bankers, power brokers and special interests is actually in control.
There’s no one in the world more familiar with conspiracy theories than Jews. Jewish people have been victims of conspiracy accusations from the moment Abraham and his tribe were chosen back in the day. So when Trump, after being outed as a serial p***y grabber, uttered these words at a rally, Jews around the world paid notice: “It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities. This is well documented, and the establishment that protects them has engaged in a massive coverup of widespread criminal activity at the State Department and the Clinton Foundation in order to keep the Clintons in power.”
Hitler himself could not have said it better.
There are many more conspiracies knocking around in the fevered Trump brain—lots more. The Mexican government conspired to send their bad hombres to the U.S. (“The Mexican government forces many bad people into our country because they’re smart”). The media rigged his microphone to make him lose a debate. Antonin Scalia may have been murdered. The Federal Reserve, under Obama’s thumb, is keeping interest rates low. Obama didn’t go to Columbia University or Harvard. World War I-era Black Jack Pershing massacred Muslim rebels in the Philippines (which Trump thought was apparently a good thing, if untrue). Hillary is dying. Hillary is on drugs (“at the beginning of the last debate, she was all pumped up”).
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