Conspirator in chief: 14 fake news stories created or publicized by Donald Trump

Fake news is one thing Trump hasn’t claimed to have invented that he actually deserves some credit for inventing

Published January 14, 2017 4:59PM (EST)

Alex Jones   (AP/Tony Gutierrez)
Alex Jones (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


Donald Trump tried to present himself as a paragon of journalistic virtue at Wednesday’s press conference, and if you were trapped in a bunker the last two years, from another planet, a frequent impulse buyer of bridges or a Trump supporter, you might have believed him. Over the hour-long circus, Trump railed against the “very, very dishonest people” working in media, said he has “great respect for freedom of the press and all of that” and bemoaned fake news — seven times. “It's a very sad thing,” Trump stated at one moment. “So, all I can ask for is honest reporters.”

There’s nothing inherently funny about the words Trump used, but they are absolutely hilarious coming out of his mouth. Fake news is the one thing Trump hasn’t claimed to have invented that he actually deserves at least partial credit for inventing. He has been spreading fake news since it was just called “lies,” and he’s shown that winning the presidency will only increase his fake news output. Trump puts out so much misinformation he is a fake news factory unto himself, an artisan of lies, a curator of untruths. Real estate may be his job, but lying is his career, hobby and passion project.

Trump has put thousands of fake news stories out there, some enormous and others so small you wonder why he bothers. Here are 14 fake news stories from the recent and distant past that Trump has created or promoted.

1. Obama is a Kenyan Muslim who never attended Columbia University.

Trump began courting his base in 2011, when he assumed a position as a lead voice among the birthers, a group of racists and Islamophobes desperate for any reason to delegitimize the first black president. For half a decade, Trump relentlessly peddled birtherism and other overtly racialized lies. He suggested that President Obama fabricated his time at Columbia University, a favorite contention among a right-wing that reserves a particularly visceral hatred for educated “elites” of the uppity black variety. Trump also demanded — demanded, with all the gall and entitlement of a mediocre “self-made” white trust fund kid — that Obama prove he was good enough and American enough to hold the office. To ensure this demand was as demeaning as possible, Trump offered Obama $5 million (he would later lie and say it was $50 million) to show his passport and longform birth certificate, as if Obama would shuck and jump at the money. When Trump finally dropped all the birther stuff earlier this year, he tried to slither out of it via more fake news, and invented a story pinning the whole thing on Hillary Clinton.

2. Hillary Clinton was too ill to serve as president.

Like his income taxes, Trump has never released his medical records, and now that 66 million idiots and one hostile foreign power have made him president, he definitely never will. You know who did release her medical records, though? Hillary Clinton. Hypocrisy being one of Trump’s most recognizable traits, the GOP presidential candidate launched a sustained health scare about Clinton, claiming she lacked the "mental and physical stamina to take on ISIS,” and saying she “sleeps a lot.” When Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia after fainting at a 9/11 memorial event, Trump told a crowd of supporters, “She’s supposed to fight all of these different things, and she can’t make it 15 feet to her car, give me a break.” He further capitalized on the moment by releasing an ad that accused Clinton of falling short on “fortitude, strength [and] stamina.” In short order, Trump followers were matter-of-factly telling telling TV personalities that Clinton had AIDS and passing around conspiracy-theory memes that confused a lapel mic with a “cough-prevention machine."

3. Ted Cruz's father was involved in a plot to kill President Kennedy.

For two days and across four press outlets — a mere fraction of the $3 billion in free ad space the media gave him — Trump insinuated that Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, had a hand in the murder of John F. Kennedy. He didn’t state this outright, but instead used a favorite trick of the right, which is to pose an outrageous question and then pretend it wasn’t fully loaded with innuendo and suggestion. “What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It’s horrible,” Trump said on an episode of "Fox & Friends." The next day, he got extra weaselly by announcing, “I’m just referring to an article that appeared, it has nothing to do with me.”

That article, by the way, was published by the National Enquirer, whose publisher and CEO is Trump’s good friend David Pecker. Trump has even written for the tabloid. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that the Enquirer paid one of Trump’s sexual harassment accusers for her story in order to bury it, and actress Salma Hayek said the rag let Trump plant a fake story about her after she turned him down for a date. Yes, it’s true that the Enquirer has broken political scandals, such as Rush Limbaugh’s drug addiction. It is also true that it has published many, many stories that have ended with retractions, court-ordered payments to celebrities, public apologies and out-of-court settlements. Since the election, the Enquirer has become a propaganda arm of Trump’s transition team, an honor it shares with Breitbart.

In the end, Trump admitted on CNN that even he didn’t believe the conspiracy theory he’d helped to propagate. Ted Cruz responded by memorizing and reciting a joke written for him by an human staffer, telling reporters, “Yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard.” Which led millions of wide-eyed Trump supporters to whisper to themselves, “Oh my god, he finally admitted it.”

4. The Central Park 5 are guilty and deserve the death penalty (1989).

Three decades ago, Trump took out a full-page ad in the New York Daily News calling for the summary execution of five African-American and Latino teenagers aged 16 and under, who were falsely accused of raping a white jogger in the late 1980s. Police used every abusive and coercive method to extract confessions from the Central Park 5, and Trump fanned sky-high racial flames with the ad, which left no room for the fact that the five teens might be innocent. It was precursor to Trump the master race-baiter of the 2016 presidential campaign. “He was the fire-starter,” Yusef Salaam, one of the erroneously accused, told the Guardian during Trump’s presidential campaign. “Common citizens were being manipulated and swayed into believing that we were guilty.”

5. The Central Park 5 are still guilty, against all evidence (2013 to present).

Exonerated by DNA evidence, the Central Park 5 were released after serving years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. Trump — who is neither a lawyer, forensics expert or decent person — has continued to publicly prosecute the case, tweeting out disproven information and calling the state’s settlement with the group “the heist of the century." This belief that black and brown people must be innately guilty of something is what Trump and his supporters call “law and order.”

6. 'Thousands and thousands of [Muslims] were cheering' on 9/11.

The first time Trump spread fake news about American Muslims in New Jersey rejoicing at the death and destruction of 9/11 was at a 2015 rally in Birmingham, Alabama, where he told supporters, “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."

After cops said it wasn’t true, he told George Stephanopoulos he saw the “Arab population” jubilantly celebrating the towers falling “on television.” Shortly thereafter, Trump tweeted a video clip that actually discredited his story, proving himself wrong.

7. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered.

Another example of Trump pretending that he’s just “putting the question out there.” After the death of Justice Scalia in February 2016, Trump went on the radio show of nutty conspiracy theorist par excellence Michael Savage (who has accused Obama of #WhiteGenocide and said Trump was a victim of vicious racism. Trustworthy, in other words). When Savage asked Trump about a conspiracy theory suggesting the 79-year-old justice was murdered, Trump played his designated role. “I’m hearing it’s a big topic. But they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow,” Trump said, repeating a bit of fake news to help it grow wings and fly all over the right-wing blogosphere.

8. Black people kill all the white people.

Deciding that his campaign wasn’t quite racist enough, Trump retweeted a graphic, below, containing completely fabricated numbers for black murder rates. All of the data in the image are wrong and the supposed source, the Crime Statistics Bureau of San Francisco, doesn’t exist. The information was passed to Trump by one of the white nationalists he pals around with online (not to be confused with the white nationalists he pals around with on his transition team) who uses a swastika as an avatar. During an appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Trump’s excuse for tweeting disinformation was that he doesn’t know if things he tweets are true, but also he doesn’t care. “Am I going to check every statistic?” Trump asked. “All it was, was a retweet. It wasn’t from me.”

Trump's fake figures went out to his millions of followers, many of whom are already hateful, racist adherents of stereotypes of black crime. Dylann Roof, who hunted nine black people as they worshipped in church, cited similar fake numbers as his justification for black death in his video confession and manifesto. Breitbart, helmed by Trump senior adviser and white nationalist sympathizer Steve Bannon, became the favorite of neo-Nazis and white supremacists thanks to sections tagged “black crime.” Trump is helping — doing his damndest, in fact — to radicalize white extremists, the greatest terrorist threat to the United States.

9. The members of this one random black family are Trump supporters.

In June, Trump retweeted a photo that juxtaposed a family photo of “the blacks” with the words “American Families for Trump: We Need A Common Sense President.” Twitter responded by noting that the picture first appeared in an article by Ohio broadcaster WCPO about its annual “Midwest Black Family Reunion” arts and entertainment festival. When BuzzFeed reached out to the dad in the photo, he told the outlet, “When I saw it, I immediately knew it was political propaganda. Why use it without asking for someone’s permission? Why use our image without asking?”

10. Millions of people in the United States voted illegally on Nov. 8.

In the final countdown to election day, Trump rejiggered his claims of a rigged election to focus on undocumented immigrants illegally voting. “We have voters all over the country where they’re not even citizens of the country and they’re voting,” Trump said, his lies made obvious by the movement of his lips. “There is tremendous voter fraud.”

Post-election, Trump’s unceasing insecurity over losing the popular vote led him to defensively tweet, “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.” This is exactly like my contention that won the popular vote if you ignore the many millions of people who voted. Like all 138.8 million of them. Those claims strike me as on a par, validity wise.

11. Climate change is a trick pulled on us by the Chinese.

During a presidential debate in September, Trump lied and said he’d never claimed climate change was a hoax. He’s contradicted by his 2012 tweet stating global warming “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”; a 2014 tweet in which he called climate change “bullshit”; another 2014 tweet in which he called climate change a “hoax”; and dozens of other tweets expressing the same sentiment. On a side but related note, Trump has also been lying about receiving nameless “environmental awards” since 2011.

12. Vaccines cause autism.

Trump has been a vocal anti-vaxxer on social media since 2012, once tweeting that a “healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!" In 2015, he declared autism “an epidemic.” Though countless people with real scientific credentials have debunked the myth linking vaccines and autism, Trump earned his Ph.D in the school of reality television, which has no science department. “I am being proven right about massive vaccinations — the doctors lied,” he tweeted in 2014. “Save our children & their future.”

Earlier this week, Trump announced that he has asked Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a king among anti-vaxxers, to “chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity.’’

13. Marco Rubio is ineligible to be president.

On several occasions during the Republican primaries, Trump questioned whether Ted Cruz, by dint of his Canadian birth, was ineligible for the presidency and threatened to sue him over the issue. Cruz’s mother is an American citizen, making him a natural-born citizen, and in 2016 he renounced his Canadian citizenship. Maybe all that information is hard for Trump to juggle at once — seems plausible — but less clear is why on more than one occasion he promoted the fake news that Marco Rubio’s eligibility was in question. Rubio was born in Miami, Florida, in the United States, which makes him a citizen from birth, without question. The only reason to suggest otherwise is if you believe only people with anglo names can be U.S. citizens. Trump may have assumed this was the rule in the Constitution’s Article XII, which he reportedly promised to protect as president. (There is no Article XII.)

14. Paid rabble-rousers protested the election results.

Two days after the election (one day after we all woke up realizing it wasn’t just a nightmare), Trump got on Twitter to give some debunked fake news life again. “Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting,” Trump wrote about those demonstrating against his win. “Very unfair!”

The “paid Trump protester” was birthed by paranoid right-wing types, but gained widespread attention when prolific fake news writer Paul Horner wrote a fake news article on the topic. During the campaign, Trump spokesatan Kellyanne Conway, campaign flunky Corey Lewandowski and spawn Eric all tweeted the fake news story out to followers. Although it had widely been recognized as fake news by the time of the election, here was Trump tweeting it out again, clearly uninterested in its veracity or lack thereof. His approach to the truth — which is to throw rocks at it, hard — was one of the things that drew many of his like-minded followers to his campaign.

“My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time . . . His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything,” Horner, a self-described Clinton supporter, told The Washington Post after the election. “I thought they’d fact-check it, and it’d make them look worse. I mean that’s how this always works: Someone posts something I write, then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots. But Trump supporters — they just keep running with it!”

By Kali Holloway

Kali Holloway is the senior director of Make It Right, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She co-curated the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s MetLiveArts 2017 summer performance and film series, “Theater of the Resist.” She previously worked on the HBO documentary Southern Rites, PBS documentary The New Public and Emmy-nominated film Brooklyn Castle, and Outreach Consultant on the award-winning documentary The New Black. Her writing has appeared in AlterNet, Salon, the Guardian, TIME, the Huffington Post, the National Memo, and numerous other outlets.

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