By Adam Geller
President Donald Trump’s assertion that the media often fails to cover terrorist attacks is false, but he’s hardly alone in making the claim. The statement is just the latest by Trump to echo a website known for trafficking in dubious allegations of plots and cover-ups.
“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that,” Trump said in a speech to military commanders at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base Monday.
That allegation was quickly disproven by numerous articles and broadcast clips detailing many of the very attacks the White House said had been overlooked or underreported. But versions of the same accusation have long gone unquestioned on Infowars, a website run by former public access cable host Alex Jones.
“Scandal: Mass media covers up terrorism to protect Islam,” a headline on Jones’ site alleged last July. “Fake news: Mainstream media whitewashes Islamic terror in Berlin,” proclaimed another, last December.
There’s no evidence that Trump gets his information from the site. But Trump voiced his admiration for Jones when the Infowars host interviewed him in December 2015.
“Your reputation is amazing,” then-candidate Trump told Jones. “I will not let you down. You will be very impressed, I hope, and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.”
Jones responded: “I hope you can uncripple America…”
Days after the election, Jones said that Trump had called him to “thank your viewers, thank your listeners for standing up for this republic.”
Jones, whose site has alleged that the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting was a hoax and that the September 11, 2001, terror attacks involved the federal government, is “America’s leading conspiracy theorist,” said Mark Fenster, author of “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in America.”
Such allegations have always had their believers, but those who traded in the tales mostly existed on the fringes, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor specializing in political communication.
“You weren’t watching it. I wasn’t watching it. Certainly our political leaders weren’t watching it,” she said. But the internet has given organs devoted to such claims more visibility and acceptability. Jones’ YouTube channel has nearly 2 million subscribers.
With Trump, the country has a leader who repeats such allegations as if they are plausible, said Fenster, a professor of law at the University of Florida. Political campaigns sometimes see candidates make vague references to dark forces, but for a sitting president to regularly engage in an “unfiltered set of allegations” is well beyond the norm, Fenster said.
Trump’s allegations about the media and those made on Infowars are just the latest to echo one another. Their shared assertions include:
President Barack Obama may not have been born in the United States.
It’s hard to know where these allegations originated, but Infowars has been making the “birther” argument for years, alleging that documents showing Obama was born in Hawaii were fake.
“Shocking new birth certificate proof Obama born in Kenya?” asked an Infowars headline in August 2009. “New Obama birth certificate is a forgery,” said another, in April 2011.
The latter was shortly after Trump appeared on the television show “The View,” in March 2011, during which he falsely said that nobody from Obama’s childhood remembered him, and that he was obligated to prove his birth in Hawaii. “Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate?” Trump said. Last September, Trump said he accepted that Obama was born in the U.S.
Thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11.
Trump was criticized after a November 2015 political rally in which he said that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in New Jersey when the World Trade Center came down. Questioned afterward, Trump insisted that he had seen the celebrations on television that day.
There’s no evidence such celebrations took place. But accounts of Muslims cheering terrorist attacks have been a repeated theme on Infowars.
“I live in Jersey and Trump is right: Muslims did celebrate on 9/11 in NJ… We saw it!” headlined an article in November 2015. Soon afterward, the site ran another story, “Exclusive: Radical U.S. Muslims celebrate, shoot fireworks after terrorist attack,” featuring an anonymous man who said that on the night of the Paris attacks he heard people celebrating four or five blocks away from his home outside Detroit.
Millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.
Trump won the presidency with an Electoral College victory despite losing to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. He has said he was cheated out of a rightful win in the popular vote.
“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,” the president said on Twitter on November 27. Numerous state elections officials, many of them Republicans, said there is no evidence of widespread voting fraud. But Trump ordered an investigation.
His allegations have been echoed, if not preceded, on Infowars, which alleged widespread voter fraud well before Election Day.
“Dead people and illegal immigrants are being registered to vote all over America,” the site headlined in early October.
In mid-November, Infowars posted a story headlined: “Report: Three million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens.” The story cited a Texas businessman, Greg Phillips, who claimed to have compiled a list of 3 million illegal votes by non-citizens. On January 27, Trump Tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing Phillips’ evidence. “We must do better!” Trump wrote.