One might think that police calling the motive a “fictitious conspiracy theory” would put an end to the claim that inspired a gunman from North Carolina to attack a family pizzeria in Washington over the weekend.
On Monday, those who share the assailant’s alleged suspicions that Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager operated a child sex ring in the basement of the Washington restaurant took it up a notch.
The gunman, they said in Reddit and other online forums where the original fake news story originated, had a brief film career in a horror movie, so the next logical leap was that he was hired by the Clinton camp to stage a false-flag operation to discredit President-elect Donald Trump. Further “proof”, they claimed, was that a security camera that might’ve captured the incident had been removed just before it happened.
Such claims once were confined to the netherworld of staged moon landings and 9/11 deniers, but now they’re seeping into the mainstream – with dangerous real-world consequences, as Sunday’s incident shows.
Trump has yet to condemn the torrent of fake news that’s accompanied his rise to power, a chilling prospect for civil rights advocates, who fear that the so-called “pizzagate” debacle portends more violence from vigilantes inspired by baseless claims.
“It’s deeply troubling that some of those false reports could lead to violence,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing Monday. Earnest said the proliferation of false reports had a “corrosive effect” on the political climate.
Trump hasn’t addressed the fake news and conspiracy theories that bounce around online communities of his supporters until they’re accepted as fact. Perhaps that’s because several of his advisers and Cabinet picks – soon to be among the most powerful people in the country – regularly traffic in the same hokum. More than half the people Trump has picked so far for top administration posts have long histories of spewing conspiracy theories and making racist or bigoted assertions with no evidence.
When Vice President-elect Mike Pence was in Congress, according to the Los Angeles Times, he asserted without any scientific backup that material in the 2001 anthrax scare had been genetically modified to make it more lethal – possibly by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
His son, Michael Flynn Jr., who served as his dad’s chief of staff, has given credence to the so-called “pizzagate” tale and has smeared top Clinton aide Huma Abedin as a Muslim extremist and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as a closeted gay cocaine addict. CNN reported that the younger Flynn has an email address affiliated with Trump’s transition team.
Trump’s pick for secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the neurosurgeon and failed presidential candidate Ben Carson, has a particularly long track record of espousing questionable beliefs. He’s called Planned Parenthood a conspiracy to control the black population and cited prison rape as evidence that homosexuality is a choice, positions Salon summed up in a piece headlined “Ben Carson is plain nuts.”
Carson’s also suggested that President Barack Obama is involved in a communist plot to bring down the country and he’s said that a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to serve as president – a stance that violates the U.S. Constitution.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s pick for senior White House strategist, is the former executive of Breitbart, which he’s described as a platform for the so-called “alt-right” white nationalist movement. The publication has a history of luridly sexist, racist and homophobic headlines. Bannon also has disparaged feminists as “a bunch of dykes.” His selection was opposed by Democrats, some Republicans and virtually every civil rights watchdog in the country.
Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, Trump’s pick for CIA director, was described by The Washington Post editorial board as “one of the more fanatical purveyors of conspiracy theories about the 2011 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.” At a hearing last year, Pompeo insinuated that Clinton had used the Benghazi consulate for a gun-running operation.
When Pompeo ran against Raj Goyle, an Indian-American Democrat, his campaign linked to an article warning that Goyle was an evil “turban topper” who might be Muslim. Even after the campaign apologized for that incident, billboards for Pompeo urged people to “vote American,” as if Goyle were a foreigner.
Lesley Clark contributed to this article.