Donald Trump is not the kind of man who is willing to go along with accepted facts. From his subjective valuation of his business portfolio, through his bird-dogging of Barack Obama’s birth certificate to his tantrums about the deceptive sparseness of his inaugural crowds, Trump has pursued his own rages and fixations about the real truths—the best truths, the most powerful and shocking truths, the truths the haters and losers don’t want you to know—all the way to the highest office in the land.
Along the way, naturally enough, the Trump movement has become a magnet for a population of true believers. What they believe matters less than that they believe it fiercely and defiantly, without regard for mainstream consensus or factual reality.
Paranoia is the natural complement to narcissism: If you’re the most important person in the world, of course you would be the target of conspiracies. Thus Alex Jones, a man who claimed that the Pulse nightclub shooting was orchestrated by the government and that the Sandy Hook massacre was all a hoax, acts as an unofficial advisor to the President. The White House Chief Strategist made a name for himself hawking right-wing propaganda films before making a bigger name for himself running our very own American Pravda. And the president’s other appointments include an army of conspiracy theorists and nutjob-adjacents, so that our highly persuadable and often hysterical chief executive will never want for imagined enemies to rage against.
To help you navigate the vast assortment of conspiracy theories to which Trump’s staffers subscribe, we’ve compiled a bestiary of crackpot beliefs, pseudo-scientific ideas, and anything otherwise insane that’s come out of the mouths of his cronies and hangers-on who have boldly stood up for what they believe in. And what they believe in is truly something to behold.
We begin with Steve Bannon, who has been careful to avoid espousing any of the objectively false claims we’ll get to in a moment himself, instead using conservative news site and collective caucasian shriek Breitbart as a mouthpiece to achieve his desired ends. The website is a haven for conspiracy theorists and general angry right-wingers alike, and it’s hard to say whether Bannon actually believes in anything his website flogs. But it is the company that boasted Bannon as chairman for roughly four years.
It would be impossible to list every unfounded or unfairly paranoid idea that’s graced its digital halls, but here are a few highlights just to get an idea. While Bannon sat firmly in the role of chairman, Breitbart put forth of number of dangerous conspiracy theories, a particularly outlandish one being that President Obama, Al Sharpton, and CNN (just to name a few) were working together to take down America’s police force.
In an article titled “‘Ferguson Effect’: America’s New Crime Wave Is All Part of the Plan,” Breitbart explained how black people today live in what Breitbart describes as a “vampire movie”:
Living in constant fear, though, of opening your front door, walking to your car, waiting for a bus, or taking the stairs, is a living nightmare…. Unless you’ve experienced it, I know of no other way to describe it. Anything outside of a locked home after dark is filled with an indescribable dread of a very real danger.
And according to Breitbart, that’s exactly how Obama and the rest of the liberal media wants it. Because if they can demonize the cops with the Ferguson protests, then crime will rise, people will look for saviors, and the federal government will be bestowed with more power than they could have ever dreamed. None of this is true, but that didn’t stop Breitbart’s push against the dreaded New World Order.
Also during his time as chairman of Breitbart, Bannon oversaw this doozy of a post in which “Senior Management” claimed that Andrew Breitbart and Breitbart the website were never Obama birth truthers, and how dare you accuse them of it. The post goes on to state that they’re just trying to say Obama has lied about his entire past and how can you believe anything he says, really.
In fact, they were so worried about Obama’s mysterious origins that they centered a whole series around it called “The Vetting”:
Yet Andrew also believed that the complicit mainstream media had refused to examine President Obama’s ideological past, or the carefully crafted persona he and his advisers had constructed for him.
It is for that reason that we launched “The Vetting,” an ongoing series in which we explore the ideological background of President Obama (and other presidential candidates)–not to re-litigate 2008, but because ideas and actions have consequences.
Ideas and actions do, apparently, have consequences. Because apparently, the crazier your ideas, the more likely you are to end up as the President’s right-hand man.
In 1973, French author Jean Raspail published The Camp of the Saints, an astoundingly racist novel that describes how an Indian firebrand named “the turd-eater” leads a group of 800,000 poor, Indian refugees to the pristine, white shores of Europe. Once the literal shit-eating refugees arrive, the rest of the non-white people of the world take that as a signal to unleash hell on the whites in an all-out race war. And Bannon apparently finds it all highly prescient. As the Huffington Post points out, Bannon has said all of the following about The Camp of the Saints as it relates to our current situation:
In October 2015: “It’s been almost a Camp of the Saints-type invasion into Central and then Western and Northern Europe.”
In January 2016: “The whole thing in Europe is all about immigration. It’s a global issue today — this kind of global Camp of the Saints.”
Also in January of 2016: “It’s not a migration. It’s really an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints.”
And in April of 2016: “When we first started talking about this a year ago. We called it the Camp of the Saints. ... I mean, this is Camp of the Saints, isn’t it?”
So if you’re wondering why Bannon, one of the driving forces behind Trump’s Muslim ban executive order, seems so terrified of refugees, he’s already given you his answer.
Carson, a former brain surgeon, defended vaccines as safe overall and correctly noted that they don’t cause autism. But he also falsely claimed that some vaccines are probably unnecessary: “Vaccines are very important. Certain ones. The ones that would prevent death or crippling. There are others, there are a multitude of vaccines which probably don’t fit in that category, and there should be some discretion in those cases.” According to Politifact, every vaccine on the schedule of childhood vaccinations recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control protects against a disease that can kill, cripple, or maim.
Carson also, without evidence, pushed the idea that masses of undocumented immigrants are voting illegally. In a 2014 essay for far-right site World Net Daily, he called for undocumented immigrants voting illegally to be deported and have their citizenship revoked:
Anyone caught involved in voter fraud should be immediately deported and have his citizenship revoked. The point is this: We must create a system that disincentivizes illegal immigration and upholds the rule of law while providing us with a steady stream of immigrants from other nations who will strengthen our society. Let’s solve the problem and stop playing political football.
Revoking someone’s citizenship is a mystifying policy solution to the supposed problem of non-citizens voting. The piece was later quietly edited to make more sense.
Carson also faced criticism for falsely claiming to have gotten a scholarship offer from West Point. He responded by redirecting the conversation with a litany of statements about President Obama’s educational records, indicating that he believed the debunked conspiracy that Obama was a foreign student whose student records were sealed to hoodwink us all.
“[Obama] goes to Occidental College, doesn’t do all that well, and somehow ends up at Columbia University,” Carson asserted. “Well… his records are sealed. Why is his record sealed? What are you not interested in why his records are sealed? Why are you not interested in that? Let me ask you that. Can someone tell me why, please?” He then demanded to know “how there is equivalency [sic] there” between “something that happened with the words ‘a scholarship was offered’ was a big deal, but the president of the United States, his academic records being sealed, is not.”
At a gala for the National Organization for Marriage in 2014, Carson talked about “Neo Marxists” and how eager they are to promote the New World Order. They do that by attacking straight marriage and “Judeo Christian values”, he claimed. “This stuff is not secret,” Carson assured his audience. “You can read about it.” He recommended Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, as well as a 1958 piece of propaganda called “The Naked Communist” written by an ex-FBI agent named W. Cleon Skousen. (Neither one really presents The Gays as part of a plot to take over the United States.)
In a 2012 speech, Carson said theory of evolution was first advanced by Darwin—points for accuracy—but was encouraged by “The Adversary:” “I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary, and it has become what is scientifically, politically correct.”
“Is there climate change? Of course there’s climate change,” Carson replied. “Any point in time, temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that’s happening. When that stops happening, that’s when we’re in big trouble.”
Carson has claimed that a highly unlikely group of world leaders—Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and Russian President Vladimir Putin—went to school together in Moscow in 1968. He also claimed the pyramids were built to store grain, not as tombs. He’s said that Saudi Arabia sheltered Osama Bin Laden after 9/11.
Before becoming Donald Trump’s very own Goebbels, Kellyanne Conway ran The Polling Company, which did some work with former Reagan official Frank Gaffney. And in June of 2015, Conway went on Gaffney’s podcast to discuss a wildly flawed poll her firm had conducted that allegedly showed that American Muslims were becoming increasingly radicalized. And how did this poll make Kellyanne feel? From Mother Jones:
“It’s very alarming to me that such a high number of individuals, Muslims living in the U.S., would say, ‘Well, we can have a choice,’” as to whether to follow Shariah law or U.S. law, she told Gaffney. She expressed alarm that some respondents believed the religious practice of jihad had a violent component.
The poll that allegedly demonstrated such alarming statistics was an opt-in, online poll of people who were recruited by Conway’s firm to participate and, according to New York, should not “have been taken to indicate anything meaningful about American Muslims.”
DeVos’ parents’ family foundation, where she was listed as a vice president for 17 years, donated millions to the anti-gay group Focus on the Family, which touts the scientifically debunked and deeply inhumane practice of conversion therapy. Focus on the Family also claims that the American Psychological Association rejected conversion therapy not because it’s bullshit — which it is — but in part because the panel studying the issue was made up of “gay-identified activists and apologists.” At her Senate confirmation hearing, DeVos claimed that she “never believed” in the conversion therapy that her money promoted, and blamed the 17 years of tax filings that named her as a vice president of the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation on a “clerical error.” But DeVos’ own foundation, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, “gave $275,000 to Focus on the Family from 1999 to 2001,” according to Mother Jones.
DeVos is an investor in a company called Neurocore, which claims to have devised a neurofeedback therapy that can be used to treat autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety, and memory problems, among other ailments. (Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback, where brain waves are monitored and mapped, then supposedly used to retrain the brain.) It’s a completely experimental treatment and is not proven to treat or cure ADHD or autism: One expert told the Journal of Higher Education that such a claim would be “misleading the public.” Another told the New York Times it hasn’t been proven to work any better than placebo treatments.
Flynn was ousted from the Trump administration after 24 days on the job for lying about his communications with Russian officials. Before that, he was the Trump camp’s finest and most glittering example of a conspiracy theorist riding a greased rail of inexplicable success right into the White House. Flynn famously retweeted stories linking Hillary Clinton and her senior campaign staff to child trafficking—a wild, unhinged, and completely invented fiction based on the theory that Clinton campaign chief John Podesta’s references to pizza in leaked emails were really coded discussions of child sexual abuse.
His entire Twitter account is a monument to bullshit, as was, reportedly, his tenure as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. From a New Yorker profile:
His subordinates started a list of what they called “Flynn facts,” things he would say that weren’t true, like when he asserted that three-quarters of all new cell phones were bought by Africans or, later, that Iran had killed more Americans than Al Qaeda. In private, his staff tried to dissuade him from repeating these lines.
Flynn is terrified of creeping Sharia, once insisting, for example, that Florida Democrats voted to impose it. (They...didn’t.)
In August, Flynn claimed in a radio interview that there were signs in Arabic on the U.S.-Mexico border, because radical Islamist groups were “cutting deals with Mexican drug cartels” to sneak into the United States:
And I know from my—my friends in the border patrol, in the CBP, that they—they—there are—there are countries, so there’s radical Islamist countries, state-sponsored, that are cutting deals with Mexican drug cartels for some of what they call the lanes of entry into our country. And I have seen—I have personally seen the photos of the—of the signage—OK, the signage along those paths that are in Arabic.
Those signs are not real and do not exist.
Bonus! Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr. was thrown off the Trump transition team for being a Pizzagate truther. He has yet to delete this tweet:
Mick Mulvaney, who was elected to Congress in 2010 as part of the Tea Party movement, has been steadily preparing for an impending currency apocalypse. He held between $50,000 and $100,000 in precious metals as of 2015, and he is a big proponent of Bitcoin, which exists outside of the regulations of the federal government and cannot be “manipulated by the government,” as he put it. Mulvaney even gave a speech at the John Birch Society, where he claimed that the Fed “choked off economic growth.” From Mother Jones:
[The Birch Society] declared President Dwight Eisenhower ‘a conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.’ It opposed the civil rights movement as a communist plot. Ever since William F. Buckley Jr., the intellectual godfather of modern conservatism, felt compelled to disavow the John Birch Society in the early 1960s, most mainstream conservatives have dismissed the organization as an embarrassment for the right.
During the 2013 government shutdown, Mulvaney claimed that money was being set aside in the budget for Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony: “Finally, the ‘deal’ is full of pork. A dam project in Kentucky got extra money; the state of Colorado got money to help with its flooding; and the ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’ received special funds. Those may be worth discussing, but that will never happen now, as they were crammed into this ‘deal’ in order to help it pass. So much for the ‘clean’ bill that my Democrat colleagues said they wanted so badly.” (An aide later blamed the error on a “typo.”)
Mulvaney led the group of 28 Republicans who threatened a government shutdown over the Center for Medical Progress’ Planned Parenthood videos, which were doctored to support the false claim that Planned Parenthood profits from selling fetal tissue.
From his campaign website: “Energy independence, green technology, and innovation is something we should pursue as a nation. However, we shouldn’t seek to accomplish that by taxing people based on questionable science. Neither should we ignore domestic energy resources—coal, natural gas, oil—because of baseless claims regarding global warming.”
Price is a member of the very wild Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which has published papers suggesting that vaccines are linked to autism. (They’re not.) The group, once dubbed “the Tea Party’s favorite doctors” by Mother Jones for their radical, free-market approach to healthcare, has also suggested there’s a link between abortion and breast cancer. (There isn’t.) The journal also published a paper claiming that the “gay male homosexual lifestyle” shortens lifespans, and warning darkly that everyone has been underestimating “the medical and societal harm produced by the promiscuous sexual practices typically associated with homosexuality.” (That is… also not true.)
While Rick Perry has at least evolved on his position that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by scientists manipulating date for reasons known only to Rick Perry, he’s still not quite there yet. The man who once likened the scientific community’s attitude towards climate change deniers like himself to the persecution of Galileo by the Catholic Church will at least now admit that the climate is changing… somehow. During Perry’s Senate confirmation hearing, he finally said, “I believe the climate is changing. I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity. The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy, or American jobs.”
This is certainly better than the terms he’d previously used to describe the idea of climate change such as “unsettled” and “contrived, phony mess.” It also leaves him plenty of room to keep peddling oil, gas, and coal as he sees fit.
In 2014, Rick Perry went on national television and told the world all about how President Obama was intentionally (and somehow) sending a flood of unaccompanied minors over the border to force Congress to enact immigration reform:
We either have an incredibly inept administration, or they’re in on this somehow or another. I hate to be conspiratorial, but how do you move that many people from Central America across Mexico, then into the United States without there being a fairly coordinated effort?
“I hate to be conspiratorial,” said Rick Perry.
Back in 2011, a little boy, at the behest of his mother, asked Rick Perry what he thought about evolution. So what does Rick Perry think about evolution? Well, it’s “a theory that is out there” and “it’s got some gaps in it.” What are those gaps? What is the definition of a theory? Both questions to which Rick Perry clearly does not know the answer. He does, however, know that “in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools.” Except that, no, in Texas in 2011 they did not do that, because teaching creationism in public school was illegal. Then again, that’s just a theory that’s out there.
Pompeo was the House Benghazi Committee’s number one crazed zealot. He claimed that the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi outrage was “worse in some ways” than the Nixon administration’s Watergate response (Nixon fired the special prosecutor investigating him and ordered the CIA to interfere with the FBI). Pompeo also propagated the patently false claim that the then-Secretary Clinton had relied on her personal friend and outside adviser Sidney Blumenthal for the majority of her intelligence on Libya. Pompeo was referring to several memos Blumenthal wrote that turned up Clinton’s emails releases (most of which were written after the attack)—and ignoring the abundance of intelligence Clinton would have received over far more secure, classified, media. A fact that one would hope the director of the Central Intelligence Agency would be aware of.
While Pompeo never accused the President himself of being born outside the country (as far as we know), Pompeo did tweet out an article in 2010 alleging that his then-opponent for the House was a “turban topper” who “could be a muslim, a hindu, a buddhist etc who knows.” Pompeo apologized profusely for the incident, but then there was this:
A billboard urging Kansas residents to “vote American.” The billboard was created by someone named John Eck, and had no explicit connection to the Pompeo campaign other than through donations, but Pompeo didn’t denounce the sign either—even after his opponent, Raj Goyle, demanded that the Pompeo campaign to call for the ad’s removal.
Scott Pruitt has said that the science on climate change is “far from settled,” saying “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” Pruitt and Strange wrote. “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress.” He doubled down on this during his hearing.
He believes that if Exxon—or as he referred to them, “climate skeptics”—can be prosecuted for fraud for deliberately hiding evidence of climate change from investors, then “climate alarmists” should be prosecuted as well.
In a very weird interview with the Washington Post before Election Day, Ross and another Trump adviser, economist Peter Navarro of the University of California at Irvine, argued that Washington think tanks were conspiring to say mean things about Trump’s job creation proposals (Namely, that they were stupid and wouldn’t work.)
(In a fun deviation from the norm, Ross is also the “Grand Swipe” (leader) of an actual secret fraternity for Wall Street types, Kappa Beta Phi, whose annual dinner reporter Kevin Roose crashed a few years back:
Once we made it to the lobby, Ross and Lebenthal reassured me that what I’d just seen wasn’t really a group of wealthy and powerful financiers making homophobic jokes, making light of the financial crisis, and bragging about their business conquests at Main Street’s expense. No, it was just a group of friends who came together to roast each other in a benign and self-deprecating manner. Nothing to see here.)
Jeff Sessions never exactly said outright that Sharia law is sweeping across the United States, but he seems very worried about it nonetheless. During confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, he accused her of “sitting on the sidelines” while Harvard accepted a grant “to establish a center for ‘Islamic Studies’’ and Sharia law.” A few sentences later, he all but accused her of helping to spread Sharia in the United States:
Ms. Kagan was perfectly willing to obstruct the military, which has liberated countless Muslims from the hate and tyranny of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, but it seems she was willing to sit on the sidelines as Harvard created a center funded by—and dedicated to—foreign leaders presiding over a legal system that would violate what would appear to be her position. She fought the ability of our own soldiers to access campus resources but not those who spread the oppressive tenets of Sharia-type law.
(The center established at Harvard is for the academic study of Islamic law, not for spreading Sharia in the United States.)
Sessions accused President Obama of giving a pass to undocumented immigrants voting illegally. He was responding to a deceptively edited Fox Business clip that made it seem as though the president was encouraging immigrants to vote illegally. (Obama didn’t actually say that.)
Although Tillerson has personally admitted that climate change is real and influenced by the actions of human beings, the Secretary of State was a lifelong Exxon Mobil company man, where the track record on this issue is hazy. Tillerson joined Exxon in 1975; as early as 1977, the company was aware of the human impact on global warming, but refused to publicly acknowledge it. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is investigating whether Exxon deliberately misled the public about the effect that burning fossil fuels has on climate change.
As for Tillerson’s personal stance, he has waffled; Inside Climate News found that at a 2013 shareholder meeting, he questioned whether warming trends have continued and in 2015 suggested maybe the “models” (the ones showing the earth getting hotter) might be wrong.
Zinke falsely claimed that “four out of five” suicide bombers used by Boko Haram are children—which sounds like it might be a simple error until you consider that it was a part of his larger argument against letting child refugees into the country, since they are probably suicide bombers. (The real statistic is one in five.)
Zinke has suggested that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions was due to volcanoes erupting all over the place. (He later said that he does not believe climate change is a hoax, but thinks there’s “debate” about exactly how much humans influence it.)
Oh, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention...
Kushner has claimed that his father-in-law is neither racist nor anti-Semitic. That’s not a conspiracy, per se, or pseudoscience, or really anything that we’ve covered here. It’s just an interesting—somewhat debatable—claim that he appears to sincerely believe.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments.
Ashley Feinberg and Anna Merlan are senior reporters for the Gizmodo Media Special Projects Desk, which produces investigative work across all of Gizmodo Media Group’s web sites. Reach Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org and Anna at email@example.com. Find information on how to securely communicate with members of the Special Projects Desk here.