Disinformation

The conspiracy theorists retweeted by Trump

Many of Trump’s recently retweeted accounts are part of the QAnon environment, with pages filled with memes about the grand, deep state plan to destroy America

As the Covid-19 death toll in the US nears 85,000, and President Trump criticizes coverage from even his biggest media champions, he is turning to ever more fringe voices to glean support.  

Over the past few days, Trump has been busy brewing one of the biggest tweetstorms of his presidency, posting 126 tweets on Mother’s Day and continuing at full pelt into the week.

The subject of Trump’s latest deluge of tweets has largely been new material about a fresh conspiracy theory called Obamagate. Even the president himself doesn’t seem to be clear on what Obamagate truly is. When asked by a reporter to elaborate this week, Trump refused, only saying: “You’ll be seeing what’s going on over the coming weeks.” 

This may be part of the strategy, explained Samantha North, a disinformation expert at Washington cyber security company Nisos. “The fact that the narrative is so vague and undefined is perhaps deliberate,” North said. “Conspiracy theorists really like to build a story with all these pieces and like to connect the dots in weird ways. Maybe the whole vagueness of Obamagate is giving them the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild,” she said, adding that the President’s usual stream of misleading and conspiracy-led tweets had strengthened into a torrent. “It’s on steroids.” 

As the Obamagate theories begin to unfurl, Trump has been avidly retweeting its proponents – and not just far-right news agencies, but also conspiracy influencers, as well as anonymous users with just a handful of followers. 

Here’s a rundown of some of the characters and theories President Trump has recently promoted: 

Michael William Lebron

122k followers 

Lebron has the Twitter handle LionelMedia and calls himself a “truth warrior.” He was retweeted by the President over the weekend. Lebron is well-known as one of the QAnon conspiracy theory’s most ardent promoters. He’s a vocal anti-vaxxer and, like the President himself, has advocated for the birther conspiracy theory – the false and racially-motivated claim that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. Lebron has been photographed with Trump in 2018 at the White House. He’s now promoting conspiracies that Bill Gates wants to genetically modify the human race with a Covid-19 vaccine. “You know exactly what they’re saying is true.” Lebron tweeted on Thursday. His theories encourage people to mistrust the government’s coronavirus advice. 

David J Harris Jr.

394k followers  

Harris Jr runs a blog that regularly pushes conspiracy-led disinformation to his followers. On May 3, Harris posted on his website a claim, bereft of any evidence, President Obama was secretly behind the U.S. counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia. When Trump retweeted Harris’ blogpost, it was the first indication that the President was about to shift his narrative into these baseless Obamagate claims. Harris filmed a tearful thank-you video for the retweets: “the facts always stand up for the president,” he said. “So if you don’t like it, you just don’t like the facts.” For these fringe voices, being retweeted by the President and his 79 million followers means being catapulted into the mainstream. Many of the users have “proudly retweeted by Donald Trump” in their Twitter descriptions. 

KK @loveyourlife03

635 followers

On May 13, Trump retweeted this user’s tweet calling for his former national security advisor General Michael Flynn’s plea to be thrown out. The user’s profile, which is followed by just 635 people, shows other tweets about the conspiracy theory suggesting the coronavirus is a hoax. “After watching #Plandemic documentary I’m Pissed. #OPENAMERICANOW. These people are literally killing us,” the user wrote, referring to discredited claims that Bill Gates is using the virus for personal gain.

JoAnne @JoanneWT09

62.1k followers 

JoAnne, who calls herself a “wife, mother and Trump supporter,” has an emoji-filled twitter handle that’s also rife with QAnon conspiracies. She was retweeted by the President on Monday, for a meme she posted claiming “Obamagate will make Watergate look like a parking ticket.” Delve into the rest of her timeline, and you’ll find familiar claims about a so-called deep state, using the hashtag #plandemic2020, and false claims that Covid-19 is a hoax.  

Michael Nöthem @mikandynothem

229k followers

Nöthem describes himself as a “political animal with opinion,” and proudly advertises that he is “RT’d by @realDonaldTrump.” He is openly part of the QAnon circle, tweeting and re-tweeting to encourage his fellow “digital soldiers.” In the past few days, he has tweeted conspiracies about Dr Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates profiting from coronavirus, alongside anti-vaccine memes claiming that the Covid-19 vaccine will disfigure patients. 

Sandpiper @Darhar981

101k followers

Alongside quotes from the Bible and Qanon messages, this user tweets and retweets dozens of posts a day about a deep state, the plandemic video, and conspiracies about creating a new world order. The President retweeted the user’s Obamagate tweet on May 11. 

Trump has also retweeted accounts without profile pictures, who follow nobody, or who appear to be automated accounts. Delve into many of these accounts and you quickly realize they are part of the QAnon environment, with posts filled with memes about a grand, deep state plan to destroy America, alongside “red-pill” coronavirus denialism and anti-vaccine content. 

Trump’s tweetstorm about his new favorite conspiracy theory shows no sign of ending. Earlier today, he tweeted again: “OBAMAGATE!”

Isobel Cockerell

Isobel Cockerell is a reporter and filmmaker with Coda Story. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she has also reported for WIRED, USA Today, Rappler, The Daily Beast, the Huffington Post and others.

Get in touch via [email protected] Follow @isocockerell

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