Dec. 12, 2016 – Donald Trump spent his presidential campaign promoting claims and wild conspiracy theories, a habit he hasn’t broken since becoming president-elect. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that as he builds out his Cabinet and administration Trump is choosing to surround himself with people who similarly gravitate towards fake news and baseless propaganda.
Several of Trump’s announced candidates for top administration roles, his known advisers and those who are reportedly under consideration for top positions have promoted patently false claims or pushed bizarre conspiracy theories. These are the people who, if Trump has his way, will be advising the most powerful man in the country and helping to shape policy for all Americans.
By making these wild claims—many of them meant to provoke suspicion of racial and religious minorities, immigrants and the media—Trump and his allies are attempting to create an alternative reality, one that they can then use to justify policies cracking down on voting access, rolling back the rights of immigrants and Muslim-Americans and undermining the freedom of the press.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick to serve as national security adviser, and his son Michael Flynn Jr., a member of the Trump transition team, came under scrutiny this week after a man driven by a far-right conspiracy theory walked into a Washington, D.C., pizzeria and fired an assault rifle. The man apparently believed false stories from fake news outlets that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child sex ring operating out of the popular family restaurant; both Flynns had used social media to promote false claims tying the Clintons to sexual abuse and child trafficking.
After the shooting, the younger Flynn doubled down on his belief on the so-called “Pizzagate” story and, after a few days of public pressure, was fired from his role on the Trump transition team. But Trump appears to have done nothing to discipline or distance himself from the elder Flynn, who is responsible for promoting his own share of conspiracy theories, including ones involving a bogus Clinton sex ring. Flynn has:
- Used his Twitter page to promote fake news stories at least 16 times, includingclaims that Clinton was implicated in a child sex scandal, the occult and a plot to ban Christianity, and allegations that both Clinton and President Obama support terrorism.
- Promoted anti-Semitic Twitter accountsassociated with the racist Alt-Right.
- Falsely alleged that Democratic lawmakers in Florida voted to impose Sharia law.
- Referred to Islam as “a cancer” and “a political ideology” that hides behind “being a religion” and claimed on his Twitter page that the “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”
- Joined the board of an anti-Muslim groupthat believes public schools indoctrinate students into Islam.
A self-described fan of “conspiracy books,” Ben Carson is set to bring his bizarre world outlook to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, whose limited record on housing issues includes blasting efforts to combat racial bias in housing as “socialism” and reminiscent of “communist countries,” has:
- Claimed that the gay rights movement was the creation of communist and New World Order leaders attempting to undermine God, Americaand freedom.
- Suggested that Obama is a treasonous, anti-American leaderdetermined to usher in Nazism and communism and that he was inspired by Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin.
- Warned that Obama had plans to cancel the 2016 election, shut down Fox Newsand introduce a slavery-like system through Obamacare.
As the first senator to endorse Trump’s presidential bid, Sessions built a close relationship with the president-elect, who in turn nominated him to be attorney general. Sessions has:
- Reportedly called civil rights groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”
- Falsely accused Obama of urgingundocumented immigrants to illegally vote in the election. (An imaginary epidemic of voter fraud has long been a driving issue for Sessions, who once prosecuted civil rights activists on bogus voter fraud claims).
- Suggested that climate change is a myth by wrongly claimingthat the U.S. has experienced no major hurricanes since 2005.
Steve Bannon, who was Trump’s campaign CEO before being picked as his top White House strategist, previously led Breitbart News, which under his leadership became a Trump propaganda outfit and a popular purveyor of bigoted misinformation. Bannon himself described Breitbart as “the platform for the Alt-Right”—a loosely affiliated collection of white nationalists, anti-Semites and misogynists who use the internet to complain about “political correctness”—and hailed the Alt-Right as “the philosophy underneath this populist, nationalist” movement that drove the Trump campaign.
Under his leadership, Breitbart published blatantly racist and sexist articles. The outlet also helped fake news go viral, including citing an article from the fake news source “ABC.com.co” to claim that anti-Trump protesters were paid thousands of dollars, passing off a photo of a Cleveland Cavaliers parade as a Trump rally, claiming that a soccer jersey found in Arizona was proof of Islamic infiltration of the southern border and defending Trump’s bogus claim that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated on 9/11.
Bannon himself has:
- Warned that “the left” is stoking violence against police officers to further “its plot to take down America.”
- Claimed former Fox News chief Roger Ailes—who lost his job after several employees accused him of sexual harassment—was a victimof a conspiracy led by “the Obamas, the Clintons, and their billionaire financiers, such as George Soros,” and “if Ailes goes, I’m afraid, so could America.”
- Called Islama “political ideology” that espouses ideas akin to “Nazism, fascism, and communism.”
Kansas Secretary of State and Trump campaign adviser Kris Kobach is a member of the president-elect’s transition team and his name has been floated for a high-ranking position with the Department of Homeland Security.
Kobach, who has authored and promoted anti-immigrant measures in states around the country, took a leading role in planning Trump’s efforts to deport millions of immigrants, build a border wall with Mexico, and make the Mexican government pay for it by impounding the remittances that Mexican immigrants send back to the country.
Like Trump, Kobach has a proclivity for entertaining conspiracy theories, while often insisting that he is simply throwing things out there or asking questions. Kobach has:
- Echoed Trump’s erroneous claimthat 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election and was reportedly one of the sources of the president-elect’s bad information. Kobach has spent years stoking fears of massive voter fraud in an effort to enact restrictive voting policies that disproportionately disenfranchise young people and people of color.
- Wondered whether Obama is really a citizenof the United States and suggested that the president might make it unlawful to prosecute African Americans for any crime, claiming that “it’s already happened more or less in the case of civil rights laws.”
- Said that if Latinos become a majority in the U.S., it’s not impossible that they might conduct “ethnic cleansing” in America.
Trump is also reportedly considering Texas agricultural commissioner Sid Miller and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham for administration posts; in a Trump administration, their records of promoting fake news stories may not be disqualifying. Miller, who gained attention during the campaign for calling Clinton a “cunt,” posted fake news articles about Obama and Muslims and talked about nuking all of the world’s billion-plus Muslims. Ingraham’s LifeZette website has suggested that Bill and Hillary Clinton are involved in the occult and have killed dozens of people, including John F. Kennedy Jr., and that George Soros was planning to steal the election through vote rigging.
Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, said that he recently met with the president-elect in Trump Tower. While it is unlikely that Trump would tap Stone for a formal role in the administration, he appears to be continuing to seek the advice of somebody who has pushed a wide range of conspiracy theories. Stone has claimed that Hillary Clinton was “jacked up” on drugs during a presidential debate, that Clinton had extramarital affairs as part of her “sham” marriage, that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been assassinated, and that Clinton was planning to rig the election through mass voter fraud. Probably not coincidentally,
Probably not coincidentally, Trump himself has also floated each one of these claims. Stone frequently appears on conspiracy theorist and Trump supporter Alex Jones’ radio show; Trump himself once appeared on Jones’ program and hailed the radio host’s “amazing” reputation.
Too many of Trump’s Cabinet picks and advisers are people who seemingly will encourage and imitate his worst instincts: spreading falsehoods, willfully disregarding basic facts and using misinformation to create a dangerous alternate reality.
Brian Tashman is a senior research analyst at People For the American Way, where he covers politics and media for the group’s Right Wing Watch project. He has written about LGBT equality, voting rights, reproductive freedom and gun violence prevention. For more articles go to www.rightwingwatch.org