Don’t Dismiss President Trump’s Attacks on the Media as Mere Stupidity

Written by Bret Stephens (Time)

Bret Stephens delivered the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture this week at the University of California, Los Angeles. Read the full text of his remarks below:

I’m profoundly honored to have this opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Danny Pearl, my colleague at The Wall Street Journal.

My topic this evening is intellectual integrity in the age of Donald Trump. I suspect this is a theme that would have resonated with Danny.

When you work at The Wall Street Journal, the coins of the realm are truth and trust — the latter flowing exclusively from the former. When you read a story in the Journal, you do so with the assurance that immense reportorial and editorial effort has been expended to ensure that what you read is factual.

Not probably factual. Not partially factual. Not alternatively factual. I mean fundamentally, comprehensively and exclusively factual. And therefore trustworthy.

This is how we operate. This is how Danny operated. This is how he died, losing his life inan effort to nail down a story.

In the 15 years since Danny’s death, the list of murdered journalists has grown long.

Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya in Russia.

Zahra Kazemi and Sattar Behesti in Iran.

Jim Foley and Steve Sotloff in Syria.

Five journalists in Turkey. Twenty-six in Mexico. More than 100 in Iraq.

When we honor Danny, we honor them, too.

We do more than that.

We honor the central idea of journalism — the conviction, as my old boss Peter Kann once said, “that facts are facts; that they are ascertainable through honest, open-minded and diligent reporting; that truth is attainable by laying fact upon fact, much like the construction of a cathedral; and that truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder.”

And we honor the responsibility to separate truth from falsehood, which is never more important than when powerful people insist that falsehoods are truths, or that there is no such thing as truth to begin with.

So that’s the business we’re in: the business of journalism. Or, as the 45th president of the United States likes to call us, the “disgusting and corrupt media.”

Some of you may have noticed that we’re living through a period in which the executive branch of government is engaged in a systematic effort to create a climate of opinion against the news business.

The President routinely describes reporting he dislikes as FAKE NEWS. The Administration calls the press “the opposition party,” ridicules news organizations it doesn’t like as business failures, and calls for journalists to be fired. Mr. Trump has called for rewriting libel laws in order to more easily sue the press.

This isn’t unprecedented in U.S. history, though you might have to go back to the Administration of John Adams to see something quite like it. And so far the rhetorical salvos haven’t been matched by legal or regulatory action. Maybe they never will be.

But the question of what Mr. Trump might yet do by political methods against the media matters a great deal less than what he is attempting to do by ideological and philosophical methods.

Ideologically, the president is trying to depose so-called mainstream media in favor of the media he likes — Breitbart News and the rest. Another way of making this point is to say that he’s trying to substitute news for propaganda, information for boosterism.

His objection to, say, the New York Times, isn’t that there’s a liberal bias in the paper that gets in the way of its objectivity, which I think would be a fair criticism. His objection is to objectivity itself. He’s perfectly happy for the media to be disgusting and corrupt — so long as it’s on his side.

But again, that’s not all the president is doing.

Consider this recent exchange he had with Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly asks:
Is there any validity to the criticism of you that you say things that you can’t back up factually, and as the President you say there are three million illegal aliens who voted and you don’t have the data to back that up, some people are going to say that it’s irresponsible for the President to say that.

To which the president replies:
Many people have come out and said I’m right.

Now many people also say Jim Morrison faked his own death. Many people say Barack Obama was born in Kenya. “Many people say” is what’s known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.

We are not a nation of logicians.

I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant — if not in intention than certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.

He isn’t telling O’Reilly that he’s got his facts wrong. He’s saying that, as far as he is concerned, facts, as most people understand the term, don’t matter: That they are indistinguishable from, and interchangeable with, opinion; and that statements of fact needn’t have any purchase against a man who is either sufficiently powerful to ignore them or sufficiently shameless to deny them — or, in his case, both.

If some of you in this room are students of political philosophy, you know where this argument originates. This is a version of Thrasymachus’s argument in Plato’s Republic that justice is the advantage of the stronger and that injustice “if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice.”

Substitute the words “truth” and “falsehood” for “justice” and “injustice,” and there you have the Trumpian view of the world. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, it would be this: Truth is what you can get away with.

If you can sell condos by claiming your building is 90% occupied when it’s only 20% occupied, well, then—it’s 90% occupied. If you can convince a sufficient number of people that you really did win the popular vote, or that your inauguration crowds were the biggest—well then, what do the statistical data and aerial photographs matter?

Now, we could have some interesting conversations about why this is happening—and why it seems to be happening all of a sudden.

Today we have “dis-intermediating” technologies such as Twitter, which have cut out the media as the middleman between politicians and the public. Today, just 17% of adults aged 18-24 read a newspaper daily, down from 42% at the turn of the century. Today there are fewer than 33,000 full-time newsroom employees, a drop from 55,000 just 20 years ago.
When Trump attacks the news media, he’s kicking a wounded animal.

But the most interesting conversation is not about why Donald Trump lies. Many public figures lie, and he’s only a severe example of a common type.

The interesting conversation concerns how we come to accept those lies.

Nearly 25 years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the great scholar and Democratic Senator from New York, coined the phrase, “defining deviancy down.” His topic at the time was crime, and how American society had come to accept ever-increasing rates of violent crime as normal.

“We have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard,” Moynihan wrote.

You can point to all sorts of ways in which this redefinition of deviancy has also been the story of our politics over the past 30 years, a story with a fully bipartisan set of villains.

I personally think we crossed a rubicon in the Clinton years, when three things happened: we decided that some types of presidential lies didn’t matter; we concluded that “character” was an over-rated consideration when it came to judging a president; and we allowed the lines between political culture and celebrity culture to become hopelessly blurred.

But whatever else one might say about President Clinton, what we have now is the crack-cocaine version of that.

If a public figure tells a whopping lie once in his life, it’ll haunt him into his grave. If he lies morning, noon and night, it will become almost impossible to remember any one particular lie. Outrage will fall victim to its own ubiquity. It’s the same truth contained in Stalin’s famous remark that the death of one man is a tragedy but the death of a million is a statistic.

One of the most interesting phenomena during the presidential campaign was waiting for Trump to say that one thing that would surely break the back of his candidacy.

Would it be his slander against Mexican immigrants? Or his slur about John McCain’s record as a POW? Or his lie about New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11? Or his attacks on Megyn Kelly, on a disabled New York Times reporter, on a Mexican-American judge?

Would it be him tweeting quotations from Benito Mussolini, or his sly overtures to David Duke and the alt-right? Would it be his unwavering praise of Vladimir Putin? Would it be his refusal to release his tax returns, or the sham that seems to been perpetrated on the saps who signed up for his Trump U courses? Would it be the tape of him with Billy Bush?
None of this made the slightest difference. On the contrary, it helped him. Some people became desensitized by the never-ending assaults on what was once quaintly known as “human decency.” Others seemed to positively admire the comments as refreshing examples of personal authenticity and political incorrectness.

Shameless rhetoric will always find a receptive audience with shameless people. Donald Trump’s was the greatest political strip-tease act in U.S. political history: the dirtier he got, the more skin he showed, the more his core supporters liked it.

Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, called on Americans to summon “the better angels of our nature.” Donald Trump’s candidacy, and so far his presidency, has been Lincoln’s exhortation in reverse.

Here’s a simple truth about a politics of dishonesty, insult and scandal: It’s entertaining. Politics as we’ve had it for most of my life has, with just a few exceptions, been distant and dull.

Now it’s all we can talk about. If you like Trump, his presence in the White House is a daily extravaganza of sticking it to pompous elites and querulous reporters. If you hate Trump, you wake up every day with some fresh outrage to turn over in your head and text your friends about.

Whichever way, it’s exhilarating. Haven’t all of us noticed that everything feels speeded up, more vivid, more intense and consequential? One of the benefits of an alternative-facts administration is that fiction can take you anywhere.

Earlier today, at his press conference, the president claimed his administration is running like a “fine-tuned machine.” In actual fact, he just lost his Labor Secretary nominee, his National Security Adviser was forced out in disgrace, and the Intelligence Community is refusing to fully brief the president for fear he might compromise sources and methods.
But who cares? Since when in Washington has there been a presidential press conference like that? Since when has the denial of reality been taken to such a bald-faced extreme?

At some point, it becomes increasingly easy for people to mistake the reality of the performance for reality itself. If Trump can get through a press conference like that without showing a hint of embarrassment, remorse or misgiving—well, then, that becomes a new basis on which the president can now be judged.

To tell a lie is wrong. But to tell a lie with brass takes skill. Ultimately, Trump’s press conference will be judged not on some kind of Olympic point system, but on whether he “won”—which is to say, whether he brazened his way through it. And the answer to that is almost certainly yes.

So far, I’ve offered you three ideas about how it is that we have come to accept the president’s behavior.

The first is that we normalize it, simply by becoming inured to constant repetition of the same bad behavior.

The second is that at some level it excites and entertains us. By putting aside our usual moral filters—the ones that tell us that truth matters, that upright conduct matters, that things ought to be done in a certain way—we have been given tickets to a spectacle, in which all you want to do is watch.

And the third is that we adopt new metrics of judgment, in which politics becomes more about perceptions than performance—of how a given action is perceived as being perceived. If a reporter for the New York Times says that Trump’s press conference probably plays well in Peoria, then that increases the chances that it will play well in Peoria.

Let me add a fourth point here: our tendency to rationalize.

One of the more fascinating aspects of last year’s presidential campaign was the rise of a class of pundits I call the “TrumpXplainers.” For instance, Trump would give a speech or offer an answer in a debate that amounted to little more than a word jumble.

But rather than quote Trump, or point out that what he had said was grammatically and logically nonsensical, the TrumpXplainers would tell us what he had allegedly meant to say. They became our political semioticians, ascribing pattern and meaning to the rune-stones of Trump’s mind.

If Trump said he’d get Mexico to pay for his wall, you could count on someone to provide a complex tariff scheme to make good on the promise. If Trump said that we should not have gone into Iraq but that, once there, we should have “taken the oil,” we’d have a similarly high-flown explanation as to how we could engineer this theft.
A year ago, when he was trying to explain his idea of a foreign policy to the New York Times’s David Sanger, the reporter asked him whether it didn’t amount to a kind of “America First policy”—a reference to the isolationist and anti-Semitic America First Committee that tried to prevent U.S. entry into World War II. Trump clearly had never heard of the group, but he liked the phrase and made it his own. And that’s how we got the return of America First.

More recently, I came across this headline in the conservative Washington Times: “How Trump’s ‘disarray’ may be merely a strategy,” by Wesley Pruden, the paper’s former editor-in-chief. In his view, the president’s first disastrous month in office is, in fact, evidence of a refreshing openness to dissent, reminiscent of Washington and Lincoln’s cabinet of rivals. Sure.

Overall, the process is one in which explanation becomes rationalization, which in turn becomes justification. Trump says X. What he really means is Y. And while you might not like it, he’s giving voice to the angers and anxieties of Z. Who, by the way, you’re not allowed to question or criticize, because anxiety and anger are their own justifications these days.

Watching this process unfold has been particularly painful for me as a conservative columnist. I find myself in the awkward position of having recently become popular among some of my liberal peers—precisely because I haven’t changed my opinions about anything.

By contrast, I’ve become suddenly unpopular among some of my former fans on the right—again, because I’ve stuck to my views. It is almost amusing to be accused of suffering from something called “Trump Derangement Syndrome” simply because I feel an obligation to raise my voice against, say, the president suggesting a moral equivalency between the U.S. and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The most painful aspect of this has been to watch people I previously considered thoughtful and principled conservatives give themselves over to a species of illiberal politics from which I once thought they were immune.

In his 1953 masterpiece, “The Captive Mind,” the Polish poet and dissident Czeslaw Milosz analyzed the psychological and intellectual pathways through which some of his former colleagues in Poland’s post-war Communist regime allowed themselves to be converted into ardent Stalinists. In none of the cases that Milosz analyzed was coercion the main reason for the conversion.

They wanted to believe. They were willing to adapt. They thought they could do more good from the inside. They convinced themselves that their former principles didn’t fit with the march of history, or that to hold fast to one’s beliefs was a sign of priggishness and pig-headedness. They felt that to reject the new order of things was to relegate themselves to irrelevance and oblivion. They mocked their former friends who refused to join the new order as morally vain reactionaries. They convinced themselves that, brutal and capricious as Stalinism might be, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the exploitative capitalism of the West.

I fear we are witnessing a similar process unfold among many conservative intellectuals on the right. It has been stunning to watch a movement that once believed in the benefits of free trade and free enterprise merrily give itself over to a champion of protectionism whose economic instincts recall the corporatism of 1930s Italy or 1950s Argentina. It is no less stunning to watch people once mocked Obama for being too soft on Russia suddenly discover the virtues of Trump’s “pragmatism” on the subject.

And it is nothing short of amazing to watch the party of onetime moral majoritarians, who spent a decade fulminating about Bill Clinton’s sexual habits, suddenly find complete comfort with the idea that character and temperament are irrelevant qualifications for high office.

The mental pathways by which the new Trumpian conservatives have made their peace with their new political master aren’t so different from Milosz’s former colleagues.

There’s the same desperate desire for political influence; the same belief that Trump represents a historical force to which they ought to belong; the same willingness to bend or discard principles they once considered sacred; the same fear of seeming out-of-touch with the mood of the public; the same tendency to look the other way at comments or actions that they cannot possibly justify; the same belief that you do more good by joining than by opposing; the same Manichean belief that, if Hillary Clinton had been elected, the United States would have all-but ended as a country.

This is supposed to be the road of pragmatism, of turning lemons into lemonade. I would counter that it’s the road of ignominy, of hitching a ride with a drunk driver.
So, then, to the subject that bring me here today: Maintaining intellectual integrity in the age of Trump.

When Judea wrote me last summer to ask if I’d be this year’s speaker, I got my copy of Danny’s collected writings, “At Home in the World,” and began to read him all over again. It brought back to me the fact that, the reason we honor Danny’s memory isn’t that he’s a martyred journalist. It’s that he was a great journalist.

Let me show you what I mean. Here’s something Danny wrote in February 2001, almost exactly a year before his death, from the site of an earthquake disaster in the Indian town of Anjar.

What is India’s earthquake zone really like? It smells. It reeks. You can’t imagine the odor of several hundred bodies decaying for five days as search teams pick away at slabs of crumbled buildings in this town. Even if you’ve never smelled it before, the brain knows what it is, and orders you to get away. After a day, the nose gets stuffed up in self-defense. But the brain has registered the scent, and picks it up in innocent places: lip balm, sweet candy, stale breath, an airplane seat.

What stands out for me in this passage is that it shows that Danny was a writer who observed with all his senses. He saw. He listened. He smelled. He bore down. He reflected.

He understood that what the reader had to know about Anjar wasn’t a collection of statistics; it was the visceral reality of a massive human tragedy. And he was able to express all this in language that was compact, unadorned, compelling and deeply true.

George Orwell wrote, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Danny saw what was in front of his nose.

We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose, whether we’re reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity.

Not to look around, or beyond, or away from the facts, but to look straight at them, to recognize and call them for what they are, nothing more or less. To see things as they are before we re-interpret them into what we’d like them to be. To believe in an epistemology that can distinguish between truth and falsity, facts and opinions, evidence and wishes. To defend habits of mind and institutions of society, above all a free press, which preserve that epistemology. To hold fast to a set of intellectual standards and moral convictions that won’t waver amid changes of political fashion or tides of unfavorable opinion. To speak the truth irrespective of what it means for our popularity or influence.

The legacy of Danny Pearl is that he died for this. We are being asked to do much less. We have no excuse not to do it.

Thank you.


NBA Superstar Kyrie Irving: “This Is Not Even a Conspiracy Theory… The Earth Is Flat”

Written by Hemant Mehta (Patheos)

In case you’re wondering what NBA star Kyrie Irving thinks about the shape of the planet, you’re in luck! He talked about it on the podcast Road Trippin’ with RJ and Channing around the 17:55 mark:

“This is not even a conspiracy theory,” Irving said. “The Earth is flat.”
When pressed on a response that, for the record, is flat out wrong, Irving went off the rails and blamed “particular groups” that he did not name which he thinks want to convince us the Earth is, in fact, round.
Said Irving: “It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.
“What I’ve been taught is that the earth is round. But if you really think about it from a landscape of the way we travel, the way we move and the fact that, can you really think of us rotating around the sun and all planets aligned, rotating in specific dates, being perpendicular with what’s going on with these planets?”
He said “planets” using large quotation marks (in person).
The whole explanation is odd, since science has perfectly reasonable explanations for how all of this works. And it’s not like Irving doesn’t have access to spheres… he plays basketball. Just make the ball bigger, Kyrie, and you’ll see how this works!
(Hey, kids: This is why college basketball players shouldn’t take the one-and-done route.)
Irving’s position is no different from what rapper B.o.B. said last year when he claimed through a series of tweets that the world had to be flat. When Neil deGrasse Tyson has to step in to correct your ignorance, you know you screwed up badly.
There’s a positive side to this story, though: While the rest of us are mocking him, the Creation Museum may have found its new spokesperson!

Why More Democrats Are Now Embracing Conspiracy Theories

Written by Brendan Nyhan (NY Times)

Even as Democrats decry the false claims streaming regularly from the White House, they appear to have become more vulnerable to unsupported claims and conspiracy theories that flatter their own political prejudices. The reason isn’t just that a Republican now occupies the White House. Political psychology research suggests that losing political control can make people more vulnerable to misinformation and conspiracy theories.

Before the election, supporters of Donald J. Trump were the main audience for fake news stories. Mr. Trump shattered previous norms against making easily disprovable falsehoods in his public statements (including that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and that President Obama was not born in this country), and he paid little political price among his supporters.

Plots Afoot?

A survey administered just after the election in November showed that Democrats were more likely to agree with conspiracy-minded statements than they had been a few months earlier. For Republicans, the change went the opposite way.

But since the election, there has been a noticeable increase in the flow of dubious and unsupported claims among liberals. One widely circulated post on Medium portrayed the Trump administration’s fumbling rollout of a travel ban in late January as an elaborate “trial balloon for a coup d’état.” Brooke Binkowski, managing editor at the rumor-tracking site Snopes, recently told The Atlantic that she has been seeing more false reports aimed at liberals or from liberal sources — “a lot of dubious news, a lot of wishful-thinking-type stuff.”

Even some prominent liberals like Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, seem open to conspiracy theories of the sort typically espoused by figures like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck. (After the recent violent demonstration at the University of California at Berkeley, Mr. Reich raised the possibility that the far right “was in cahoots” with the agitators, writing a blog post titled “A Yiannopoulos, Bannon, Trump Plot to Control American Universities?”)

A simple explanation for this shift is that misperceptions often focus on the president and are most commonly held by members of the other party. Just as Republicans disproportionately endorsed prominent misperceptions during the Obama years (like the birther and death panel myths), Democrats are now the opposition partisans especially likely to fall victim to dubious claims about the Trump administration.

But the shift in vulnerability to conspiracy theories may have deeper psychological roots. Research suggests that people embrace conspiracy beliefs as a way to cope with perceived threats to control. In particular, Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent at the University of Miami have argued that conspiracy theory beliefs increase in response to group threats, including among losers of elections. These beliefs can help rally groups and coordinate action in response to a decline in status or power.

To evaluate this conjecture, the political scientists Christina Farhart, Joanne Miller and Kyle Saunders, who study conspiracy theory belief, compared how Democrats and Republicans changed in their responses to a conspiracy predispositions scale created by Mr. Uscinski and his co-authors.

The scale asks respondents to evaluate a series of statements:

Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places.

Even though we live in a democracy, a few people will always run things anyway.

The people who really “run” the country are not known to the voters.

Big events like wars, economic recessions and the outcomes of elections are controlled by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us.

Ms. Farhart and her co-authors found in this unpublished study that even partisans’ conspiratorial predispositions can vary depending on which party holds political power. In a survey administered by Survey Sampling International immediately after the election (Nov. 7-10), Democrats’ conspiracy scores increased significantly compared with a previous survey in July, especially on the “people who really ‘run’ the country” item.

In total, the percentage of Democrats who agreed on average with the conspiracy claims in the scale increased from 27 percent before the election to 32 percent afterward. By contrast, Republicans’ willingness to endorse conspiratorial claims declined after the election over all and for three of the four statements, pushing down the percentage of Republicans who agreed on average with the statements from 28 percent to 19 percent.

In other words, losing the presidential election made Democrats more likely to blame secret conspiracies for the state of the world, while making Republicans less willing to indulge these sorts of claims. If you don’t believe me, just compare your social media news feeds with what you saw during the campaign — or ask yourself who you think is behind the news you are seeing.

Moby Claims To Know Donald Trump Is Being ‘Blackmailed’ By Russian Government

Written by Julia Brucculieri (MSM and Huffington Post)

Electronic music artist Moby claims to have accurate information regarding Donald Trump and his alleged ties to Russia.

On Monday, the musician wrote a post on Facebook outlining the information, which he says he learned after “spending the weekend talking to friends who work in DC.”

“The russian dossier on trump is real. 100% real. he’s being blackmailed by the russian government, not just for being peed on by russian hookers, but for much more nefarious things,” the artist wrote, adding, “the trump administration is in collusion with the russian government, and has been since day one.”

In his post, Moby also claims that Trump’s administration “needs a war, most likely with iran.” According to Moby, members of the right also have plans to get Trump out of the White House because “he’s a drain on their fundraising and their approval ratings.”

“Intelligence agencies around the world, and here in the u.s, [sic] are horrified by the incompetence of the trump administration, and are working to present information that will lead to high level firings and, ultimately, impeachment,” he wrote.


The “We Are All Made of Stars” singer says he shared this information for the sake of public record, noting, “these are truly baffling and horrifying times, as we have an incompetent president who is essentially owned by a foreign power.”The response to his writing was largely critical in the post’s comment section, with some Facebook users warning the musician against posting “unverified rumors with no sources or backup,” and others urging him to simply “make music and stay out of politics.”

Representatives for the musician didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

You can read his entire post below:

Moby has been openly critical of Trump and the oft-misogynistic language he used throughout his campaign. In a blog post published on HuffPost, the DJ wrote, called the former “Apprentice” host “a man who is sanguine justifying sexual assault because ‘I’m a star, women will let me do anything.’” 

Moby also openly laughed when recounting how he was asked to DJ at one of Trump’s inauguration events.

10 Right-Wing Predictions About Obama That Never Came True

Note: This article was written and originally published by Right Wing Watch, archived here for expedience. Visit PFAW’s Right Wing Watch.

By Brian Tashman (RWW)

For eight years, right-wing activists have been making dire predictions about what  President Obama would do during his time in office. Some have warned that the president will begin seizing guns and arresting critics any day now. More than a few worried that the president would invade Texas or organize his own private army for other nefarious purposes.

Technically, Obama still has a few more hours to fulfill the far-right’s many doomsday prophecies about his presidency, but it appears much more likely that these conservative activists simply lied in order to fuel baseless fears about Obama, who, despite their best efforts, is leaving office with a 60 percent approval rating.

While this is by no means a complete list, we’ve collected ten of the most absurd predictions that Obama’s critics have made about his time in office, which, as January 20 approaches, are looking less and less likely to come true.

1)      Obama Will Create Death Panels

One of the most pernicious and persistent lies about Obama’s presidency has been that he used the Affordable Care Act to establish “death panels.”

Many critics of health care reform falsely claimed that the new law would enforce rationing that would discriminate against elderly people, people with prior health issues and people with disabilities. Some Republican politicians, including Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, went a step further in suggesting that an actual government body would be formed to determine whether people lived or died. GOP leaders including former House speakers John Boehner and Newt Gingrich raised the prospect of state-sponsored euthanasia.

Fox News hosts naturally ran with the “death panels” hoax, and the claim’s originator, former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, eventually became a Fox News personality and later an adviser to Donald Trump.

Even years after the law’s passage, conservatives like Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas and commentator Ben Shapiro kept insisting that the death panels were on their way, even when it became obvious they did not exist.

At least one popular conservative website even pushed a fake news article claiming that the death panels had already begun executing elderly people.

2) Obama Will Kill His Critics

WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah, writing just days before the 2012 election, predicted that if “Barack Obama is re-elected Nov. 6 for a second term, he will declare a full-scale war on his domestic opposition.”

“There may not be another free and fair election in America,” Farah wrote. “I would expect due process to go the way of the horse and buggy. I think he will move to shut down and destroy all independent media. In fact, I think his biggest critics will be rounded up in the name of national security.”

Far-right radio host Michael Savage worried in 2015 that Obama would begin executing people, much like in the French Revolution.

Glenn Beck even believed that the riots in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson were simply part of a larger scheme to “set the whole country on fire” and would lead to a wave of killings of Obama critics, such as Beck himself.

3) Obama Will Spread Disease In Order To Imprison Americans

While describing the “looming crises to watch in 2015,” right-wing legal activist Larry Klayman, the founder of Judicial Watch, declared that “Obama’s mission is not only truly treasonous, but also truly evil.”

“He is more dangerous than the terrorists themselves, because he is destroying us from within,” Klayman said of the president. One way Obama may bring harm to Americans, Klayman said, would be by creating the possibility of “a massive epidemic” and “a real and imminent health crisis” by letting Ebola-infected people from West Africa—including “suicide terrorists” who had infected themselves with the virus—into the U.S.

Klayman was far from alone in sharing this fear: During the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2014, conservatives spread widespread panic about the possibility of Obama enabling an outbreak of the disease in the U.S.

Donald Trump, then teasing a presidential run, questioned Obama’s mental health, calling him a “psycho” for not stopping flights from Ebola-stricken countries, and warned that the president would end up bringing “the plague back to U.S.”

Steve Stockman, then a Republican congressman from Texas, wondered whether Obama really wanted to fight the spread of Ebola or if he really intended to “create a greater crisis to use it as a blunt force to say, well in order to solve this crisis we’re going to have to take control of the economy and individuals and so forth.”

Michael Savage, a conservative radio host, said Obama “wants to infect the nation with Ebola” and “might use Ebola as a pretext” to “gain even more power” and justify launching a “Kristallnacht” against conservatives. End Times preacher Rick Wiles similarly posited that the spread of Ebola was part of a “carefully crafted plan” to “round up patriots,” warning that Obama might “contaminate the VA hospitals with the Ebola virus” and send the people infected with the virus to “recovery and reeducation camps.”

One far-right columnist estimated that over 25 million people might die due to an Obama-inflicted health crisis. End Times broadcaster Steve Quayle, discussing the “global Ebola plague, warned that Obama’s reaction to the epidemic could “supersede” the damage done by murderous dictators like Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot.

Other far-right pundits warned that Obama might spread Ebola and then use the crisis as an excuse to cancel the 2016 election, implant “a tracker” into people, declare martial law, force people into concentration camps and put the dead in “FEMA coffins.”

Beyond Ebola, Janet Porter, the conservative activist who leads the Religious Right group Faith 2 Action, thought Obama could use swine flu fears to throw people into FEMA camps or create “a food shortage” that would be used to grow government and starve people to death.

4) Obama Will Start A Race War

Many conservative commentators believed that Obama was behind anti-police-brutality demonstrations that turned violent in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson.

Savage, the radio commentator, said the “racist” Obama administration was going to “try to stimulate insurrection in this country in order to declare martial law” since the “entire federal government is geared up to fight a war against white people.” The Department of Homeland Security, he said, was ready to “mow down” armed demonstrators during the Bundy ranch standoff in Nevada because they were predominately white.

Finding it “remarkable that Obama has not renamed the White House ‘the Black House,’” Larry Klayman wrote in WorldNetDaily that the “racist Obama and his henchmen like Eric Holder have succeeded in creating what in effect is a huge racial divide and race war in the nation, pitting black against white and vice versa” and turning white people into second class citizens.

Far-right commentator Stan Solomon even wondered if Obama would establish “a black force” to attack white people.

5) Obama Will Create A Personal Brownshirt Army

Ret. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who now serves as the executive vice president of the Family Research Council, repeatedly predicted that Obama planned to “establish a constabulary force” through the Affordable Care Act that would “control the population in America” much in the same way that Adolf Hitler used the Brownshirts to consolidate power, basing his accusation on a debunked myth about the health care law.

Boykin wasn’t alone in predicting that Obama would create such an army.

Another former military official, Ret. Army Major General Jerry Curry, warned that the Obama administration might “arm illegal immigrants” to begin killing Americans, with a focus on assassinating members of the armed forces.

Then-Republican Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia similarly warned in 2008 that Obama’s proposed expansion of national service programs was “exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany” and “exactly what the Soviet Union did.” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, claimed in 2013 that Obama’s “secret security force” was already in existence.

Lawrence C. Mackin, a conservative writer, warned that Obama was bent on creating a “private internal army” including “illegal aliens” and Middle Eastern terrorists, and William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC said Obama would give immigrants “a badge and a gun” in order to target the “Christian, heterosexual male” population. Far-right activist Jim Garrow thought Obama would fake contact with aliens in order to justify the creation of his own army.

Convinced that President Obama was set to wage an anti-white race war, radio host Michael Savage said that Obama intended to arm and “deputize” members of the Crips and Bloods gangs and turn them into his “shock troops.” He also claimed that Black Lives Matter supporters would be “Obama’s shock troops” and “secret private army” much like “the Brownshirts that Hitler had.”

6) Obama Will Seize Guns

Throughout Obama’s time in office, gun groups have made hay over patently false claims that the president was prepared to do away with the Second Amendment and ban guns.

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, predicted that Obama would “erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and exorcise it from the U.S. Constitution” if he won re-election, insisting that Obama went after gun owners “harder than he attacked ISIS.” Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt similarly suggested that Obama was organizing a Big Government scheme to confiscate guns, and might even use his (nonexistent) private army to seize Americans’ guns.

Back in 2015, Trump said he heard that Obama was going to use an executive order to “take your guns away”:

You know, the president is thinking about signing an executive order where he wants to take your guns away. You hear this one? This is the new. Not gonna happen. That won’t happen. But that’s a tough one, I think that’s a tough one for him to do when you actually have the Second Amendment. That’s tough. Because there’s plenty of executive orders being signed, you know that. And we can’t let that go on. So it’ll all stop … It’ll stop very soon, I think, because people are tired of what’s going on, and they’re tired of what’s happening to our country.

When asked by CNN host Alisyn Camerota about his charge, Trump insisted that he never actually said that Obama wants to confiscate guns, just that he had “heard” from “somebody” that “that’s what he’s thinking about” doing. (He went on to falsely claim that Hillary Clinton “wants to take your guns away” and “abolish” the Second Amendment.)

Rafael Cruz, the father of Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, repeatedly charged that Obama was getting ready to seize all guns in order to become a murderous dictator akin to Stalin.

The baseless conspiracy theory helped set the stage for Sandy Hook truthers, who claimed that the 2012 massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, was an elaborate hoax to justify a gun confiscation scheme.

7) Obama Will Invade Texas

Several Republican politicians, including presidential hopefuls, couldn’t help themselves from seizing on the completely unbelievable conspiracy theory that the Obama administration was planning a federal takeover Texas under the pretext of a 2015 military exercise known as Jade Helm 15.

Knowing that a large number of conservatives believed in the conspiracy theory, these politicians sniffed an opportunity to throw some red meat at the expense of, you know, the truth. The governor of Texas even ordered the Texas State Guard to “monitor Operation Jade Helm 15” to make sure it didn’t infringe on Texans’ civil liberties.

While there wasn’t one standard Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theory, the gist was that Obama was planning to use the military exercise to enforce federal, possibly military, rule over Texas, likely because it is a bastion of conservatism.

As we’ve previously noted, many far-right activists saw Jade Helm 15 as “part of a secret effort to take over conservative states like Texas, impose martial lawconfiscate people’s firearmsround up ‘patriotic men,’ force people into cattle cars and lock them up in Wal-Marts that have been converted into FEMA camps.”

Wiles, the religious radio broadcaster, referred to Jade Helm 15 as a “two-month-long Night of the Long Knives” and even warned about a potential government-initiated nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack on Texas. Televangelist Jim Bakker said that he might even go to jail (again) as a result of Jade Helm 15.

After the exercise began, one fake news site fabricated a story that it had resulted in civilian casualties.

Panic about Jade Helm had serious consequences: The FBI arrested a group of people planning to attack soldiers participating in the exercise, and some service members came under fire as the exercise began.

8) Obama Will Ban The Bible   

Following the passage of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which Obama signed in 2009, Republicans warned that the freedom of religion and speech for Christians would soon disappear due to government oppression. Subsequent advances in LGBT equality, especially the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision striking down state-level same-sex marriage bans, only made the persecution rhetoric more panicked.

Anti-LGBT activists predicted after the passage of the hate crimes act that the government would begin prosecuting and imprisoning Christians who criticized homosexuality. The Traditional Values Coalition claimed that “the new Hate Crimes Act that President Obama signed into law makes the Bible illegal ‘Hate Literature.’”


Several Republican politicians even claimed that the law granted legal protections to pedophiles.

In 2013, Rick Scarborough, a conservative pastor who once threatened to file a lawsuit against homosexuality, claimed that the Obama administration was “hell-bent on silencing the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” warning that Christians may be “thrown into concentration camps” at some point in the future. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins warned just last year that Obama was using gay rights to “eliminate” Christianity and “punish speech—and belief.”

Far-right fake news sites have similarly predicted that Obama will outlaw Christmas and “criminalize Christianity.”

9) Obama Will Impose Sharia Law

Among the most popular and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories surrounding Obama was the enduring claim that he was just about to impose Sharia law on Americans, if he hadn’t already.

While discussing his book on Obama’s “progressive/Islamic takeover” in 2015, Savage claimed that Obama was bringing in 100,000 Muslims into America every month to help “the Islamism creeping into the country,” which he posited could eventually lead to the government deciding to “ban dogs.”

Sen. Ted Cruz even went so far as to falsely claim that the Obama administration put into place a “ban on anti-Muslim rhetoric.” Then-Rep. Michele Bachmann alleged in 2012 that Obama had enforced “Islamic speech codes here in the United States” as part of his supposed push for Sharia law.

In a WorldNetDaily column posted weeks before the 2008 election, Faith 2 Action’s Janet Porter delivered a “newscast of the future” in which she predicted, among other things, that Obama would personally meet with Osama bin Laden, begin broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer in the capital five times a day and have people face Mecca at a Presidential Prayer Breakfast keynoted by Louis Farrakhan.

Kamal Saleem, who claims to be a former terrorist and is now a conservative speaker, claimed in 2012 that Obama planned on “legalizing terrorism” and predicted that the Obama administration would begin shutting down churches and synagogues in 2013. He claimed that Obama had already set up an Islamic “shadow government” that was using an Obama family babysitter, Roe v. Wade and the military to impose Sharia law.

Right-wing conspiracy theorist Avi Lipkin claimed in 2012 that Obama would receive trillions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia and, in return, would begin imposing Sharia law and settling “50 to 100 million” Muslim immigrants on “lands confiscated by Agenda 21.”

10) Obama Will Stay In Office

Conservative radio hosts from Rush Limbaugh to Alex Jones have suggested that Obama may try to remain in office when his second term is over, a conspiracy theory that gained attention throughout the far-right.

The fear of an Obama third term gained such attention that Ben Carson, who later became a GOP presidential candidate and is now Trump’s nominee to be the secretary of housing, became worried about a canceled election and an Obama third-term plot.

Few, however, went as far as Rev. Austin Miles, who claimed in 2014 that there was a plan “for Obama to use Executive Order to declare himself, Dictator for Life in 2016,” or End Times preacher Rick Wiles, who said in 2013 that Obama would take a trip to Jerusalem on which he “enters the Temple and declares himself as God.”

Obama Declares Martial Law to Remain President Indefinitely!!!

Believe it or not, conspiracy theorists are still pushing this same bullshit with only 10 days left in his official post.

But why?

Conspiracy theorists had long suspected President Barack Obama of being a secret Muslim,  a homosexual, The Antichrist, and … you know … “I’m not racist or whatever, I just don’t like him.”

You can trace the course of Right Wing hatred for Obama, from his first week in the U.S. Senate to his final days in office. Before his Presidency, even Democrats took jabs at him.



Of course, for the vast majority of Right Wing politicos, shifted the focus of their ire towards Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Presidential Election loomed. With the election of Donald Trump, the trope of Obama hoping to maintain power came back in the dark murky alternate reality of the conspiracy theorists.

Today, the day of President Obama’s final address while in office, those with the deepest faith in extreme secrecy and shadowy governance are still convinced the jig isn’t up for their secret Gay Muslim Antichrist.

A conversation started ten days before the end of the Obama Presidency. The later images are all excerpts from the same discussion string.

The last holdouts to the reality that the Obama Presidency is coming to an end are not Obama supporters but a few conspiracy theorists who feel “like Obama will not leave office.” This thread is just the most recent example, the original poster offered the prediction above on a Facebook group called Nibiru Countdown (and if you don’t know what Nibiru is, check here).


The conversation continued. Eventually,  a few people began to question the assertion of the original poster. Someone posted a link to the bad news story of the day, that Donald Trump may be “compromised” by Russian President Putin. Rather than arguing against this story itself, the original poster launched into a racist pro-Trump rant.


Nibiru Obama 4.png

The pointless racism aside, the fact that a conspiracy group is so overwhelmingly pro-Trump should not be a huge surprise. The real revelation here is that even today … ten days before Trump is sworn in as President, the conspiracy theorists have yet to let go of their worst fears. After years of self-delusion and gaslighting, the thought that Barack Obama won’t have been the satanic scourge they thought him to be is just too hard take.

Obama, if you are reading this, get on that group thread and let them know you are watching.

Just to fuck with them.

I certainly hope the Trump administration produces as strange a collection of conspiracy theories. If the allegations of Trump’s being compromised by Russia prove not to be true, rest assured that some anti-Trump conspiracy theorists will not let it go.

One thing Obama conspiracy theories and the current Trump story have in common; they both show the willingness of people to believe the worst about people who have rose to high political power by those people who stand in opposition to what they represent.

Case in point …


Go ahead and Google it. This is how conspiracy theories start.


Suspected Fort Lauderdale Airport gunman Esteban Santiago, 26, told FBI that CIA was forcing him to join ISIS

Christopher Brennan (NY Daily News)

The 26-year-old New Jersey-born Iraq veteran accused of executing five people and wounding eight others at a Florida airport claimed just two months ago that he was hearing voices.

It was part of a difficult adjustment to civilian life after serving overseas. He sat in an FBI office in Anchorage, Alaska, in November, claiming the CIA was forcing him to join ISIS. And he became a father for the first time last year and was struggling to take care of himself, let alone a child.

On Friday, Esteban Santiago snapped, opening fire near the baggage claim area at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. He reloaded, fired until he was out of bullets and calmly surrendered without saying a word.

Santiago was born in New Jersey but moved to Puerto Rico when he was 2 years old, relatives said.

He grew up in the southern coastal town of Penuelas before joining the National Guard in 2007, and served with that unit in Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011.

From there, Santiago spiraled down a dark descent that included a less than honorable discharge, arrests for domestic violence and now the first mass shooting on U.S. soil in 2017.

In November, the Army vet walked into an Anchorage FBI office and unleashed a torrent of conspiracy theories.

A law enforcement official says he told the FBI that the government was controlling his mind and was forcing him to watch ISIS videos.

Esteban Santiago, an Iraq veteran, was identified as the gunman who opened fire Friday in the Fort Lauderdale International Airport.

Esteban Santiago, an Iraq veteran, was identified as the gunman who opened fire Friday in the Fort Lauderdale International Airport.


Santiago appeared incoherent at times, a source told ABC News.

The FBI agents notified local police after the interview, who took him for a mental health evaluation.

A spokeswoman for the Anchorage Police Department referred all questions about Santiago to the FBI.

On Thursday, Santiago took a red-eye flight out of Anchorage with only one piece of checked luggage — containing a 9-mm. handgun. He flew to St. Paul/Minneapolis and then took a connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale.

After landing just after noon on Friday, Santiago retrieved the gun from his checked bag and opened fire in the airport.

His uncle and aunt in Union City, N.J., were trying to make sense of what happened Friday.

FBI agents and reporters swarmed their home, and they spoke briefly about their nephew.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting suspect Esteban Santiago. Santiago is believed to be the lone shooter in a shootage rampage on January 6, 2017.
Esteban Santiago, the alleged shooter who killed 5 people at Fort Lauderdale Airport in Florida on Friday, January 6, 2017, is pictured in an undated mugshot.

Esteban Santiago is seen in an undated photo and a mugshot from a prior arrest, right.

Maria Ruiz told the Record that Santiago had recently become a father and was having trouble accepting the responsibility of parenthood.

She added that Santiago came back from Iraq acting strangely, but “was happy with the kid” after the birth of his child last year.

A photo from September shows Santiago peacefully gazing down at an infant cradled in his arms.

“It was like he lost his mind,” Ruiz said of his return from Iraq. “He said he saw things.”

Upon his return, Santiago served in the Army Reserves and the Alaska National Guard in Fairbanks.

He was serving as a combat engineer before his discharge for “unsatisfactory performance,” said Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead, a spokeswoman.

His military rank was E3, private 1st class, and he worked one weekend a month with an additional 15 days of training yearly, Olmstead said.

She would not elaborate on his discharge, but the Pentagon said he’d gone AWOL several times and was demoted and discharged.

Still, he’d had some successes during his military career, being awarded a number of medals and commendations, including the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

In Anchorage, police officers told reporters that they were interviewing people at an address for Santiago but wouldn’t give details and were keeping journalists away from the home.

Alaskan court records show Santiago was charged with two misdemeanors last year; one count was dismissed.

Calls to his lawyer in that case were not immediately returned.

He was also ticketed for minor traffic infractions, including allegedly driving without insurance and having a broken taillight in April 2015.

A landlord also filed eviction proceedings against him in February 2015, stating he had failed to pay his rent.


A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle Friday and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the airport.


He was also investigated as part of a child porn investigation in either 2011 or 2012, law enforcement sources told CBS News. Three weapons and a computer were seized, but no charges were filed, sources said.

Santiago had moved to Anchorage two years ago to get a fresh start, his brother said.

He found a job with a security company and had been “fighting with a lot of people” while in Alaska and was having relationship issues. Still, he could not imagine his sibling unleashing the carnage that unfolded in Fort Lauderdale.

“He is a regular person, spiritual, a good person,” he told NBC News.

Santiago was doing his best to maintain a sense of normalcy, his brother said.

Bryan Santiago said his brother’s girlfriend had recently called the family to alert them to his psychological treatment, but he didn’t have further details.

He said his brother never spoke to him directly about his medical issues.

“We have not talked for the past three weeks,” Bryan Santiago said. “That’s a bit unusual … I’m in shock. He was a serious person … He was a normal person.”