Donald Trump, Conspiracy Theorist

The Republican candidate believes what he reads on the Internet, not what any “expert” might tell him.

Businessman Donald Trump prepares to make a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 22
Businessman Donald Trump prepares to make a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 22 (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump lies. Frequently. The New York businessman, who is a contender for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, will brazenly deny tomorrow what he has said today.

It’s tempting to dismiss this as hot air except Trump really does seem incapable of separating truth from fiction.

Consider the conspiracy theories he has been peddling.

Trump recently told supporters that John J. Pershing, an American general, executed Muslim rebels in the Philippines during the Moro Rebellion with bullets doused in pig blood. This so frightened the Filippo insurgents, he claimed, that “for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.”

The story is completely made up. Not by Trump, though. It’s an urban legend that’s been making the rounds on far-right Internet forums and in chain emails.

Loopy uncle

Jack Shafer only half-jokingly compares Trump to that oddball family member “who forwards chain emails or posts social-media tidbits that advance spectacular but easily refuted claims.”

And when he’s called out, he does exactly what your loopy uncle does: He finds a way to shrug it off and does it again.

After Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died earlier this month, Trump went on the radio to allege that the conservative icon was found with a pillow on his face. “Which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.”

Again — made up.

“Who blew up the World Trade Center?” Trump wondered on Fox News last week. “It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi — take a look at Saudi Arabia, open the documents.”

He later told admirers in South Carolina, “You will find out who really knocked down the World Trade Center, ‘cuz they have papers in there that are very secret,” apparently referring to 28 redacted pages of a congressional inquiry that are said to implicate Saudi individuals of financing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Who knows? It’s not so far out there as the Scalia murder plot, but given that the Saudi government banned Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, from the country in 1992 and has been an ally of the United States, Trump is more likely — let’s be generous — exaggerating.


Trump seems unfazed by the contradictions in his worldview. One moment he laments that the country is run by “idiots”. The other he imagines vast conspiracies to bring down the towers of the World Trade Center and kill a Supreme Court judge.

As if Trump’s belief that all it takes to make America great again is a firm hand wasn’t proof enough that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, his propensity to believe what’s on the Internet rather than what anyone in authority or with expertise — say, an historian or sheriff and county judge — tell him should give voters pause. The same man vows to make up for his gap in knowledge of the world outside America by listening carefully to people he has yet to identify.

Republicans were forewarned. When Trump toyed with running for president four years ago, he jumped on the bandwagon of the “birther” movement: those who maintained that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Four years later, they are still waiting to hear the “interesting things” Trump’s investigators (if there ever were any) uncovered in Hawaii, where the president really was born.

Moon landing

Even though he’s been winning primaries, Trump has yet to convince even a majority in the party he has chosen to represent that he’s worth taking seriously, let alone a majority of Americans.

Pollster Nate Silver has pointed out at FiveThirtyEight that the mogul is supported by between a quarter and a third of the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republicans. “That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.”

Coincidence? I think not!

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