U.S. President Donald Trump has been a conspiracy theorist for years. Perhaps never before, though, has he pushed so many conspiracy theories at one time.
With two months to go until Election Day, Trump is simultaneously promoting at least nine baseless conspiratorial tales — about protests, about the coronavirus, about voting and about opponent Joe Biden — while embracing believers in the QAnon conspiracy nonsense.
Here’s a breakdown of what he’s saying and why it’s wrong.
Thugs on a plane
In a Monday interview on Fox News, Trump told a story about what he claimed was a flight to Washington in which the plane was “almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms,” people bent on causing destruction in the streets.
He repeated a version of the story on Tuesday — but that time said the flight was travelling from Washington rather than to Washington.
Facts First: As of Wednesday, neither Trump nor anybody around him had presented any evidence for the story.
In the Monday interview, Trump suggested that violent protesters were being funded by “some very stupid rich people.” This was similar to a claim he made earlier in August, when he alleged on Fox that antifa activists were being funded by the Democrats, billionaire George Soros or “other people.”
Facts First: There is no basis for the claims that the Democrats, Soros or another wealthy mystery patron is funding antifa or violent protesters in general.
Some famous and wealthy people have donated to organizations affiliated with the Black Lives Matter racial justice movement, but that’s not what Trump was insinuating.
On Twitter and in the Fox News interview (parts of which aired on Tuesday), Trump promoted a claim — touted on Twitter by a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory — that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had admitted that only 6% of reported COVID-19 deaths are people who “actually” died from COVID-19.
Facts First: Trump was wrongly describing the 6% statistic. The CDC simply said that 6% of COVID-19 victims’ death certificates listed only COVID-19 as a cause of death. The other 94% of death certificates included other conditions as well — but the presence of “comorbidities” does not mean COVID-19 didn’t cause the death.
The CDC’s chief of mortality statistics, Bob Anderson, noted in a statement to CNN on Wednesday that the other causes listed on COVID-19 victims’ death certificates may include “chronic” conditions like hypertension and diabetes — with which many people can live normal lives for years until a COVID-19 infection kills them. Anderson noted that the causes may also include problems that occurred because of COVID-19, like respiratory failure or pneumonia.
Anderson added in the email that “in 92% of all deaths that mention COVID-19, COVID-19 is listed as the underlying cause of death” — “the condition that began the chain of events that ultimately led to the person’s death.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, similarly, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday that the presence of comorbidities “does not mean that some who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19. They did.” Fauci said there should be no “confusion”: “It’s not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s 180-plus thousand deaths.”
ELECTIONS AND VOTING
The 2016 popular vote
Trump, who earned about 2.9 million fewer votes in the 2016 election than opponent Hillary Clinton, claimed in the Fox interview that he actually won the popular vote “in a true sense.” Part of his reasoning: “I think there was tremendous cheating in California, there was tremendous cheating in New York and other places.”
Facts First: This is false. There is no evidence of any mass fraud in California or New York in the 2016 election.
The general fairness of the 2020 election
In a speech to the Republican National Convention, Trump said, “The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”
Facts First: This is false. There is no evidence that the election is or will be rigged. Trump, who has been trailing for months in national polling, can certainly lose in a legitimate contest.
Mail voting in the 2020 election
Trump has repeatedly alleged in the last month that the increased use of mail-in voting this year will produce a rigged election.
He has tried to cast doubt on the safety of drop boxes where mail ballots can be deposited. He has claimed that foreign countries can easily interfere with mail voting. On Wednesday, he suggested that there is something nefarious about the fact that he may have a lead in votes counted on election night but then turn out to lose the election after mail ballots are counted in the following days.
Facts First: All of this is wrong. Mail voting is not rife with fraud; drop boxes are secure; experts say it would be extraordinarily difficult for foreign countries to interfere with mail ballots, and U.S. intelligence has said there is no evidence they are even trying to do so; and there is nothing “rigged” about states taking time to count all of their votes.
Trump, who has repeatedly tried to portray Biden as a puppet of the far left, went further in the Fox interview — saying Biden’s strings are being pulled by “people that you’ve never heard of. People that are in the dark shadows.”
Facts First: This is pure nonsense. Biden’s senior campaign staff is made up of Democrats, many of whom have been involved in Democratic politics for decades, and there’s no basis for the claim that shadowy figures are controlling him.
Biden and spying
Trump has now dragged Biden into his frequent allegation that President Barack Obama spied on his 2016 campaign. He said on August 12: “… they spied on my campaign, President Obama, Biden and everybody else, and they got caught.”
Facts First: There is no evidence Biden or Obama had any personal role in ordering the FBI surveillance of Trump’s campaign, which came as part of its investigation of the campaign’s relationship with Russia.
Biden and drugs
Trump alleged, in the Fox interview and in an interview with the Washington Examiner last week, that Biden is taking some sort of performance-enhancing drug or drugs. He told the Examiner that Biden could not possibly have improved so much in his final Democratic debate against Sen. Bernie Sanders without artificial help.
Facts First: This is more nonsense; there is no basis for the claim. Trump made a similar and equally groundless suggestion about Clinton during the 2016 campaign.