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Trump Jr.: Dad’s ambassador to the fringe

Within hours of the shooting at YouTube headquarters in California last week, Donald Trump Jr. took to Twitter to suggest the online video platform is biased against conservatives.

After the shooting, YouTube had removed videos posted by Nasim Aghdam, the suspected shooter, who was reported to be a vegan vlogger and animal rights activist. Trump Jr. implied the decisions were part of an attempt to cover up her “liberal” views.

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“You think there’s any chance whatsoever that a mass shooters hateful Instagram and YouTube channels would be pulled immediately if they were NRA members as opposed to liberal Vegan PETA activists?” Trump Jr. tweeted early Wednesday. “Asking for a few million friends in the @NRA”

It was far from the first time President Donald Trump’s eldest son dabbled in online conspiracy theories, using his 2.7 million Twitter followers to promote questionable or outright false information that, in many cases, even his father had refrained from spreading.

The 40-year-old Trump Jr. has emerged as one of his father’s key ambassadors to the fringe, promoting theories that added drama and visceral energy to the grass-roots right: in this case, the fast-growing theory that tech giants are arrayed against conservatives.

“Empowering conspiracy theorists and fringe voices with an endorsement from the president of the United States’ son will only amplify the ignorant at the expense of everybody else,” warned Kurt Bardella, a former spokesman for the alt-right news site Breitbart News who has since become a Trump critic.

“A retweet or like is an explicit endorsement by Donald Trump Jr.,” he added.

In the recent past, Trump Jr. has spread stories about the “deep state” to push for the release of a GOP memo on alleged FBI wrongdoing, liked and shared tweets questioning the motives of a Parkland, Florida, student who is pushing for gun control and liked actor James Woods’ tweet that “”more known Democrats have murdered people with guns than all @NRA members combined.”

After Hillary Clinton infamously referred to Trump supporters as “deplorables” during the 2016 campaign, Trump Jr. posted a mock picture on Instagram portraying himself, Trump Sr., an image of the Pepe the Frog meme popularized by white nationalists, and various fringe media figures superimposed over an image from “The Expendables.”

A representative of Trump Jr. did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

But Mike Cernovich, a prominent right-wing blogger who has been retweeted by Trump Jr. and shared his YouTube remarks this week, called Trump Jr. a “transgressive and independent thinker” and praised his tweets for their entertainment value.

“Don Jr seems to have a lot of fun on Twitter,” Cernovich said in a message. Asked about Trump Jr.’s views and interactions on social media, Cernovich described him as a “populist” in the mold of former President Teddy Roosevelt.

But simply by liking or retweeting a theory, Trump Jr. — by dint of his last name — ensures it widespread pickup, from the Web to more mainstream outlets.

Trump Jr.’s allegation against YouTube was retweeted over 15,000 times and liked by more than 45,000 users, and received coverage from Fox News, The Hill and other outlets. But it was most widely shared online by fringe right-wing media figures and sites.

Paul Manafort is pictured. | AP Photo

“Donald Trump Jr. Drops a Twitter Truth-Bomb After YouTube Shooter Identified,” wrote Gateway Pundit chief Jim Hoft in a post. Hoft’s site is known for spreading conspiracy theories and hoaxes. He declined to comment for this piece.

Trump Jr.’s social media moves stirred controversy in February, when he “liked” a couple posts on Twitter deriding Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg. One of the posts described Hogg as an “Outspoken Trump-hating school shooting survivor” and the “son of FBI Agent,” boosting a conspiracy theory that some of the students had ties to political operatives with an anti-Trump agenda.

The likes were covered by several major outlets, including ABC News, The Washington Post and The Daily Beast, and even earned a rebuke from late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who denounced the dissemination of false stories in the wake of the attack.

Joseph Uscinski, a professor at the University of Miami and co-author of “American Conspiracy Theories,” said Trump Jr. and others are using these theories strategically, to direct the national conversation, under the guise of just innocently sharing and spreading stories.

Peddling falsehoods in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland was part of an effort by Trump supporters to “change the playing field” and shift the debate away from gun control, Uscinski said.

“If something happens and they don’t like the narrative, they use a conspiracy theory to change the narrative,” said Uscinski. “This is what was done with Parkland.”

In January, Trump Jr. again lent credence to a long-running conspiracy theory by tweeting about the “deep state,” boosting claims that government officials are actively working to undermine conservatives and the Trump presidency. “Democrats & deep state govt officials are doing everything they can to protect those within the government who used their positions of influence to target those they disagree with politically,” he tweeted. “RELEASE THE MEMO!”

In a separate tweet in December, Trump Jr. cited a report on government leaks to the media to claim “the Deep State is real.” His remarks about the so-called deep state have earned coverage from InfoWars, a site known for peddling unsubstantiated claims.

The president’s oldest son, borrowing from his father’s playbook, also frequently rails against news outlets on social media. He has tweeted about “fake news” at least 48 times since his father entered office, a POLITICO review found.

Trump Jr. has also interacted with fringe figures on Twitter. A POLITICO review found he has shared or liked tweets posted by Jack Posobiec, a pro-Trump online commentator known for spreading conspiracy theories on Twitter, over a dozen times in 2018. Posobiec helped popularize the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory alleging Democratic officials were involved in a child sex ring.

Pressed about Trump Jr.’s social media presence, Posobiec described himself and the president’s son as both part of a broad coalition of conservatives.

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“We are both Trump supporters, which are a center-right coalition of libertarians, conservatives, and nationalist-populists,” Posobiec said in a message. He argued Trump Jr.’s belief in the “deep state” was “mainstream” and that his YouTube remarks showed he was “a big supporter of both the first and second amendments.”

Representatives for YouTube did not respond to a request for comment.

Jared Holt, a researcher who monitors fringe media figures for the website Right Wing Watch, said Trump Jr.’s online exchanges with figures like Posobiec serve to amplify their public presence.

“Trump Jr.’s interaction with fringe figures from the right-wing social media universe sends a strong message of validation to those communities and gives mainstream oxygen to segments of conservative politics that are largely unmoored from reality,” Holt wrote in an email.

He added: “In a lot of ways, he’s the president’s ambassador to the unhinged underbelly of right-wing politics.”

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