The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Fake editions of The Washington Post handed out at multiple locations in D.C.

Activists distributed hundreds of fake "special editions" of The Washington Post on Jan. 16. Here's who was behind the hoax. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

Fake editions of The Washington Post claiming that President Trump was leaving office were handed out Wednesday morning at multiple locations in Washington.

The print papers — dated May 1, 2019, and looking strikingly similar to actual copies of The Post — were filled with anti-Trump stories, which also appeared on a website that mimicked the official Post site.

“We will not tolerate others misrepresenting themselves as The Washington Post, and we are deeply concerned about the confusion it causes among readers,” Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti said. “We are seeking to halt further improper use of our trademarks.”

Late Wednesday morning, a group that describes itself as a “trickster activist collective” called the Yes Men said it produced the bogus newspapers and website.

Under the headline “Unpresidented,” the fake newspaper’s lead story said Trump had left a resignation message on a napkin in the Oval Office and left Washington for Yalta, the Crimean resort that was the site of a meeting of Allied leaders during World War II.

The false story also reported that his abrupt departure was prompted by “massive women-led protests” around the country, suggesting that the stunt was a promotion for a planned women’s march on Saturday.

Jacques Servin, who uses the pseudonym Andy Bichlbaum, said he is one of the founders of the Yes Men and that the paper was intended to offer the “grass-roots movement” ideas for how to support the impeachment of Trump. “The idea was a newspaper from the future and how we got there — like a road map for activists,” he said.

The print and digital newspapers cost about $40,000, Servin said, adding that $36,000 was raised from the organization’s mailing list. The group printed 25,000 copies, and he estimated that 10,000 of the papers were distributed.

He said the group — which is a collaboration between Servin and others, including author-activists Onnesha Roychoudhuri and L.A. Kauffman — practices “clowny activism.” Several documentaries chronicle the collective’s pranks.

It put together a similarly fake copy of the New York Times in 2008. That fake edition, which came out after the election of President Barack Obama, had stories depicting liberal activists putting pressure on the new administration. For more than 20 years they have pretended to represent official groups, such as the World Trade Organization and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, at phony news conferences.

The stunt involving the fake Washington Post newspapers also included two emails sent out Wednesday morning designed to look like they came from a Post account. The first announced the fake news of Trump’s departure and the second was labeled as an “errata,” correcting the first.

Copies of the bogus papers were handed out at locations around Washington, including outside the White House and Union Station.

The liberal activist group Code Pink posted a video on Facebook of the organization’s founder, Medea Benjamin, passing out copies at what appears to be a Capitol Hill office building.

In the video, Benjamin tells people, “The crisis is over — Trump has left the White House.” Later, she adds, “You got to believe in The Washington Post.”

Benjamin said in an e-mail that Code Pink, which has become well known in Washington for staging protests that disrupt congressional hearings and other official proceedings, helped to distribute the fake newspapers.

The liberal group MoveOn, which some on social media suspected of being behind the fake paper, tweeted that it was not responsible. “While we love the headline, we didn’t produce today’s satirical Washington Post,” it said.