President Trump's war with CNN went off the rails Tuesday morning after he retweeted an image of a Trump train running over a CNN reporter, then quickly deleted it after the meme sparked criticism as inappropriate just days after the Charlottesville violence.
Trump was in the middle of his usual morning tweetstorm when he sent the cartoon image -- posted by a supporter who added, “Nothing can stop the #TrumpTrain!!" -- to his nearly 36 million followers.
The president quickly deleted his handiwork but not before the original tweet had been retweeted hundreds of times and was captured on screen shots by journalists and activists.
Trump's promotion of the image came three days after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville turned into a violent clash between the supremacists and counterprotesters. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others injured when a driver slammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters. A 20-year old man, who has reportedly espoused neo-Nazi views, has been charged with second-degree murder in the case. Two police officers also died when their helicopter crashed.
Trump did not immediately condemn the hate groups behind the “Unite the Right” rally, drawing criticism from Democrats and some Republicans. On Monday, the president attempted to make amends and denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name, while calling white supremacists “repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans.”
But even as he attempted to clarify his views, Trump seemed eager to blame the backlash on reporters, in particular CNN. As the president was wrapping up a photo op related to international trade Monday, CNN correspondent Jim Acosta asked him why he had waited so long to condemn the hate groups by name and why he had not answered questions from reporters.
“I like real news, not fake news,” Trump said. Pointing a finger toward Acosta, Trump added: “You are fake news.”
If the president awoke Tuesday thinking his Twitter account would help him regain control of his political narrative, he was mistaken, however, as he also misfired in retweeting a man calling him a “fascist.”
A user named Mike Holden was replying to a Fox News story that said Trump had told the network in an interview that he was considering issuing a presidential pardon for former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of defying a judge's order to halt traffic patrols on suspected undocumented immigrants. “He's a fascist, so not unusual,” Holden wrote, only to find himself retweeted by the 45th president of the United States.
Holden has posted a rapid-fire series of tweets and retweets over the past days on British politics and the fallout from the violence in Charlottesville, including a retweet of a cartoon in the Guardian newspaper depicting the White House topped by a KKK-style pointed hood. His Twitter page also has various tributes to Bernard Kenney, a British man who attempted to subdue a far-right gunman who fatally shot British parliament member Jo Cox last year. Kenney, who was stabbed by the attacker Thomas Mair, died Monday.
In a telephone interview with The Washington Post, Holden described himself as a 53-year-old information technology worker who lives near Manchester, England, whose politics are left-wing but not radical. He was bracing for Trump's morning dose of tweets — which because of the five-hour time difference usually land around lunchtime for Holden.
Holden said he had walked away from his computer after his tweet and was shocked when he logged back in. “My Twitter went completely bananas,” he said. Holden, who said he was angered by Trump's response to the Charlottesville violence, hoped more people might question Trump's motives.
“It’s a strong term to use, but I wouldn’t apologize for it,” Holden said of the word “fascist.” “Why he retweeted it is beyond me, but maybe he got a taste of his own medicine.”
Holden called the Charlottesville rally a “fascist march.”
“For a president to still be at Bedminster playing golf and not come out and say more? From a large catalogue of things he’s done, it seemed among the worst,” he said.
Holden quickly set a screen shot of Trump's retweet as his Twitter background image and boasted about the endorsement — kind of — in his bio on the social media site.
“Officially Endorsed by the President of the United States,” he wrote. “I wish that were a good thing.”
Late Monday, Trump also retweeted a post from the Twitter account linked to right-wing provocateur Jack Posobiec, a Trump supporter known for fanning conspiracy theories, including the infamous “Pizzagate” rumors of child trafficking. Posobiec’s tweet — retweeted by Trump and not taken down — linked to a story from an ABC affiliate and read: “Meanwhile: 39 shootings in Chicago this weekend, 9 deaths. No national media outrage. Why is that?”
Posobiec, a former Navy Reserve intelligence officer, had worked for right-wing website the Rebel. Posobiec gained national attention during “Pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory that claimed Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief harbored a child sex ring in a pizza restaurant in Washington. The Internet-fueled falsehood led a gunman in December to fire an assault-style rifle as he searched the pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong.
Brian Murphy contributed to this report.