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Opinion McCain conspiracists say his brain cancer was a hoax

Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt reflects on the life and legacy of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

President Trump displayed his innate grace and decency Saturday by spiking a White House statement honoring the late Sen. John McCain’s life. Monday morning, the flag over the White House was ( until criticism poured in ) back to full staff, six days before protocol says it should have been.

Even for Trump, this seemed churlish. Unless there is another explanation: John McCain is not dead.

When McCain’s family put out the news Friday that he had discontinued treatment for his terminal brain cancer, this was done “to take media attention” from Senate candidate Kelli Ward, and, according to Ward herself, replace it with a “narrative that they hope is negative to me.”

Ward had unsuccessfully challenged McCain in the 2016 Republican primary in Arizona, so it makes complete sense that, two years later, McCain would arrange his death to divert attention from Ward’s bus tour.

During President Trump’s rally on July 31, several attendees held or wore signs with the letter “Q.” Here’s what the QAnon conspiracy theory is about. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Furthermore, according to a conspiracy theory network popular among some Trump boosters, when McCain supposedly died on Saturday, he did not succumb to cancer but took his own life to avoid being hauled off to Guantanamo Bay and put before a military tribunal for his longtime work helping Islamic State terrorists and others. (And before he died, he concealed his criminal ankle bracelet by wearing a medical boot on his leg.)

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Unless, of course, the suicide, like the cancer, was just a ruse. In that case, McCain will continue to work secretly for the deep state and for the Clinton Foundation.

So many lies. Heck, he’s even lying in state!

In death, as in life, McCain has a way of bringing out the loons. Undoubtedly the posthumous conspiracy theories would have amused him as much as anybody. He took particular delight in debunking “propaganda and crackpot conspiracy theories,” as he put it to Naval Academy midshipmen 10 months ago.

No matter the evidence, “still the conspiracy theorists hock their wares,” he wrote in 2009, introducing a book refuting 9/11 conspiracy notions. “They ignore the methods of science, the protocols of investigation and the dictates of logic. The conspiracy theorists chase any bit of information, no matter how flimsy, and use it to fit their preordained conclusions. They ascribe to the government, or to some secretive group, powers wholly out of proportion to what the evidence suggests. And they ignore the facts that are present in plain sight. We cannot let these tales go unanswered.”

Answering those tales is even more important at a time when the president amplifies and echoes them. In his love of truth, McCain was the anti-Trump. Trump rose to power with his “birther” conspiracy theory and the support of the Alex Jones crowd, and he has literally thrown open the doors of the White House to conspiracy theorists.

Last Thursday, as the Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng and Will Sommer reported, Trump hosted Lionel Lebron, a prominent conspiracy theorist, and posed with him in the Oval Office. Lebron is a 9/11 truther who believes Trump is fighting the deep state and globalist pedophiles and is a leading promoter of the very online network floating the notion McCain is alive or a suicide. Three days after his White House visit, Lebron tweeted an image of Trump crossing a swamp of Democrats, featuring racist images of Barack and Michelle Obama and the words “fire at will.”

With the exception of Hillary Clinton, perhaps nobody stoked the conspiracy crowd’s fevers like McCain. He was “songbird” McCain, a secret agent of the North Vietnamese who threw the 2008 election to Obama, covertly met with the leaders of Islamic State in Syria, secretively started the Robert S. Mueller III “witch hunt” against Trump, and was “in bed with the Clinton Foundation” but turned against Clinton shortly before his death.

A post on Sunday from the leader of a prominent conspiracy forum wrestled with whether McCain killed himself or surrendered: “Suicide weekend? Hands up? . . . We are in control. BIG week ahead.”

One wacky participant speculated: “National Dog Day happens to be the day McCain’s death announced. Coincidence?” (Sorry, no. McCain died Saturday. National Dog Day was Sunday.)

Weirdly, conspiracy theorist broadcaster Alex Jones accepted at face value McCain’s death from brain cancer. “I’m gonna take the high road because I think McCain was actually a twisted, compromised, tortured individual,” Jones said, calling McCain “leader of the deep state.”

McCain would have had a ready rejoinder for these “deathers” — just as he did when he took the microphone in 2008 from the supporter who called Barack Obama an “Arab”; ridiculed “chemtrail Kelli Ward” in 2016 for promoting the belief that jet contrails spread biological weapons and change weather; and denounced the “nutty conspiracy theory” in 2015 that accused him of staging Islamic State beheadings.

McCain answered these nuts with calm reason. In memory of him, let’s continue his fight until they, and their leader in the Oval Office, return to the crevices whence they came.

Twitter: @Milbank

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Read more:

Max Boot: John McCain leaves the stage when we need him most

E.J. Dionne Jr.: John McCain and the last of human freedoms

Molly Roberts: Alex Jones does not compute

David Ignatius: Trump just took us another step closer to the abyss

Eugene Robinson: God bless the ‘deep state’