It’s a conspiracy theory that’s floated around in conservative media almost from the start — the idea that the bombs being sent to Democratic politicians and CNN are either fake or a ruse, and the president of the United States may have just nodded to it.
In a tweet Friday morning, Trump lamented the shifting focus to the bomb story ahead of the midterm election just 11 days away. And in doing so, he used language that, at the least, casts doubt on the seriousness of the story.
“Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows — news not talking politics,” Trump tweeted. “Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!”
The first striking thing about the tweet is politicians and other Trump critics are being sent bombs — something authorities have labeled as “terrorism” — and the president of the United States appears preoccupied with his party’s electoral fortunes. He seems to be almost preemptively blaming a potential GOP loss on the shift in news priorities, even as more bombs are still being discovered.
It also seems entirely possible Trump, a man who often employs coded appeals to his base and is fond of conspiracy theories, is nodding to a well-established theory on the right that the bombs are not what they seem.
Conservatives for days have suggested maybe the bombs are not real — Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs tweeted and deleted such an allegation — or they are not being sent by a Trump supporter, despite all of the targets being high-profile recipients of Trump’s criticisms. They have alleged the attacker may actually be a liberal trying to make Trump supporters look violent and/or change the political subject to Trump’s own aggressive rhetoric.
These kinds of “false flag” allegations have been a staple of Infowars and the alt-right for years, but they have begun to seep into more mainstream parts of the conservative movement, with occasional prodding and sign-off from Trump.
Trump has repeatedly flirted with false-flag theories, including when Jewish Community Centers were hit by hateful vandalism, when it was found that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election and when people became violent at his 2016 campaign rallies.
He has even flirted with the idea of “bombs” being used to influence an election. Exactly six years ago to the day, he put the word “bomb” in quotation marks in a tweet referring to a potential move by President Barack Obama to shift the tenor of the 2012 election. The similarity is eerie:
Trump, it bears emphasizing, is not explicitly casting doubt on the bombs. He often capitalizes and puts random quotation marks around words just because he wants to highlight them. It is also possible the quotation marks are meant to note the bombs have not actually exploded — another argument that is floating around in conservative circles.
Even if the more innocent argument is the right one — that Trump is merely citing the fact that the bombs have not exploded — that also diminishes the importance of the attempted terrorist attacks. Against the backdrop of Trump’s constant conspiracy theorizing and his frequent allusions to false flags, the idea that these attempted bombings are not what they seem is very much in line with Trump’s usual tenor. And given his proclivity for coded messages to his base that is draped in plausible deniability, it seems entirely possible he knew exactly what he was doing here.