On Twitter Friday night, President Donald Trump railed against “the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms” and complained that conservatives were being unfairly pushed off social media.
The president has on several occasions before complained of broad suppression of conservative voices by tech companies, but this time, Trump singled out a number of people, including James Woods—whom he called a “Conservative thinker”—and Paul Joseph Watson. He then proceeded to amplify the tweets of a number of conspiracy-minded accounts (including one bizarre video by an account called Deep State Exposed asserting that “the ‘elite’ proclaim America must submit to Islam or else!!!”). Most of the tweets had to do with censorship. In total, he sent out more than a dozen tweets on the subject.
But the people he retweeted are not known for mainstream conservative thinking. Instead, many of them peddle right-wing conspiracy theories and overt white supremacy.
The Twitter rant was sparked by Facebook’s decision to bar seven users from its services, citing its policies against “dangerous individuals and organizations.” The purge included Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the virulent anti-Semite Paul Nehlen, and Alex Jones.
In particular, Trump focused on Paul Joseph Watson, an Infowars personality known also for his conspiracy-mongering. Trump mentioned Watson in his own tweet Friday, and he retweeted a video Watson made criticizing Facebook the next morning.
Watson’s conspiracies are not harmless. While it can sometimes be hard to see the ways in which “chemtrails” and 9/11 conspiracies—conspiracy theories he supports that have been popular for many years—are harmful, his efforts to push the conspiracy theory about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich directly brought anguish to Rich’s mourning family.
Besides his conspiracy-mongering, Watson is also known for his racism and sexism. He once joked that the Women’s March should be renamed “handful of self-entitled, fat, ugly feminists trying to get arrested in desperate attempt to impress any man.” He once said “science” proves African and Middle Eastern people have problems with “aggression” because of “low IQ.” He has asserted that “there’s no such thing as moderate Islam. Islam is a violent, intolerant religion which, in its current form, has no place in liberal western democracies.” But the greatest harm likely has to do with his insistence on constantly amplifying absurd right-wing fake news stories without any apparent concern for the truth.
Trump also retweeted Lauren Southern, a far-right Canadian activist who has faked transitioning genders as a pretext to interview transgender activists. She claimed Black Lives Matter caused more deaths than the Ku Klux Klan. She showed up at an anti-rape protest with a sign that read, “There is no rape culture in the West.”
The president has amplified the voices of racists, misogynists, and white supremacists on his Twitter feed before. But in a dust-up between tech companies and extremists over those extremists’ right to say offensive and bigoted things on those platforms, he sided explicitly with the extremists in a shared sense of victimhood. “Why is @nytimes, @washingtonpost, @CNN, @MSNBC allowed to be on Twitter & Facebook,” he said, to conclude his rant. “Much of what they do is FAKE NEWS!”