As Donald Trump's national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will have to advise the president of the veracity of foreign and domestic threats, separating those that require immediate policy action from propaganda or misinformation.But Flynn himself has used social media to promote a series of outrageous conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and their inner circles in recent months -- pushing dubious factoids at least 16 times since Aug. 9, according to a POLITICO review of his Twitter posts. Flynn, who has 106,000 Twitter followers, has used the platform to retweet accusations that Clinton is involved with child sex trafficking and has "secretly waged war" on the Catholic Church, as well as charges that Obama is a "jihadi" who "laundered" money for Muslim terrorists.
The problem of ridiculous "fake news" stories making the rounds, confusing voters who don't know better, has proven to be one of the year's most notable political developments, but the issue took on new salience over the weekend. As we discussed yesterday, a gunman opened fire in a DC pizza shop because, according to police reports, he believed online, right-wing conspiracy theories about the restaurant.As best as I can tell, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who'll soon become the White House National Security Advisor, didn't disseminate the specific "pizzagate" nonsense -- but his chief of staff and son did, prompting new questions about the son's role on the Trump transition team. Though there's some evidence he was part of the organization, a Trump spokesperson said this morning that is no longer the case.But Michael Flynn Sr. is still prepared to take on extremely important responsibilities next month, and while he didn't push "pizzagate," he did promote similar conspiracy theories ahead of the presidential election. Politico reports today on just how big a problem this has been for Flynn.
Typically, when we hear about random folks who believe such garbage, we think of it in inconsequential terms -- because these people are not in positions of authority.But when the president of the United States has a chief national security advisor who struggles to separate fact from politically satisfying fiction, but who nevertheless is responsible for identifying key information that should matter to the man in the Oval Office, there's a real problem.Politico's piece added, "[S]ome say Flynn's fondness for spreading fake news casts doubt on his fitness to serve as the White House's national security adviser, suggesting that he either can't spot a blatant falsehood or is just ideologically bent to believe the worst of his perceived enemies."Yep, that pretty much sums it up.Some may be tempted to think Flynn just got carried away in the heat of a presidential election, which sometimes brings out the worst in die-hard partisans. But as the New York Times reported the other day, when Flynn briefly led the Defense Intelligence Agency, he "alienated both superiors and subordinates with ... what his critics considered a conspiratorial worldview."The piece added that some of Flynn's colleagues described him "as a Captain Queeg-like character, paranoid that his staff members were undercutting him and credulous of conspiracy theories."Making the problem vastly worse, Donald Trump is himself a bit of a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist. The combination of the two, potentially feeding off of one another's worst instincts, is more than a little alarming.For the record, National Security Advisor is not a position that requires Senate confirmation. So long as Trump believes Flynn is the right person for the job, Flynn will have these responsibilities.