Over the weekend, Donald Trump peddled some odd conspiracy theories from the political fringe via Twitter, but the president's rhetoric with Fox News' Laura Ingraham was arguably even more ridiculous.
Trump argued, for example, that there are people "in the dark shadows" -- people we "haven't heard of" -- who are secretly directing Joe Biden. When Ingraham said this sounded like a conspiracy theory, the president was undeterred. "They’re people that are controlling the streets," he added.
If he'd said nothing more on this topic, this alone would suggest there's something deeply wrong with the way in which Trump perceives reality. It's unsettling, to put it mildly, to think the sitting American president believes there are nefarious forces lurking in "dark shadows," whom he won't identify, but whom he sees controlling both a presidential candidate and American streets.
But Trump didn't stop there.
In an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, Trump claimed that “we had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs, wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that.” He then claimed the matter was “under investigation right now.”
The president vowed to tell Ingraham more about this "sometime" in the future.
All of this, of course, sounded quite bonkers, especially from someone responsible for helping lead a global superpower. In fact, even at face value, it's not at all clear why even the most sycophantic Trump supporters would take such claims seriously.
Look at that quote again: "We" had someone board an airplane, and this person quickly discovered a group of black-uniformed "thugs," carrying "gear and this and that."
Look, I won't pretend to be an expert in tactical disruptions, but if I were part of a gang of thugs, wouldn't I try to keep a relatively low profile -- especially on a commercial aircraft? Wouldn't I encourage my fellow thugs to wear different clothes, in order to remain inconspicuous? Wouldn't I recommend storing my "gear and this and that" until after we arrived at our destination?
The likely explanation for this is that the president saw some weird rumor online months ago, and took it seriously.
The claim about a plane flight matches a viral Facebook post from June 1 that falsely claimed, “At least a dozen males got off the plane in Boise from Seattle, dressed head to toe in black.” The post, by an Emmett, Idaho man, warned residents to “Be ready for attacks downtown and residential areas,” and claimed one passenger had “a tattoo that said Antifa America on his arm.”
In 2016, a man rushed the stage where Trump was speaking, prompting Secret Service agents to intervene to protect the then-candidate. Trump soon after claimed the man had ties to ISIS, pointing to online evidence that turned out to be a hoax.
On “Meet the Press” soon after, NBC News' Chuck Todd asked the Republican about his willingness to substantiate odd claims with bogus proof. Trump replied, "All I know is what’s on the internet.”
More than four years later, very little has changed.