Trump Embraces Fringe Theories on Protests and the Coronavirus

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WASHINGTON — President Trump unleashed an especially intense barrage of Twitter messages over the weekend, embracing fringe conspiracy theories claiming that the coronavirus death toll has been exaggerated and that street protests are actually an organized coup d’état against him.

In a concentrated predawn burst, the president posted or reposted 89 messages between 5:49 a.m. and 8:04 a.m. on Sunday on top of 18 the night before, many of them inflammatory comments or assertions about violent clashes in Portland, Ore., where a man wearing the hat of a far-right, pro-Trump group was shot and killed Saturday after a large group of Mr. Trump’s supporters traveled through the streets. He resumed on Sunday night.

In the blast of social media messages, Mr. Trump also embraced a call to imprison Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, threatened to send federal forces against demonstrators outside the White House, attacked CNN and NPR, embraced a supporter charged with murder, mocked his challenger, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and repeatedly assailed the mayor of Portland, even posting the mayor’s office telephone number so that supporters could call demanding his resignation.

One of the most incendiary messages was a retweet of a program from the One America News Network, a pro-Trump channel that advances extreme theories and that the president has turned to when he feels that Fox News has not been supportive enough. The message he retweeted Saturday night promoted a segment accusing demonstrators of secretly plotting Mr. Trump’s downfall.

“According to the mainstream media, the riots & extreme violence are completely unorganized,” the tweet said. “However, it appears this coup attempt is led by a well funded network of anarchists trying to take down the President.” Accompanying it was an image of a promo for a segment titled “America Under Siege: The Attempt to Overthrow President Trump.”

Mr. Trump likewise reposted messages asserting that the real death toll from the coronavirus is only around 9,000 — not nearly 183,000 — because the others who died also had other health issues and most were of an advanced age.

“So get this straight — based on the recommendation of doctors Fauci and Birx the US shut down the entire economy based on 9,000 American deaths to the China coronavirus,” said the summary of an article by the hard-line conservative website Gateway Pundit that was retweeted by the president, denigrating his own health advisers, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Dr. Deborah L. Birx.

The post was a distortion of data available on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports that 6 percent of coronavirus fatalities list only the virus on the death certificates. For other deaths, the patients had an average of 2.6 other conditions or causes of death. The statistics do not mean that they did not die because of the virus, but help explain who is most vulnerable to it.

Twitter deleted one of the tweets that Mr. Trump reposted advancing this claim, replacing it with a message: “This Tweet is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules.”

Mr. Trump also retweeted a message calling for Mr. Cuomo to be locked up because of the high death toll from the coronavirus in New York nursing homes earlier in the pandemic. “#KillerCuomo should be in jail,” said the message by the actor James Woods, a strong supporter of the president’s.

And the president even “liked” a tweet that offered support for Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Trump supporter who has been charged with homicide after two demonstrators were shot to death in Kenosha, Wis. “Kyle Rittenhouse is a good example of why I decided to vote for Trump,” the tweet said.

Mr. Cuomo responded on his own Twitter feed a few hours later, pointing to the Trump administration’s failure to contain the pandemic. “The White House has learned nothing from COVID,” Mr. Cuomo wrote. “National threats require national leadership. It’s been 6 months without a national strategy on testing or mask mandate. Only the federal government has the power to go to war with COVID. They are failing and the nation suffers.”

For his part, Mr. Biden issued a statement condemning the violence in Portland as “unacceptable” regardless of one’s political views and criticizing Mr. Trump for trying to raise the temperature rather than lower it.

“What does President Trump think will happen when he continues to insist on fanning the flames of hate and division in our society and using the politics of fear to whip up his supporters?” Mr. Biden asked. “He is recklessly encouraging violence. He may believe tweeting about law and order makes him strong — but his failure to call on his supporters to stop seeking conflict shows just how weak he is.”

The latest social media outburst by the president came just days after he accepted the nomination for a second term in an election in which he has been trailing for months. Mr. Trump sought to capitalize on any momentum generated by the Republican National Convention, posting a series of tweets asserting that he is actually leading in polls.

A new poll by Morning Consult, however, showed that Mr. Trump had narrowed Mr. Biden’s lead but that the president still trailed. The survey, conducted on Friday, the day after the conclusion of the Republican convention, found Mr. Biden ahead 50 percent to 44 percent, a six-point lead compared with the former vice president’s 10-point advantage a week ago after his own convention. Another poll by Yahoo News and YouGov likewise showed Mr. Biden’s lead shrinking to six percentage points, down from nine points.

A post-convention bounce is typical in presidential years but it does not always last, and an ABC News-Ipsos poll showed that Mr. Trump did nothing to improve his own standing with voters, only 31 percent of whom reported a favorable view, roughly the same as before the Republican convention. Democrats, however, are growing more concerned that Mr. Trump is successfully using violence in the streets after police shootings of Black Americans to energize his own supporters and tar Mr. Biden and his party as weak on law and order.

In that vein, many of Mr. Trump’s Sunday morning tweets focused on the violence in Portland, where the shooting death of a man exacerbated an already tense situation. The man was wearing a hat with the insignia of Patriot Prayer, a far-right group based in the Portland area that has clashed with protesters before.

Mr. Trump repeatedly assailed Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland for resisting federal help and delighted in showcasing a peaceful protest held at the mayor’s own home on Friday, even retweeting a post accusing the Mr. Wheeler of “committing war crimes.” Rather than calling for calm, Mr. Trump seemed to justify aggressive action against demonstrators by his supporters.

“The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected after 95 days of watching and incompetent Mayor admit that he has no idea what he is doing,” Mr. Trump wrote, as he retweeted a journalist’s post reporting that Trump supporters were firing paintballs and pepper spray, including at the reporter. “The people of Portland won’t put up with no safety any longer. The Mayor is a FOOL. Bring in the National Guard!”

Mr. Wheeler responded at a news conference, blaming the president’s “campaign of fear” for the violence that has afflicted cities.

“Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence?” he said. “It’s you who have created the hate and the division. It’s you who have not found the way to say the names of Black people killed by police officers even as people in law enforcement have. And it’s you who claimed that white supremacists are good people.”

Mr. Trump plans to travel on Tuesday to Kenosha, where emotions have been raw since the police shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back seven times, leaving him paralyzed. The president’s trip has caused concern that he could inflame the situation. He made no comment on the shooting for days until he was asked about it on Friday in an interview with WMUR of New Hampshire during a visit to the state.

“It was not a good sight,” he said. “I didn’t like the sight of it, certainly. I think most people would agree with that. But we’ll be getting reports in very soon, and we’ll report back.” His Twitter comments on Kenosha, however, have focused on restoring order in the streets.

The president’s string of Twitter messages paused on Sunday morning before he headed to his golf club in Virginia, where he was greeted by a handful of protesters, including one dressed as a grim reaper holding a sign that said “183K,” referring to the number of people in the United States who have died from the coronavirus.

He then picked up his phone again in late afternoon after returning to the White House, resuming his criticisms of Mr. Wheeler (“a weak and pathetic Democrat Mayor!!!”), Mr. Biden and other Democrats. “The Radical Left Democrat Mayors, like the dummy running Portland, or the guy right now in his basement unwilling to lead or even speak out against crime, will never be able to do it!” he said in one more message.

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