The frequent overlap between Trump’s conspiracy theories and Russian propaganda


Here’s the absolutely insane OAN report that Trump is referencing: “The latest tensions in the Buffalo police department could be the result of a false flag provocation by far left group antifa” — Lis Power (@LisPower1) June 9, 2020

As the Daily Beast’s Kevin Poulsen reported in November, Rouz has a history spouting such bizarre theories and of putting a pro-Russia slant on his OANN reporting:

Kremlin propaganda sometimes sneaks into Rouz’s segments on unrelated matters, dropped in as offhand background information. A segment on the Syrian rescue workers known as the White Helmets references “allegations of the White Helmets’ involvement in military activities, executions, and numerous war atrocities,” but doesn’t disclose that those “allegations” were hoaxes that originated with Vladimir Putin and his proxies. In another report, Rouz cast [Hillary] Clinton’s criticism of Brexit as an extension of her “grievous insults and fake narratives against Russia” — an assertion that makes sense only in the context of Rouz’s multiple reports claiming Russia was framed for hacking Democrats.

Trump sharing such a specious theory is one thing — particularly given the unrest roiling the country during the protests over George Floyd’s death. But we now know the theory was shared based on reporting from someone who has been paid to promote the Kremlin’s party line. That’s an indirect through line, but the theory fits with what U.S. intelligence has said is Russia’s aim in the United States: To sow distrust, discord and division.

The theory also fits broadly with Russia’s efforts during the Floyd protests to portray these protesters, and protesters more generally, as dangerous and violent provocateurs.

But it’s hardly the first time Trump has passed along something that fits so neatly with Russian propaganda. Below are other examples.

It’s important to note that just because Trump aligns with a particular bit of Russian disinformation doesn’t mean he’s taking direction. But this is something that has happened over and over again over the years in some major ways — involving some far-flung theories, much like the one he promoted Tuesday.

Questioning Russia’s 2016 election interference

Trump’s claim: Trump has repeatedly sought to question the U.S. intelligence community’s overwhelming conclusion that Russia was responsible for interference in the 2016 U.S. election. He has also repeatedly promoted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials and at one point after meeting with Putin in 2018 said: “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.” (He later tried to walk that back.)

How it aligns with Russian propaganda: Russia has consistently denied it was responsible for the 2016 election interference, despite its being the firm conclusion of the intelligence community and congressional consensus and having been detailed in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigations.

Claiming Ukraine interfered in the election

Trump’s claims: Trump has also suggested, in multiple ways, that it was Ukraine rather than Russia that was responsible for the 2016 interference. He has elevated and sought to have Ukraine investigate the “CrowdStrike” conspiracy theory that Ukraine was holding an email server that might reveal the truth about the interference. He has also pointed to Ukrainian politicians allegedly interfering to elect Hillary Clinton. He said in November: “And don’t forget, Ukraine hated me. They were after me in the election. They wanted Hillary Clinton to win.” He added in October: “So when you look at what’s going on and then you see all of this horrible stuff, and then you hear about Ukraine — and you’ve been hearing about it. I heard Clinton was involved. I heard they got somebody who wrote the fake [Steele] dossier. Was it out of Ukraine?”

How it aligns with Russian propaganda: As has been reported, this theory about Ukraine’s alleged interference has been promoted by the Kremlin as far back as 2015 or 2016. At one point, Putin responded to Trump’s comments on this by saying suggestively: “Thank God nobody is accusing us anymore of interfering in U.S. elections. Now they’re accusing Ukraine.” Fiona Hill, the Trump White House’s former Russia adviser, called the Ukraine theories a “fictional narrative” and in her impeachment testimony tied them to Russian disinformation. “It suits the Russian government very much if we are also looking at Ukraine as somehow a perpetrator of malign acts against us,” Hill said, urging everyone to “please not promote politically derivative falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”

Legitimizing the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan

Trump’s claim: Trump last year propped up a strange claim that the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was legitimate because of terrorism there. “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia,” Trump said. “They were right to be there.” Historians agree that was not the reason for the invasion at all.

How it aligns with Russian propaganda: The Afghanistan invasion is viewed as a precursor to the fall of the Soviet Union, but Putin has sought to recast that ugly chapter in history in the service of rehabilitating the image of the U.S.S.R.

The poisoning of Sergei Skripal

Trump’s claim: According to multiple reports, Trump has sought to defend Russia over the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, on British soil. The New York Times reported that he suggested to CIA Director Gina Haspel that it was part of a legitimate spy game. The Washington Post has also reported that Trump privately disputed British intelligence’s conclusion that Russia was responsible. By October 2018, Trump seemed to align with the Western consensus that Putin was behind it, but he still didn’t fully commit. “Probably he is, yeah,” Trump said, before again emphasizing the “probably.”

How it aligns with Russian propaganda: Russia has denied involvement in Skripal’s poisoning. And it even promoted another outlet that reported on Trump expressing his doubts to then-British Prime Minister Theresa May. The Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom tweeted that revelation as the “best evidence that no evidence of Russian involvement exists.”