It was an image out of a Trump supporter’s fever dream: crates of pipe bombs stashed near the Korean War Veterans Memorial, amid tense protests at the White House and the surrounding streets. The suspects behind the explosives had fled, but federal law enforcement officers were right behind them.
The pipe bomb story was the brainchild of Jack Posobiec, a right-wing personality who’s regularly retweeted by Donald Trump and who works for fledgling Trump cable network One America News. And it came like a five-alarm fire. “BREAKING: 2 crates filled with pipe bombs discovered near Korean War Memorial in DC after suspects spotted in bushes,” Posobiec tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “Federal assets in pursuit.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Posobiec’s tweet had garnered more than 29,000 retweets and 60,000 favorites. And it seeded the idea that Washington protesters were not just violent but potentially deadly—just as the White House was attempting to justify tear-gassing peaceful protesters for a presidential photo-op a day earlier. The popular pro-Trump hoax blog The Gateway Pundit picked up on it. And so too did the pro-Trump Twitter universe which began to demand why mainstream media outlets weren’t covering the pipe bombs.
“2 boxes of pipe bombs found near the Korean War memorial,” wrote one Twitter user. “No word from msnbc?”
By Wednesday, Posobiec’s supposed pipe bombs were being cited as fact on a conservative Boston talk radio station.
But the pipe bombs were totally made up. U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. Eduardo Delgado told The Daily Beast in an email that the Park Police never discovered any pipe bombs near the memorial. Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department also had no reports of pipe bombs at the memorial, a spokesperson said Tuesday.
There’s no evidence that the supposed pursuit from “federal assets” ever happened either.
Instead, it appears Posobiec either concocted the claim entirely or, at best, relied on information from deeply flawed sources. Worse, his tweet appears to have wasted law enforcement resources at a crucial time, as Park Police officers scrambled to find the nonexistent pipe bombs.
Posobiec and OAN president Charles Herring didn’t respond to a request for comment. The episode shows how fast hoaxes continue to spread online and how real world crises remain the perfect breeding ground for disinformation. A simple missive on social media can have dramatic, cascading effects.
Park Police officers only began looking for the pipe bombs after getting reports about a tweet mentioning them, according to Delgado. Delgado didn’t name the tweet, but Posobiec’s tweet was the first and most widely circulated one about the supposed pipe bombs.
“We were advised that a Tweet said that there were pipe bombs at the Korean Memorial,” Delgado wrote in an email. “The memorial and all adjacent areas were swept by explosion detection K9s with negative results.”
This isn’t the first time Posobiec, a former naval intelligence officer, has played a lead role in promoting hoaxes. He was one of the most prominent promoters of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, that held that the Washington D.C. pizzeria Comet Ping Pong was really a front for a child sex dungeon run by Hillary Clinton. He even went to the restaurant to find out “what’s really going on” there.
That conspiracy theory inspired a North Carolina man to shoot a gun inside of Comet Ping Pong, and prompted an arsonist to try to light the restaurant on fire in 2019 while it was filled with families.
In 2017, BuzzFeed reported text messages suggesting that Posobiec held a “Rape Melania” sign during an anti-Trump protest in an apparent attempt to discredit the protesters as insidious and deranged.
Since then, Posobiec has tried to reinvent himself as a kind of hard-edged national security reporter — while also creating a comic book about himself in which a fictionalized Posobiec alter ego named “Agent Poso” pulls off James Bond-style stunts with other conservative media personalities.
Despite Posobiec’s reputation for hoaxes, Trump frequently retweets his tweets and praises his network, OAN, as a more pro-Trump rival to Fox News. The White House has ensured that Posobiec’s colleague, OAN reporter Chanel Rion, has access to press briefings in violation of the White House press corps coronavirus social-distancing restrictions.