Minutes after news broke of “potential explosive devices” being mailed to the homes of former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, along with CNN’s New York City studio, the dark corners of the conservative internet were declaring it a secret plot to gin up empathy for Democrats.
Cries that the bomb threats were merely a “false flag” operation were evident on Twitter and pro-Trump forums. Many of the personalities pushing the claim were fringe types. But not all of them.
Popular talk radio host Rush Limbaugh hinted that the attempted bombings were set-up by Democrats, saying they would serve a political “purpose.”
“It’s happening in October,” Limbaugh said. “There’s a reason for this.”
Similarly, right-wing radio host Michael Savage outright declared that “it’s a high probability that the whole thing is set up as a false flag to gain sympathy for the Democrats... and to get our minds off the hordes of illegal aliens approaching our southern border.”
Frank Gaffney, an Islamophobe who has held posts on Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) presidential campaign and in the Ronald Reagan White House, suggested the packages were a “deflection” technique. “None of the leftists ostensibly targeted for pipe-bombs were actually at serious risk, since security details would be screening their mail,” he tweeted. “So let’s determine not only who is responsible for these bombs, but whether they were trying to deflect attention from the Left’s mobs.”
John Cardillo, a former New York Police Department officer turned right-wing radio host, initially denounced political violence on both sides of the aisle, but quickly broadcast his skepticism that the threats were legit. “Just too coincidental that two weeks before Election Day, as the ‘blue wave’ has turned into a ripple, and the left is losing ground because of incivility and violent rhetoric, explosive devices show up in the mailboxes of Soros, Clinton, and Obama,” he wrote on Twitter. He later deleted the tweet.
Gab, a social media network that’s popular with alt-right figures who have been kicked off of Twitter, implied that the bomb attacks were a false flag. Devoted Trump supporters on forums like 4Chan and Reddit had similar reactions, claiming the bombs were set up by Democrats—or regretting that the bombs didn’t go off.
The explosive devices sent on Wednesday came on the heels of a similar discovery outside the home of Democratic financier George Soros on Tuesday. And they all follow a weeks-long debate over the absence of civility in politics—a theme heavily pushed by President Donald Trump to portray Democrats as the party of “mobs.”
On Wednesday morning, numerous Republican lawmakers, including the vice president himself, moved swiftly to condemn the bomb threats and to call for the restoration of calmness and sanity with the midterm elections approaching.
Online, many of the biggest Trump-backing conservative voices refused to concede that the threats were real.
Conservative columnist Kurt Schlichter tweeted that the “potential explosive devices” were a “super convenient turn of events.” He later added that “After dozens of college campus hoaxes by leftists, I don’t buy this super convenient turn of events.”
Michael Flynn Jr., the son of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and a former promoter of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, claimed the bombs were “a total false flag operation.”
“I condemn all political violence but again the timing is bullsh#t,” Flynn tweeted. He, too, later deleted his tweets...
...only to kind of echo them upon clarification.
Those suspicions were echoed by other right-wing figures. Jacob Wohl, a prominent Trump supporter on Twitter, claimed that the bombs were false flag attacks “carefully planned for the midterms.” Bill Mitchell, a Trump-loving Twitter personality, called it “Pure BS.”
James Woods, the conservative film actor, said it was an “obvious political stunt.” Laura Loomer, a right-wing provocateur who has made her name yelling in public at various Democratic figures, tweeted that she was “not buying it.” Chadwick Moore, a conservative reporter, tweeted that it was “impossible to believe these stories if you know how dirty [Democrats] are.”
The aftermath of major threats are always ripe moments for conspiracy theorists to flourish, especially so close to a national election. In the lead up to the 2016 election, many pro-Trump internet forums were obsessed with the notion that the Clintons had been operating a pedophilia ring in the basement of a popular Washington, D.C. pizzeria—which, needless to say, was not true. The conspiracy lost stature after an adherent went to the pizzaria with a rifle.
What’s been new about the Donald Trump era is how these wild theories have continued to flourish, personified by the growth of the pro-Trump QAnon community which posits that Trump is engaged in a secret war against high-ranking globalist pedophiles in Hollywood and the Democratic Party.
On Wednesday, QAnon posters were also quick to claim that the bomb threats were a false flag operation meant to make Republicans look bad, in part because they had spent the days beforehand fixated on an anonymous internet post that claimed Soros would arrange for a shooting at a liberal political rally that would be set up to look like it was committed by a QAnon supporter. QAnon believers took the bomb scares as proof that the anonymous post had correctly predicted a false flag operation—even though none of the details in the post, including the rally shooting, were actually confirmed.
“Despite the fact that these particular incidents don’t match any of the specifics of that rumor, they’re acting like it was predicted,” said Travis View, an amateur researcher who tracks the shifting beliefs of QAnon supporters.
Initial reports that the White House had also received a bomb, prompted users on Reddit’s The_Donald forum to modify their theories that the threats were a convenient political set up. The conspiracy, they posited, was even more elaborate than initially believed. “It's too obvious if we just send them to the blatant targets, let's shut down any possibility of a false flag discussion by throwing one at the WH too,’” one user wrote.
Soon thereafter, the Secret Service clarified that they had not intercepted a suspicious package at the White House.