Top figures in the pro-Trump media are claiming Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is hiding a secret illness or is even dead, elevating a bizarre new claim from the fringe QAnon conspiracy theory.
On Thursday, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka suggested on Twitter that the Ginsburg, 85, who has cancelled public appearances since undergoing surgery to remove cancerous lung growths in late December, might be hiding a medical condition. But, Gorka tweeted, all would have to be revealed if Ginsburg appeared at the State of the Union address on Feb. 5.
“Still no sign,” Gorka wrote. “6 days left until Ruth Bader Ginsberg has to make her official appearance at @realDonaldTrump’s State of the Union.”
Asked about his tweet, Gorka told The Daily Beast to “go outside and lick a metal street lamp.” Thursday’s temperature in Washington, D.C. is 18 degrees Fahrenheit.
Filmmakers of a new Ginsburg documentary told CNN that they spoke with Ginsburg on Tuesday, and that the Supreme Court justice sounded “strong and cheerful.” “She is writing opinions and continuing to stay on top of work,” the filmmakers said.
That hasn’t stopped pro-Trump internet characters from suggesting that Democrats are covering Ginsburg’s near-death state. Some even claim that she’s already dead, but Democrats won’t admit it because they don’t want Trump to fill her seat.
The idea has its roots in QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy that posits that Trump is engaged in a secret war against powerful pedophiles in the deep-state and the Democratic Party.
“Q,” the anonymous person or group of people behind the “clues” that QAnon supporters decipher, was one of the first to suggest that Ginsburg’s absences were part of a cover-up about her health. On January 5, Q claimed that Ginsburg was only being kept alive with illicit drugs.
“What 'off-market' drugs are being provided to [RBG] in order to sustain minimum daily function?” Q wrote. “What is the real medical diagnosis of [RBG]? Who is managing her care?
"Who is 'really' managing her care?”
Two days later, Q celebrated Ginsburg’s health issues, highlighting an article about Ginsburg missing court.
“Good morning, Patriot,” Q wrote.
Other right-wing personalities began actively pushing conspiracy theories about Ginsburg this month. Jacob Wohl, a young Trump supporter and internet troll who attempted to smear Special Counsel Robert Mueller with a sex-assault hoax in November, claimed three weeks ago that Ginsburg would resign January 11.
When Ginsburg didn’t resign, Wohl pivoted to suggesting that she was secretly dead, and demanded video of Ginsburg doing a sudoku as proof-of-life. Wohl has also pushed an online petition to “impeach” Ginsburg, which has failed to meet its 5,000 signature goal.
Fox News inadvertently fueled the theory last Monday, when it accidentally aired an obituary graphic for Ginsburg. Conspiracy theorists pointed to the slip-up as proof that Ginsburg was already dead.
On Twitter, the #WheresRuth hashtag began picking up steam on January 28, when it began trending nationally, according to Twitter tracker Trendsmap. That engagement was driven largely by conservative actor James Woods, who promotes conspiracy theories to his nearly 2 million Twitter followers. Woods tweeted the hashtag twice, racking up nearly 13,000 retweets each time.
“Seriously though… #WheresRuth?” Woods tweeted.
The hashtag has received a major boost from QAnon-related accounts. Trendsmap identified one of the hashtag’s biggest early promoters as a Twitter account associated with a group of YouTubers known for promoting QAnon conspiracy theories. That account, @PatriotsSoapbox, started tweeting the hashtag on January 28, prompting an army of QAnon followers to add the hashtag to copy-pasted tweets.
Repeated use of a hashtag can help it trend, especially when a highly engaged community like QAnon believers use it simultaneously. By Thursday morning, multiple tweets using the hashtag were appearing on Twitter every minute.
Wayne Allyn Root, a conservative pundit who opened for Trump at a 2018 campaign rally, compared Ginsburg’s absence to Weekend at Bernie’s, a 1989 movie in which two men prop up a corpse and dress it up with sunglasses so they can party longer. This situation, Root quipped, was now more like “Weekend at Bubbies.”
Like Gorka, conspiracy theorists focused on Ginsburg have focused on Trump’s State of the Union address, seeing it as the moment that the truth about Ginsburg’s health, or even whether she’s even still alive, will be revealed. They claim that attendance at the State of the Union is mandatory for justices, and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) delayed the address so Ginsburg wouldn’t have to attend.
In fact, though, Supreme Court justices are not required to attend the State of the Union address. Ginsburg and four other justices skipped Trump’s address last year. And Pelosi delayed the State of the Union because of the Trump-instigated government shutdown, not as part of an elaborate cover-up to help Ginsburg.
Still, the idea that Ginsburg is hiding something about her health is catching on with the right.
Ben Garrison, Trumpworld’s top cartoonist, has also pushed the idea that Ginsburg’s absences are a cover for a secret near-death state. In one cartoon, Garrison depicted a decrepit Ginsburg crawling out from “Death’s Door,” while Chief Justice John Roberts tells her she can work from home.
In a blog post, Garrison wrote that Democrats would “probably not” hide Ginsburg’s death to foil Trump, but warned his audience “don’t be surprised if it happens.”