U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to repeat a months-old conspiracy theory from Facebook on Monday, claiming without evidence that “thugs” in “black uniforms” were being loaded into a plane to attack Republicans in Washington, D.C.
The president’s unverified claim appeared to match a debunked story that went viral among Trump-supporting Facebook groups in early June. The story alleged that more than a dozen Antifa operatives in black clothing had been flown into Idaho to attack local businesses, although they never actually showed up.
Trump floated his strikingly similar story about a plane full of “thugs” in a friendly interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Monday. He did not provide any evidence to support his claim.
“We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that,” Trump claimed during the interview.
Even after Ingraham pressed him for more information, the president was mum on details.
“I’ll tell you sometime,” he said. “But it’s under investigation right now.”
He added that the “thugs” were being sent to the Republican National Convention “to do big damage.”
The RNC was held in Washington from Monday to Thursday last week, meaning the alleged “thugs” would have missed the event if they’d mobilized “this weekend.”
Trump doubled down on the story while seemingly contradicting a key detail on Tuesday morning, when a reporter questioned him on his way to Air Force One.
“This was a first-hand account of a plane going from Washington to wherever,” Trump said. He had suggested on Monday that Washington was the destination, not the origin point. “The entire plane filled up with the looters, the anarchists, the rioters.”
The president also repeated the claim that he heard about the plane from someone who was onboard. “This would be a person you know,” he told the reporter. “I can probably refer you to the person.”
It’s unclear who among Trump’s allies might be sneaking onto planes with alleged Antifa operatives.
On June 1, several far-right Facebook pages spread a viral hoax alleging that a plane loaded with Antifa operatives was on its way to Boise, Idaho.
“Be ready for attacks downtown and resident areas. At least a dozen males got off the plane in Boise from Seattle, dressed head to toe in black … One had a tattoo that said Antifa America on his arm,” the widely shared post said.
The Payette County Sheriff’s Office also dismissed the rumours as “FALSE information” in a statement on June 1.
Several far-right militia groups turned up in small-town communities in June to defend them from the phantom menace of Antifa, which never actually showed up to any of the supposed targets.
Trump has declared Antifa a terrorist organization, and he and his allies have often tried to blame anti-racism protests on the movement.
Twitter says it caught a white nationalist group trying to stir up violence last spring by posing as an official Antifa account on the platform.
Antifa is a far-left ideology that does not have a clear leader or organizational structure, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Some supporters of the so-called “Anti-Fascist” movement have been present at rallies and protests, but there is no evidence that they have been organizing violence.
Trump on Monday tried to tie the plane story to Joe Biden, his Democratic opponent in the upcoming presidential election. Trump claimed that Biden is being controlled by people operating “in the dark shadows.”
“What does that mean? That sounds like conspiracy theory, ‘dark shadows,'” Ingraham said.
“Well, they’re people that you haven’t heard of, they’re people that are on the streets, they’re people that are controlling the streets,” he said.
Trump then suggested that “the money is coming from some very stupid rich people.”
The president also suggested, without evidence, that anti-racism protests in Portland are being driven by “anarchists” who are “paid.”
Biden sought to pin much of the violence on Trump in a speech on Monday, during which he accused the president of stoking fear and division to try to win re-election.
“He keeps telling us if he was president you’d feel safe,” Biden said. “Well, he is president, whether he knows it or not.”
Trump was slated on Tuesday to visit Kenosha, Wis., the city where police recently shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back seven times.
The shooting touched off several nights of protests and unrest. It also attracted armed militia members including Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old accused of fatally shooting two protesters and injuring a third with an AR-15-style rifle.
Trump avoided condemning the actions of the accused teen shooter on Monday, saying that Rittenhouse “probably would’ve been killed” by the protesters.
Rittenhouse, who travelled to Wisconsin from another state, is facing first-degree murder charges.