- By Samantha Schmidt The Washington Post
Late Monday, after thousands of protesters flocked to Trump Tower for the president's first trip back to the Manhattan penthouse in seven months, the president took to Twitter.
First, he wrote that it felt "good to be home." Next, he retweeted a post from an eyebrow-raising Twitter account: that of right-wing provocateur Jack Posobiec, a Trump supporter known for advancing a number of conspiracy theories, such as those tied to "Pizzagate" and the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
Posobiec's tweet linked to a story from an ABC affiliate and read, "Meanwhile: 39 shootings in Chicago this weekend, 9 deaths. No national media outrage. Why is that?"
Trump's decision to spotlight Posobiec drew criticism particularly in light of the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump provoked public outrage after he took two days following the white nationalist rally and the death of Helen Heyer to specifically condemn the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name.
Posobiec, who describes himself as a "Republican political operative," celebrated the president's retweet, thanking him on Twitter. But then he faced with a barrage of tweets calling out his connections to far-right groups.
Throughout the night, Posobiec pushed back against characterizations of him as "alt-right," and said he has consistently disavowed white nationalists and displays of violence. He pointed out a "Rally for Peace" he helped lead in light of the Steve Scalise shooting.
That did not stop many critics on Twitter from lashing out:
"Did Trump really RT an alt right account about black on black crime while I was asleep ...
- Vann R. Newkirk II (@fivefifths) August 15, 2017"
"No better way for Trump to shake the perception that he's sympathetic to the alt-right than to RT a person closely aligned w/ the alt-right.
- Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) August 15, 2017"
"Really, @realDonaldTrump? After your faux condemnation of white supremacists, you pull a racist move like retweeting this?
- Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) August 15, 2017"
Posobiec is a former Navy Reserve intelligence officer who has previously served as a leader of a pro-Trump grass-roots organization, and until recently worked for right-wing website The Rebel.
The controversial figure is no stranger to media headlines and backlash. He recently disrupted a New York production of "Julius Caesar," which created a stir over its depiction of the title character, who resembles President Trump and is subject to a bloody slaying. Posobiec was one of two pro-Trump activists who interrupted a performance in June.
In the audience, Posobiec could be seen yelling, "You are all Goebbels!" and "The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands!" in reference to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels and to a shooting at a Virginia baseball field earlier in the week that critically injured Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., as The Washington Post reported.
But his name came into the news much earlier, particularly during "Pizzagate," a conspiracy theory that claimed Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief harbored a child sex ring in a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. The bizarre falsehood spread through various Internet channels and social media, and ultimately led a gunman in December to fire an assault-style rifle as he searched the pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong.
As The Post reported, Posobiec found the theory at least in part believable, saying he felt the Clinton campaign was "full of secrecy and deception." Seeking to learn more about the pizzeria, he stopped by the restaurant eight days after the election and used his phone to broadcast his evening live online.
"I didn't have any preconceived notions," he told The Post. "I wasn't sure. I thought I could just show it was a regular pizza place."
That evening, the restaurant's managers asked Posobiec to leave after they saw him take his camera into a backroom where a child's birthday party was taking place, The Post reported.
After he was ushered out, a right-wing online activist tweeted: "You're my hero for doing this, Jack. Never let go."
"On Twitter, the hashtag #pizzagate peaked in the hours after Posobiec's video appeared," The Post reported.
In May, Posobiec made waves in international politics by tweeting that a slew of emails had been hacked from Emmanuel Macron's campaign. While French media declined to report on the stolen documents, Posobiec and other American right-wing figures helped spread the information and the hashtag #MacronLeaks, The Post reported. (France has a national moratorium on campaigning and media coverage.)
Later that month, Posobiec peddled yet another falsehood, writing on Twitter that James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, had "said under oath that Trump did not ask him to halt any investigation." The fake statement even made its way into commentary on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, the New York Times reported.
Writing to the Times in June, Posobiec described his work as "reality journalism — part investigative, part activist, part commentary."