Idaho Falls Rep. Bryan Zollinger took to Facebook on Friday, re-posting a conspiracy theory suggesting that the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va., could have been an inside job orchestrated to smear President Donald Trump.
The post, written on a site called “The American Thinker,” is replete with wild, unevidenced claims couched in what-ifs.
“The conflagration in Charlottesville is beginning to feel like a set-up, perhaps weeks or months in the planning,” the author wrote.
In a comment, Zollinger called the blog post “completely plausible.”
The post suggests, at various points, that the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, which resulted in brawls with counterprotestors and an apparent terrorist attack that left Heather Heyer dead and 19 others injured, may have been plotted by former President Barack Obama, billionaire George Soros, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe or Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer — or by some shadowy cabal involving them all.
And it describes both white supremacists and those who protested against them as “groups of demented racists.”
“All of them on both sides are certainly that,” the author wrote, while making an exception for Heyer, whose funeral was held Wednesday.
The post begins by reciting a claim that Obama “set up a war room in his D.C. home to plan and execute resistance to the Trump administration.” That claim, widely debunked by fact checkers but widely circulated by far-right news outlets, stems from an article in a London tabloid, which cites a single unnamed source claiming to be a friend of Obama’s. There is no further sourcing for the claim, though the claim was recently repeated by the National Enquirer using the phrase “war room.”
It then recites further claims, some with kernels of truth, others with none, to make the case that the white supremacist rally could have been staged.
“So were the events of Saturday the result of a despicable plan to further undermine Trump?,” the author wrote. “There was plenty of time and Charlottesville is the ‘capital of resistance.’ If it was, it was evil and deadly and the people involved need to be prosecuted. Or is this a wild conspiracy theory? Perhaps. But the pieces fit.”
“Bryan, you have to know this is crazy, right?” one commenter wrote on Zollinger’s post.
“I’m not saying it is true, but I am suggesting that it is completely plausible,” Zollinger responded, adding that “many of the protesters were Soros-funded.”
In an interview, Zollinger said he hadn’t meant to offend anyone with the post, and that on further reflection, its claims are “probably wrong.” He continued to describe the claims as “plausible,” however.
“In hindsight, maybe it was a mistake to post it,” Zollinger said. “I didn’t mean for it to ruffle any feathers.”
Zollinger represents District 33, which encompasses most of Idaho Falls. He was elected in 2016, replacing former Rep. Linden Bateman, who didn’t seek re-election. Zollinger has served one term in the House, where he became one of the founding members of the Idaho Freedom Caucus.
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.