The Make-Believe Obama Wiretap: The Birth Of A Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory

The Make-Believe Obama Wiretap: The Birth Of A Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory

A Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory Through Its Various Stages Of Birth

Nothing truly defines contemporary conservatism quite like a right-wing conspiracy theory. The Birther movement, Operation Jade Helm, Agenda 21, HAARP, death panels, FEMA death/ concentration camps, the supposed assassination of Seth Rich… the right-wing loves nothing more than a good old-fashioned conspiracy.

A right-wing conspiracy theory is typically accepted as true by conservatives so long as it fulfills one simple requirement: it needs to confirm the right-winger’s bias. If it makes liberals or democrats look sinister or complicit, it’s instantly believable, and any attempt to convince them of the contrary is dismissed out of hand as “fake news” or, more broadly, lies developed by charlatans and endorsed by leftist “sheeple” to keep the truth at bay.

It’s the same sort of blind faith you’ll see at play when speaking with someone who stayed in a supposedly haunted house. They were told the house was haunted. They want to believe that wayward spirits are roaming the halls. So when perfectly explainable phenomena occur during the course of their stay — strange noises often heard in old buildings, lights flickering thanks to ancient wiring, etc. — it enhances their experience and convinces them that yes, this house is definitely haunted. Attempts to convince them otherwise will fall on intentionally deaf ears.

The ‘Obama Wiretapped Trump Plaza’ Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory Is Born

One such right-wing conspiracy theory is a toddler right now, as the life of a conspiracy theory typically goes, and will be something conservatives believe for many years to come, regardless of whatever evidence is presented to the contrary. This myth is growing in popularity in right-wing circles, and has on a few occasions spilled over into the mainstream media, where it of course fell apart under the scrutiny of objectivity.

This particular fantasy goes like this: Then-President Barack Obama used the full might of the US government’s intelligence apparatus to spy on Donald Trump and effectively “hack” the election in Hillary Clinton’s favor. An effort which somehow miraculously managed to fail, despite Obama’s best efforts and his utilizing the most powerful network of spies and intelligence-gathering tools ever to exist in the history of the world.

The story ticks off every requirement for a great right-wing conspiracy theory. Barack Obama pulling off treacherous illegal acts that benefit Hillary Clinton — two figures who attract right-wing conspiracy theories like high-powered magnets — in some concerted effort to thwart their Glorious Dear Leader, Donald Trump. But their heinous crimes failed, of course, because Obama — literally a constitutional scholar and a former professor — was just too incompetent to pull it off.

To most Americans, including many moderate conservatives, this story is a heaping pile of dung. But heaping piles of dung are where the flies at right-wing media outlets like InfoWars and Breitbart thrive, so it should come as no surprise that this is where the story was born.

This right-wing conspiracy theory was first muttered aloud on March 2nd, when right-wing radio host Mark Levin spun the fable by cherry-picking news stories that he believed supported his narrative while intentionally avoiding anything that disproved it. This story was of course picked up by Breitbart, which expanded on that theory by piling on some more bullshit.

The story absolutely wasn’t true; it was a fantasy concocted in the low-brow imagination of Mark Levin, with absolutely no evidence to support it whatsoever. But according to CNN, the story from Breitbart found its way into the White House, which eventually made its way to Donald Trump. And that’s when the story started going viral: an infuriated Trump lost it completely with a spasm of Twitter rants on March 4th, during which he himself added to the conspiracy theory on the fly without any evidence to support his theories whatsoever.

Trump would go on to claim he heard about the story from the New York Times, which was very quickly debunked by fact-checkers. He also claimed that he’d reveal some sort of smoking gun about the story in March, but as of May 29th, his supposed “proof” still has not been presented to the public.

This Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory Is Still Evolving

Most competent people would look at this story, laugh, and move along to the next one. But not conservatives. To them, an absence of evidence doesn’t mean something isn’t true… it merely indicates that a true thing hasn’t fully come to light yet. And all it takes is a rumor started by literally anyone, washed down by a droplet of blind faith that whatever bad thing you hear about some person or group you dislike is most surely true.

In the past week or so, the wiretapping right-wing conspiracy theory acquired a fresh pair of legs after the website Circa published a report claiming more than 5% of upstream data searches carried out by intelligence agencies were done so in violation of safeguards put in place in 2011.

The report, which is allegedly based on a classified internal report obtained by Circa, makes no mention whatsoever about Obama wiretapping Donald Trump, or Trump Tower, or the 2016 presidential election. It doesn’t mention any sort of clandestine political operations or even hint remotely at the possibility that this information acquired by the intelligence community could be related to the supposed “Obama Wiretapped Trump” myth.

Circa started out its life in 2011 as a news app which failed to ever really take off, despite burning through nearly $6 million in venture capital. The site was acquired in 2015 by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a company that owns and operates 173 local news stations around the country and is known to be staunchly conservative.

That having been said, Circa’s recent reporting does seem to try for neutrality; the article in question does point out that the Obama Administration itself disclosed issues regarding possibly illegal data searches in late October 2016, prior to the presidential election.

But is all of that enough to thwart an effort by far-right conservatives to twist Circa’s report into evidence supporting their latest right-wing conspiracy theory? Hell no, it isn’t! On Friday, The conservative New York Post ran a story titled “How Team Obama Tried To Hack The Election” in which they cite the Circa story and attempt to weave it into their nonsensical narrative.

The Circa story does not implicate the Obama administration in a conspiracy to influence the election even remotely, and The Post’s allegations are thinner than the air inside Trump’s head when he takes to Twitter at 3 AM while sitting on the toilet. But the Post story is already being shared through conservative circles, and the right-wing faithful are treating it as gospel. Why? Because it negatively implicates Obama in a heinous new twist on their new favorite right-wing conspiracy theory.

Like most conspiracy theories, the “Obama Wiretapping Trump” myth isn’t going away anytime soon. It will continue to roll through the right’s low-information bubble, with every pseudo-relevant quip clinging to it like a sock hanging on for dear life at the top of your clothes dryer. And when the story becomes so huge that it bursts, it will rain down its crazy inside the bubble and infect said bubble’s countless denizens so they one day go to their graves many years from now still believing the story is true.

The birthers? They still inexplicably exist. The Operation Jade Helm doomsday preppers are still stocking their bunkers for the day when Obama somehow returns and uses a brainwashed army to smite the conservative faithful. The United Nations is still evil, and FEMA is still preparing their death camps for the coming pro-liberal judgment. Obama attempting to steal the 2016 election? That’s small potatoes to the true believers.

It’s impossible to predict what twists and turns lie in store for this fantasy yarn, but we can all be sure of one thing: this story will never get legs, but its mobility will nevertheless never be hindered. That’s how right-wing conspiracy theories are born. That’s why they thrive. And for this tale, as ridiculous as it seems, there’s no clear end in sight.

Featured image courtesy of Drew Angerer/ Getty Images