White House Hosts a Meeting for Pro-Trump Twitter Warriors

White House Hosts a Meeting for Pro-Trump Twitter Warriors


CreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — As he opened an event that had brought 200 conservative social media firebrands to the White House, President Trump wanted his guests to know just how much he appreciated their work helping shape the online narrative about his presidency and a re-election fight.

“The crap you think of,” Mr. Trump said as he surveyed his Twitter kingdom, “is unbelievable.”

Mr. Trump was once an outsider political candidate who prided himself on bending rules and subverting norms, and he wants to keep that sensibility as a candidate in 2020. So on Thursday, the president went in search of outside-the-box campaign ideas from a group that also has little use for playing by the rules.

Sandwiched between a flurry of morning presidential tweets and bleeding into Mr. Trump’s early evening news conference on how his administration would collect data on citizenship, the White House Social Media Summit was dominated by activists willing to share unverified smears against Democratic presidential candidates, disseminate QAnon conspiracy theories and create memes the president might share.

“Earlier this year, the White House launched a tool to allow Americans, regardless of their political views, to share how they have been affected by bias online,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said in an email explaining the origins of the event. “After receiving thousands of responses, the president wants to engage directly with these digital leaders in a discussion on the power of social media.”

That’s really not what happened.

Before all was said and done, the East Room event, which featured a rambling speech by Mr. Trump on everything from Federal Reserve policy to his hairstyle, devolved into a confrontation in the Rose Garden after the presidential news conference between Sebastian Gorka, the former White House official turned media personality, and a reporter. James O’Keefe, an activist who likes to capture videos under false pretenses to embarrass liberals and journalists, filmed the scene.

The reporter, Brian Karem of Playboy, said that the group was hungry for “demonic possession.” Mr. Gorka questioned his journalistic credentials and approached Mr. Karem, who suggested the two talk outside.

“Gorka! Gorka! Gorka!” his supporters chanted as Mr. Gorka called the journalist a “punk.”

[Read our reporter’s Twitter coverage of the event.]


CreditEvan Vucci/Associated Press

Another activist, Joy Villa, preened in the background in a floor-length red gown emblazoned with the word “freedom.” “Fake news is over!” Ms. Villa shouted amid the melee, before talking about who designed her gown.

Other supporters who had made the journey from the internet’s backwaters to the White House included “Carpe Donktum,” who created a fake video of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. that Mr. Trump shared on Twitter. There was also Bill Mitchell, who enjoys discussing QAnon, an online conspiracy theory that purports to share government secrets. And there was Ali Alexander, who shared a tweet questioning Kamala Harris’s racial background.

Ostensibly, the entire exercise was a chance for Mr. Trump to hear grievances from his supporters. That is what some of them said, anyway. Charlie Kirk, the 25-year-old founder of Turning Point USA, a group that reaches out to young conservatives, said before the event that he was going into it with a “center right” view on how the president should search for evidence that social media platforms were silencing conservative voices. Mr. Kirk and members of his organization have been c

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