Idaho Falls Rep. Bryan Zollinger said Monday that he’s doubling down on the claim that it is “completely plausible” that Democratic officials staged the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, to smear President Donald Trump. And he said donors are pledging to give him money in response to widespread criticism of the post.
Articles about Zollinger’s decision to share a conspiracy-theory-laden blog post about the tragic events in Charlottesville hit national news outlets in recent days. Stories from national media outlets including the Washington Times, AOL, Raw Story and the Hill have been shared tens of thousands of times on social media by Monday afternoon.
And as the story went viral, social media users descended on Zollinger, heaping criticism and, in some cases, abuse on him. Some also rallied in support of him.
“At first, I felt genuinely bad that maybe I had offended somebody,” Zollinger said in an interview Monday. “Since then, the amazing amount of hate and the despicable things that have been said about myself, my wife, my kids, I’ve doubled down.”
The post Zollinger shared last week, written on a site called “The American Thinker,” is replete with wild claims lacking evidence and couched in what-ifs.
The post suggests, at various points, that the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, which resulted in brawls with counterprotesters and an apparent terrorist attack that left one woman 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.
Zollinger called the post “completely plausible.” And Monday he reaffirmed that claim.
“(Obama) was a community organizer before he was the president of the United States,” Zollinger said. “… I still do think it’s plausible.”
Zollinger also said a video has surfaced featuring a Charlottesville police officer saying police were ordered to stand down.
There is, in fact, no video recording of a Charlottesville officer saying police were told to stand down, though several videos have been posted which aim to give that impression. The original source for the supposed quote from a police officer saying a “stand down” order was issued comes from YourNewsWire.com.
FactCheck.org lists YourNewsWire.com as a website that publishes fabricated stories. Extensive reporting by news organizations and fact checkers has found no support for the stand-down claim, as well as reasons it couldn’t be true. For example, the mayor of Charlottesville lacks the legal authority to issue orders to police.
Zollinger described his Facebook post as “innocuous” and “thought-provoking.”
“There was no ill intention behind the post,” he said. “There was no ill will.”
In an effort to turn the tables on social media critics, Zollinger said five donors have pledged to give campaign contributions for each Twitter mention, Facebook comment and critical email he receives.
“We’ve decided to at least make this more enjoyable for me,” Zollinger said.