How Right-Wing Echo Chamber Amplified Biden 'Assassination Plot'

Trump and Biden

Donald Trump, left and President Joe Biden

Over a handful of hours on Tuesday, the right’s conspiracy theory ecosystem concocted a sinister plot by President Joe Biden to assassinate his predecessor out of the banal fact that FBI agents received standard instructions on the use of force before conducting a court-ordered search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in 2022.

Hundreds of pages of filings were unsealed on Tuesday in Trump’s classified documents case, revealing that the former president — who is charged with 40 federal criminal counts related to his alleged willful retention of documents after leaving the White House — had multiple documents marked “classified” in his bedroom that were discovered months after the 2022 search.

Credible outlets reviewed the documents and produced a wave of news stories detailing what a judge described as “strong evidence” of Trump’s allegedly criminal acts. Meanwhile, Trump’s MAGA media supporters ginned up a counternarrative based on a credulous reading of a deceptive argument from Trump’s lawyers that was included in the unsealed documents.

The story that emerged from the right-wing media echo chamber posits that pro forma language provided to FBI agents before the 2022 search which stated that “law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force when necessary” was actually part of a Biden scheme to assassinate Trump. This is both a horrific accusation to make without evidence and facially absurd for any number of reasons. (Why would the Biden administration issue assassination orders in writing and then conduct the Mar-a-Lago search on a date specifically selected because Trump would be in New York instead?) But it spread quickly from its initiation by a key figure in the right’s January 6 disinformation community, through the ranks of MAGA influencers, to Trump himself, and then to the Fox News airwaves.

By Tuesday night, Trump’s campaign had issued a fundraising email in which the presumptive Republican presidential nominee alleged of the Biden administration, “You know they’re just itching to do the unthinkable … Joe Biden was locked & loaded ready to take me out & put my family in danger.”

The startlingly quick adoption of an unhinged conspiracy theory shows how the right-wing media apparatus operates, dreaming up convoluted but inflammatory nonsense and bombarding their audience with it. Here’s how it happened.

Right-wing fabulist turns standard FBI policy into “mind-blowing” story

The right-wing writer Julie Kelly, in a series of Tuesday afternoon posts on X (formerly Twitter), purported to reveal the “bombshells” she had uncovered by scouring the unsealed documents.

“Tons of new unsealed filings on classified docs case--I will try to post as much as I can (there goes the workout) but this is mind-blowing,” she posted at 1:21 p.m. ET. “FBI authorized the use of deadly force at Mar-a-Lago.”

She included a screenshot of a filing from Trump’s lawyers which stated that the FBI’s “Operations Order” for the Mar-a-Lago search “contained a ‘Policy Statement’ regarding ‘Use of Deadly Force,’ which stated, for example, ‘Law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force when necessary.’”

Kelly went on to post the “Policy Statement” and claim that the instructions show that “the FBI risked the lives of Donald Trump, his family, his staff, and MAL guests for a publicity stunt to make it look like Trump stole national security files.” She added, “People need to be arrested for this.”

In reality — and as more credible journalists pointed out — those instructions are standard for FBI searches.

“These are the rules that apply to FBI agents whenever they do anything,” Reuters reporter Brad Heath wrote in response to Kelly’s initial claim on X. He added, “Agents - like all cops - can use deadly force when met with a sufficiently serious threat. The policy the FBI followed here applies all the time; they are the same rules agents follow when walking down a sidewalk.”

“One clue that this is the generic DOJ use of force policy — not something cooked up for Mar-a-Lago, let alone ordered by the president — is that it talks about the use of warning shots in prison,” Heath noted in response to Kelly’s post with the “Policy Statement.”

The FBI would later issue a statement confirming that the bureau had “followed standard protocol in this search as we do for all search warrants, which includes a standard policy statement limiting the use of deadly force.”

Kelly is among the foremost proponents of the right’s January 6 counternarrative. She has argued that the violent rioting at the U.S. Capitol by Trumpists who assaulted scores of law enforcement officers “was probably the biggest instance of police brutality that this country has seen since the Civil Rights movement,” described a police officer who testified before the January 6 select committee as a “crisis actor,” and suggested that the FBI fabricated the pipe bombs discovered at the Republican and Democratic national headquarters that day because it is “an enforcement arm, a surveillance arm of the Democratic Party.” And her interpretation of the filings made no sense and was quickly debunked.

None of that slowed down the ranks of MAGA influencers, who quickly seized on her story.

MAGA influencers run with “assassination” nonsense

Within minutes, influential figures in the MAGA movement adopted Kelly’s interpretation and effectively began competing for the most overwrought response as they furiously posted on X. Many alleged that the document showed a Biden-directed assassination plot against Trump.

“The FBI authorized the use of **deadly force** when they raided Mar-a-Lago,” Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk commented. “You read that right. They were authorized to kill Trump employees, possibly even assassinate Trump himself, to exact their political revenge.”

“The FBI authorized the use of deadly force when they raided Mar-a-Lago?” wrote podcaster and former One America News host Liz Wheeler. “Were they hoping to assassinate Trump or his family or employees? This is insane.”

“So that was the real reason for the FBI raiding a president’s home: an excuse to use deadly force against Donald Trump,” offeredThe Federalist’s Sean Davis. “The court case was just plan B for the corrupt DOJ and FBI.” He added, “The FBI is a domestic terrorist organization.”

Trump ally Laura Loomer similarly argued that the document shows “a possible assassination attempt of President Trump by the Biden regime and FBI!”

Trump and the GOP lie that this shows Biden is “A SERIOUS THREAT TO DEMOCRACY”

Trump and his campaign are very attuned to the nonsense his online supporters generate, and within hours they adopted their bogus narrative.

At 5:21 p.m. ET — just four hours after Kelly’s initial post — Trump posted on his Truth Social account: “WOW! I just came out of the Biden Witch Hunt Trial in Manhattan, the ‘Icebox,’ and was shown Reports that Crooked Joe Biden’s DOJ, in their Illegal and UnConstitutional Raid of Mar-a-Lago, AUTHORIZED THE FBI TO USE DEADLY (LETHAL) FORCE. NOW WE KNOW, FOR SURE, THAT JOE BIDEN IS A SERIOUS THREAT TO DEMOCRACY. HE IS MENTALLY UNFIT TO HOLD OFFICE — 25TH AMENDMENT!”

Trump’s campaign posted his comment to X, where it was quickly reposted by an arm of the Republican National Committee.

The former president’s most unhinged congressional supporters chimed in.

“The Biden DOJ and FBI were planning to assassinate Pres Trump and gave the green light. Does everyone get it yet???!!!!” commented Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

His biggest media supporters were not far behind.

Fox “news” and “opinion” sides parrot the MAGA spin

Right-wing commentators have spent the last nine years figuring out how to respond to Trump’s massive lies. At this point, everyone who retains a major platform knows their role is to, at the least, soft-pedal his unhinged claims, and at most, to prove they are on board with the MAGA movement by treating them as truth.

That’s what played out on Fox’s airwaves after Trump declared that the FBI’s use of standard orders for the Mar-a-Lago search showed that Biden is “A SERIOUS THREAT TO DEMOCRACY.”

Fox could have provided credible reporting tamping down on the lies circulating online. The network employs people who report on the Justice Department and FBI and even has Kerri Kupec Urbahn, a former top aide in the Trump DOJ, on the payroll. If the network wanted to find out if the FBI orders were standard, it would be really easy to do so.

But Fox’s business model and its political agenda both depend on propagandizing for Trump, so that’s not what happened. Instead, around an hour after Trump’s Truth Social post, FoxNews.com sent the following push alert: “BREAKING NEWS New docs reveal Biden DOJ authorized ‘deadly force’ in Mar-a-Lago raid.’” Here’s how the story’s promotion looked on the website’s front page:

From FoxNews.com at approximately 6:23 p.m. on May 21, 2024.

When the network first discussed the story later that hour on the flagship “news” show Special Report, the segment focused on the same “deadly force” language Kelly had flagged.

Bret Baier, the network’s chief political anchor, opened by highlighting that “former President Trump's attorneys argue the Biden administration Justice Department authorized the use of deadly force if necessary” during the Mar-a-Lago search. Correspondent Kevin Corke responded that the order is “quite shocking.”

Baier went on to downplay the notion that the FBI instructions were standard.

“There may be some people, Kevin, who say that this is just a policy statement of standard operating procedures put inside this operations order for this specific raid,” he said. “But obviously it's not standard operating procedure when you're going into the house of the former president, who happens to be protected by Secret Service.”

When Baier offered a similar comment later in the hour during a panel segment, contributor Byron York described the situation as “kind of worrisome” because the FBI was supposedly “loaded for bear and prepared for the possibility of some sort of violent confrontation with the Secret Service. … The idea that it was prepared for this way, as opposed to, say, worked out in advance, is really troubling.” (In fact, the FBI ensured that “the Secret Service would receive a heads-up a few hours before FBI agents arrived to avoid any law enforcement conflict,” The Washington Post has reported.)

Fox’s “opinion” hosts have been running with the story ever since.

“They were actually thinking of using deadly force, or it's on the table that might be necessary at Mar-a-Lago?” Laura Ingraham asked Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO). “Deadly force? OK. It’s really lawfare, it’s not funny. Something actually could have gone down I guess at Mar-a-Lago, beyond just looking for the documents.”

Jesse Watters and Jeanine Pirro went even further on Watters’ show, with the host declaring, “Authorized armed agents to use deadly force in the Mar-a-Lago raid. That is insane. Is there any justification for that?”

“Absolutely not,” Pirro replied, adding that “my mind as a prosecutor goes to maybe they wanted the engagement of physical force. Maybe they wanted to come in without FBI, without DOJ, without all of that identifying so that they could engage in deadly physical force.”

Sean Hannity called the “deadly force” language a “shocking new revelation.” He acknowledged it was “boilerplate language” but nonetheless asked, “Why was Merrick Garland prepping for a possible, what, shootout?”

Fox was still carrying Trump’s water on Wednesday morning:


Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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