The Washington Post published an interview on Thursday with Paul Horner, a 38-year-old whose life’s work is creating and spreading viral hoaxes.
Most recently, Horner is reportedly responsible for many of the controversial fake news articles that served as the main course for many Trump voters’ media diets ― stories about Clinton supporters being paid to protest at Trump rallies and Obama banning the national anthem at sporting events nationwide.
Stories like these, many are claiming, helped Trump to his unexpected presidential victory.
“Honestly, people are definitely dumber,” he told The Washington Post. “They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary.”
The name Paul Horner might already be familiar to art world regulars. That’s because the very same Horner successfully tricked parts of the internet into thinking he was Banksy ― twice. In 2013, and then again a year later, the satirist published fake stories alleging that he himself was the notoriously elusive anonymous British street artist.
In Horner’s most effective hoax in 2014, he broke a story on the National Report claiming Horner, aka Banksy, been arrested by an “Anti-Graffiti Task Force” for vandalism, conspiracy, racketeering and counterfeiting. The National Report, owned by Allen Montgomery, is of course one of the satirical (read: fake) news sites Horner wrote for. But before long other blogs and newspapers jumped on the news before fact-checking it, and the story spread. Fast.
Eventually, the art world realized the error of their ways and the publications who impetuously jumped on the Banksy bandwagon redacted and amended the false claims. Unfortunately, the right-wing readers who furiously read and shared Horner’s election-centric fake news stories never quite realized that, well, they were fake.
Horner himself believes these faux articles played a crucial role in Trump’s election.
Horner, who considers his work in the vein of The Onion, staunchly opposes Trump. He continued to post fake news articles, exaggerating right-wing mentality to absurd and nonsensical scenarios, hoping to bait Trump supporters into sharing the stories and looking ignorant as a result. Only that moment of revelation never came, and Horner’s plan backfired wildly.
“There’s nothing you can’t write about now that people won’t believe,” Horner said. “I can write the craziest thing about Trump, and people will believe it. I wrote a lot of crazy anti-Muslim stuff — like about Trump wanting to put badges on Muslims, or not allowing them in the airport, or making them stand in their own line — and people went along with it!”
Rather than exposing the foolishness of Trump supporters, Horner’s fake articles only exacerbated their suspicions and beliefs. Even still, Horner did not stop, mostly because he never really considered Trump could win.
“I didn’t think it was possible for him to get elected president,” he continued. “I thought I was messing with the campaign, maybe I wasn’t messing them up as much as I wanted — but I never thought he’d actually get elected. I didn’t even think about it. In hindsight, everyone should’ve seen this coming — everyone assumed Hillary [Clinton] would just get in. But she didn’t, and Trump is president.”
Now that both Google and Facebook are attempting to crack down on the unchecked fake news spreading across the internet landscape, Horner is glad to see sites with “no creativity or purpose” go. But he hopes his somehow make the cut.
It’s another bizarre scenario in which the art world and the presidential election overlap. And yes, a truly frightening one. Wherever the real Banksy is right now, I hope he’s preparing a scathing street-art takedown of one Mr. Paul Horner.
CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to make clear that Paul Horner did not own the National Report in 2014, he was lead writer. The publisher was ― and is currently ― Allen Montgomery. According to Montgomery, Horner was removed from the National Report staff in December of 2014.