Conspiracy theories aren't incidental to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, they're one of its driving forces.
The presumptive GOP nominee attacked his former rival Ted Cruz by baselessly connecting his father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, citing the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer. He brought up debunked claims about the 9/11 attacks to justify his call for the U.S. to commit war crimes by intentionally killing innocent civilians. He has stoked anti-Muslim sentiment by repeating bogus, chain-email-inspired stories about Muslim-Americans celebrating 9/11 and a U.S. general using bullets drenched in pigs' blood to -- in Trump's telling, rightly -- massacre Muslim detainees.
And let's not forget that Trump has for years been attacking President Obama by suggesting that he is a Muslim usurper who was born outside of the U.S. and had a Hawaii state employee killed as part of an effort to cover up his real birthplace. On top of that, he kicked off his presidential campaign by tarring Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and later tweeted a fabricated, racist meme about black crime rates from a neo-Nazi website.
Polling shows that Trump supporters are disproportionately likely to believe in conspiracy theories, including ones about vaccines and climate science that have been championed by the candidate himself.
It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that Trump has courted the support of some of the country's most extreme and, frankly, bizarre conspiracy theorists.
A new report from People For the American Way, "Trump's Team: The Bigoted, Unhinged Conspiracy Theorists Benefiting From Donald Trump's Campaign," takes a look at six radical pundits and preachers whose profiles the Trump campaign has elevated by inviting them to interview or campaign with the candidate.
This group of supporters includes pastors like Carl Gallups, who has promoted the disgusting claim that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged by government agents and that the parents whose children died were actually actors, and Robert Jeffress, who believes that gay people use "brainwashing techniques" to advance their "miserable lifestyle" and will "pave the way" for the Antichrist.
Another pastor who has been courted by Trump, James David Manning, has received widespread notoriety for his beliefs that "Obama has released the homo demons on the black man" and that Starbucks injects "semen from sodomites" into their lattes in order to spread Ebola.
Trump has shared the stage with all three at campaign events and has actively sought their endorsements.
He has also boasted about receiving the support of pundits Ann Coulter and Michael Savage, two far-right extremists who have taken credit for the candidate's draconian anti-immigrant stance and harsh rhetoric that demonizes immigrants as "killers" and "rapists."
And, probably most disturbingly, Trump has embraced Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist broadcaster known for regularly screaming about false flag attacks, chemtrails, alien overlords and homosexuality-inducing juice boxes. Trump, nonetheless, cited Jones' conspiracy theory outlet to defend his debunked claim that Muslim-Americans in New Jersey partied during the 9/11 attacks.
Not only has Trump appeared on Jones' show to praise the unhinged radio host's "amazing" reputation and spread his own conspiracy theories, but his close confidant Roger Stone has also become a frequent guest on Jones' program and is collaborating with Jones on an effort to intimidate Republican convention delegates who won't vote for Trump. In the project that they are calling "Days of Rage," Jones and Stone plan to hold rallies at the hotels where delegates are staying to stop them from "stealing" the nomination from the business mogul.
Jones and his ilk not only now have a presidential candidate from a major party who reflects and reinforces their paranoid and bigoted worldview. They also now benefit from a direct line to the leader of the GOP, who is happy to elevate their profiles and ideas.