Glenn Beck, Steve King Go Conspiracy Crazy Over DHS Official’s Death

Will Sommer
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty

This week: 

  • Right-wing pundit’s death fuels conspiracy theories.
  • The_Donald’s Reddit meme cache on its last legs.
  • It’s CPAC time!

Pundit’s death sparks new conspiracy theories

The death of a former Department of Homeland Security employee last week has caught the attention of prominent conspiracy theorists, who are pinning it on none other than Barack Obama’s deep state agents. But so far, the people promoting the conspiracy theories—including Glenn Beck and Rep. Steve King (R-IA)—don’t really have any evidence that the death is even a murder.

On Friday, sheriff’s deputies in Amador County, California, found the body of Philip Haney, a former DHS employee, near an RV stop. While Haney’s death is still under investigation, a sheriff’s press release said Haney had suffered a “self-inflicted” gunshot wound. 

Haney, 66, had been briefly famous on the right as a DHS “whistleblower” during the Obama administration, appearing at a congressional hearing and on Fox News to promote his claims that Obama officials had squashed his investigations into Islamic terrorism in the United States. Since then, Haney had claimed he was on a “special covert assignment” against prominent Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a prominent Muslim-American Democrat. 

Even as all the evidence around Haney’s death points to a suicide, Trump allies in right-wing media and government were quick to claim he had been the victim of a sinister murder plot. On Twitter, King implied that Haney had been killed for speaking out against Obama. 

“He was a target because of all he knew of Islamic terrorist coverups,” King wrote. “He insured his life by archiving data that incriminated the highest levels of the Obama administration. Phil Haney didn’t kill himself.”

Fox News contributor Sara Carter tweeted that Haney had been “murdered.” 

Glenn Beck, now fully done with his attempted NeverTrump transformation and sliding anew into the crazed blackboard-theorizing Beck of the past, made dark insinuations about Haney’s demise too. 

“He didn’t kill himself,” Beck said, hunched over his microphone in a camouflage jacket. “No man who speaks like Philip Haney did goes off and kills himself.”

Of course, it’s not unusual for a mysterious death to be folded into a broader conspiracy theory—with the still-unsolved July 2016 murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich as probably the most prominent recent example. But it’s remarkable how fast prominent conservatives, including an elected official, have jumped to claiming that Haney had been killed in some elaborate murder plot. To a large degree, it reflects the mainstreaming of conspiracy theory thinking within the GOP and conservative media apparatuses. 

The Amador Sheriff’s Office, suddenly thrust into a situation where columnists are calling for an independent Justice Department investigation into Haney’s death, didn’t respond to my requests for comment. On Monday, the sheriff said the FBI was investigating Haney’s laptop. 

Haney’s death already appears to have some staying power beyond the usual internet news cycle. There’s already talk of a tantalizing stash of documents to drive viewers’ imagination, akin to Rich’s laptop or the deleted Hillary Clinton emails. In this case, it’s a thumb-drive of super-secret files Beck claims Haney kept on a chain around his neck. On Monday, Beck claimed he would tap Haney’s chest when he saw him to make sure the thumb-drive was still there. 

“I was feeling the thumb drive, because there were documents that he kept around his neck,” Beck said. “I only know what a few of them were. I wonder if that thumb drive was found on the body.” 

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Reddit memelords in winter

Reddit administrators are cracking down on the “The_Donald” subreddit, threatening the existence of what’s become both the most prominent pro-Trump site on the internet and a reliable source of memes for Trump’s Twitter feed.

Reddit brass have been at odds with The_Donald for years and made the forum harder to find last June after users advocated for violence against police officers. On Tuesday, they went further, ousting some of the subreddit’s moderators and declaring that new moderators will need to be “vetted” by Reddit administrators before they can run the forum. 

A Reddit spokesperson confirmed the moves in an email to me. 

“Reddit may intervene from time to time when moderators are consistently in violation of our Moderator Guidelines, which can include removing a user's moderator status,” the email reads. 

The_Donald’s users haven’t taken this well, turning the subreddit, briefly, into a home for memes aimed at Reddit administrators rather than Democrats. 

All of this likely means that The_Donald’s time on Reddit and its access to Reddit’s massive user base will soon come to an end. 

This won’t be the end of The_Donald as a pro-Trump internet community, though. Sensing that an outright ban is in the offing, The_Donald’s administrators have already set up a fallback site called “TheDonald.Win” and are encouraging users to migrate over. 

While TheDonald.Win looks just like a subreddit, it’s independently run—and thus beyond the control of Reddit’s administrators. Still, other right-wing groups that have been kicked off Reddit have struggled to gain traction with their own Reddit-style sites. QAnon believers who moved to another Reddit knock-off after their own Reddit bans, for example, have struggled to attract anything like the kind of Reddit-level user numbers on their backup sites. 

What to watch for at CPAC

I’m off to the Conservative Political Action Conference this week for the right’s annual celebration of all things Trump. But as with every CPAC, many of the more interesting stories about the direction of the conservative movement are taking place on the conference’s sidelines. 

CPAC should see the latest clash between the right’s white nationalist “groypers”—allied with prominent columnist Michelle Malkin—and conservatism’s more establishment elements, with the groypers holding a rival event nearby. CPAC seems to have taken a harsher line this year on credentialing right-wing characters—last year’s ban on anti-Muslim activist turned congressional candidate Laura Loomer is apparently still in place, and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes had his application for media credentials denied. 

Meanwhile, hapless conservative smear artists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman will be somewhere near CPAC for their annual botched press conference. Their angle this time is that the Roger Stone jury was hopelessly biased against him, based on some juror questionnaires they got their hands on. From what I’ve seen so far, though, this is going to be a flop. For example, Burkman and Wohl are focusing on jurors who said they watch MSNBC and CNN as “proof” that the jury was biased.

Even some events from within CPAC’s confines at Maryland’s National Harbor resort promise to really be something. 

Former Superman Dean Cain is staging a dramatic reading of the Peter Strzok/Lisa Page text messages. As one of the few people unlucky enough to have already seen this bit in person a few months ago in D.C., I can confirm that Cain’s mugging is as squirm-inducing as you could imagine.

And then, according to the schedule, there’s a “definitive rap battle” between capitalism and socialism. I’ll be tweeting through all of it! 

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