An American started a fake news website to see how ridiculous a story had to be before Donald Trump supporters realised it was untrue – and ended up concluding that some of them would believe absolutely anything.
Despite aiming to write stories no-one would believe, James McDaniel found Trump supporters who believed that Barack Obama had been plotting a coup from a secret bunker near the White House, and that the British singer Adele had demanded he be jailed for such treachery.
They believed that Obama had tweeted “Trump must be removed as president by any means necessary”, and when one commenter, ‘Truthseeker’, dared suggest the story ‘Obama ran paedophile ring out of White House’ might possibly be fake, he was told: “Really “Truthseeker” if you had ANY clue of the truth, you’d KNOW that Wikileaks hasn’t published ONE thing that has been false. So please use your own mind. Stop listening to MSM [mainstream media] and realize what the TRUTH really is.”
Another commenter, ‘Mary’, said caustically: “Truthseeker? Really … but the truth is bothering you?”
She then – apparently without irony – posted a link to the now notorious ‘Pizzagate’ fake news story, about an alleged a Democratic child sex ring in a Washington pizza parlour, which had prompted one credulous reader to walk into the restaurant with a semi-automatic rifle and open fire.
Mr McDaniel, 28, who is based in Costa Rica and works for an American nutrition company, said that within two weeks of him starting his website undergroundnewsreport.com, it had received more than one million visitors, and hundreds and thousands of likes and shares on Facebook.
He followed ‘Obama ran paedophile ring out of White House’ with a fake story about Wikileaks publishing an email in which Hillary Clinton supposedly urged the then president to restrict his child abuse to ‘the pizza arrangement’.
Despite the obvious reference to Pizzagate, Trump supporters responded by urging Julian Assange to reveal all his Clinton information immediately - because otherwise Democrats might distract the American people with “fake news”.
“This piece by piece,” commented one reader “Gave them time to regroup and start with the Russian fake news about hacking the Election.”
Mr McDaniel said his foray into fake news only made him $615 (£505), which he planned to donate to the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
He decided to come clean after seeing the furious, unquestioning reaction when he falsely alleged that actress Whoopi Goldberg had said Carryn Owens, the widow of a dead US serviceman, had been “just looking for attention” when she attended Donald Trump’s speech to Congress.
His confession came in the form of a story published on his website under the headline: “Breaking: Satire makes fools of gullible Trump supporters.”
“When I started this site,” he wrote, “I had no idea that the stories would garner this much attention.
“While writing them, I was aiming for stories that no one would believe, but rather would be satirical in an age where disinformation is so prevalent.
“Just for fun, I decided to post some of the stories in Trump fan groups on Facebook to see the reactions.
“To my surprise, the Trump masses embraced my stories as fact, almost universally. It seemed that there wasn’t anything I could write that was too wild or outrageous to be believed by this particular audience.
“If I wrote about CNN being fake news and connected to ISIS, readers would agree wholeheartedly with my fabricated article. If I wrote about a black liberal or Obama supposedly saying something controversial, the response was unbridled racism and hatred. When I wrote about Hillary Clinton’s new emails that proved she was a child sacrificing maniac, people screamed for her head.”
Writing after Mr Trump has himself accused mainstream media outlets including CNN of being “fake news” and “enemies of the people”, Mr McDaniel added: “It’s truly a frightening time when a group of people screaming, “FAKE NEWS!” at the top of their lungs, live, eat and sleep falsehoods.”
He has now added an update to all other items on his site, linking to his confession and advising: “Anyone who believes this story or any other story on this website needs to read this post.”