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Eric Trump mocked America's top general for running "sensitivity training" for the military while China tested nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles, at a conference attended by throngs of QAnon supporters and vaccine conspiracy theorists.
The son of the former president gave one of the strongest hints yet that Donald Trump was plotting a second presidential bid in 2024, telling the crowd: "I promise you we're gonna be back".
Speaking in Nashville, Eric Trump claimed America was in decline on the world stage and singled out General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for particular blame.
"China this week launched a hypersonic weapon that literally went around the globe several times in low Earth orbit [and] could carry nuclear weapons, and we, our generals, are sitting there talking about sensitivity training," the younger Mr Trump said.
He added: "Why aren't we focused on winning wars anymore?"
The Chinese missile test on 27 July saw a nuclear-capable glider enter orbit and then re-enter the atmosphere, performing some turns before reaching its target.
Gen Milley, who was appointed by the former President, has become a foil for Republicans' in the country's culture wars since he defended the teaching of critical race theory at the US army's West Point training academy.
Eric Trump and Roger Stone are headlining the ‘Truth About Cancer’ conference in Nashville this weekend, where conspiracies are flying. Speaker this morning talks about the One World government, the ‘Lucifer Room’ at the UN, Rockefeller, Kissinger, Bush - all the highlights. pic.twitter.com/sNKngXQi8h
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) October 23, 2021
Eric Trump, 37, was delivering the keynote address at a conference called "The Truth about Cancer" which featured leading figures from the QAnon conspiracy theory movement, in the latest example of the family's willingness to embrace disinformation groups.
His speech followed talks by some of the country's most high-profile promoters of vaccine disinformation, including the disgraced British former doctor Andrew Wakefield.
Mr Wakefield lost his licence to practice in Britain in 2010 over a discredited study suggesting a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
He was also joined by Scott McKay, a tomahawk-wielding QAnon conspiracy theorist who claimed powerful elites were "consuming 2.2 million kids every year".
Tickets for the three-day event cost between $197 and $997 and no coronavirus prevention measures were imposed.
Speaking in a crowded convention centre full of unmasked and seemingly unvaccinated supporters, Mr Trump accused Democrats of attacking individual freedom by forcing vaccine mandates "down [our] throats".
The Trumps have maintained a forceful presence on the political landscape amid fervent speculation that the former Republican leader will mount another run for the White House in 2024.
Mr Trump strongly suggested his father, 75, would run again as he told the crowd: "We're gonna take this country back."
The younger Trump promised to continue fighting to unseat Democrats ahead of next year's midterm elections in 2022, when the balance of power in Congress is up for grabs.
"We're gonna get them in 2022, and I promise you we're gonna get them in 2024," he said to cheers from the crowd.
In what has been called America’s “golden age” for conspiracy theories, the idea that a cabal of global elites is controlling the country is no longer a fringe theory.
The three-day event was a broad tent for purveyors of misinformation, with speakers often promoting contradictory conspiracy theories or peddling natural health supplements to treat a range of illnesses.
These seemingly strange bedfellows do have a common theme to rally around, said Jason Reifler, a political scientist who studies conspiracy theories.
"The people that they're speaking to have large levels of distrust in the system: distrust in expertise, distrust in authorities, distrust in government," he explained.
"These are the same things that contribute to support for QAnon and opposition to vaccines, or other forms of truther-ism. The core unifying element of that is distrust."
Analysts say this sharp decline in social trust has benefited Donald Trump, who has continued to fuel the country's political polarisation ahead of a rumoured re-run for the presidency.
“I think a lot of this is coalition management,” said Adam Enders, an academic at the University of Louisville. "He used his anti-establishment credentials and the dog whistling to conspiracy theories to wake up these people who hadn't been active in politics. It's important to keep these people fired up about things because they're going to support Trump."
Leading Republicans have done little to counter the trend. Mitch McConnell, the Republicans’ leader in the Senate, previously called conspiracy theories a “cancer” on his party - but he has said he would "absolutely" support Mr Trump, their most prominent disseminator, in 2024.
Other potential future party leaders have even backed Mr Trump’s disputed claim that the 2020 election was rigged - reflecting the views of many of their base - while more than 30 QAnon adherents are running for Congress in 2022.
"It really has moved from sort of fringe to mainstream. Trying to overthrow a democratically elected government in the United States would have seemed unthinkable five years ago, but yet it happened [on January 6]," said Prof Reifler.
The ongoing enthusiasm for Mr Trump was palpable in the crowded conference hall in Nashville's music valley, where flag-adorned supporters shouted their support for the former president and journalists from the mainstream media were persona non grata.
While conspiracy theories in politics are nothing new, data suggests the US is the only established democracy to undergo such a major decline in social trust.
The decline appears to correlate with the country's increasing political polarisation, often traced back to the late 1960s and the escalation of the Vietnam War.
According to the American National Election Survey, 56 per cent of Americans believed most people can be trusted in 1968. In 2021, public trust in government has fallen to around 24 per cent, according to the Pew Research Centre.
With partisanship at an all-time high in a divided Congress, some fear these entrenched positions may be heard to reverse.
Joe Biden alluded to the problem last week, when he said for: "half the Republicans: I am not your President; Donald Trump is still your President. As we Catholics say, 'Oh, my God'.”
The coronavirus pandemic has also become a lightning rod for disinformation, with false theories about its origin and fake treatments being spread by everyone from elected officials to uninformed commentators online.
Attitudes towards the pandemic fall sharply along political lines, with around 90 per cent of Democrats vaccinated against Covid-19 and just 58 per cent of Republicans.
Watch: Eric Trump criticises Joe Biden for spending time away from White House
The pandemic has exposed the virulence of America's anti-vaccine movement - a demographic bloc that Mr Trump and other Republicans have courted by championing the importance of personal liberty and medical freedom.
It has also "exacerbated" the socio-economic factors that drive such disenfranchisement, said Prof Enders, with stagnant wages and rising inflation increasing America's economic inequality.
Back in Nashville, the anger over the coronavirus debate was clear to see among conference-goers, many of whom had doubts over the pandemic's origin and the country's response.
One attendee proudly showed off what she sarcastically dubbed her “domestic terrorist” T-shirt which railed against mask and vaccine mandates with the slogan: “we do not co-parent with the government”.
Another wore a T-shirt reading: "Covid is a hoax".
While some said they had come to learn more about alternative treatments for cancer, many more said they had come to hear more about claims that vaccines are dangerous.
Keri Young, a 54-year-old homemaker from California, said she had fallen out with family and friends over her refusal to take the Covid-19 vaccine and her concerns about government overreach.
"My kids say 'mom's crazy', but there's a lot of good information here," she said.
Another put his position more bluntly. "Big pharma is trying to kill us and they're making billions of dollars in the process," said Eric, a construction worker in his 40s, who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym.
Perhaps it was Eric Trump who summed up their position best of all: "We just want to be left alone".