Read the Full List of Charges Against Trump
Plus: How a “demonic” conspiracy theory snowballed to the halls of Congress
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Former President Donald Trump was arraigned today in New York. Cable news has been all over this story, providing constant updates on the White Ford Bronco chase from Mar-a-Lago to New York. As reported in advance by Yahoo! News’s Michael Isikoff, Trump is facing 34 felony counts. The specific charge in each case is falsifying business records in the first degree; the indictment document details the specific illegal acts alleged for each count:
According to the New York Times’s Michael Gold, all of the charges are class E felonies, the “lowest category of felony offense in New York.” There is a maximum of four years in prison for each charge.
The former president will be able to have his day in court like any other American accused of a crime. (The case could also still be dismissed.) That said, Trump is not going to be treated quite the same as other alleged criminals during this process. Already, there has been no mugshot (which some campaign aides reportedly wanted to turn into merchandise, and then did with a fake mugshot), no perp walk or handcuffs, and no DNA taken.
Keep following The Bulwark for more analysis on this developing story, and if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to Bulwark+ to not miss anything.
How a Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory Went from an Online Troll’s Post All the Way to Congress
Amid everything, a mini news cycle came and went so fast that even some who pay close attention to online conversations missed it. The nutshell version: A rumor that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez runs a “demonic” anonymous Twitter account snowballed until it was finally shared by multiple Republican members of Congress. The episode was a case study for how MAGA nonsense can spread online from a totally random user all the way to the halls of power in just a few clicks and thumb-taps.
It started late last week when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quote-tweeted a video of herself IRL confronting Chaya Raichik, the person behind the right-wing troll account “Libs of TikTok.”
On Saturday afternoon—April Fool’s Day—Niko House, a right-wing troll with a fairly large online following, replied to AOC’s tweet with a non sequitur alleging the congresswoman “funds nazis and the Israeli apartheid.”
House’s reply also tagged a random account with the username “Zaza Demon” (@zazasmoka), who promptly responded, “Lol and what makes you think that i did anything to support nazis? You’re delusional. Seek help”. This is where the conspiracy begins.
Whether because of deliberate misreading or inattentiveness, House interpreted Zaza’s defensive reply as evidence that @zazasmoka is Ocasio-Cortez’s secret burner account (an pseudonymous secondary Twitter profile that some use to monitor online conversations from which they’d normally be blocked, or, in some cases, to express opinions they would not want to share using their real name). The fact that he had tagged Zaza in his reply—possibly by responding to her retweet of AOC’s video—didn’t matter for his interpretation, even though it would have been natural for his original tweet to read like an accusation directed at Zaza when it originally landed in the account’s mentions.
Naturally, the Zaza account began receiving an onslaught of attacks and accusations. Whoever he or she was, the person behind Zaza Demon eventually deleted the account, but not before other users had sifted through its past replies. There, they found tweets expressing approval of violence and wishing death on right-wing commentators such as the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh. Like many Very Online Liberals, Zaza appeared to spend a great deal of time in the replies of right-wingers defending Ocasio-Cortez. But far from being evidence that Ocasio-Cortez ran the account, this is simply behavior that is characteristic of a common type of politically engaged Twitter user.
That didn’t stop the baseless accusation from spreading and spreading. The claim that Ocasio-Cortez was behind Zaza Demon was passed up the chain from trolls to right-wing influencers until it finally reached Marjorie Taylor Greene. She amplified it to two million followers from her official House account.
It didn’t end with Greene, either. Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn tagged Ocasio-Cortez in a stern tweet about the anon account, writing “denouncing hate and violence shouldn’t be hard.”
During this fracas of insinuation, the conservative Daily Wire ran a story about the “mystery account” that related it to Mitt Romney’s amusingly named online alias, “Pierre Delecto,” which was uncovered by Slate in 2019. Romney’s account had only tweeted 10 times, and those posts were all fairly harmless replies, like the one where he (Pierre Delecto) told Washington Post columnist Jen Rubin to “take a breath” when she called him (Mitt Romney) “spineless.”
Ocasio-Cortez has so far ignored the accusations. Her spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
I also asked Greene’s office why she would so flippantly and baselessly accuse a colleague of running a hateful burner account. In a reply, her spokesman angrily questioned my motives, but he did not address any of my questions.
While the allegation about AOC’s ownership of the Zaza Demon account is silly, the whole episode illustrates the network dynamics that make it possible for conspiracy theories to spread like wildfire online. It also offers a handy case study of Greene’s conduct in Congress. Publicly accusing a colleague of some heinous act without first checking to see if the allegation is credible is what happens when a lawmaker considers their primary role to be creating content.