The lineup for President Donald Trump’s Social Media Summit was already bizarre enough before Ben Garrison got an invite.
Garrison, for the uninitiated, is one of the far-right’s favorite cartoonists whose work regularly features a buff, all-American Trump caricature standing up to some combination of Democratic lawmakers, the “Deep State,” and whoever the president is angry at on Twitter that week.
Garrison’s work often takes on a more outright bigoted tone. In 2017, he drew a cartoon featuring George Soros and the Rothschilds using puppet strings to control retired Gen. David Petraeus and then-national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster, which the Anti-Defamation League described as “blatantly anti-Semitic.”
According to Politico, on Tuesday, after Garrison’s former “artwork” resurfaced over the weekend, his invitation to the Social Media Summit was quietly pulled.
Man who drew a cartoon the @ADL calls “blatantly anti-Semitic” says he was invited to the White House for a social media summit https://t.co/Fzckv4rJbD https://t.co/nmH1zyCV7C pic.twitter.com/hvz4BpLNVt
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) July 6, 2019
Garrison would hardly have been out of place at the summit. Scheduled for Thursday, the lineup features a hodgepodge of conspiracy theorists, pro-Trump meme posters, disgraced “investigative journalist” James O’Keefe, and legislative trolls Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
Perhaps one of the more amusing invitees is Bill Mitchell, a fringe broadcaster from Florida who regularly praises Trump and is a big fan of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that top Democrats and, conveniently, all of Trump’s rivals are engaged in a massive worldwide plot to control the planet and sacrifice children to Satan. Mitchell has also regularly taken aim at George Soros, describing him as “guilty of seditious conspiracy,” and a “danger to America and the world.”
Mitchell, along with Gaetz and invitees from conservative groups like Turning Points USA and PragerU, will all likely use the summit to reiterate their baseless claims that they are being “censored” by Big Tech platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, and point to the belated efforts of these tech companies to crack down on hate speech from the likes of Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos and other white nationalist-friendly posters who were previously allowed to spread their bile unabated.
As The Verge noted, there is precisely zero evidence that conservatives are actually being censored online. That hasn’t stopped Trump from repeatedly claiming otherwise, of course. In an interview with Fox Business as recently as June, Trump claimed that the U.S. government “should be suing Google and Facebook and all that,” and that Twitter was making it “very hard” for users to follow him.
In April, Trump also met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, where he reportedly complained about his follower count. The President has nearly 62 million followers on Twitter currently.
It would be easy to dismiss the summit as just another presidential stunt, following closely on the heels of Trump’s largely rained-out Fourth of July celebration. But giving trolls full-fledged White House attention in the run-up to the 2020 election could become a serious problem, as it would further encourage them and others to spread the same sort of misinformation that thrived during 2016.
Last October, for instance, Gaetz falsely claimed on Twitter that a migrant caravan in Guatemala was being financed by Soros, who was later targeted for assassination by a Trump supporter. That same month, an accused gunman used similar logic (that Jewish financiers were supposedly bankrolling illegal immigration to the United States) as justification for attacking the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Eleven people were killed in that attack, and seven others were injured after the alleged gunman opened fire on congregants attending morning services and a Torah study session.