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Conspiracy Theory Follows Call For ‘Space Force’


Q: Did President Donald Trump call for the creation of a “space force” to fight off an “alien attack”?

A: No. The president did request exploration of a “space force,” but it is unrelated to extraterrestrial activity.

FULL ANSWER

On June 18, President Donald Trump called for the creation of a “space force” — a new branch of the military in addition to the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.

By that afternoon, a conspiracy theory website had combined Trump’s request with a made-up claim that the president had spoken with aliens and feared an “alien attack.”

Outlandish? Yes. But the site — called Truth Unsealed — is run by a man who has a YouTube channel with more than 60,000 subscribers and a website dedicated to peddling the thoroughly debunked “pizzagate” conspiracy theory. That infamous conspiracy theory drove Edgar Maddison Welch to take an AR-15 rifle into the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop in Washington D.C., where he fired shots on Dec. 4, 2016.

The alien story says in part:

Truth Unsealed, June 18: Since assuming office on January 20, 2017, Trump has periodically exchanged messages with intelligent extraterrestrial life forms who, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have provided him with advice and guidance on a multitude of issues including an impending attack from another world.

“They know he’s an excellent negotiator – probably the best our planet has to offer – and that’s why they’ve elected to speak with him,” Secretary Sanders told a handful of reporters during an off-camera briefing on Wednesday. While Sanders could not comment on the extent or frequency of the encounters, she said President Trump is ‘extremely humbled’ to be the first head of state to make contact with alien life.

Those two paragraphs are lifted, almost word-for-word, from a September 2017 story on a satirical website, Real News Right Now.

We spoke with Robert Shooltz, the 35-year-old who runs the website and wrote the satirical story under the pen name, R. Hobbus J.D. He explained that the idea behind it was to joke that the president would get policy ideas from aliens.  “It’s a silly thing,” he said.

Shooltz described himself as a moderate who leans left. He said he cast a write-in vote for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 general election.

Shooltz said he finds “it upsetting” when his stories that are meant to poke fun at public figures, such as Trump, get picked up and misused by other websites.

But, ultimately, he puts the responsibility of recognizing made-up claims on readers and he does not include a satire disclaimer on his website. Instead, he drops subtle hints that the site is a spoof, like listing the “Stephen Glass Distinction in Journalistic Integrity” among his awards — Stephen Glass was a writer for the New Republic who left the magazine in disgrace after it was revealed that he had fabricated many of his stories.

While most of the story on the conspiracy theory site was taken from Shooltz’s spoof, the part about Trump’s call for a “space force” is true.

Recognition of the importance of space for national security goes at least as far back as 2001, when a commission headed by Donald Rumsfeld — who became the secretary of defense that year — issued a report recommending extensive enhancement of the military’s operation in space.

“We know from history that every medium — air, land and sea — has seen conflict. Reality indicates that space will be no different,” the commission wrote in its report. “Given this virtual certainty, the U.S. must develop the means both to deter and to defend against hostile acts in and from space.”

More recently, since Trump took office, Defense Secretary James Mattis noted in his prepared remarks for his confirmation hearing that, “While our military maintains capable land, air, and sea forces, the cyber and space domains now demand an increasing share of our attention and investment.”

Also, in January, the Department of Defense issued its National Defense Strategy for 2018 in which it anticipated that space and cyberspace would become “warfighting domains.”

And, on March 13, the president floated the idea of creating a new branch of the military to focus on space during a speech in California, saying, “I was saying it the other day, because we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space; I said: ‘Maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the space force.’ And I was not really serious, and then I said: ‘What a great idea. Maybe we’ll have to do that.'”

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk false stories shared on the social media network.

Sources

Trump, Donald. Remarks by President Trump at a Meeting with the National Space Council and Signing of Space Policy Directive-3. Whitehouse.gov. 18 Jun 2018.

Trump: ‘Alien Attack Imminent’; Orders Pentagon To Create Military Space Force.” TruthUnsealed.com. 18 Jun 2018.

Welch, Edgar Maddison. Guilty plea. United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 24 Mar 2017.

White House Says Trump in ‘Frequent’ Contact with Extraterrestrials.” RealNewsRightNow.com. 14 Sep 2017.

Hiltzik, Michael. “Stephen Glass is still retracting his fabricated stories — 18 years later.” Los Angeles Times. 15 Dec 2015.

Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization. Report. 11 Jan 2001.

Mattis, James. Senate Armed Services Committee Nomination Hearing Statement. 12 Jan 2017.

Trump, Donald. Remarks to United States Troops at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. 13 Mar 2018.

Department of Defense. National Defense Strategy. 19 Jan 2018.

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“Trump: ‘Alien Attack Imminent’; Orders Pentagon To Create Military Space Force.”
Monday, June 18, 2018