March 5, 2024

How Truth Social Could Be Weaponized By Donald Trump In 2024

Donald Trump called for top U.S. officials to be thrown in jail on Friday in a Truth Social post railing against Attorney General Merrick Garland and special prosecutor Jack Smith. And while that would be a strange thing for a former president to say during normal times, we no longer live in normal times.

“They ought to throw Deranged Jack Smith and his Thug Prosecutors in jail, with Meritless Garland and Trump Hating Lisa Monaco,” Trump wrote on Truth Social on Friday afternoon.

Anyone who utilizes even a little bit of imagination can see the next steps for Trump as we get closer to the 2024 presidential election. Trump needs to retake power through whatever means necessary if he wants to dismiss the federal charges against him. And Truth Social has the potential to be used by Trump in an unprecedented weaponization of social media to inflict real-world damage against perceived enemies. Truth Social, a Twitter clone launched by Trump in 2022, is the proverbial gun hanging on the wall in the first act of the play.

Why does Trump want people like Jack Smith, Merrick Garland and deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco thrown in jail? What laws did these people break? None, of course. But that’s beside the point. And while many people will brush off Trump’s ranting on Truth Social as mere bluster, stirring up his army of online followers could easily have real consequences in the weeks and months ahead. All you need to do is look at how Trump has used social media in the past.

When Elon Musk bought Twitter in October 2022, the billionaire announced an amnesty program for many people who’d previously been banned on the social media platform. Musk brought back musician Kanye West and neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes, two men who were banned for anti-semitic hatred yet again not long after their amnesty was granted. Musk also singled out Donald Trump as someone who was welcome to come back, despite the fact that the former president was banned specifically for inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Strangely, Trump hasn’t come back to Twitter—or X as Musk now wants to call the company—opting instead to stay on his own social media platform Truth Social. And there’s one very good reason for that decision. It’s all about control.

Trump was originally banned from Facebook on January 7, 2021, the day after his attempt to overthrow the government. The former president was also banned from Twitter on January 8, 2021, just a day later. Trump had used both platforms to whip up his followers in the days leading up to the insurrection and only called for “peace” after the physical damage to the U.S. Capitol had already been done. By getting banned on some of the biggest social media platforms, Trump lost an important megaphone. And he’s not going to make that same mistake next time.

Truth Social exists as an alternate universe for the MAGA faithful. There are ads about “woke” insurance companies and patriotic diet schemes—essentially bargain basement knock-offs of ads you’d see on more mainstream sites. But there’s also the main attraction; a man named Donald Trump who peddles lies about his various trials and tribulations every day. If you use Truth Social, you almost certainly joined because it’s the place where Trump is sharing his thoughts. There’s not much else going on within the walled garden of Truth Social. Trump is the beginning and the end.

Trump sends his messages on Truth Social daily, including some implicit threats about what will happen if he’s held to account for his crimes. Trump even warned of “death and destruction” in a Truth Social post back in March when it became clear he’d be charged in New York over alleged hush money payments to a porn star. If you’re using the platform, you believe that Trump is being unfairly prosecuted for simply having different political opinions than the current administration. You believe Trump when he falsely says he actually won the 2020 presidential election. And you’re hanging on every word, just waiting for instructions on how to “take the country back,” as Trump is fond of saying.

In reality, Trump has broken numerous laws that directly impact the safety and security of the United States. Trump willfully retained classified material and refused to give it back, even after a court order, despite giving conflicting accounts about whether those documents even exist at all. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Trump shared some of that classified material with people who weren’t authorized to see it at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club and that exchange is on tape.

“As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t,” Trump said on a tape recording from 2021 where he was allegedly showing visitors potential attack plans against Iran in the event of war.

The Department of Justice announced new charges on Thursday in that case, alleging that Trump not only obstructed justice by refusing to hand over all the classified documents he held, but also wanted the property manager at Mar-a-Lago to destroy video evidence of the documents being moved.

Arguably the most important in his laundry list of crimes against the country, Trump led an effort to stop the Electoral College vote count at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, a failed attempt to remain in power. And that’s where his use of social media tools could become a bigger issue as we get closer to 2024. Trump has been charged in a federal indictment that now includes 40 counts over the documents he kept at his Florida home, but we’re still waiting for the grand jury in the January 6th case to hand down an indictment. And after they do, Trump seems likely to become even more unhinged on social media, asking his followers to do increasingly dangerous things.

Truth Social is in many ways the app that has been envisioned by Trump’s supporters that could lead to another violent attempt to overthrow the government. Curtis Yarvin, a software engineer and far-right blogger who often writes under the online pseudonym Mencius Moldbug, explained back in April 2022 that he envisioned a kind of Trump app that could be used to mobilize his base for direct action.

“You don’t really need an armed force, you need the maximum capacity to summon democratic power that you can find,” Yarvin wrote at the time.

The Trump app would be able to collect, for instance, 80 million cell numbers and “notify people to tell them where to go and protest,” as Vox explained in an article about Yarvin last year. Trump would then be able to direct his followers to obey the orders of essentially a shadow government set up by the former president. With Truth Social, Trump seems to have the app that would allow him to pull off precisely that kind of coup.

Why does it matter what this Yarvin guy is writing? As Andrew Prokop has reported at Vox, Yarvin has the ear of many people in Trump’s orbit. U.S. Senator from Ohio J.D. Vance is a fan. And Yarvin was reportedly at the home of billionaire Peter Thiel on election night in 2016. Thiel, of course, worked for Trump when he first took power.

The more you look at how Trump is currently using Truth Social, it becomes clear how he could harness the freedom he has on that site to weaponize his followers against the U.S. government in a way that he wasn’t allowed to do on Facebook and Twitter after the insurrection. Because there’s nobody to cut off Trump’s social media microphone on a platform that he owns.

And whatever you think of Trump, the federal indictments that are piling up mean the 45th president may actually face consequences for his actions for the first time in his life. While a self-pardon or a violent coup may have seemed like purely an academic exercise to some people before January 6th, there’s pretty much no question at this point that Trump is capable of anything. And he’s likely to use Truth Social as a way to pull it off.

It’s unclear what can be done about any of it, given the fact that roughly 30% of the country still supports Trump. But we can’t say we weren’t warned.

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