Donald Trump’s so-called social media summit on Thursday was off to an inauspicious start before it even began.
Just as a rogue’s gallery of Trumpist lawmakers, far-right propagandists, conspiracy theorists and YouTube agitators gathered at the White House for a collective airing of grievances, Twitter experienced a sudden outage.
It was entirely unrelated, of course, but the hour-long respite served as a foreboding introduction to the already uncanny proceedings, which were, supposed to focus on Trump and the right’s imagined slights and suppression they believe is engineered by social media companies.
Here are some of the “highlights” of one of the most unusual gatherings ever at the White House:
The guest list
The guest list itself was enough to alarm most observers.
Alongside Trump loyalist politicians like Matt Gaetz, Dan Crenshaw and Josh Hawley was a who’s who of social media weirdos and villains. Among them were James O’Keefe, the video-manipulating propagandist, a “memesmith” known as Carpe Donktum, and Bill Mitchell, who advocates the mind-bending Q-Anon conspiracy theory that holds – among other things – that Trump is poised to arrest a swathe of high-profile Democrats for sex crimes.
“Bringing these groups together is beyond irresponsible; it is essentially conducting a hate summit at the White House,” the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement before the event.
Trump was nonetheless impressed with the talents of those assembled, for the most part. “Some of you are extraordinary,” he said. “Not all of you. But some of you are extraordinary.
“The crap you think of is unbelievable,” he said, in one of the few unimpeachably true statements of the day.
Trump’s rambling speech
In an hour-long rambling speech Trump ping-ponged through a series of lies and bizarre rants about social media companies’ “disgraceful” and “terrible bias”, made outlandish false claims about the census, Democrats’ positions on the border wall, Antifa, Chinese tariffs, the Golan Heights, the authenticity of his hair and other reliable Trump standards.
At one point, complaining that he should be able to include a citizenship question on the census, Trump described how he imagines the census-taking transpires.
“They go through houses, they go up, they ring doorbells, they talk to people. How many toilets do they have? How many desks do they have? How many beds? What’s their roof made of?” Trump said. “The only thing we can’t ask is ‘Are you a citizen of the United States?’”
In keeping with the real purpose of social media, which is unending, exasperating argument and confrontation, the day naturally ended with a blow-out. Wearing an American flag dress, Joy Villa lectured a group of assembled traditional media in the Rose Garden on the ins and outs of journalist ethics.
... in the rose garden of the @whitehouse, @sebgorka just screamed at journalist @briankarem calling him a "punk." then someone remarked that gorka could "kick your punk ass."— fake nick ramsey (@nick_ramsey) July 11, 2019
again, this happened... in the rose garden.
vid from @katierogers pic.twitter.com/F88NX4lWk7
Around the same time Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser to the president with white nationalist sympathies, got into a shouting match with the Playboy reporter Brian Karem. After exchanging words, Gorka stormed over to Karem as if a fight was about to break out. “You’re not a journalist, you’re a punk!” he shouted. The Secret Service intervened.
The president is in the middle of a long monologue about how he is not gaining as many social media followers as he used to. He is baselessly suggesting that there is a conspiracy.— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) July 11, 2019
Eventually wending his way to the actual topic at hand, Trump complained at length about an alleged plot by Twitter to reduce engagement on his posts, a common refrain from social media users on the right.
“People come up to me: ‘Sir, we want to follow you; they don’t let us on,’” he said.
“I have millions of people, so many people I wouldn’t believe it, but I know that we’ve been blocked.
“When I put out something, a good one that people like, right? A good tweet. It goes up,” Trump said. “It used to go up, it would say: 7,000; 7,008; 7,017; 7,024; 7,032; 7,044. Right? Now it goes: 7,000; 7,008; 6,998. Then they go: 7,009; 6,074. I said, what’s going on? It never did that before. It goes up, and then they take it down. Then it goes up. I never had it. Does anyone know what I’m talking about with this?”
It’s a good question.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘death’
During what was, again, a social media summit, the president meandered back to an old bit of personal pique, complaining about how Arnold Schwarzenegger had replaced him on The Celebrity Apprentice.
“Big movie star,” Trump said. “Well you know what? He died. He died,” he said of Schwarzenegger, who is in fact among the living (though it is likely Trump was referring to ratings plummeting after Schwarzenegger took over).
“I was there 12 years, 14 seasons, then they pick a movie actor and he dies on us,” he said.
At one point during Trump’s remarks a fly appeared to buzz by his head. Momentarily unnerved, the president swatted away the insect before recovering. “How did a fly get into the White House?” he joked. “I don’t like flies.”