Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gained national political notoriety in 2011, when he began aggressively pushing the “birther” theory ― the notion that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
That year, Trump announced that he had sent a team of investigators to Hawaii, where the president was born. “I have people that have been studying it and they cannot believe what they’re finding,” he said in an interview on NBC at the time.
But after five years of tweets, interviews and speeches floating the conspiracy, the real estate mogul recanted last week. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period,” he said.
Trump’s admission didn’t come with an apology ― nor did it prevent him from suggesting later that he’d only made the statement for political expediency: “Well, I just wanted to get on with it, I wanted to get on with the campaign.”
In the end, most Republicans won’t say that Obama was born in America. And while Trump’s birther claim remains one of his most conspicuous lies, the real estate mogul has, for years, spread numerous conspiracy theories as if they were undisputed facts ― some of which appear to have as much staying power as the birther myth.
Here are some examples.
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Trump is a firm believer
in the notion that vaccines cause autism, a theory that has long been debunked and traces its roots back to a retracted 1998 article in a medical journal.
"We had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day ... a beautiful child went to have the vaccine and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic
," Trump said at a Republican presidential primary debate last fall.
It was only one of many times the candidate has claimed that vaccines are toxic and can cause autism
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Trump likes to claim he saw things that didn’t happen, and perhaps the best example of that is when he said he watched thousands of people
in New Jersey celebrating after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down," Trump said at a rally in November. "And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering."
He also defended his comments in an interview the next day: "There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population
, that were cheering as the buildings came down."
No such footage exists. In fact, a Sept. 18, 2001 article by the New Jersey Star-Ledger pointed out, “Rumors of rooftop celebrations of the attack by Muslims
here proved unfounded.”
Calling in to a talk radio show just days after Antonin Scalia's death in February, Trump hinted that the Supreme Court justice was suffocated
in his sleep.
“Well I just heard today, just a little while ago, actually,” Trump said. “You know I just landed, and I’m hearing it’s a big topic, and it’s a horrible topic. But they say they found the pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow. I can’t tell you what, I can’t give you an answer.”Scalia was found dead
in his bedroom at a hunting resort in west Texas on Feb. 13, 2016. A judge pronounced Scalia dead of natural causes by phone, and law enforcement officers on the scene said there were no signs of foul play. He was 79.
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Trump is no stranger to tax audits. But in an interview with CNN in February, he theorized that the Internal Revenue Service may be auditing him because he’s a “strong Christian
“I’m always audited by the IRS, which I think is very unfair. I don’t know, maybe because of religion, maybe because of something else,” Trump said.
When CNN host Chris Cuomo asked what he meant by religion, Trump replied, “Well, maybe because of the fact that I’m a strong Christian, and I feel strongly about it and maybe there’s a bias.”
The GOP presidential nominee is currently being audited by the IRS, something he's cited as a reason for not releasing his personal income tax returns.
The IRS has already said that Trump is free to release the documents. The real estate mogul admitted earlier this month that he could release his tax returns “immediately”
if he wanted to. Trump's son, Donald Trump, Jr., suggested it would be a problem to have people "asking questions
” about the returns if they became public.
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Trump hasn't only questioned the president's birthplace. At a 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference, he insinuated that Obama didn't actually attend Columbia University
"Our current president came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere," Trump said. "In fact, I'll go a step further: The people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don't know who he is. It's crazy.”
Obama began his college career at Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1979 before transferring to Columbia University two years later. In fact, several of Obama’s classmates at Columbia
have publicly spoken about his time at the university.
But that didn’t stop Trump from pursuing the theory. In 2012, he offered to give $5 million to charities if the president released his college transcripts
and passport records. Nothing came of that stunt.
Usually, when a tabloid tries to spread an audacious claim about a politician’s family, presidential candidates ignore it.
Trump did the opposite when the National Enquirer published a story implying that Ted Cruz’s father
played a role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being — you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News. “What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. They don't even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”
Trump struck a nerve, and Cruz responded by calling Trump a “pathological liar
,” a “narcissist...straight out of a psychology textbook.” The Texas senator dropped out of the Republican presidential race shortly after the incident.
Trump revived the conspiracy
at the Republican National Convention after Cruz refused to endorse him, and has given no indication that he intends to apologize.
On Friday, Cruz announced he was endorsing Trump
@realDonaldTrump via Twitter
In addition to being at the forefront of the birther conspiracy, Trump has, for years, been trying to convince people that Obama is secretly a Muslim.
His first attempts date back to 2011, in an interview with Fox News.
"He doesn't have a birth certificate
," Trump told Bill O'Reilly. "He may have one, but there's something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he's a Muslim. I don't know."
Although the accusation is Islamophobic in itself — implying that there’s something wrong with being Muslim — the claim simply isn’t true. Obama is a Protestant Christian.
And although Trump has now publicly dropped his birther claims, which go hand-in-hand with the conspiracy theories about Obama’s religion, the suspicion has persisted in certain circles.
A Public Policy Polling survey released in May 2016 found that only 13 percent of voters who view Trump favorably believe Obama is a Christian. Sixty-five percent think he's Muslim
As California braced itself for another summer of forest fires, Trump told his supporters in May he was going to find a solution to their drought problem
-- but not before chalking it up to an elaborate government conspiracy.
"It's so ridiculous, where they're taking the water and shoving it out to sea," Trump said at a San Diego rally. "Nobody understands it. There is no drought. They turn the water into the ocean."
By “they,” Trump was referring to state officials. In California, water is diverted from farms to rivers so wildlife can survive.
Trump promised he would stop permitting the use of water for environmental purposes, although that would violate the state’s laws.
At the end of the day, California just doesn’t have enough water -- and there are plenty of studies
to show what parts of the state are too dry.
Conservatives have attempted to link top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin
to terrorism because of her heritage and her family's involvement with Muslim organizations. Donald Trump jumped on the bandwagon in April.
“You know, by the way, look at where she worked, by the way, and look at where her mother works and worked,” Trump said. “Huma Abedin has access to classified information
. How Hillary got away with that one, nobody will ever know.”
Abedin was born in the United States but raised in Saudi Arabia. She served as assistant editor of an academic journal called the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs
, which was founded by her late father and edited by her mother. According to experts on Islam, it’s far from radical
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Many Republicans don’t accept climate change as a fact. But Trump has taken it even further.
At one point, he called the phenomenon a hoax “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Trump walked back that claim
in an interview on Fox News in January, but he still called climate change “a very, very expensive form of tax.”Scientists overwhelmingly agree
that human activity is significantly affecting the environment, causing rising sea levels, global warming and heightened CO2 levels.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly
political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe,
racist, misogynist and birther who has
repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from
entering the U.S.