By Meagan Flynn,
Parker Michels-Boyce For The Washington Post
Outgoing Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) is condemning President Trump’s amplification of a false QAnon-linked conspiracy theory that then-President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden had Navy SEALs killed to cover up a plot involving an Osama bin Laden body double.
Riggleman, who last week co-led a House resolution condemning QAnon, appeared on CNN Wednesday night with Jake Tapper to continue sounding the alarm on what he described as dangerous, wildly fantastical conspiracies that could lead to violence — including the one Trump promoted on Twitter Tuesday.
The president retweeted an article pushing a fringe theory that Navy SEALs killed a bin Laden body double, rather than bin Laden himself, and that Obama and Biden had the SEALs killed to cover it up.
There is no dispute that Navy SEAL Team 6 killed bin Laden in a raid in 2011.
“It’s a dangerous tweet, and it’s the kind of thing we cannot do,” Riggleman, who lost to a challenger in a GOP nominating convention this summer, told Tapper. He noted that a YouTube video associated with the article Trump retweeted called for the hangings of Obama and Biden, the current Democratic nominee.
“That is the language of radicalization,” Riggleman said. “Let’s be honest, let’s use the technical term for what’s going on here: It’s bats— crazy.”
Supporters of President Trump hold up their phones with messages referring to the QAnon conspiracy theory at a campaign rally at Las Vegas Convention Center on Feb. 21.
An Air Force veteran with a background in counterterrorism as a contractor with the National Security Agency, Riggleman has emerged as one of the loudest congressional voices on the dangers of radicalization and the infiltration of fringe groups into high-level political discourse.
In an interview Thursday morning, he said it has been “sort of scary” that some have called him brave for criticizing others in his party for “flirting” with QAnon. Among those he has called out is Republican candidate for Congress and QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor-Greene of Georgia.
Members of both parties, Riggleman said, should be able to unequivocally denounce groups across the political spectrum whose radical conspiracies or beliefs can promote violence among followers or at protests.
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), who with Riggleman led the House resolution condemning QAnon, said he received death threats after the National Republican Congressional Committee ran a false ad saying that Malinowski supports child predators — a claim that echoes QAnon.
Riggleman said he, too, received death threats after leading the resolution, which drew the support of 225 Democrats and 146 Republicans. Seventeen Republicans and Rep. Justin Amash (L-Mich.) voted against the resolution, citing free speech concerns, and Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) voted present.
“I just think we have jumped the shark, crossed the Rubicon and now we’re on the crazy train about to run into the ice cliffs that guard the flat earth,” Riggleman said. “I think the flirtation with crazy comes with wanting to get votes.”
Trump has in the past been asked to condemn QAnon — a group that has frequently appeared at his rallies — but he has said he does not know much about the group except for that they support him, “and I appreciate that.”
He also has praised them as people who “love our country.”
“If he did research, if his staff did research,” Riggleman said, “they would see that what they were saying is actually so ludicrous as to be head-scratching and bordering on mentally ill.”
Perhaps the most poignant criticism of Trump camp has come from Robert J. O’Neill, who was a member of the Navy SEAL Team 6 involved in killing bin Laden.
“Very brave men said goodby to their kids to go kill Osama bin Laden,” O’Neill tweeted. “We were given the order by President Obama. It was not a body double. Thank you Mr. President.”