Over the last several days, a fringe right-wing narrative has been circulating alleging a secret plot among Obama administration officials and the CIA to protect Osama bin Laden and assassinate members of SEAL Team 6. The claims appear to have originated at a conservative conference last weekend and quickly spread across the internet, reaching President Donald Trump by Tuesday evening when he retweeted an unverified account affiliated with QAnon. This conspiracy theory is not the first time that the president has amplified fringe, far-right accounts, but it shows the speed that such false and baseless claims can spread on social media through the web of far-right outlets and fringe conspiracy theorists.
A conservative conference legitimizes a wild, Benghazi-related conspiracy theory
The claim seems to have originated from AmpFest 2020, a conservative conference hosted by American Priority and held in Miami during October 8-11. Charles Woods, the father of a victim of the 2014 Benghazi attacks, and Nick Noe, a conservative activist who has repeatedly pushed Benghazi conspiracy theories, gave a presentation featuring an interview with “whistleblower” Alan Howell Parrot, who claims to have worked for U.S. intelligence. Parrot alleges that the Obama administration made a $152 billion payout to Iran to cover up the truth about hiding bin Laden and the killing of SEAL Team 6 members. Similar conspiracy theories have circulated regarding the attacks and the Iran nuclear deal, and Trump even referenced some during the 2016 campaign. But all have been debunked.
As The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer explained:
Parrot claims that Biden cut a deal with Iran to set up Bin Laden’s 2011 death in Pakistan. But when Iran double-crossed the United States and switched in a Bin Laden body double, in Parrot’s telling, Biden and Clinton arranged for a Navy SEAL helicopter to be shot down to keep the truth about the raid from getting out— a reference to a real-world helicopter attack in Afghanistan that killed 38 people, including 25 Navy SEALs.
“Vice President Biden paid with the blood of Seal Team 6,” Parrot said in the video. “He spent their blood like currency.”
Later in the video, Noe claims that the Benghazi compound was attacked to cover up the fact that, supposedly, the missile used in the helicopter attack came from the United States.
“It’s just so wicked,” Parrot said in the video, adding that he has “terabytes” of evidence to prove the conspiracy theory to Trump.
The video clip containing the conspiracy theory appeared online
On October 11, conservative personality Anna Khait tweeted about the presentation alongside a video clip of Parrot’s claims, which went viral and currently has 1.2 million views. The next day, Khait tweeted a YouTube interview with Noe, including the hashtags “#BenghaziAintGoingAway #BenghaziBombshell.” Khait also tweeted out a YouTube video of a panel interview with Woods and Noe at AmpFest. Both videos received hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.
On October 12, YouTube conspiracy theory channel The Next News Network also published an interview with Khait on the new findings, which currently has nearly 2.9 million YouTube views. The story was further pushed by right-wing blog DJHJ Media’s Kari Donovan, QAnon-adjacent YouTube channel RedPill789, and dubious Iranian blogger Heshmat Alavi, who was recently reported by The Intercept as being a seemingly fake persona created by an Iranian opposition group.
The story circulated on right-wing YouTube, Twitter, and fringe blogs until Trump shared the post
On October 13, Donavan’s blog post was tweeted by user @The171111 alongside the claim that “Hiden Biden and Obama may have had Seal Team 6 killed,” which was then retweeted by Trump. The account, which also reportedly pushed QAnon content, has since been suspended by Twitter. Donovan and Khait both posted that Noe is releasing documents on Twitter that prove the conspiracy theory. Noe, on his part, sent out a series of disjointed tweets which supposedly contain audio transcripts from Parrot.
Message boards and QAnon supporters picked up on the wild claims
Throughout Tuesday, the story continued to spread in the fringe far-right ecosystem; it was pushed by QAnon influencer Praying Medic on Twitter, and multiple large 4chan threads on the far-right “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/.” Former Navy SEAL Craig Sawyer and Project Veritas “whistleblower” Ryan Hartwig both tweeted about the story. Former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney tweeted a link to the Next News Network interview, and QAnon account “Greg Rubini” -- who is actually “Gregorio Palusa, a 61-year-old Italian sound engineer and marketer with no national security or intelligence credentials” -- tweeted that he can “now officially confirm that Trump KNOWS: he has been informed of the whole thing, and given documents & files”; Rubini’s tweet got over 12,000 retweets and 26,000 likes.
On October 14, Khait published two more YouTube videos claiming to have 2011 audio recordings from Parrot discussing the conspiracy with others. Far-right accounts and message boards continued to push the story on Wednesday along with Trump’s amplification, which some took as proof of the story.
Hashtags helped the conspiracy theory spread between platforms
In addition to individual accounts pushing the story, the following hashtags flooded social media with claims about the conspiracy theory: #BenghaziAintGoingAway, #SEALTeam6, #OsamaBinLaden, #BenghaziBombshell, #Benghazi, #SealTeamSix.
This debacle is yet another example of the president of the United States promoting fringe conspiracy theories; Media Matters’ Alex Kaplan has found that Trump has promoted QAnon accounts on Twitter over 200 times throughout his presidency.