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Satan-worshipping pedophiles?

Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon buried his head in his hands Friday after Donald Trump reacted to his indictment with what appeared to be a glaring typo.

Trump had furiously responded to news of his legal trouble by seemingly misspelling “indicted” as “INDICATED” in one of his all-caps statements to social media Thursday. The indictment comes as Trump is investigated over a hush-money payment to a porn actor.

“When asked how he’ll plead, Trump wrote ‘nut gravy,’” Fallon joked on his show.

Two weeks ago, Donald Trump called on his supporters to protest against his expected indictment. Now it’s happened, how are they responding?

The news of Trump’s criminal charges spread like wildfire online but getting a complete sense of the conversations reacting to it can be hard.

By getting inside US voters’ social media feeds and joining the internet groups populated with Trump’s most devoted fans, we can better see how all of this is unfolding.

That’s where the BBC’s “undercover voters” come in – social media accounts belonging to five fictional characters from across the US political spectrum, based on data from Pew Research.

These five profiles give us a snapshot of what US voters are seeing on social media, both on mainstream platforms and in the recesses out of the reach of most of us.

After searching for Trump-related material on their feeds, three key themes emerge.

Trump supporters ‘sick to the stomach’

Let’s start with the mainstream, right-wing profiles.

For our right-leaning voters Britney and Larry, their feeds are dominated by pro-Trump messages.

Echoing the language of the former president, there are defiant statements about a “witch hunt” and how Democrats have “weaponised the legal system”.

These include tweets from Republican politicians, commentators and other pro-Trump accounts who are using this as a rallying call for his 2024 presidential bid.

Some accounts call for him to be reinstalled to the White House now and there is talk of supporters feeling sick to their stomachs.

News of the indictment has largely drowned out mention of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who could be Mr Trump’s biggest Republican rival if he runs.

That includes on our apolitical voter Gabriela’s feeds, where he’s been a key character in recent months.

Instead, she is receiving lots of posts supportive of Mr Trump and claiming this indictment is an “unjust” attempt to thwart his presidential bid.

Unlike Trump’s original post on Truth Social predicting his arrest, which called for protests, the posts these accounts are seeing have generally avoided direct calls to action.

‘Trust the plan’

On the sites like Telegram where Trump’s most committed devotees gather, there’s a different mood.

This is where the sprawling, unfounded QAnon conspiracy theory thrives – it says the former president is waging a secret war against elite, Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.

True to that, there’s much chatter of how the indictment is part of a plot by the so-called Deep State.

There are two competing narratives unfolding simultaneously in these channels.

The first involves angry and sometimes violent rhetoric directed at the government, along with cryptic calls to action. Messages include “Here We Go!!” and “Their turn is coming soon”.

Others refer to false claims the 2020 election was rigged and Trump was the rightful winner, explaining “see if we’ll stand against this fake government should Trump [be] arrested”.

The more extreme messages call for followers to “Kill the Deep State” but there is no visible evidence of plans to riot.

There is talk of pro-Trump rallies but the mood feels different to the US Capitol riots which was preceded by a social media movement rife with hateful language and calls for violent action.

The difference now could in part be explained by the other narrative swirling in these online circles – stay off the streets.

Several posting on Telegram fear there is a sinister plot enticing them to take action and be arrested. They say there is a bigger plan where Trump will emerge victorious – if they can stay out of trouble.

They’ve just made Trump the most “prolific political martyr in history”, one writes.

While the chatter on the main channels seems to be absent of specific calls to arms, there are smaller, private groups we cannot see where a very committed few could pose the greater risk.

Celebrations and doubts

Trump’s indictment is a huge topic of conversation on the left too.

Memes showing Trump in a prison jumpsuit behind bars appear at the top of the left-leaning voters’ feeds, moments after the news breaks.

Posts targeting the profiles belonging to Emma and Michael are celebrating his imminent arrest – several remark how “no-one is above the law”. But there are some niggling doubts too.

Several posts question whether Trump is being indicted for the right crime, given the gravity of other investigations he faces.

And some say that the way his base and the wider Republican Party are rallying to him could boost his presidential campaign. There are posts fearing the indictment will “backfire” by rousing support from those who might otherwise have been less committed.

But the conversation isn’t all about Trump on the left. Within a few hours of the indictment news, other issues like trans rights and criticism of Ron DeSantis start to creep in too.

Where can you keep up with the Undercover Voters? 

Americast logo
Americast logo

by Marianna Spring – BBC disinformation and social media correspondent

Listen to Americast on BBC Sounds and tune into BBC 2’s Newsnight for regular updates on what these profiles are recommended around major news events, and investigations into how they are targeted in the build-up to the 2024 election.

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