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'Circus show' summit: Trump delivers meandering speech to his digital army of supporters at the White House

Updated 9:22 AM ET, Fri July 12, 2019

New York (CNN Business) - For months, President Trump's biggest supporters have demanded that he and Republicans offer more than lofty rhetoric when it comes to combating what they perceive as anti-conservative social media bias. So, naturally, there was some initial excitement when the White House announced plans for a so-called "social media summit." It could have been Christmas in July, a real chance for the White House to outline a specific plan of action.

But, if attendees were hoping for a precise battle plan to emerge from the summit, they may have walked away disappointed. Speaking to CNN Business on the condition of anonymity because their employers had not authorized them to speak to the press, two attendees said that the event was light on substance. In fact, as one attendee put it, there was "zero substance."

Instead, those who attended were treated to what the second attendee described as a "circus show." Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor, kicked things off with a private interview of the pro-Trump social media personalities "Diamond & Silk." The commentary offered by the duo was described to CNN Business as an "unintelligible rant."

But Trump, not to be outdone, delivered perhaps the most extraordinary rant of the day after walking on stage to "Hail to the Chief." Rambling from one topic to the next, Trump touched on a slew of issues as he spoke before his army of online supporters. He discussed the stock markets, the census, his pardon of Scooter Libby, his hair, and hit on a number of other issues.

"They invited 300 people to sit here and listen to personal anecdotes and stories," one of the people who spoke to CNN Business said.

And that was all outside his commentary on social media. The President, who described himself as "technologically OK," spent an inordinate amount of time suggesting -- without evidence -- that there was a conspiracy to keep his following count and engagement low on Twitter.

"I used to watch it," Trump told attendees, referring to his followers. "It'd be like a rocket ship when I put out a beauty."

Trump, then added, "When I put out something, a good one that people like, right? A good tweet. It goes up. 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 was not clear if the President was talking about his follower count or his retweet count.

As he meandered at the podium, Trump did manage to vaguely threaten technology giants once more. He said that the White House would "be calling for a big meeting of the companies" to take place in the near future.

Seemingly caught off guard, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN Business when asked for comment, "Can't know what we'd do in response to a hypothetical invite to a hypothetical meeting." Facebook and Google declined comment.

However, even if the event might not have achieved anything substantial, it did help validate some of Trump's fringe political allies who spent much of the day live-streaming from the White House and posting continuous updates.

While the White House did invite a handful of lawmakers and leaders from traditional conservative think tanks, it also requested the presence of far-right internet personalities, some of whom have pushed conspiracy theories, lies, and misinformation.

Among them were Jim Hoft, the founder of the right-wing Gateway Pundit blog; Bill Mitchell, a radio host who has promoted the extremist QAnon conspiracy theory on Twitter; Carpe Donktum, an anonymous troll who won a contest put on by the fringe media organization InfoWars for an anti-media meme; and Ali Alexander, an activist who attempted to smear Sen. Kamala Harris by saying she is not an "American black" following the first Democratic presidential debates.

In some cases, Trump even singled out people in the group for praise. For instance, he commended James O'Keefe, the guerrilla journalist whose group Project Veritas tried to trick reporters at the Washington Post by planting a source who told the paper that she had been impregnated as a teenager by failed Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.

"Somebody said he's controversial," Trump said. "He's truthful."

Not everyone who wanted to attend received an invite, however. It's not clear if the White House invited any individuals or organizations that have been barred from major social media platforms to the event. InfoWars, the media organization infamous for peddling conspiracy theories, for instance, appeared to have been snubbed.

"Have any of the people who got invited to the social media summit actually been censored by social media?" wondered Paul Joseph Watson, an InfoWars personality.

Gab, a social media website favored by the alt-right, was also not invited, much to the company's dissatisfaction. It was also somewhat ironic, given that, according to one of the people who spoke to CNN Business, Trump behind closed doors encouraged conservatives to start alternative social media platforms.

"It seems," Gab said in a statement, "The White House has invited 'safe' z-list MAGA celebrates and cheerleaders, the great majority of which have never experienced online censorship or no-platforming at any level."

And artist Ben Garrison had his invitation rescinded after a previous cartoon he drew was widely condemned as anti-Semitic. Ironically, Garrison, who strongly denied harboring anti-Semitic views, said in a statement that he had spoken to the White House on Tuesday and had been "asked to remain silent about the whole thing." He said when the White House informed media about his invitation being rescinded it "disappointed" him, prompting him to speak out.


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