How Trump’s allies amplify his Truth Social messages to the wider world

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With the attention from Trump’s backers came threats and abuse — a torrent that compelled Greenfield to tighten security at home and avoid public transportation. When transcribed, the harassing voice-mail messages left for Greenfield covered more than 275 single-spaced pages.

Those concerned about the impact of Trump’s incendiary and often inaccurate messages have long sought ways to limit his reach. Cable news networks stopped airing his speeches live. Social media companies adopted new rules to slow the spread of false information. The targets of his bogus election conspiracy theories sued him and his proxies.

Perhaps the most significant move to limit Trump’s audience came after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol: bans on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, blocking him from some of the most influential social media platforms of the era.

And yet, three years later, a Washington Post analysis shows how those efforts have failed.

Now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Trump is as potent a political force as ever, with an army of amplifiers ensuring that his messages — true or untrue — reach a broad swath of the American public. He is set to face President Biden in November, with Trump running roughly even in national polls.

When Trump was initially suspended from the major social media platforms, he issued a statement: “We will not be SILENCED!”

He then created his own social media platform, Truth Social, where he would never be banned and which would allow him to profit financially from his own messages.

Former president Donald Trump is reflected in a mirror as he speaks to supporters in Laconia, N.H., on the day before the New Hampshire Republican primary. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Truth Social was estimated to have 5.4 million website visits in the United States in March, with another 800,000 on its app. By comparison, X, which was formerly known as Twitter, claimed more than 200 times that, with over 1 billion visits. Facebook is estimated to have had 3 billion visits in the same period, according to audience tracking firm Similarweb. Even though Trump has now been reinstated on the larger platforms, he has stuck with Truth Social, a platform that gives him greater freedom but a far more limited reach.

Yet despite its relatively small user base, Truth Social is influential because it sustains the networks of MAGA influencers, culture warriors and election deniers that power the right-wing media and guide the rhetoric and policies of many Republican elected officials. It directly connects Trump to influencers with enormous networks and audiences outside the platform, The Post’s analysis found.

The Post analyzed 14,101 of Trump’s posts from the day he announced his presidential campaign on Nov. 15, 2022, through March 15, 2024, including 7,716 original text posts as well as reposts and image-only posts. He posted to Truth Social, where he now has 6.96 million followers, an average of 29 times a day over that period.

Those messages were in turn shared by followers with wildly popular Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, podcasts and cable news shows, some of which reach tens of millions of people. The Post’s analysis focused on nearly 200 right-wing political influencers who have active accounts on Truth Social and other social media sites.

“The people around Trump know better than anybody how to spread a message,” said Stephen K. Bannon, a former Trump senior adviser and influential podcaster, said in an interview. They also benefit personally from their role.

Supporters of former president Donald Trump try to get his photo as he walks out to announce his bid for president at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Nov. 15, 2022. (Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post)

By “recirculating golden nuggets from Trump, influencers provide the bonding of this media ecosystem,” said Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor who has long studied propaganda. “The more outrageous and trolling of the libs it is,” added Benkler, “the more attractive it is for those who want to make money and get credibility inside the political community for being a true believer.”

Trump recently praised Truth Social for its effectiveness. “When I put out a statement or message, it is SPREAD all over the place, fast and furious. EVERYBODY SEEMS TO GET WHATEVER I HAVE TO SAY, AND QUICKLY,” he wrote on the platform in early April.

Shannon Devine, spokesperson for Truth Social, said in a statement that “since users can express themselves on Truth Social without censorship and without their message being filtered through biased media outlets, it’s unsurprising that Donald Trump would use the platform or that people would spread his statements elsewhere.” The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s biggest amplifiers include well-known political figures and media organizations, as well as those who have built their brands almost entirely based on their habitual echo of the former president’s words, The Post’s analysis found.

Influencers such as conservative radio and TV host Mark Levin, former Trump adviser and media commentator Sebastian Gorka, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, and online personalities such as Philip Buchanan, who posts using the handle Catturd, regularly share Trump’s Truth Social posts within the platform and amplify his messages to their massive followings off it. Levin, Gorka, Flynn and Catturd each boast over a million followers on X, and Levin and Gorka host popular podcasts. Levin, Flynn and Buchanan did not respond to requests for comment. Gorka responded by saying, “You are scum and a hack. Go to Hell.”

Sebastian Gorka greets supporters on the first day of CPAC on March 2, 2023, in Fort Washington, Md. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Former Trump national security adviser and retired three-star Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn greets visitors during the ReAwaken America Tour on Oct. 21, 2022, in Manheim, Pa. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Trump uses Truth Social to promote his campaign and personal brand, attack political rivals and solicit donations. He also makes false claims of election fraud, spreads far-right conspiracy theories and hurls vitriol at the judges, witnesses and prosecutors involved in his court cases. Posts that make claims of election interference, discuss his court cases or include aggressively insulting language, tend to get the most attention. Five of Trump’s top 10 most reposted messages involve election denial.

Early in his campaign, almost all of Trump’s election-denial posts focused on the 2020 presidential race. But after his first indictment in April 2023, Trump began alleging that prosecutors, by charging him, were interfering in the 2024 election. Around the time of his June indictment for mishandling classified documents, his posts on alleged 2024 election interference began to outnumber claims of 2020 election fraud, a trend that continued throughout the year, the Post analysis found.

On Aug. 14, when Trump was indicted in Georgia, he posted three messages equating the indictment with election interference. “THOSE WHO RIGGED & STOLE THE ELECTION WERE THE ONES DOING THE TAMPERING, & THEY ARE THE SLIME THAT SHOULD BE PROSECUTED,” he wrote in his typical all-caps style.

His language was repeated dozens of times in the two following days on right-wing media, podcasts and television. Internet personality Catturd posted a screenshot of Trump’s post to Twitter an hour later, where it garnered 150,000 views. That afternoon, Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.) wrote on Facebook and Truth Social that the justice system was rigged against Trump, ending the post with an allegation of “election interference!”

The phenomenon is a “steroidal version of political messaging,” according to Chris Stirewalt, politics editor at NewsNation and a former political editor at Fox News. “Trump says or does something egregious and the people who are currying favor with him say, ‘Well, let’s workshop this,’ and they share his message on their own account, but add their own twist.”

One of the reasons Trump has not regularly posted on X is that he wants to create and keep financial value for his Truth Social site, which he carefully tracks, according to people close to him who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

He has relentlessly tried to promote it, telling his advisers that he wants to break news on the platform to bring in more users. That focus paid off with an early, heady valuation of the company that peaked at more than $10 billion in late March, though shares in parent company Trump Media and Technology Group have fallen sharply since then.

Supporters use their phones during a rally in Erie, Pa., on July 29. (Dustin Franz for The Washington Post)

Trump has posted on X only once since leaving the Oval Office — his mug shot last year from an Atlanta jail, where he was booked on charges of trying to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

But “even though Trump had been kicked off Twitter, people like me can get out Trump’s message on Twitter,” said Mike Davis, a former Senate aide who helped guide the confirmation of Supreme Court justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Davis, who founded the Article III Project, a judicial advocacy organization, is a frequent podcast guest on shows hosted by influencers such as Charlie Kirk, Benny Johnson, Jack Posobiec and Bannon. He estimates that he’s done over 3,000 media appearances, “and that’s in addition to constant social media and writing opinion pieces defending Trump.”

Davis said that being kicked off social media is galvanizing for conservatives, and he would know. He has been suspended from Twitter five times. But each time, “it was the best thing ever, because then I would go on Fox News and talk about how I was being censored and that would build a bigger audience.”

An ideal testing ground

The day before the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Bannon hosted a “force amplifier” event for influencers to discuss the most effective ways to support Trump’s causes.

Truth Social is an ideal testing ground, Bannon said, because it provides a way to test a message among a relatively small group that can then pass along the most effective lines to a wider audience.

“This entire industry is predicated upon the Trumps of the world creating compelling content daily,” said Bannon. “From YouTube to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, the whole thing. People are making businesses and careers out of his content.”

A radio show is live-streamed as supporters of Donald Trump gather to watch election results following the presidential primaries on March 12 in Smyrna, Ga. (Megan Varner/For The Washington Post )

On July 27, new charges against Trump in the mishandling classified documents case were filed by special counsel Jack Smith. The following day, Trump wrote three posts on Truth Social referencing the “weaponization” of the DOJ or FBI, including one post that garnered over 8,400 reposts and 29,000 likes. The language quickly found its way off Truth Social.

“People are not stupid,” Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina said that night on Sean Hannity’s show, which typically reaches 2.3 million people. “As a whole, they are starting to understand that the weaponization of the justice system is full throttle right now.”

“This morning, I joined Fox and Friends to discuss the illegal weaponization of the DOJ against Joe Biden’s top political opponent,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) posted on her Facebook page, which has 360,000 followers, that afternoon.

Newsmax posted a video to its YouTube channel, which has 2.2 million subscribers, promoting an interview with former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who said the Biden administration had “weaponized the justice system in a shameful and disgraceful way.” (A Newsmax spokesperson said the network covers both sides of Trump’s trials. Guilfoyle said that the “censorship of President Trump is un-American, a total assault on the First Amendment.”)

Despite his frequent public complaints about how Fox treats him, Trump is also still amplified by its major prime time shows. The night he posted about the Georgia indictments, guests on the popular Hannity, Jesse Watters Primetime and Fox News @ Night shows, cited the indictments as evidence of election interference.

“For mainstream outlets, it’s the laziest kind of rage revenue because TV producers and web editors go out to find the posts that online rage merchants have already made,” said Stirewalt, who is also a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “And then you can bring it back to your more mainstream audience and say: ‘Aren’t you enraged by how enraged they are?’”

From anonymity to influencer

Some of the former president’s biggest boosters have built their identities almost entirely online, with no credentials beyond their instinct for amplifying his words.

Philip Buchanan, a 59-year-old living in the panhandle of Florida, is the person behind the social media personality Catturd. Buchanan began tweeting in 2018 as a so-called “Reply Guy,” someone with a small social media following who communicates primarily in the comments section of prominent users. Today, his X account boasts 2.4 million followers, including former Fox host Tucker Carlson, billionaire X owner Elon Musk, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Donald Trump.

Buchanan, who is behind the social media personality Catturd, has 2.4 million followers of his X account. (Screenshot from social media)

Buchanan’s interactions with Trump highlight how each benefit from the other. Through much of 2020, the Catturd account had featured pandemic-era jabs at Democrats, often with a scatological twist. But after the election, Buchanan — like Trump — became fixated on false claims of a rigged vote. Trump retweeted him three times that November.

More recently, Buchanan posted a screenshot of an April 6 Trump post on Truth Social attacking New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, who is presiding over Trump’s hush money case. “Trump just violated the gag order and dares the corrupt activist hack judge to put him in jail,” Buchanan wrote on X. He followed up with a flame emoji to express his appreciation for Trump’s stance.

Buchanan, whose identity was revealed by Rolling Stone and confirmed by The Post, has credited his social media fame with changing his financial life. In January, he told Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News personality who now hosts a show on X, that he bought a new truck, started a podcast and now sells a line of Catturd-branded merchandise.

A clerk under threat

The public scrutiny of Allison Greenfield began with a Wisconsin man named Brock Fredin, who unearthed the photo of the law clerk with Schumer. Fredin posted the photo on X, using the handle @JudicialProtest, and added a caption asking why she was “palling around with Charles E. Schumer?”

Fredin did not respond to a request for comment.

Days later, Trump took a screenshot of Fredin’s post, added a link to Greenfield’s Instagram account, and pushed the message out to his followers. His campaign sent out an email blast targeting Greenfield minutes later.

Although Trump did not directly threaten Greenfield, he clearly voiced his disapproval to his many followers. Right-wing influencers publicized Greenfield’s cellphone and social media accounts, and she scrambled to hide her personal information and that of her family. Court security directed her to stop taking the subway and instead travel by car.

Judge Arthur Engoron, right, sits on the bench with principal law clerk Allison Greenfield, center, during former president Donald Trump’s civil business fraud trial in New York on Nov. 2. (John Taggart for The Washington Post)
Laura Loomer speaks during protests against the indictment of former president Donald Trump outside the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami on June 13. (Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post)

Greenfield, who is now running to be a Manhattan civil court judge, declined to comment for this piece. But her experience was described in court papers and by Jerry Skurnik, a consultant for her campaign.

Trump’s post resulted in roughly 20-30 calls per day to Greenfield’s personal cellphone and approximately 30-50 messages per day across social media, Linkedln and two personal email addresses, according to court papers. The threats, many of which were sexist and antisemitic in nature, included several death threats.

Loomer was among those who focused attention on Greenfield, sharing Trump’s Truth Social message about the clerk to her nearly 1 million followers on X and proclaiming the case against the former president a “WITCH HUNT.” When reached for comment, Loomer said that “it is important for me and the MAGA base to be Donald Trump’s bullhorn,” a role that she said has only become more crucial since he has been subjected to multiple gag orders.

Once an appellate judge temporarily paused the gag order on Nov. 16, Trump lashed out again at Greenfield and Engoron on Truth Social. “His Ridiculous and Unconstitutional Gag Order, not allowing me to defend myself against him and his politically biased and out of control, Trump Hating Clerk, who is sinking him and his Court to new levels of LOW, is a disgrace,” Trump wrote.

Trump continues to attack several of the judges overseeing his cases, and recently flouted a gag order in his hush money case in New York by lashing out against two potential trial witnesses and the jury.

Trump said he would be “honored” to go to jail for violating the gag order. Instead, in late April, Merchan fined Trump $9,000.

The same day, Trump posted on Truth Social that the judge was “Rigged, Crooked, and above all, and without question, CONFLICTED.”

Loomer shared Trump’s post on X, and Catturd reshared the message to his followers, adding three fire emojis.

About this story

Design and development by Irfan Uraizee. Editing by Griff Witte, Anu Narayanswamy and Sarah Frostenson. Design editing by Betty Chavarria. Illustrations by Adrian Blanco and Emily Sabens. Photo editing by Christine Nguyen. Research by Alice Crites. Video editing by Michael Cadenhead. Copy editing by Gaby Morera Di Núbila.

Methodology

Data on Trump’s posting on Truth Social was gathered via Junkipedia. Analysis stretches from the date Trump formally announced his campaign, Nov. 15, 2022, through March 15, 2024. For posting frequency, reposts are counted; for all other analysis, they are excluded. Images, including images of text, were not included in the analysis.

To identify Trump’s top amplifiers, the Post examined 194 political influencers who posted at least 10 times each on other major social media platforms and Truth Social in the analysis period. To track narratives across the right-wing media space, the Post examined social media posts, podcasts, television shows and other public statements from thousands of high-profile right-wing politicians, commentators and influencers.

The Post identified election denial content by searching for content in which words, such as “vote,” “elect,” and “ballot,” were used alongside words associated with denial, such as “steal,” “fraud,” or “interfere.” To further identify content claiming election interference in 2024, the Post looked for messages that discussed the 2024 election or used the phrase “election interference” alongside the above words. The Post identified insults by searching for posts including derogatory terms or nicknames, such as “crooked,” “puppet,” or “DeSanctimonious,” and identified posts discussing his court case by searching for terms related to the cases or judicial system, such as “witch hunt” and “Georgia election.”

To determine which posts get the most attention, the Post analyzed the categories of posts which tended to get more reposts on the platform.

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