Backers slam Trump over Syria air strikes

A protest in New York against the US missile attack on Syria last week ordered by President Donald Trump as punishment for the Assad regime's suspected chemical weapons attack that killed 86 people.
A protest in New York against the US missile attack on Syria last week ordered by President Donald Trump as punishment for the Assad regime's suspected chemical weapons attack that killed 86 people.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Alt-Right leaders say he has ditched election pledge; others deny chemical attack occurred

WASHINGTON • Far-right backers of US President Donald Trump have rebelled after his order of a missile strike to punish Syria for a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed 86 people.

Bandying the hashtag #Syria hoax, leaders of the "Alt-Right" white nationalist fringe on Friday lashed out at Mr Trump for abandoning his election campaign stances.

Some denied that the suspected chemical attack took place. Others rejected the broadly accepted view that it was the work of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Instead, they blamed anti-Assad fighters like the al-Sham Front, formerly al-Nusra, for a so-called false-flag attack meant to be pinned on Damascus.

Still others said President Trump had fallen victim to the US "deep state", an ostensibly entrenched military-national security bureaucracy at odds with the new president's anti-Washington views.

"Anyone who claimed Trump had blind loyalty had a wake-up call today," said Mr Mike Cernovich, one of the movement's most prominent leaders, and known for popularising often unfounded conspiracy theories.

"We all know that Assad would not poison his own people," he said in an online video on Friday.

"We do know that the Deep State does want war with Russia, and they are using the Syria gas attack, which is a hoax, to start World War III with Russia."

Mr Alex Jones, whose Infowars website is a hub for the far-right movement but others allege is a wellspring of the "fake news" phenomenon, claimed that Tuesday's attack was launched by the Syrian opposition.

"Why would Assad do that when he is winning?" he asked in a webcast. Mr Jones argued that it was a ruse to force President Trump to fall in line with Washington's more traditional conservatives.

"If he gives in to this anti-Syria thing to prove he's not a Russian puppet, they're not going to stop. They are already saying Syria is his fault," Mr Jones said.

However, most mainstream conservatives endorsed Mr Trump's order to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian military air base to punish and warn the Assad regime. But the far right was angered over what it sees is an abandonment of Mr Trump's nationalist and isolationist campaign positions.

Ms Ann Coulter, a favourite pundit of conservatives, pointed to Mr Trump's 2013 tweets opposing any increase in US military involvement in the Middle East. "We should stay the hell out of Syria," said Mr Trump, then a property tycoon mulling over a White House bid.

On Thursday, Ms Coulter tweeted: "Those who wanted us meddling in the Middle East voted for other candidates."

"Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mid-east. Said it always helps our enemies and creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV," she said, referring to photographs of the 27 children killed in the chemical attack.

Such anger though did not extend to Breitbart, the news website formerly run by and still closely allied with Mr Steve Bannon, Mr Trump's anti-globalist White House strategist. Breitbart took a neutral stance covering the attack.

Mr Sebastien Gorka, a deputy assistant to Mr Trump, tried on Friday to rally the critics back to the fold. "It is essential for... those who voted for this administration to understand that the President in his fundamental outlook has not changed," he said on the radio broadcast of conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.

Meanwhile, anti-war protests took place in cities from New York to London over Mr Trump's retaliatory strike on Syria.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 09, 2017, with the headline 'Backers slam Trump over Syria air strikes'. Print Edition | Subscribe