By Allyson Chiu / The Washington Post
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, screams as his head is lit on fire. Former President Barack Obama is smashed face-first like a battering ram into what appears to be part of a wooden pulpit. People with their faces replaced by the logos of news organizations such as CNN, NBC, Politico and HuffPost are brutally stabbed and shot.
At the center of the bloody rampage unfolding in the “Church of Fake News” is a man dressed in a dark pinstripe suit. President Trump’s head is superimposed on his body.
The graphic images are from a fake video that was shown during a pro-Trump conference last week at the president’s hotel and golf resort near Miami, according to The New York Times, which first reported on the video’s existence Sunday night. The clip has since drawn intense backlash from journalists and public figures who have decried it as “vile and horrific” and an “incitement of violence.” Many of the news organizations and people featured in the video have been publicly targeted by Trump, who is frequently criticized for his inflammatory remarks and anti-media rhetoric.
“This video isn’t funny,” former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke tweeted. “It will get people killed.”
The video, adapted from the scene of a church massacre in the 2014 film “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” appeared to be shared to YouTube in 2018 on a channel that posts similar pro-Trump content and has been linked to a meme-maker associated with a website called MemeWorld. The site’s creator, a user known by the internet handle Carpe Donktum, scored an Oval Office meeting in July with Trump, who reportedly welcomed him as a “genius.”
On Sunday, Carpe Donktum confirmed in a Twitter message to The Washington Post that “The creator of the video is, and will remain a contributor to my site MemeWorld.” Carpe Donktum declined to identify the video’s creator, citing concerns that the person may face online or in-person harassment.
Alex Phillips, organizer of the American Priority Festival and Conference, told the Times that the video was played at one point during the three-day event that began Thursday as part of a “meme exhibit.” The violent parody was included in a meme compilation that also featured Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign logo, according to the Times.
“It has come to our attention that an unauthorized video was shown in a side room at #AMPFest19,” a statement posted to the conference’s website said. “This video was not approved, seen, or sanctioned by the #AMPFest19 organizers.”
The statement went on to note that the conference “always has and always will condemn political violence.”
Phillips told the Times that the “matter is under review.”
In a statement to The Post early Monday, the Trump campaign distanced itself from the video.
“That video was not produced by the campaign, and we do not condone violence,” campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
People close to Trump, such as former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and Donald Trump Jr., were also scheduled to speak at the conference and told the Times they were not aware of the edited footage.
On Monday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted that Trump had not yet seen the clip, “but based upon everything he has heard, he strongly condemns this video.”
The video’s massacre scene opens with the Trump figure walking down the center aisle of a packed church. More than a dozen of the parishioners’ faces are covered by the logos of major media organizations, ranging from PBS to The Washington Post. Rising out of the pews when Trump passes them, some of the churchgoers appear to be yelling at the president, whose face contorts into a scowl.
As the shouting intensifies, Trump abruptly stops walking and turns to face the angry mob. He pulls out a black gun from his jacket’s inside pocket and shoots a person edited to represent late actor Peter Fonda, who was a vocal critic of the president, in the head from point-blank range.
Then chaos ensues.
Trump takes down Bloomberg, Vox and “Fake News” in quick succession before shooting Politico. At one point, he grabs someone who represents the Black Lives Matter movement in a chokehold and shoots that person in the head.
After shooting MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, Vice News, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, and Slate, Trump tries to shoot late Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, but he is out of bullets. Instead, he uses his gun to deliver a vicious blow to the back of McCain’s neck.
The attack continues with Trump going after some of his most prominent detractors. He stabs actress and comedian Rosie O’Donnell and repeatedly punches Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California. He goes on to shoot MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and later assaults Hillary Clinton with a gun.
The video comes to a dramatic end when Trump jams a sharp wooden stake through the head of a person whose face is a CNN logo. A now-grinning Trump appears to survey the carnage as DJ Khaled’s song, “All I Do Is Win,” plays in the background. A pair of pixelated black sunglasses are lowered onto Trump’s face.
By late Sunday, “Kingsman” was trending on Twitter with many expressing outrage at the video and calling on Trump to condemn it.
“Sadly, this is not the first time that supporters of the President have promoted violence against the media in a video they apparently find entertaining — but it is by far and away the worst,” CNN said in a statement shared on Twitter.
The images in the recent video are “vile and horrific,” CNN said. “The President and his family, the White House, and the Trump campaign need to denounce it immediately in the strongest possible terms. Anything less equates to a tacit endorsement of violence and should not be tolerated by anyone.”
White House Correspondents’ Association President Jonathan Karl of ABC News released a statement saying the group “is horrified by a video reportedly shown over the weekend at a political conference organized by the President’s supporters at the Trump National Doral in Miami.”
“We have previously told the President his rhetoric could incite violence. Now we call on him and everybody associated with this conference to denounce this video and affirm that violence has no place in this society,” Karl said.
Karl’s statement was supported early Monday by Cindy McCain, who tweeted that the images in the video of the president killing the media and her late husband “violate every norm our society expects from its leaders.”
Trump has made it a habit publicly to lambaste the media, individual journalists and his critics, leading to heightened concerns about safety. In 2017, the president was widely criticized for tweeting a similarly edited video that showed him body slamming a person with a CNN logo for a face during a pro wrestling match. Earlier this year, Cesar Sayoc, a devoted Trump supporter, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for mailing 13 pipe bombs to high-profile Democrats, several of whom were featured in the recent video, and CNN.
On Sunday, journalists and political commentators suggested that the church video is further evidence that Trump’s words have influenced his supporters.
“This is an incitement to violence that didn’t just come from the dark corners of the Internet — it was shown at a pro-Trump conference at one of his resorts,” tweeted Politico reporter Andrew Desiderio. “I’m speechless.”
CNN commentator Ana Navarro-Cárdenas wrote, “Trump has legitimized hate.”
Brian Stelter, CNN’s chief media correspondent, tweeted, “Call someone an ‘enemy’ over and over again, and you have some responsibility for what happens to them.”
Actress Kathy Griffin, who drew widespread backlash in 2017 after sharing a photo of herself holding a prop of Trump’s bloody severed head, echoed concerns about the clip’s impact. Griffin, shown in the video getting beheaded by the ax-wielding CNN person, tweeted that it “isn’t a joke” to Trump supporters, adding, “And it will not be taken as such.”
Others wondered if the video represents, as one person put it, “the country hitting rock bottom.”
“We have enough mass shootings, we have enough journalists killed in the line of duty around the world — we don’t need to glorify a massacre of people who challenge Trump,” Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted. “This demonization of opponents and fetishization of violence is unconscionable.”
But some pushed back against criticisms of the video, pointing out that the film’s original scene, which depicted a church full of “conservative Christians” being killed, did not draw the same level of outcry. According to an NPR review of the movie, the congregation was “clearly modeled on the Westboro Baptist Church,” a Kansas-based organization known for its anti-gay views.