Just as the corporate media have been smearing Donald Trump since he launched his successful run for the presidency, editors on Wikipedia have done the same. This has included a college professor at the beginning of Trump’s term pushing students to add attacks on the President, editors placing mocking or incendiary articles about him on the site’s front page, equating Trump with the Nazis, and advancing the Russian collusion and Ukraine “quid pro quo” smears that have dominated his Administration.
While many smear campaigns have been launched against Trump on Wikipedia, here are six of the most egregious or ridiculous efforts to denigrate the President:
1. Berkley editing course pushing anti-Trump agenda
Michel Gelobter, an instructor at UC Berkeley, created a course in January 2017 in which his students would edit articles on Wikipedia to advance “environmental justice” on the site. The course description characterized Trump as “a historically unique U.S. President whose agenda has been explicitly anti-environmental, sexist, and racist” and encouraged students to “create a neutral, well-documented record of the assaults on the environment and environmental justice expected to unfold early in the Trump Presidency.” While a group called the Wiki Education Foundation is supposed to oversee such courses, the inflammatory description was approved by them without alteration.
Though the course’s inevitable bias got Gelobter banned from the site and many biased articles and edits deleted, other biased content remained. Even after Breitbart noted this nearly a year afterward, most remaining material is effectively unaltered years later. Aside from several generally biased sections and articles, there are still also sections with slanted anti-Trump content. One section in the article on air pollution in the United States, originally titled “environmental injustices and the Trump Administration” before a rename, retains essentially the same material as when it was first added. This includes a line suggesting then-proposed changes by Trump on greenhouse-gas monitoring would “worsen the disproportionate spread of negative environmental health problems to neighborhoods of color throughout counties in California statewide.”
2. Placing an article mocking Trump on the front page
Later in 2017, an editor created an article on “Donald Trump’s handshakes” listing “notable” cases and was heavily expanded by editor “Sagecandor” with mocking and denigrating details. The page later appeared on Wikipedia’s front page in the most prominent part of its “Did you know” section. Its front page appearance generated 20,000 views, making it the second-most viewed page to appear in the section that month. One effort to delete the page failed when an extreme anti-Trump minority stalemated discussion with 40% opposition, which an administrator (a user with special privileges on the site) deemed sufficient to find no consensus under Wikipedia’s standards. Following Breitbart’s coverage of the incident, the article was deleted citing policies on articles about living people as a special exemption, despite still finding no community consensus for removal.
3. Comparing Trump to Nazis over his policies and criticism
Following comments Trump made in 2018 calling out attacks on farms owned by white South Africans and government plans to seize their land, he was added to a list of advocates of the “white genocide conspiracy theory” on Wikipedia’s article about the theory. Described then as “a neo-Nazi, alt-right, conservative, white nationalist, and supremacist conspiracy theory” in the first sentence of the article, the theory advocates list included many conservatives over their criticism of the attacks or mass-immigration policies in Western countries, often citing left-wing news outlets. While the page has undergone revisions and now merely calls it a “white supremacist” theory, Trump has received even greater focus in the article, including a full paragraph in its intro.
Another effort involved a New York IP address adding ICE detention facilities to Wikipedia’s “list of concentration and internment camps” over Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. Despite most sources not mentioning the labels, media hailed the move. Coverage prompted fights over the entry and its removal with restoration prohibited barring consensus. One year later, a D.C.-area IP address restored the listing, despite the same sourcing issues, after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pushed the “concentration camp” label. This time an administrator argued it was “long-standing” material and discussion should presume inclusion by default. Following a month of evenly-split discussion where supporters cited dubious claims of “Holocaust experts” supporting the label, another administrator claimed consensus favored the addition.
Editors also added conspiracy theories to the page on the white nationalist slogan the “fourteen words” claiming documents and press releases by the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services regarding immigration made coded references to that slogan and the Nazi slogan “Heil Hitler” citing left-wing outlets such as Salon and even Twitter posts. More recently editors cited Media Matters and a blog for a debunked claim on the page that Trump’s re-election campaign referenced Nazi concentration camp badges for political prisoners in a post about Antifa, despite the symbol being widely used by the far-left group.
4. Advancing Russiagate smears, while suppressing criticism
Once Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded his investigation of claims Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election and debunked them, editors began trying to spin the results to downplay his findings disproving collusion and those of Attorney General Bill Barr and deputy Rod Rosenstein that Trump did not obstruct the investigation. Editors also smeared and banned conservative outlets citing their criticism of the investigation. Fox News host Mark Levin was subject to a years-long smear campaign for his criticism and his allegations of Obama’s spying on Trump’s campaign as part of the investigation, since vindicated by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigation into a FISA warrant against Trump adviser Carter Page.
Some editors also suppressed exculpatory details regarding the Russia-related prosecution of Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. One editor arguing Trump’s DOJ was an unsuitable “fringe source” on the case, Paul Lee, regularly smears Trump on Wikipedia. Lee is the primary author of Wikipedia’s Steele dossier article, where he pushes discredited claims about Russia blackmailing Trump and both conspiring together in hacking the Democratic Party. Lee also maintains personal pages on Wikipedia smearing Trump, calling him “Putin’s Puppet” on one, a term Lee uses regularly on social media. A page created by administrator Guy Chapman discussing the Durham review of the investigation’s misconduct attacks the review as abusive, a scheme to help Trump’s re-election, and a cover-up.
5. Echoing Democrat narratives on Ukraine controversy
During the controversy over claims Trump pressured Ukraine into investigating Ukraine’s 2016 election interference and questionable Ukraine dealings by Joe Biden’s son, which led to Trump’s failed impeachment, editors actively slanted Wikipedia articles towards treating Democrats’ inaccurate claims as fact. Editors simultaneously refused to prominently mention the DOJ finding no criminal action by Trump and characterized Ukrainian interference and Biden corruption allegations as “conspiracy theories” with Chapman creating an entire page for that purpose where editors continue pushing these characterizations. The departure of Administration figures that advanced impeachment claims was painted on Wikipedia as a Trump “purge” in “revenge” for testifying. Administrators contrarily censored the name of the alleged whistleblower behind the controversy, despite sources considered reliable on Wikipedia reporting the name.
6. Spinning Black Lives Matter protests
On articles regarding protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody, editors focused disproportionately on criticism of Trump in sections about reactions to the protests and tried to link Trump’s press criticism to violence against journalists at the protests. Wikipedia’s Black Lives Matter group pushed several articles advancing their agenda onto Wikipedia’s front page, including one associating Trump’s statement “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” with historical racism. Another editor got an article on the front page regarding Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church after rioters set it on fire. The article called the visit a “photo op” and over-represented Republicans criticizing Trump over it.
Focus on Antifa involvement in the rioting and protests led to editors censoring mention of the group and claiming Trump’s administration was spreading “conspiracy theories” and “misinformation” about Antifa involvement. Censorship efforts included censoring mention of the Portland Antifa murder of Trump supporter Aaron Danielson from most articles. Trump approving of police using lethal force against Danielson’s killer was framed as supporting “extrajudicial killings” by one editor. On the Kenosha riots article editors noted Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot several rioters in apparent self-defense after they charged at him, once attended a Trump rally as they also claimed media were calling Rittenhouse a “terrorist” citing a Guardian article that states media actually avoided the term.
History of smear campaigns
Many editors involved in these smears participate in other smears of Trump. Sagecandor created numerous articles smearing Trump on various issues, including Russia, and was later banned after he was revealed to be a former administrator barred from articles on political figures. He was, at the time, engaged in another smear campaign against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Lee imported unaltered material from a polemic anti-Trump essay to a “Veracity of statements by Donald Trump” article. In the same essay, Lee suggested Trump had the Saudis kill Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and would kill more journalists if re-elected. Chapman argued editors supporting Trump should be banned from Wikipedia claiming that believing Trump is a good president is proof they are not competent enough to edit.
Other smear campaigns targeted African-American conservative Candace Owens, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and right-wing media outlets later banned or downgraded on Wikipedia following discussions dominated by left-wing editors. Editor “Snooganssnoogans” participated in many smear campaigns against Trump and conservatives, including spreading hoax claims about Breitbart itself. Journalists often repeated said smears as evidenced by widespread media adoption of Wikipedia’s smears of the GamerGate anti-corruption movement in gaming. Pro-Antifa editors have smeared critic Andy Ngo and used those smears to help get Post-Millennial, of which Ngo is an editor, deemed “unreliable” on Wikipedia. Meanwhile, these editors defend left-wing media, politicians such as Kamala Harris, and groups such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter. This political bias is criticized by Wikipedia’s co-founder, but has not stopped media, academia, and Big Tech, from relying on the online encyclopedia.
(Disclosure: The author has previously been involved in disputes on Wikipedia with some parties referenced in this article)
T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.