In the days since Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was roundly criticized for failing to correct a supporter at a town-hall event who said President Barack Obama was a Muslim and not an American, attention has shifted to the man’s identity and, more precisely, whether he was actually a plant.
“We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims,” the supporter, wearing a Trump T-shirt, said at a Thursday town hall in Rochester, New Hampshire. “We know our current president is one.”
“Right,” Trump said.
“You know he’s not even an American. Birth certificate, man,” the supporter continued.
“We need this question?” Trump said, laughing. “This is the first question.”
Presidential rivals like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were quick to condemn Trump for letting the misinformation slide.
But almost as quickly, prominent media figures floated the possibility that the man was some kind of plant:
Any word abt the fool at the Trump rally? Sure sounded like a put-up–cartoon presentation, bad acting. Where/who is he?
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) September 18, 2015
We knew who Joe the Plumber was in 5 minutes. But the anti-Muslim questioner still unidentified? Come on. Someone call Kimmel.
— GregGutfeld (@greggutfeld) September 18, 2015
No one can track down the Trump town hall questioner and I would feel so much better about the country he really *were* a plant. Maybe?
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) September 18, 2015
By Monday, CNN’s Jake Tapper got in on the game:
Anyone have any idea the identity of the guy who asked Trump that question at that NH town hall? Some folks think he was a Dem plant–
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) September 21, 2015
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt also suggested Monday night on Fox News’ “Hannity” that the man was a “plant,” calling the incident a “fake controversy designed to embarrass Donald Trump.”
Over at Breitbart, Patrick Howley speculated that the man was the very same person pictured in a 2013 meme from the website aattp.org, which stands for Americans Against The Tea Party. What it would indicate if the Trump supporter were indeed the same man pictured in the meme wasn’t clear from Howley’s “exclusive.”
The Trump supporter’s anonymity fueled the speculation. A follow-up story identified one town hall attendee who was captured on camera reacting animatedly to the Obama-Muslim remark, but no outlet nabbed a follow-up with or was able to identify the man whose soundbite made headlines in the first place.
It’s clear from video of the event that the man said he was from “White Plains,” but there is no White Plains, New Hampshire. He also appeared to state his name before he said he was from “White Plains,” but the audio is garbled:
The tabloid television show “Inside Edition” went as far as to bring in an audio expert, Kent Gibson, to try to determine the Trump supporter’s name. Gibson told the show that the microphone simply didn’t pick it up.
The “Inside Edition” segment also noted that there used to be a gag on radio host Don Imus’ program featuring a character called “Bill from White Plains,” voiced by sportscaster Mike Breen.
But the incident may have comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s fingerprints on it moreso than Imus’, as Fox News host Greg Gutfeld suggested in his tweet above.
The host of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” had correspondent Jake Byrd go undercover as a Trump supporter at a Trump rally in Dallas just two days before the New Hampshire town hall. Byrd nabbed a seat right behind Trump in the American Airlines Arena, where cameras caught his “DTF”-branded cowboy hat squarely beside the real estate mogul’s navy-suited shoulder.
Earlier this month, Kimmel also had a little fun with a Public Policy Polling survey that found a majority of Republicans said Obama is a Muslim. The comedian sent a staffer out onto Hollywood Boulevard to ask random pedestrians whether they thought the President was a Muslim; the results were unpredictable and amusing.
So did Kimmel have a hand in the incident at Trump’s New Hampshire town hall as well? ABC didn’t respond to a request for comment from TPM.
Of course, there remains the possibility that the man from White Plains was just a run-of-the-mill Trump fan who migrated from the real estate mogul’s home state of New York to New Hampshire for the event. Considering that same PPP poll Kimmel used for his “Pedestrian Question” segment showed that a full two-thirds of Trump supporters believe the President is a secret Muslim, the most obvious scenario is also the most likely.
TPM illustration by Christine Frapech.