In addition to inviting leaders from traditional conservative think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and Claremont Institute, the White House has requested the presence of far-right internet personalities and trolls, some of whom have pushed conspiracy theories, lies and misinformation.
It’s perhaps the clearest example yet of President Trump legitimizing fringe political allies.
The White House has repeatedly declined to release a list people it expects to attend, but some of the recipients have turned to social media to boast about being invited.
Among them are Bill Mitchell, a radio host who has promoted the extremist QAnon conspiracy theory on Twitter; Carpe Donktum, an anonymous troll who won a contest put on by the fringe media organization InfoWars for an anti-media meme; and Ali Alexander, an activist who attempted to smear Sen. Kamala Harris by saying she is not an “American black” following the first Democratic presidential debates.
Other eyebrow raising attendees include James O’Keefe, the guerrilla journalist whose group Project Veritas tried to trick reporters at the Washington Post by planting a source who told the paper that she had been impregnated as a teenager by failed Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore; Charlie Kirk, the founder of the right-wing student group Turning Point USA who sometimes posts misleading information on social media; and Benny Johnson, the journalist-turned-activist who was fired for plagiarism by BuzzFeed and demoted at the Independent Journal Review for violating company standards.
Asked about the unconventional resumes of the people invited to the summit, the White House declined to comment beyond a statement released Tuesday. That statement, from spokesman Judd Deere, referenced an online tool the White House released in May for people to report instances of perceived social media bias.
“After receiving thousands of responses, the President wants to engage directly with these digital leaders in a discussion on the power of social media,” Deere said in the statement.
At least one of the individuals invited proved to be too far off in the fringe even for the White House. An administration official told CNN on Wednesday that the White House had rescinded its invitation to cartoonist Ben Garrison, who had drawn a cartoon widely condemned as anti-Semitic.
Deere did not return a request for comment seeking more information about Garrison’s invite being rescinded.
Garrison said in a statement that he had spoken to the White House on Tuesday and they had concluded his “presence at the social media summit would be a media distraction.” Garrison said he was “asked to remain silent about the whole thing,” but then the White House informed media about his invitation being rescinded, which he said “disappointed” him and prompted him to speak out about the allegations of anti-Semitism.
“It is obvious to anyone with common sense I am not anti-Semitic,” Garrison said in the statement. “I have received many emails of support from my Jewish friends. I’m not anti-Semitic merely because the [Anti-Defamation League] says I am.”
It’s unclear exactly what will take place at Thursday’s summit. The White House has declined to release any information about the event, including a general format of how it will be conducted or what is expected of attendees.
One person who plans to attend, who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity, said, “We’re not sure what to expect. We’re not sure if it’s going to even be about policy.”
“All I know is there is going to be a bunch of people in a room talking about social media,” the person added. “It could be just more general, it could be vague. You know the president will be there so it could go in a number of different directions.”
While the summit will include right-wing media personalities and people from conservative think tanks, it will not include representatives from the major social media companies. As first reported by CNN, neither Twitter nor Facebook received invitations to the event.
Claims of anti-conservative social media bias are nothing new. Republican lawmakers and conservative media personalities have for years lobbed claims of anti-conservative bias at Silicon Valley companies, whose employees tend to be largely left-leaning.
But Trump has poured fuel on the fire, attacking large technology companies on a regular basis and suggesting they need to be regulated by the government.
In a meeting earlier this year with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Trump asked about the number of followers he has on Twitter. The president has suggested, without evidence, that Twitter makes it difficult for his supporters to follow him.
Republican lawmakers in Congress have also held hearings over the past year in which they have questioned social media executives about their company practices.
Such hearings have often strayed far from being fact-based conversations. At one hearing last year, Republicans invited the pro-Trump social media duo “Diamond & Silk” to testify. The two women spent the hearing spreading misinformation about social media companies. At other hearings, Republican lawmakers have cited articles from sites such as the right-wing Gateway Pundit to make their points.