Poor Ivana Trump: even in death she hasn’t been able to escape her ex-husband’s drama. After being found dead at the bottom of her stairs in July, Donald Trump’s first wife suffered the ignominy of being laid to rest near the first hole of Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. Burying someone on a golf course is weird – even for a Trump – and theories immediately began to swirl. New Jersey exempts cemetery land from taxes, so was this a creepy form of tax avoidance? (Short answer: possibly, but it doesn’t make much business sense and seems unlikely.)
The Ivana conspiracy theories did not go gentle into that good night. Instead, they grew stranger and stranger, stoked by the feverish imaginations of #ResistanceTwitter: a collection of liberal activists who have built large social media followings by tweeting obsessively about Donald Trump. When the FBI raided his Mar-a-Lago home to recover classified documents, #ResistanceTwitter went into overdrive trying to find connections between Ivana’s death and Trump’s legal troubles. There is zero evidence that Ivana was cremated, but many high-profile #ResistanceTwitter accounts suddenly decided she definitely had been and, from there, concluded that Ivana’s casket must have been stuffed with classified documents. Jon Cooper, a Joe Biden superfan who has 1.1 million Twitter followers and whom Politico once described as “prone to outlandish statements that rack up retweets”, bears much responsibility for spreading this theory. “Seriously, is else anyone [sic) wondering – just a bit – what other stuff may be buried inside Ivana’s casket …?” Cooper tweeted on 9 August.
Nancy Lee Grahn, an actor with 184,000 Twitter followers, had similar suspicions. “Dear @FBI,” she tweeted on 10 August. “I know u don’t need advice from a soap star, but having been in 10 or 10k implausible storylines in my 37 yrs, may I recommend digging up Ivana. Clearly it didn’t take 10 pall bearers to carry a liposuctioned 73 yr old who methinks was in her weight in classified docs [sic].” Rude, Nancy, rude.
That was more than a month ago. Have the Ivana conspiracy theories now been laid to rest? No, they have not. Some #Resistance accounts are still demanding that the FBI dig up Ivana’s grave to check whether Trump hid documents in her casket. A few of those demands, I should note, may have started off as jokes. The problem with the internet, however, is that a gag can quickly take on a life of its own. In 2017, for example, the Guardian’s Marina Hyde joked on Twitter that Melania Trump had a body double: the impersonator did all the tedious work of being married to Donald while the real Melania flitted around having fun. This theory then got aired on Sky News and Good Morning Britain.
Jokes are more likely to take on lives of their own when they are somewhat plausible. Perhaps the wildest thing about the bonkers theory that a former US president hid classified documents in a coffin supposedly containing his first wife whom he buried on his golf course, is that you can see how people could believe it. Trump, after all, had unorthodox ways of getting rid of documents. According to the New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman, he sometimes blocked the White House drains by flushing documents down the toilet. (Photographic evidence of this was recently published). “It was an extension of Trump’s term-long habit of ripping up documents that were supposed to be preserved under the Presidential Records Act,” Haberman wrote. A commode one day, a coffin the next? You can see how people might believe that is what happened.
Let me be clear, though, that is obviously not what happened. #Casketgate should serve as a reminder that it’s not just the right that is responsible for spreading online misinformation; liberals are also to blame. I am as fond as the next person of speculating about the dysfunctional Trump family, but when you start demanding that graves be dug up, it’s a sign that things may have gone a little too far.