Inside the bizarre conspiracy theory that has followed Melania Trump for the last four years

Graeme Massie
·5-min read
Fake Melania Trump conspiracy theory gets fresh social media enthusiasm (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Fake Melania Trump conspiracy theory gets fresh social media enthusiasm (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

It is the bizarre conspiracy theory that has haunted the First Lady since day one in the White House.

Now a new picture of Melania Trump has lead to a fresh round of frenzied social media speculation that the president uses a body double to stand in for his wife.

It was sparked by a picture of Ms Trump boarding Marine One at the White House as she and the president left for the final debate in Nashville, Tennessee.

Observers took to Twitter to claim that it was not actually her, and pointed to her teeth as evidence of a “Fake Melania.”

“That’s …SO not Melania. They didn’t even try,” said comedian Patton Oswalt on Twitter.

Theories of Donald Trump being accompanied by a woman who looks passingly like his wife go back to October 2017, when Ms Trump visited a Secret Service training center with the president in Maryland.

It was been suggested that a Secret Service agent who looks like her steps in for Melania when she does not want to attend an event or travel with her husband.

A Facebook post by comedian Andrea Wagner Barton in which she claimed a “decoy” had stood in for Melania has been shared by more than 136,000 people.

The Washington Post looked into the fuss and quickly debunked it.

“What’s particularly weird about this whole thing, of course, is that there’s no reason that Trump would want to have a stand-in for Melania Trump at this event,” wrote Philip Bump.

“Why would Trump/the White House go to the trouble of hiring someone to impersonate Melania, dress her up like the first lady and then hope that no one notices? What’s the perceived benefit?

“I’m sure that being first lady is, at times, a drag, but Melania Trump certainly didn’t have to make an appearance during a trip to a training facility in Maryland. There’s no reason to create a doppelganger.”

Ms Trump’s communications director Stephanie Grisham also quickly shot down the story.

"Once again, we find ourselves consumed with a ridiculous non-story when we could be talking about the work the first lady is doing on behalf of children,” she told CNN at the time.

Former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow, who previously served on first family detail, told CNN: “The United States Secret Service doesn’t use body doubles.”

“Ms Trump’s lead agent is a woman, and she happens to look a little like her, but physically she is much shorter,” he added.

The body double theory again surfaced in July 2018 when Ms Trump got off Air Force One in Brussels.

But the First Lady was irrefutably at the NATO summit with her husband and posed for unquestioned pictures with him on the trip.

The theory again emerged after the couple travelled to Alabama in March 2019 to survey tornado damage in the state.

The Trumps visited Beauregard, Alabama, to see the damage caused and stopped to pay their respects in front of 23 white crosses, representing the victims of the storm.

And again social media users claimed that Ms Trump had not been there, pointing to her hair, nose and height as evidence.

After the trip Mr Trump took to Twitter to fire back at the claims made about his wife.

“The Fake News photoshopped pictures of Melania, then propelled conspiracy theories that it’s actually not her by my side in Alabama and other places,” wrote Mr Trump.

“They are only getting more deranged with time!”

The White House later refused to comment on who the president was accusing of doctoring the photographs.

Later hosts of The View TV show took up the issue with Joy Behar, a critic of Mr Trump, rejecting criticism of the segment from conservative panelist Abby Huntsman.

“We’re not here to be better people. We’re here to have a good laugh,” said Ms Behar.

The First Lady’s spokesman, Stephanie Grisham, took exception to the segment and shot back at the show saying it “went beyond the petty mean-girl spirit we have grown accustomed to.”

“People died, people lost family, people are hurting in Alabama,” said Ms Grisham.

“I personally watched the president and first lady hug, listen to and comfort people who had lost everything – and the ‘ladies’ of The View instead chose to laugh and joke about a body-double conspiracy.”

Joseph Uscinski from the University of Miami is a political scientist specialising in conspiracy theories.

“I am not sure how popular this actually is as a theory, I have not polled on it but it doesn’t seem to me that actually a lot of people believe it,” he said.

“It is one of those things that pops up on the Internet and it is tough to judge from its appearance whether it is being pushed by true believers or not.

“It reminds me of the Illuminati conspiracy theories that seem to revolve around people like Kanye West and Beyonce, and people like that, and I wonder if people really believe they are members of some powerful world dominating group or if it just a joke or meme they enjoy engaging in.”

And he added:

“When you are only judging based on social media you cannot judge the sincerity of it, it is a real problem we have nowadays.

“We see things on social media and assume it is a sincere actor putting it there as an expression of their true beliefs when it may not be.

“The idea that Melania is fake or dead or there are multiple Melanias is interesting but it does not get us anywhere.”

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