Conspiracy theories have proliferated on the right wing under President Donald Trump, himself a prominent promoter of fictitious and disprovable partisan myths. In recent weeks, a new and grotesque claim is gathering steam in the darker corners of the political conservatism that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is suffering from secret health problems or is even clandestinely dead.
Of course, the truth is that Ginsburg is recovering from surgery in December to remove cancerous nodes from her lungs — this isn't a secret, and it's been well-publicized. She has been absent from the court as she recovers, however, providing enough room for the conspiratorially minded to speculate wildly.
Last week, documentary filmmakers who worked on a movie about the justice told CNN that she "sounded strong and cheerful," was writing opinions, and is "continuing to stay on top of work."
But the nefarious rumors continue. Sebastian Gorka, a former White House staffer under Trump, is among the most prominent people to add fuel to the fire of the theory, tweeting a picture of Ginsburg with the word: "Still no sign. 6 days left until Ruth Bader Ginsberg has to make her official appearance at
@realDonaldTrump’s State of the Union."
"Seb Gorka is getting in on the conspiracy theory that Ruth Bader Ginsberg might be dead," noted Right Wing Watch's Jared Holt. "This guy used to work in the White House."
In fact, Ginsburg is not required to show up at the State of the Union, and justices have missed the speech before. If she doesn't attend, the conspiracists will surely jump on it.
The Daily Beast reached out to Gorka for a comment about the theories, to which he replied: “go outside and lick a metal street lamp.”
The Daily Beast noted that the Q, the poster behind the bizarre "QAnon" theories that propound that a secret unnamed source with high-level government access is revealing Trump's secret plot to jail his enemies, shared a message feeding speculation about her lack of public appearances. Other pro-Trump commentators have spread the idea without any basis in reality.
This kind of commentary is familiar on the right wing. During the 2016 campaign, there were rampant rumors about Hillary Clinton's supposed health problems. Many conservative conspiracists predicted she had only months to live. They seized on small bits of reality — Clinton's public bout of pneumonia, or her 2012 concussion — to extrapolate wild fantasies about her imminent demise. Such rumors vanished, of course, after Clinton failed to win the 2016 election and continued on living.
This habit of conservatives likely reflects the latent hope among conservatives that powerful, liberal women are deceptive and secretly too weak to maintain positions of authority.