As a private citizen, Donald Trump eschewed any sort of intervention in Syria.
“We should stop talking, stay out of Syria and other countries that hate us, rebuild our own country and make it strong and great again-USA,” he boomed on Twitter in September 2013.
That “America first” philosophy energized far-right media to rally around his candidacy.
But that was before Thursday night, when 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched at a Syrian air base on Trump’s orders, days after images of people choking to death from a chemical weapons attack flooded international media.
Now some of Trump’s most ardent supporters — right wing media and pundits, to name a few — are split over his decision to attack the country where a civil war had raged since 2011.
“He seems to betray his statements and he’s betrayed the meaning of his campaign,” Richard Spencer, a white nationalist and founder of the term “alt-right,” said Friday.
Spencer, a staunch supporter of Trump throughout the election and into his fledgling administration, said in an interview that the president is “effectively risking a world war over people’s feelings.”
“He’s engaging in some sort of human rights dogma war. It’s insane,” said Spencer, who is reevaluating his support for Trump, adding that he is concerned about comments from the administration suggesting it may take other action against Syria in the future.
And he’s not alone on the far-right.
“He told us he would be the president of America, not ‘the world.’ Could somebody show him pictures of Americans raped & killed by illegals?” tweeted columnist Ann Coulter, who supported Trump largely because of his hard-line positions on immigration.
While Trump and U.S. intelligence officials have said they have no doubt that the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in an attack that killed at least 70 people, some of the president’s backers even questioned whether such an attack ever occurred.
Mike Cernovich, the far-right blogger who was among those touting the debunked “PizzaGate” conspiracy, which included stories about a nonexistent child sex operation involving Hillary Clinton at a Washington, D.C., pizzeria, urged his Twitter followers to begin the hashtag #SyriaHoax. (Some of Cernovich’s work has, at times, been touted by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son.)
“#SyriaGasAttack was sponsored by deep state,” Cernovich tweeted earlier this week, alluding to a non-existent, secretive, coordinated network inside the government dedicated to undermining the administration.
Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at the conspiracy theorist site Infowars, assailed Trump on Thursday night as a “deep state/neocon puppet” on Twitter.
“I’m officially OFF the Trump train,” he added.
Still, the U.S. attack has gained Trump plaudits from more mainstream Republicans he battled throughout the 2016 campaign.
“President Trump has made it clear to Assad and those who empower him that the days of committing war crimes with impunity are over,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a moderate Republican, said in a statement. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Trump “deserves the support of the American people” for his actions.
“Missiles flying. Rubio's happy. McCain ecstatic,” Laura Ingraham, a right-wing radio host who, tweeted. “A complete policy change in 48 hrs.”
In the hours after the attack, Trump, speaking before reporters, said the chemical attack was a “slow and brutal death for so many.” Trump added that “I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.”
Some on the far-right urged their listeners and readers, essentially, to take deep breaths and remain calm in the days ahead. President Trump, they say, really hasn’t changed all that much.
“Calm down, it’s OK, we’re going to be OK,” said the alt-right blogger Tim Treadstone, who works under the pseudonym Baked Alaska, to his 32,000 Periscope video followers. (He also has 155,000 Twitter followers.) “The great thing about Trump supporters, we are different, we are diverse.”
For his part, Treadstone said he did not support the air strikes.