Inside the Fake Melania conspiracy theory – Nicki Swift

Will the real Melania please stand up? Like any good conspiracy theory, it all depends on how much you want to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary. So what better conspiracy theory for people who think Melania Trump secretly hates her husband so much that she employs (or was replaced) a body double to appear with him at events? Enter the #FakeMelania conspiracy theory.

If you’ve spent even a modicum of time scrolling through social media during Trump’s presidency, you’ve likely seen photos and posts purporting that the First Lady isn’t the First Lady at all, but a series of women the Trump administration is trying to pass off as Melania Trump. Is it a true conspiracy theory or just some harmless fun? 

So put on your tinfoil hats and strap in as we go inside the Fake Melania conspiracy theory to discuss its origins, how it went mainstream, and where it stands today. 

The fake Melania Trump conspiracy theory all started in 2017

According to Vox, the fake Melania conspiracy theory got kicked off in 2017 when Joe Vargas, the owner of Buy Legal Meds, uploaded images of a clip that showed President Trump and a supposed fake Melania speaking to reporters at a Secret Service training facility. “This is not Melania. To think they would go this far & try & make us think its her on TV is mind blowing. Makes me wonder what else is a lie,” Vargas wrote in a now-deleted tweet (his Twitter account has since been suspended). “Let me save you some time from looking it up. It’s not her,” he wrote in another.

The tweets quickly went viral, and a conspiracy theory was born. Marina Hyde of The Guardian wrote a column two days later that says the conspiracy theory seemed to confirm her tweet that she posted before it began: “Absolutely convinced Melania is being played by a Melania impersonator these days. Theory: she left him weeks ago.”

While most of the tweets seemed to be making fun of a “truth is stranger than fiction” scenario, the fake Melania conspiracy was here to stay.

Is the alleged fake Melania just a Secret Service agent?

When the fake Melania conspiracy theory took off in 2017, the White House offered up an aggressive pushback. “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, including the opioid crisis that is gripping our nation,” East Wing communications director and Melania spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told CNN.

CNN’s Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent, claimed that the lead agent on Trump’s Secret Service detail is a woman who just happens to look like the First Lady. “Mrs. Trump’s lead agent is a woman … and she happens to look a little like her, but physically, she is much shorter,” he said. He added that “The United States Secret Service doesn’t use body doubles.”

Wackrow went on to say that the agent previously worked for the Obama family, so the Trumps wanted to keep things consistent.  “There are different dynamics in … both the optics and the response when it comes to comparing the President’s detail with the first lady’s,” he said. “Those are the sorts of details considered, not at all whether an agent is some sort of body double.”

Melania Trump's surgery fueled the conspiracy theory further 2018

On May 14, 2018, the White House released a statement revealing that “First Lady Melania Trump underwent an embolization procedure to treat a benign kidney condition” at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “The First Lady looks forward to a full recovery so she can continue her work on behalf of children everywhere,” the statement continued.

No big deal, right? Well, the conspiracy theory kicked up again after the First Lady wasn’t seen in public for 15 days and was missing from White House events that former First Ladies attended. According to The Washington Post, “medical experts have said the kind of procedure the first lady had typically requires only a night’s hospitalization,” while the White House offered no update on her condition.

The publication also reported that during a press pool, President Trump, when asked about his wife’s condition and whereabouts, said, “She’s doing great. She’s looking at us right there,” then pointed to a window in the White House residence. When reporters turned to look at the window, Melania wasn’t there. “She seems to be recovering well,” Trump said, then left it at that. Was that the end of the speculation? Spoiler: it was not. The media questioned Melania’s stay in the hospital, and others speculated that she had a secret surgery for completely different reasons.

Did Melania Trump have a secret surgery?

The White House finally broke their silence on Melania Trump’s absence from the public eyes with her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham telling Politico that the First Lady “had several meetings internally with staff” to focus on her Be Best initiative and to plan “the congressional picnic and Fourth of July.”

Grisham then addressed the conspiracy theories by calling them “silly nonsense” to be ignored. “Sadly, we deal with conspiracy theories all the time, so this is nothing new,” she said. “She is doing great. I wouldn’t characterize it as a long absence. She was hospitalized for almost a week and is now home and recovering.”

However, a few months later, in August 2018, some on the Internet believed, based on a photo, that Melania Trump didn’t have kidney surgery at all but rather had a secret breast enlargement. “Many are wondering whether that’s really what was going on in the Walter Reed Hospital. That’s because the First Lady stepped out in a pale pink top on August 28 looking a little different — and no, this didn’t have anything to do with the rumored body double that conspiracy theorists think she and husband Donald Trump … hired,” Hollywood Life reported. “Instead, it had everything to do with her chest, which looked way bigger than it used to in the tight tank. Is it possible that Melania actually had a boob job under the guise of getting kidney surgery?”

The Fake Melania conspiracy theory started up again in 2019

In March 2019, President Trump and the First Lady visited the tornado-ravaged Lee County in Alabama to survey the damage and to pay their respects to the 23 victims who lost their lives. Once again, the fake Melania conspiracy theory caught steam with the hashtag #FakeMelania appearing for the first time. “The recasting of Melania is the worst I’ve seen since they recast Aunt Viv in Fresh Prince #fakemelania,” one user wrote, accompanied by photos of Trump and Melania.

This iteration of the conspiracy theory is unique in that it was the first time President Trump issued a response. “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,” he tweeted. “They are only getting more deranged with time!”

Despite the fact these pictures weren’t Photoshopped, Trump’s acknowledgment of the conspiracy theory fueled it further and took it mainstream. 

The fake Melania conspiracy theory made it to The View

The photos of Melania Trump in Alabama made it to the roundtable discussion with the ladies on The View – and they had some thoughts. “Some people think the first lady is using an impostor to stand in for her,”  co-host Joy Behar began. “You mean there are two women who have to pretend they’re listening to him?” Once the photo was displayed, Behar added, “I wasn’t going to go along with this, but that one in that picture doesn’t look like her.”

Co-host Sunny Hostin seemingly agreed, stating that Melania is a “very tall statuesque woman” while the woman in the photo was short. Behar added, “When there’s a rumor like this, and memes all over the place, I think it catches on because there’s an element of truth to the idea that she doesn’t want to spend time with him.” Co-host Ana Navarro chimed in saying that the “political reality right now is so absurd, you would almost believe anything. I think this is crazy and it’s absurd, but it’s also funny,” before openly wondering if Trump was “a Russian asset.” Abby Huntsman claimed she didn’t care either way, and most of the roundtable agreed they were all doing it “in jest.”

Melania’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham responded to the segment in an email to USA Today, calling the hosts “sad” for discussing the conspiracy theory. “Yesterday’s show went beyond the petty, mean-girl spirit that we’ve grown accustomed to,” she wrote.

The Fake Melania conspiracy theory resurfaced in 2020

In Oct. 2020, Melania Trump was photographed smiling while boarding Marine One with President Trump to fly to the debate in Nashville. Melania? Smiling? Well, that was enough for the fake Melania conspiracy theory to kick back into high gear. Comparison photos quickly flooded social media and, once again, the #FakeMelania hashtag was trending.

“Swipe these two photos back & forth. Notice the two front teeth. Melania’s are more squared…THAT AIN’T HER in the other photo. #FakeMelania,” one user wrote in a post that contained side-by-side images of Melania smiling. Another user added: “Not even anywhere close to being convincing Melania doubles.”

Television director Zack Bornstein jumped into a conspiracy theory as well, tweeting: “The only thing I’ll miss from this administration is them swapping in new Melanias and just pretending we won’t notice like a 4-year-old with a guppy.” According to a report by CNN, after her husband lost the election, Melania Trump “just wants to go home” and is ready to leave the White House immediately. We expect the #FakeMelania hashtag to pop up in New York City and Palm Beach any day now.

Anthony Scaramucci alleged that Melania Trump uses a body double

Anthony Scaramucci, the former (and very brief) White House Director of Communications, appeared on the Australian game show Have You Been Paying Attention? in 2020, and the fake Melania conspiracy theory came up. When comedian Cal Wilson asked Scaramucci if there was “any truth” to the rumors, the former member of the Trump administration suggested that Melania actually uses a body double. “You know Michael Cohen, the President’s lawyer, insists that there is a body double and insists that actually her sister sometimes replaces her on the campaign trail,” he said (via Yahoo! Finance).

“Usually when you see somebody more affectionate with Mr Trump,” he said about the photo of the alleged fake Melania smiling while exiting the plane. “Let me put it to you this way, when he loses on Tuesday, I’m going to be a happy camper, but nobody is going to be happier than Melania.” It’s unclear if Scaramucci said all this for laughs or for clicks, but at the time of this writing, he has yet to offer any proof to his claims.

The fake Melania conspiracy theory is hurting the impersonation business

You’d think that after #FakeMelania became one of the biggest trending topics on social media, the Fake Melania business would be booming. Apparently, that is not the case. According to TMZ, Melania Trump impersonators are losing business partly due to the fake Melania conspiracy theory. The publication states that Michele Marzano, who usually charged $1,000 to appear as Melania, “hasn’t fielded a single request to be Melania during the 2020 election.”

Lauren LoGiudice, another Melania impersonator, thought her phone would be blowing up once the conspiracy theory made it into the mainstream, but found that “no one thinks a Melania bit is funny anymore” due to Melania Trump’s public comments.

Mira Tzur, who wrote the book Anonymously Famous about her career in print modeling, claims that people have asked if she is Melania’s actual body double but hasn’t received any job offers to impersonate the First Lady and chalks that up to there being no more intrigue surrounding Melania since the 2016 election. We assume real Melania body doubles wouldn’t say they were Melania’s body double. Checkmate, logic.

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