It’s become a familiar routine by now: Trump supporters haranguing the press at rallies, booing them and screaming at them.
“Tell the truth!” and “CNN sucks!” have become staples at nearly every Trump rally. On Saturday night, a new and foreign accusation came to the fore: “Lügenpresse!”
The term, which means “lying press” in German, has a history dating back to the mid-1800s and was used by the Nazis to discredit the media. In recent years, it has been revived by German far-right anti-immigrant groups. And on Saturday, it made an appearance at a Trump rally in Cleveland, Ohio.
After the rally finished, one man approached the press pen and shouted insults, accusing the media of being in the tank for the Clintons and being “bought and paid for.” Another man, wearing a Make America Great Again hat and holding a sign with the same slogan, walked up beside him and began yelling at the press that we were “lügenpresse,” adding that the phrase means “lying press” in German. The first man started shouting it too, then turned to the second and made a self-deprecating remark about not pronouncing it right.
The traveling press was quickly hustled out of the venue and on toward the next rally; I didn’t have a chance to ask the man his name, or how he came across this term. I tweeted the video I shot of the two men and left it at that, not realizing how quickly and widely the moment would be circulated.
Richard Spencer, the white nationalist leader who is considered one of the leaders of the alt-right, was able to shed some light on this for me.
“I see ‘lying press’ and ‘Lügenpresse’ all over the place,” Spencer said in an email. “It’s typical Alt Right: serious... ironic... and with a sly reference to boot.”
Spencer said the term had been in use in American alt-right circles for “a year, at the least.”
The website Occidental Dissent, one of the nodes of alt-right online commentary, frequently uses the term, and the #lugenpresse hashtag on Twitter is fairly active and largely used by alt-right Twitter accounts:
Breitbart News reported favorably on the term in an interview earlier this year with the leader of the German far-right group PEGIDA, writing, “It will come as no surprise to many that the mainstream media would lash out against a word that highlights their own, intentional failings. But [Lutz] Bachmann’s PEGIDA has popularized the term to the point where it has become a pillar — even a rallying cry — for the nationalist, populist movements across the continent.”
A panel of German linguists, in response, named "Lügenpresse" the worst word of 2014.
The alt-right has been emboldened this year by Trump’s rise; the chairman of Breitbart News, who has spoken of his website being a home for the alt-right, is now Trump’s campaign CEO, and Hillary Clinton’s speech tying Trump to the alt-right launched the movement to new heights of notoriety. The embrace of a term like “lügenpresse” is, as Spencer says, classic alt-right; the proud “shitlords” of the movement take pride in embracing edgy terminology, the more anti-PC the better.
The fact that the term is now being bandied about at Trump rallies is yet another sign of the alt-right’s increasing influence, though it’s still unclear how many people actually identify as alt-right — the number is likely relatively small.
Meanwhile, the hatred toward the press among the larger population of Trump supporters grows increasingly pronounced nearly every day. In these final weeks of the campaign, at nearly every rally, Trump riles up his audience against the press as reporters sit in the media pen, easy targets for vitriol. Reporters disembarking the press bus at Trump’s rally in Naples, Florida, on Sunday, the day after the “lügenpresse” incident, were immediately greeted by boos and shouts of “Tell the truth!”