A Deep Dive Into the Deep State: Unpacking the Summer of Trump Conspiracy Theories

Three of the year’s best-selling books claim shadowy forces in the U.S. government — and Hillary Clinton — are to blame for the ongoing Russia investigation

There was never any collusion, and if there was, that’s not a crime. What there was, in fact, were two FBI agents, high off malice and the malodorous fumes of their illicit sexual affair, sending thousands of texts that show them conspiring to clear Hillary Clinton of criminal charges, in a desperate attempt to get her elected, and then, when that failed, turning their efforts towards framing Donald Trump. And not just two FBI agents: the broader intelligence community made sure that Trump entered office with an albatross strapped firmly around his neck. They used a discredited dossier to get a warrant to surveil Trump and his associates, and they used the thin evidence of that surveillance to institute a criminal probe, led by a man with so many conflicts of interest he should have never been appointed at all. And all that was due to the workings of the Deep State, whose agents are with us even today, striving mightily to finish their dark work.

That is, anyway, the version of events according to a large chunk of the right wing of the United States. The key element here is the “Deep State,” which, despite what the events of the past few months might indicate, is a real term with a real meaning beyond the fever dreams of Fox News. It’s typically used in countries where the military appears to be working in secret to undermine democratically appointed leaders. But, as the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller lingers on (and on and on), Trump and his supporters have become ever more convinced, it seems, of the existence of secret machinations within the U.S. government (the use of the term “Deep State,” according to Google Trends, started to spike in December 2017). In many ways, what the Trump campaign termed The Swamp during the election has morphed into a fiendishly clever, multi-pronged enemy of the president. Under its hydra-like thumbs, the members of this shadowy force are willing to undermine American democracy in order to thwart Trump’s populist revolution and the danger it poses to the global elites.

The Deep State is also the subject of a bumper crop of conservative books this spring and summer, each dedicated to explaining the phenomenon to Trump loyalists, who might be wondering by now why America has not yet become “great again.” (This desire to explain Trump’s struggles with governance also explains the popularity of QAnon, a now-famous conspiracy theory centered around the idea that the president is secretly doing a really good job.) Two of the new Deep State-oriented books are by Fox News personalities: Jeanine Pirro, a former judge who hosts the network’s version of a legal analysis show, has produced Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy, while anchor and former lawyer Gregg Jarrett has written the similarly heated-sounding The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump. A third, far weirder entry comes from Jerome Corsi, the Washington Bureau Chief of InfoWars, who’s previously written for conservative-leaning conspiratorial sites like World Net Daily and Human Events.

It’s likely not an accident that all three books are appearing in advance of the 2018 midterm elections: all three are an attempt to build a case for continuing to trust the president, no matter what the lying media says or what the tainted Russia investigation might uncover. Conspiracy theories tend to arise in moments of upheaval, social change, real unrest; for the ruling party of this country, backing a sitting president, to engage in conspiracy theorizing is a signal that they know they have something very serious to lose, and are currently at risk of losing it. Thus far, Trump has tweeted appreciatively about both Jarrett and Pirro’s books; Pirro also tweeted a photo of herself and the president beaming in the Oval Office, a selection of MAGA hats laid out on the Resolute Desk and Trump brandishing her book like a tube of toothpaste recommended by nine out of ten dentists.

All three books are also essentially unreadable, powered not by a coherent narrative or fluid lines of argument so much as by a dense, shapeless mass of grievance that expands to fill hundreds of pages. Their outrage allows all three authors to get away with varying degrees of cognitive dissonance, bizarre justifications for plainly absurd statements and a few outright whoppers.

And yet, all three have their weird charms. Pirro’s book is by far the most readable, and her thesis the simplest: for “the judge,” as her fans insist on calling her, the Deep State and the Swamp are one and the same, a collection of evil yet bumbling Democrats and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (a villain in all three books, it’s generally agreed that Sessions is a spineless traitor who should be hung by his thumbs for recusing himself from the Russia investigation). In her version of events, both James Comey and fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe were part of a conspiracy, along with many others inside the DOJ and FBI, to get Clinton elected. When that didn’t work, the Trump-Russia inquiry was opened to get the incoming president impeached. The real scandal, according to Pirro, is that “they opened that investigation even though the only person who had colluded with the Russians was Hillary.”

Pirro is referring, in part, to the Uranium One deal, which she summarizes as: “20 percent of our uranium was sold to Putin with a $145 million kickback to the Clinton Foundation and a $500,000 speech fee paid to Bill by a Kremlin-connected company.” That is, you will be unsurprised to learn, a misleading recap. In fact, the 2010 deal allowed Uranium One, a Canadian company, to sell a controlling share to Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy agency. The deal had to be approved by a Congressional committee because it involved uranium mined in the United States. Clinton didn’t broker the deal and she couldn’t have stopped it; only President Obama had that power. And the claim that the Clinton Foundation profited directly from the sale comes from a book called Clinton Cash by right-wing author and frequent Steve Bannon collaborator Peter Schweizer. Investors in Uranium One did donate money to the Clinton Foundation, which the foundation indeed did fail to disclose, but there’s no direct evidence that influenced the approval of the sale. Nonetheless, Trump has called Uranium One “the biggest story the Fake Media doesn’t want to follow” — though the Times covered it extensively, in a curious collaboration with Schweizer — and “Watergate, modern age!”

Pirro’s larger point is that Clinton is truly guilty of everything that Trump is accused of doing by the Deep State — and only a corruption-addled intelligence community and a compliant lapdog liberal media keeps the public from learning the truth. Her writing style is fascinating for a few reasons, not least of which is her remarkable, seemingly inexhaustible level of invective. The book is like reading a long and unusually coherent Trump tweet; if they’re not referred to as a “traitor” or a “pervert” or “spineless” or “sloppy” (Steve Bannon) every foe is referred to as a LIAR, LEAKER, or LIBERAL. (All three words are helpfully capitalized every time they appear in the text.) A few people come in for special adjective-laden treatment: Hillary Clinton is, of course, the “high priestess of the Deep State,” and a “ruthless, profit-driven woman,” while James Comey is mockingly given the honorific “Cardinal” and referred to as “a six-foot eight-inch stuffed suit.”

But Pirro’s book is darkly enjoyable, too, for how it insists that everything is going great (“ISIS is vanquished,” she writes, absurdly; “There are historic peace talks on the Korean peninsula and we are moving towards a more mutually respectful relationship with China”). It also merrily ignores her numerous conflicts of interest. The fact that she ran against Hillary Clinton for the U.S. Senate in New York is delicately slipped in, for instance, as is the fact that Pirro dropped out of the race after just four months, trailing Clinton badly in both polls and fundraising, after releasing a campaign announcement so flubbed it became a viral video. And she matter-of-factly presents her own warm friendship with the president and his family without feeling an overpowering need to explain it, or even introduce them with much fanfare (Trump and Pirro know each other through1980s upper-echelon New York; in a 1999 interview, he conferred his highest female honor on “the judge,” calling her “sexy as hell.”)

Pirro also modestly underplays her continued role in the Trump ecosphere; the New York Times has described her as having emerged as “a force in a right-wing media effort to undermine the special counsel.” And not just a force on television: in November, she was granted a meeting at the Oval Office, where she reportedly raged against Sessions and Comey until Chief of Staff John Kelly made her stop, seeing that the President was getting riled up.

Instead of being introduced, then, the Trump family and current White House employees periodically pop into the text to deliver quotes about the perfidy of the press and the might of Trump. (Kellyanne Conway, for instance, stops by to sunnily praise Donald Trump for his “fairness… to the American worker who’s competing with the illegal immigrant for that job.”) Sometimes they score an own-goal, without seeming to notice. “Think about the campaign in the early days, when they say this Russia stuff happened,” Don Jr. helpfully explains. “We couldn’t have colluded to order a cheeseburger.”

Jarrett, the other Fox personality, has written a considerably more boring book, despite promising to reveal “the real story behind Hillary Clinton’s deep state collaborators in government” and expose their “nefarious actions” through the present day. That promise amounts to 286 pages of recapping every single bad thing the Clintons have ever been accused of doing (Uranium One is, again, mentioned dozens of times.)

The Clinton email scandal is connected because it too involves the FBI, James Comey and Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who sent text messages maligning Donald Trump to Lisa Page, the fellow agent with whom he was having an affair. The idea that the Clinton email investigation could be dropped, and the Russia investigation taken up just a few months later isn’t seen as coincidence, but conspiracy, a bit of revenge enacted by an intelligence community full of Clinton fans. After a full five chapters recounting Clinton’s crimes, Jarrett finally turns to Trump, focusing on the many injustices of appointing a special counsel at all, plus the further injustice of it being Robert Mueller, whom he and Pirro both accuse of being a Clinton ally.

“This is what abuse of power looks like,” Jarrett writes. “For the better part of two years, the FBI, U.S. intelligence apparatus, mainstream media, Democrats and eventually Robert Mueller and his team of partisans peered furiously into every obscure corner and crevice for some proof that Trump ‘colluded’ with Russia to steal the 2016 election.” Putting “collusion” in quotes isn’t an accident, but echoes Fox’s new party line: the president and his campaign didn’t collude with anyone, but if they did, it wasn’t a crime. “There is not a single statute outlawing collaboration with a foreign government in a U.S. presidential election,” Jarrett writes. (Working with a foreign power to sway an election would clearly be against the law.)

Jarrett is pretty straightforward about his sources, or rather the lack thereof: “Comey and the other participants in this hoax were not interviewed for the book,” he writes, proudly. “I doubted they would consent and distrusted their credibility.” But he still tries to keep things somewhat in the realm of fact. He strains to draw a link between Hillary Clinton not going to prison for her private email server and the rest of his subject matter without telling any outright lies, declaring that it is “likely no coincidence” that the Russia investigation began after Clinton was clear of criminal charges. (There’s a lot of phrasing like that, a lot of things that are “perhaps-ed” into being: “Perhaps the Clintons were adept at hiding evidence,” for instance, or perhaps the FBI “believed in the old Stalinist creed, ‘Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.’”) He doesn’t declare, like Pirro, that to deal with the FBI we should “cut off its head,” like the Mafia. Instead, more restrainedly, he writes that his analysis “indicates pervasive criminality across many of the sixteen agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.” Just that?

In the process of fulminating against federal prosecutors, Jarrett also achieves the unlikely feat of sounding surprisingly woke: “An individual of modest means is no match for the unbridled power and vast resources of government prosecutors,” he writes at one point. If he were referring to the thousands of Americans locked up for non-violent drug crimes, and not the president of the United States and his friends, he’d be on downright progressive ground.

The most fun of the three books is by Jerome Corsi, the InfoWars Washington bureau chief, whose entry is called Killing the Deep State: The Fight to Save President Trump. Corsi is a conspiracy theorist of the very old school; on Twitter, he spends a lot of time fulminating about “Satanic occultists” and denouncing the “globalist pedophiles” who “torture, brutalize and eat children.”

Killing the Deep State is more staid than that, sadly, confining itself to recapping many of the same Clinton-adjacent events that Jarrett covers, like Clinton’s email server, Uranium One and the fact that the Clinton campaign and the DNC paid intelligence firm Fusion GPS to do opposition research on Trump; Fusion GPS went on to retain Christopher Steele, the ex-MI-6 agent who then produced the Trump-Russia dossier. The real fun is looking for the places where Corsi’s more out-there ideas shine through, like icebergs rising up from the depths: in the introduction, he suggests that the CIA killed JFK. (A few chapters in, for no apparent reason, he also briefly revives some deep-cut discredited birther theories about Barack Obama, suggesting at one point that someone “breached” Obama’s passport information in 2008, “removing from it any information that could damage his eligibility to be president.”)

Corsi’s definition of the Deep State also differs from the Fox crew; for him, it’s a much broader set of foes: the IMF, international globalists, central banks, the Fed, “Antifa anarchists,” Black Lives Matter, pussy hats, political correctness, George Soros (obviously) and “memes” — which he mysteriously defines as a “narrative,” particularly one that’s untrue — the combined power of which he’s concerned will be our doom. (The Russia investigation is described as a “meme,” a thesis which doesn’t work no matter how many words you surround it with.)

It’s less of the Fox News vitriolic children’s book outline of the world, in other words, and more of the “wheels within wheels” style of the dedicated conspiracy theorist, a view that ascribes his villains with much more power, and gives their schemes global implications. In Pirro’s world, everyone is both stupid and evil; in Jarrett’s version, they are slightly less stupid and a touch more evil; in Corsi’s view, they have godlike reach in their plotting and near-omniscience. It’s his argument that we’re witnessing nothing less than a coup, but not just a coup for Clinton allies to seize power again: instead, he argues, we’re seeing the “globalist New World Order” scrabbling to maintain control. This isn’t just about who wins elections; it’s about the global enslavement of humanity.

Corsi is also willing to say more frankly what the Deep State is willing to do: after reminding us that the CIA killed JFK, he warns that they’ll do the same thing to Trump if they have to. “Should the Deep State fail to remove Trump from office through impeachment or a charge under the 25th Amendment that he’s mentally incompetent,” Corsi writes, “a CIA plan to assassinate Trump is the Deep State’s last resort.” (Corsi’s book is also the most touchingly low-budget: it’s riddled with typos and repeated quotes, and it contains the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in any printed book: an actual ad in the back, for a “simple heart test,” proffered by the far-right site Newsmax.)

There are yet more Deep State books to come, a continued low, rageful howl of victimhood that should carry right through the midterms and deep into 2020. This flurry of post-factual books printed to protect a corrupt presidency is not only a bizarre social phenomenon — the most powerful person in the world doesn’t usually need quite this much defending — but a particularly profitable one. Jarrett’s book has topped Amazon’s best-seller list since it came out; his publisher is HarperCollins, under its conservative imprint, Broadside Books, which allows a major publisher to make money from right-wing conspiracy theories while respectably siloing it at a safe-enough distance. Pirro got the same treatment from her publisher Hachette; her imprint is Center Street, and her book, too, is on the New York Times best-seller list: they are in fact numbers one and two right now.

The next entry is due in September, titled The Deep State: How an Army of Bureaucrats Protected Barack Obama and Is Working to Destroy Donald Trump, authored by former Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who resigned in May of 2017, citing a need for more money. “As nice as the salary is, I can’t afford to have two places and have a quality of life I’d like to have at this point,” he told Fox News in an interview. In place of his government job, Chaffetz signed on as a Fox News commentator and, soon, a Deep State expert, both of which are, evidently, a fine way to make a living in the weird times in which we live.

Anna Merlan is a senior reporter at Gizmodo Media Group’s Special Projects Desk. Her forthcoming book on conspiracy theories, Republic of Lies, will be published by Metropolitan Books in Spring 2019.