In the build-up to the 2020 election a political conspiracy has resurfaced – Melania Trump, the First Lady, has a body double who stands in for her at official events.
The bizarre theory recirculated on social media three years after gaining prominence, after users commented on a photo of the First Lady smiling on board Marine One.
The baseless claim has gained so much traction that spokeswoman for the First Lady Stephanie Grisham has publicly denied the claim.
She said: "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."
Melania double theory origins
The theory that the White House was using a body double to replace Melania Trump was first raised in 2017 during Mr Trump’s first year in office.
A video of a sunglasses-wearing Melania standing with President Trump at a press event was shared by California man Joe Vargas on Twitter alongside the caption: “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.”
The tweet was retweeted 60,000 times, the hashtag “FakeMelania" gained traction, and a conspiracy theory was born.
— Ben Meiselas (@meiselasb) October 25, 2020
In the hours that followed Twitter became awash with earnest Melania truthers and ironic pot-stirrers making the most of the meme fodder, with both parties forensically comparing pictures of the “real Melania” and the “fake Melania”.
Since Donald Trump’s election, some have suggested that Melania is an unwilling part of her husband’s administration and conspiracy theorists have “filled in the gaps” in this narrative, insisting that the Secret Service have provided a body double to stand in for the Slovenian-born former model.
Official denial of the theory
Remarkably the theory has been acknowledged by some in the First Lady’s inner circle.
In a statement to CNN in 2017, East Wing spokesperson Stephanie Grisham vehemently denied the theory.
She said: “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."
Theory creator Joe Vargas, whose account has since been suspended, responded to Grisham’s claims, stating: “Of course the White House is saying the idea of a fake Melania Trump is not a real story. You think they're going to admit it?”
Jonathan Wackrow, a CNN contributor and former Secret Service agent meanwhile denied the theory, stating: “The United States Secret Service doesn't use body doubles."
During President Trump’s tenure the theory has resurfaced on so many occasions that the 45th President himself has stepped into the discussion.
Speaking in March 2019 he denied the accusation, stating: “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. They are only getting more deranged with time!”
But with Mr Trump’s first term reaching its climax, the theory persists, with thousands of Twitter users sharing a picture of a smiling Melania Trump, insisting that the First Lady’s stand-in has been recalled.