Paul Horner, a writer who trolled the nation with his fabricated news stories and claimed that he was responsible for Donald Trump’s election victory, died last week. The cause was a suspected drug overdose, the authorities in Arizona said Wednesday.
Mr Horner, 38, was found dead in his bed in Laveen, Arizona, on September 18, according to Mark Casey, a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
His family said he had been known to abuse prescription drugs, Mr Casey said, and “evidence at the scene suggested this could be an accidental overdose”. There were no signs of foul play.
Mr Horner’s fraudulent articles could be found on Facebook, various news domains that he created, and in years past, on the fake news website National Report.
Even his byline was fake. He often went by the name Jimmy Rustling, as he did on this story, in which he claimed protesters were getting paid $3500 ($4450) to disrupt Trump rallies.
That article, which was tweeted out by Mr Trump’s campaign manager, now has a taunting disclaimer at the top that says the story isn’t real: “I personally went to two Donald Trump rallies and I can say with 100% certainty that NONE of the protesters were getting paid,” the statement says. “This story I wrote is mocking all of you sheep who think protesters are getting paid.”
His domains, like newsexaminer.net and cnn.com.de, had names conveying a whiff of legitimacy.
On the former, a story surfaced appearing to be an interview with Mr Horner. He was described as a former Secret Service agent who had written a book to expose “the real truth” about Barack Obama. The fake story said that Mr Horner was “one-hundred-percent positive that President Obama is not only gay, but a radical Muslim as well.”
It was so widely shared that The Associated Press debunked it last year.
In an interview with The Washington Post in November, Mr Horner said he was the reason Mr Trump had been elected. The interview led to a round of media appearances.
“My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time,” he told The Post. “I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $US3500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.”
In 2013, one of his articles stating that President Obama would use his money to open a Muslim culture museum was apparently so convincing that Fox News reported on it.
Fox later apologized for the gaffe.
Mr Horner has been described as a hoaxer and a liar, but in 2014 he told The Washington Post that he was actually aiming to be funny.
“Do you know who Bob Odenkirk is? Saul in Breaking Bad?” he told the paper. “He is so funny. He just does the funniest sketch comedy – it’s really weird, and just ridiculous. I love that kind of humour … That’s what I want to do.”
– The New York Times