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Donald Trump Takes Conspiracy Turn After Orlando

Donald Trump suggested Monday that President Obama may have a secret agenda that prevents him from targeting Islamic terrorists.
Image: Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In San Jose, California
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on June 2, 2016 in San Jose, California.Elijah Nouvelage / Getty Images file

Donald Trump waded into the fever swamps on Monday, suggesting in two interviews that President Obama may have a secret agenda that prevents him from combating Islamic terrorists.

The comments added to a long list of conspiracy theories from the presumptive GOP nominee about the president’s religion, birthplace and worldview. They also sent a clear message to Republicans who have begged Trump to soften his rhetoric that he's not changing his ways anytime soon.

“Well, there are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn't want to get it,” Trump told NBC’s “TODAY” on Monday while discussing the attack that killed at least 49 people at a gay club in Orlando over the weekend. “A lot of people think maybe he doesn't want to know about it. I happen to think that he just doesn't know what he's doing. But there are many people that think maybe he doesn't want to get it. He doesn't want to see what's really happening."

The comments came shortly after another interview with Fox News in which Trump insinuated that Obama might be turning a blind eye to terrorism for shadowy reasons.

“He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands,” Trump said. “It’s one or the other, and neither one is acceptable.”

In the same interview he warned that “there's something going on” that explains Obama’s refusal to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.”

After spending last week fending off questions about Trump's comments on a federal judge's "Mexican heritage," GOP officials can now look forward to a week of questions about Trump's innuendo about Obama as well as his renewed call for a ban on Muslim travel, a proposal that Republican leaders have condemned in the past.

Trump voiced similar suspicions about the president -- who has overseen continuous military operations targeting terrorist groups in multiple countries throughout his presidency -- after an attack by a radicalized couple in San Bernardino last year that killed 14 people.

In a speech on December 3 to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Trump suggested Obama did not characterize ISIS attacks as “radical Islamic terrorism” because of secret motives hidden from the public.

“I'll tell you what, we have a president that refuses to use the term, he refuses to say it,” Trump said. “There's something going on with him that we don't know about.”

Obama has addressed his discomfort with the term in the past, telling reporters he believes it plays into propaganda by Islamic terrorist groups that they are legitimate religious organizations.

“We are not at war with Islam,” Obama said in February. “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

While Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement before Trump's comments that Democrats "bury their head in the sand on how dangerous the world is," Trump's insinuations go much further than mainstream Republican leaders are usually willing to go.

A source who works closely with the Trump campaign, granted anonymity in order to speak freely to NBC News, said after Sunday’s attack that the party had hoped the candidate would offer condolences and then stay silent. Trump clearly chose a different approach.

Dan Senor, a Republican strategist who served in the George W. Bush administration, told CNBC's John Harwood in an e-mail that Trump's comments on Obama "should be [a] serious concern" to officials tasked with providing classified briefings to Trump.

Trump's support for a ban on Muslim travel to the United States, which he reiterated on Sunday, has also drawn condemnations in the past from leading GOP officials like Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Representatives for Ryan and McConnell did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Trump's latest statements.

Trump has regularly insinuated over the last several years that Obama, who is a Christian born in Hawaii, secretly is a Muslim born in Kenya – a conspiracy theory that’s especially popular among Trump supporters.

Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd in September whether America could accept a Muslim president, Trump responded that “some people have said it already happened, frankly.”

In February, Trump told Fox News that Obama visited a mosque because “maybe he feels comfortable there."

In 2011, when he blitzed the media spreading false accusations that Obama had forged his birth certificate, Trump made clear that the president's religion was closely tied to his “birther” crusade.

"He doesn't have a birth certificate,” Trump told Fox News in March 2011. “He may have one, but there's something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim.”

Trump’s obsession with conspiracy theories, often with inflammatory racial, ethnic, or religious dimensions, extends beyond the president.

After terrorist attacks in Paris, Trump falsely claimed that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9/11 attacks, even insisting he had seen them on television – no such footage existed.

He later spread an apocryphal story – apparently popularized by chain e-mails -- about World War I-era General John Pershing ordering dozens of Muslim prisoners in the Philippines executed with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood, a tale he said showed Americans need to start “getting tough.”

On Monday, he suggested – without evidence – that neighbors of accused shooter Omar Mateen, who was killed by police, might have had advance knowledge of an attack.

“The people know who the bad apples are, where the bad seeds are, and they don't report them,” Trump said in an interview with CBS.

His conspiracy theories are not limited to topics related to Islam and terrorism. Last month, for example, he accused Sen. Ted Cruz’s father of involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, citing a rumor spread by the National Enquirer.

Trump is expected to address the Orlando attack further in a speech in New Hampshire on Monday afternoon.

"Mr. Trump is tough on terrorism because there should be no other option when it comes to the threats we face to our safety and freedoms," campaign manager Corey Lewandowksi told NBC News on Sunday night. "He is a leader for all and his message today emphasizes that."

A GOP strategist working on coordinating state campaign efforts disagreed, telling NBC news Trump had struck the wrong tone.

“The things he says worked in the primary but he needs to expand his base,” the source said of Trump. “He is preaching to the choir but the choir isn’t big enough to deliver him the White House.”

Editor's note: This article has been changed to fix an editing error. A source who works closely with the Trump campaign, granted anonymity in order to speak freely to NBC News, said after Sunday’s attack that the party had hoped, not asked, that the candidate would offer condolences.