On 30 July 2017, the web site Our Land Of The Free published a fake news story claiming that a “black Muslim” had slipped poison into President Trump’s drink, causing him to pass out on stage. The article, which played on Islamophobia and bore no relationship to reality, was accompanied by an image we’ve come to recognize:
This image has been used in several fake news stories claiming that Trump suffered an assassination attempt or some other disaster. In August 2016, for example, the image illustrated a fake news story claiming that the then-presidential candidate had died of a heart attack. Later stories claimed that the CIA, various Muslims, or Hillary Clinton had made attempts on his life. The photograph was doctored to include blood, bullet holes, and eventually an image of Clinton:
Of course, the real photograph has nothing to do with heart attacks, assassination attempts, or Clinton’s “body bags.” Rather, it shows the culmination of a wrestling match at Wrestlemania 23.
In 1988, the future 45th president of the United States — who at the time made his living through real estate, licensing deals, and other business ventures — signed a deal to host Wrestlemania, a staged professional wrestling show.
Trump said in the documentary The True Story of WrestleMania: “I just wanted a piece of it. Everybody in the country wanted this event, and we were able to get it.”
The Trump Plaza hosted the following year’s event as well, and, over time, Trump became more involved with the spectacle. In 2007, during the lead-up to Wrestlemania 23, the franchise concocted a faux feud between Trump and Vince McMahon, the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., the company behind Wrestlemania.
The two moguls decided to settle their differences in the ring via wrestling proxies, with the understanding that the loser of the “battle of the billionaires” would have to shave his head. The New York Times reported at the time:
The final round of hype begins not in Detroit but at the Trump World Tower in Midtown Manhattan, where thousands of fans mob the atrium, hanging off at least four levels of escalators to watch a noon “press conference” at which no questions are taken. The big twist at WrestleMania 23 is that Donald Trump will face off against Vince McMahon, the W.W.E. chairman, via proxies in Detroit in a “Hair vs. Hair” match, which means the winner shaves the head of the loser.
Mr. Trump’s champion is Bobby Lashley, an affable former all-American in (real) wrestling. Mr. McMahon is represented by Umaga, a wild-haired Samoan with tattoos covering his face. Mr. Lashley’s slogan is “I’m living my dream.” Umaga alternately growls and bellows incoherently over a pounding soundtrack of tribal drums. There is no confusion about who the good guy is.
After Donald Trump’s wrestler won the match and Trump shaved Vince McMMahon’s head, the referee, Stone Cold Steve Austin, delivered the stunner:
And then, to the surprise of few, Mr. Lashley defeats the ogrelike Umaga in the hair match. Mr. McMahon hams up his defeat, cringing and wailing suitably as Mr. Trump shaves his head. Stone Cold Steve Austin is the guest referee. In keeping with his slogan — “Arrive. Raise hell. Leave.” — he decks Mr. Trump on his way out, just because.
After all, it’s WrestleMania.
The viral photograph appears to be based off of an image captured by Associated Press photographer Carlos Osorio that was published with the following caption:
Donald Trump lays on the mat after receiving a hit from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin after the match featuring Bobby Lashley and Umaga at Wrestlemania 23 at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, April 1, 2007. McMahon’s wrestler Umaga lost his match to Donald Trump’s wrestler Bobby Lashley and had his head shaved by Trump and Lashley. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
The moment can be seen at the end of the following video from the WWE: