President Donald Trump has spent two days pummeling Harley-Davidson over its decision to move some production abroad, threatening to tax the motorcycle company and warning it would lose its American allure.
Then it appeared as if Harley-Davidson’s chief executive was punching back with a quote disparaging Trump.
Except the quote was fake.
Harley-Davidson is suffering the fate of many of those who tangle with the president: Twitter trolls.
Since announcing this week that it would relocate some of its production to mitigate the impact of retaliatory European tariffs, Harley-Davidson’s chief executive has been the subject of an online smear campaign. Tuesday night, a fake quote critical of Trump and attributed to the company’s chief executive, Matthew Levatich, began circulating on Twitter.
The quote, which disparaged Trump’s understanding of trade and economics, was being spread by some accounts with very few followers, but quickly went viral. The company was inundated with queries about its veracity.
Michael Pflughoeft, a spokesman for Harley-Davidson, said that the anti-Trump quote linked to the company’s chief executive that was circulating on Twitter in various forms was “absolutely, unequivocally fake and false.”
He said the company has been working with Twitter to see if the tweets could be removed and to figure out where they originated. The company became aware of the fake quote Tuesday night and was soon fielding questions about it.
Pflughoeft would not speculate as to whether there was a coordinated smear campaign at work against Harley’s chief executive.
“I’m just telling you it’s false,” he said.
A Twitter spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The relationship between Trump and Harley-Davidson has gone from a love affair to a bad breakup in a matter of months. Trump has frequently championed the Wisconsin company as a success story in domestic manufacturing and hosted Harley-Davidson executives, including Levatich, at the White House, where the president called the firm a “true American icon.”
But on Monday, the company said the president’s trade approach had put its business at a disadvantage, as the European Union hit Harley-Davidson with tariffs of 31 percent on every motorcycle exported to Europe in retaliation for Trump’s metal tariffs. To avoid raising its prices and risk losing business in the valuable European market, Harley-Davidson said it would shift some bike production overseas.
Trump has not taken the decision lightly and has lashed out in a series of tweets over the past two days. On Wednesday, Trump again took to Twitter to urge the company not to move any of its operations abroad and warning “we won’t forget” the decision.
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, also expressed his dismay with Harley-Davidson on Wednesday, saying during remarks at the Treasury Department that Trump has been a big champion of trying to help Harley by reducing tariffs on motorcycles and cutting corporate taxes.
“I can’t possibly understand why Harley would be moving production outside of the United States at this point,” Mnuchin said.
Shares of Harley-Davidson were up slightly in midday trading.
Tweets from Trump can be damaging to businesses, quickly mobilizing his supporters in protest. The Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, has been flooded by online criticism from backers of Trump who are angry that its owner refused service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, last weekend.