WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump used a White House conference Thursday to applaud far-right social media provocateurs even as he conceded that some of them are extreme in their views.

Trump, who has weaponized social media to eviscerate opponents and promote himself, led a "social media summit" of like-minded critics of Big Tech, excluding representatives from the very platforms he exploits.

The president used the event to air grievances over his treatment by Big Tech, but also to praise some of the most caustic voices on the right, who help energize Trump's political base.

"Some of you guys are out there," he told them. "I mean it's genius, but it's bad."

Trump singled out for praise James O'Keefe, the right-wing activist whose Project Veritas organization once tried to plant a false story in The Washington Post. In May 2010, O'Keefe and three others pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor in a scheme in which they posed as telephone repairmen in Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans district office.

"He's not controversial, he's truthful," Trump insisted of O'Keefe.

Playing to the friendly crowd in the East Room, Trump was at ease, joking about everything from his spelling in tweets (blaming his thumbs, not his brain, for any mistakes) to his hair (saying the rainy weather at his July 4 outdoor speech at least proved his hair was real.)

"With amazing creativity and determination, you are bypassing the corrupt establishment, and it is corrupt," Trump said. "And you're bypassing the very, very corrupt media."

In lengthy remarks, he said: "You're challenging the media gatekeepers and corporate censors to bring the truth to the American people. ... You communicate directly with our citizens without going through the fake news filter."

Earlier Thursday, Trump sent a stream of Twitter messages lashing out at social media companies and the press, familiar targets that resonate with his conservative base.

The meeting represented an escalation of Trump's battle with companies like Facebook, Google and even his preferred communications outlet, Twitter, where he has an estimated 61 million followers. The president has claimed, without evidence, that the companies are "against me" and even suggested U.S. regulators should sue them on grounds of anti-conservative bias.

He announced Thursday that he is directing his administration to explore "all regulatory and legislative solutions to protect free speech and the free-speech rights of all Americans."

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