WASHINGTON — Increasingly, much of our political discourse, fueled by the internet, has moved into the realm of conspiracy theories. For example, more than 25% of all Americans and 44% of Republicans believe that Bill Gates is plotting to use a Covid-19 vaccine to implant microchips in people.
A YouGov and Yahoo survey found that this idea is perpetuated widely online.
Those who advocate this position argue that Gates’ implant idea could easily be used to track people. Some say he plans to eradicate 15% of the world population with his hypothetical vaccine.
Alex Jones, the host of “Infowars,” is a well-known conspiracy theorist
Alex Jones told his followers that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida never happened. He stated that “none died” in these events which, he said, were staged by gun control advocates.
In a discussion of Stoneman Douglas student survivor and later activist David Hogg, Jones said he was a “crisis actor.” He has also accused the U.S. Government of planning the Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11 attacks.
Notably, in December 2015, Donald Trump appeared on the Alex Jones show and said, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”
QAnon: A group committed to such conspiracy theories
Consider Edgar Maddison Welch. On Dec. 4, 2016, he left his home in Salisbury, North Carolina with a box of shotgun shells and 3 loaded guns and drove to Washington, D.C. He walked through the front door of the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, a popular neighborhood gathering place, and fired shots. He had come to Washington because a widely distributed conspiracy theory claimed Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the basement of Comet Ping Pong. Which, notably, does not have a basement. Right-wing conspiracy theorists such as Mike Cernovich and Alex Jones began to advance the claim, which may have originated on trolling corners of the internet such as 4chan and quickly spread.
QAnon, according to an article, “The Prophecies of Q” by Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic (June 2020),
“…does not possess a physical location, but it has an infrastructure, literature and a growing body of adherents and a great deal of merchandising.. QAnon began spreading the idea that the virus might not be real, but if it was, it was created by the deep state. The hysteria surrounding the pandemic was part of a plot to hurt Trump’s re-election chances, and that media elites were cheering the death toll. Some of these ideas would make their way to Fox News and the president’s own utterances.”
According to The New York Times, the president has retweeted accounts based on conspiracy theories, including QAnon, on at least 145 occasions. Last year, the F.B.I. classified QAnon as a domestic terror threat in an internal memo. It took note of a California man arrested in 2018 with bomb-making materials. According to the F.B.I. He had planned to attack the Illinois state Capitol to make Americans aware of “Pizzagate.” And the “New world order.”
The F.B.I. also took note of a QAnon follower in Nevada who was arrested in 2018 after blocking traffic on the Hoover Dam in an armored truck. The man was demanding the release of the Inspector General’s report on Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.
More on QAnon.
Most recently, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Oregon, Jo Rae Perkins, announced her association with QAnon.
QAnon has set its sights on Dr. Anthony Fauci, who it calls a “deep state puppet” and a “Blackhat,” the term it uses to describe the people who support the cabal it warns about. The Justice Department has now heightened security for Dr. Fauci because of the growing number of death threats against him.
The growth of extremism should be of concern to all Americans. The Economist makes the following observation.
“A fractious movement by nature, America’s extreme right has responded to COVID-19 by carrying out zoom-bombings (I.e. interrupting videoconference meetings), encouraging others to infect police officers and Jews, and seeking to disrupt government entities, including New York City’s 311 lines for non-emergency information and National Guard operations. In March a man with ties to neo-Nazi groups was killed in a shoot-out with F.B.I. Officers who were attempting to arrest him for planning to bomb a hospital in Missouri. Though he had considered a variety of targets, the outbreak of COVID-19 persuaded him to strike a hospital to gain extra publicity.”
In conspiracism, the fantastical claim comes first. The search for evidence comes later, if at all.
A brave new Internet world
In the days before the Internet, the odd individual with a strange theory about politics or science or disease would find himself isolated and alone. Now, through the Internet, such an individual can find like-minded men and women in all parts of the country. The many websites which appeal to the disgruntled who are prepared to believe the worst about “elites,” “the establishment” and the “deep state” are able to join together. A few of them decide to act on what they have heard, such as the alleged existence of child sex rung in the basement of a Washington restaurant (which has no basement).
Because of the many conspiracy theories swirling around the coronavirus, Dr. Fauci now needs protection by the Justice Department. Our political discourse has become increasingly irrational, a growing threat to democracy. Our system cannot work if each party views the other as an “enemy.” The proliferation of conspiracy theories is an example of how far our political rhetoric has declined.