Jonathan P. Baird: Down the rabbit hole with three conspiracy theories

For the Monitor
Published: 2/21/2021 6:20:14 AM

We are living through the golden age of conspiracy theories. Lizard people, satanic pedophiles, false flag school shootings and Jewish space lasers have all had cameo roles. While it is easy to focus on the sheer nuttiness of these ideas, conspiracy theories are doing damage.

They often serve to isolate the cult follower from family and friends. They also serve as a bridge into far-right extremist recruitment.

Although people of all political persuasions can adhere to conspiracy theories, in our era, people on the political right have proven most vulnerable to their allure. Conspiracy theories are intellectually bankrupting the Republican Party. A party of political conservatism has transformed into a cult subservient to an authoritarian leader.

There are many conspiracy theories flourishing now but I will focus on three of the most harmful.

‘The 2020 presidential election was stolen’

The theory that Trump won the election is widespread among Republicans in spite of accurate, certified voter counts in all states. Republicans latched onto minority voting in large cities and mail-in voting as central to the alleged voter fraud. The Trump campaign pursued every possible legal challenge, over 60 lawsuits, but they consistently lost in court.

If there was voter fraud, how come the courts found none? As has been pointed out, many of the judges who ruled against Trump were his appointees.

Former President Trump has been the main purveyor of misinformation about the election. He has argued for months that the election was rigged even though his own Attorney General William Barr said there was no fraud.

After the November election, Trump worked tirelessly to promote the false narrative that he won. Think of the “Stop the Steal” movement and the million MAGA marches. Not to mention Trump’s phone calls to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, where he pressed Raffensberger to “find 11,780 votes.”

Trump’s lies mobilized his Jan. 6 storm troops. If he said there was fraud, they believed him, regardless of the facts. The attack on the Capitol was a direct result of Trump’s prodding. Since November, Trump and his coterie have been desperately pursuing every avenue they could to overturn a democratic election.

The events of Jan. 6 can be understood only in the context of Trump losing a democratic election. Like other fascist and authoritarian leaders who could not abide a democratic result, Trump opted for a coup. He hoped his storm troops could stop certification of Joe Biden’s win. The U.S. military would have nothing to do with the coup and Trump’s attempt failed.

Of all the conspiracy theories now circulating, Trump’s election lies are the worst. The peaceful transfer of power is central to our democratic system. We are not Pinochet’s Chile or some banana republic yet, according to polls, 36% of registered voters think voter fraud occurred to a large enough extent in the presidential race to affect the election outcome.

Those who argue Trump bears little or no responsibility for the storming of the Capitol are living in la-la land. Trump deserves no pass. To quote the writer Loretta Ross, “premature forgiveness before accountability is dangerous.”

‘COVID-19 is fake’

Even though there are more than 490,000 American deaths due to COVID-19, conspiracy theories abound.

Alex Jones has said COVID-19 doesn’t exist at all. He has said it is a ploy by governments to rob citizens of their freedom. For a long time, Trump himself minimized the pandemic, falsely saying the end was right around the corner.

Others argued the COVID-19 pandemic was intentionally caused; it was created in a lab in Wuhan; or, it was spread by Bill Gates; or, it was due to the rollout of 5G mobile technology.

Four out of 10 Americans believe the death rate of COVID-19 has been “deliberately and greatly exaggerated.” Twenty-seven percent think it is possible the vaccine for COVID-19 will be used to implant tracking chips into Americans.

Who would have thought the common-sense, public health measures of masking and social distancing would have proven so controversial?

Anti-vaxxers have been pushing a new narrative that COVID-19 vaccine permanently changes a person’s DNA. Crazy never stops. False information and anti-science attitudes will continue to make it harder to get the pandemic under control.

‘A secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles is running a global sex-trafficking ring’

I am, of course, referring to QAnon. This far-right cult believes elitist Democrats and Hollywood entertainment moguls control the deep state. QAnon adherents believe there is a person who is a top secret official in the U.S. government who goes by the pseudonym “Q” who posts cryptic online messages about the truth of what is going on in the world

They saw Trump as not just a president but a messiah. They believe Trump has been fighting the pedophile cabal and that Trump has been planning a day of reckoning known as the Storm. In the Storm, thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested.

QAnon has a large online following. In 2018 many QAnon followers started showing up at Trump rallies. Now that Trump has lost it remains unclear how QAnon adherents will respond to failed prophecies.

Supposedly, one in three Republicans believe the QAnon theory that a conspiracy among deep state elites is “mostly true.”

While Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have garnered the most publicity for their Q beliefs, in 2020 the Republicans fielded dozens of candidates nationally who held these beliefs.

QAnon is a bit reminiscent of the blood libel against the Jews. It is a craziness with some historical precedent.

About conspiracy theories, John Ehrenreich has said: “Conspiracy theories arise in the context of fear, anxiety, mistrust, uncertainty and feelings of powerlessness. . . . For those who feel that everything is spinning out of control, a narrative that explains their feelings and encloses them within a safe community of believers comes as a soothing relief.”

I would suggest that conspiracy theories are flourishing because of the unprecedented levels of anxiety so many are experiencing. The killer pandemic, massive economic insecurity and climate catastrophe are all background.

That people gravitate to conspiracy theories should not be surprising. Advertisers manipulate us by using selective and misleading information. Oil companies lie about climate change and tobacco companies lie about the dangers of smoking. Financial elites try to obscure their wealth and their exploitation of workers. Conspiracy theories are just a particularly noxious variant on the lying theme. They provide a sometimes compelling narrative with an emotionally supportive if misguided message.

(Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot and blogs at


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