A Conspiracy of Charts

Gawker didn’t do everything right, but when it really nailed something, that something really got nailed.

My favorite example was coining the term “chart brut” to describe the crude, mentally-impaired, MS Paint-made conspiracy pictures that popped up everywhere after the Boston Marathon bombing.

boston chart

You take a picture of something that “doesn’t add up” and add some red arrows, circles, and random bits of text to it, in order to draw our attention to…things. Toss in a few screen caps from Google and a Twitter handle, and the sheeple have been awoken.

Chart brut eventually faded, to be replaced by the crude Facebook meme, which in itself seems to have been replaced by the ironically deployed gif.

But if two new incoherent charts are any indication, we might be in store for a chart brut revival. And like every other conspiracy, we have Hillary Clinton to thank for it.

This week, Texas Congressman and conspiracy nut Louie Gohmert gifted us the Patient Zero of chart brut 2.0, unveiling a wonderfully insane flow chart at a House Judiciary Committee to convince Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Hillary Clinton needed to be brought to justice for…whatever the hell this is supposed to be.

Gohmert’s amazing chart is essentially a roadmap of Uranium One, the fake scandal that holds that Hillary Clinton, in her guise as Secretary of State, sold off America’s precious uranium to a Russian corporation. It also ups the ante by putting the Obama DOJ at the center of every bad thing that’s ever happened in American history.

It also attempts to sully Robert Mueller’s investigation into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia by linking him to Uranium One, which would force him to recuse himself from investigating Trump.

Never one to be outdone in the department of lunacy, Sean Hannity took a break from goading idiots into smashing their Keurigs to unveil his own flow chart. This one is so transparent in its motive that it doesn’t even bother mentioning Barack Obama, and just plops Hillary in the center of a massive conspiracy to do bad things.

Uranium One is a bullshit conspiracy, dreamed up by the anti-Clinton machine and pushed by Steve Bannon. Investigating it will likely cost the American taxpayer millions of dollars to find nothing at all.

But its resurgence in the news has given us these two meme-ready images that Twitter instantly jumped all over. And because these got so much attention, we’ll probably see more of what the Washington Post calls “conspiracy-web visuals.”

Like the best chart brut, both charts attempt to overwhelm the viewer with random bits of nonsense that would simply take too much time to debunk, a logical fallacy known as the Gish Gallop. This is the point of conspiracy charts – lots of information linked together. Who cares if it’s accurate?

And also like the best chart brut, they’re slapdash and sloppy.

Gohmert’s chart is full of errors and repetition – Obama, Mueller, and James Comey are all listed twice. Hannity’s is simply padded out with random terms like “hacked” and “arrested.” Neither chart even bothers connecting Hillary to Bill Clinton, who have, presumably, conspired together at some point.

But the provenance of chart brut isn’t be found in the information it conveys, but rather in its own existence. Just by being seen by people already susceptible to conspiracy theories, the ideas they convey will gain legitimacy and a steadier footing.

If you believe that Hillary Clinton is Satan’s cigarette girl, you’re not looking at these charts aghast, but full of thanks that everything you believe was put down in one place and connected by the brave people who are trying to bring it down.

And it’s not like using the iconography of boxes and arrows to convey conspiracy is new.

Glenn Beck started churning out conspiracy flowcharts during Obama’s presidency, comparing himself to math genius John Forbes Nash in “trying to lay it all out for [us].”

While their topics varied, the vast majority of Beck’s charts were designed to do what both Gohmert and Hannity were trying to do: tie a vast web of figures around a few central pillars, and show the outsized influence of minor players in the Obama regime.

And in this, Beck excelled. After a year of Beck charts, Obama was his most mentioned conspirator. Who were the runners up? Minor Obama adviser Van Jones and defunct voter-registration advocacy group ACORN.

Beck’s charts worked not because of what was on them (because it was mostly nonsense) but because he did hundreds of them, hammering the existence of a vast conspiracy into his viewers. The players didn’t matter, only that they were connected.

After all, one chart is a meme, but a thousands charts is a revolution.




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