In the absence of reliable information, conspiracy theories appear. This has been the driving law of pretty much every news story of the last twenty years, and it’s happening moment-by-moment with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
RBG had surgery to remove cancerous nodules from her lung in late December. It took almost no time for the conspiracy movement, in particular, the wannabe revolutionaries of QAnon, to spin this into an elaborate plot involving deception, death, and a conspiracy to keep control of the Supreme Court.
QAnon kicked it off with a post alleging that “off-market drugs” were keeping RBG alive, and his acolytes transformed that into a conspiracy that she was already dead, and being kept “on ice” for the big moment where the deep state could reveal it and hijack the news cycle.
Every social media method that QAnon uses to spout its crackpot theories was full of demands of “proof of life” that RBG wasn’t dead, pouty screams to be told what was really going on, and orders for her to provide invasive and personal information about her health – information that is protected by law, and that is nobody else’s to give out.
As these things tend to do, the “RBG is already dead” conspiracy theory spent a few weeks growing more and more fetid in the worst parts of the internet.
There even has been actual proof of life, including Ginsburg signing on to a Supreme Court decision on the transgender military ban, footage of her getting into a van on her way somewhere, and news that she spoke to the directors of the Oscar-nominated documentary about her.
None of this did anything to sway the conspiracy theorists. Because nothing ever does.
After about a month of this, including an embarrassing slip by Fox News where they briefly put up a graphic that she had already died, the conspiracy theory finally made its way to more mainstream accounts. And it was just as ugly and invasive as it was when it was confined to QAnon.
On and on it goes. Apparently, mining a cancer patient’s surgery for Twitter likes is a thing we do now.
The “RBG is dead derp derp derp” conspiracy a great example of conspiracy theories rushing to fill up an information vacuum. We haven’t seen Ruth Bader Ginsburg in public in a while, and therefore she must be dead. Because nothing outside the scope of our reality is possible.
But this isn’t possible. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is alive until we know differently. And I’m not saying that because I’m a liberal or a fan of hers, I’m saying it because that’s where the evidence points us.
- Such a cover-up would be impossible. If Ruth Bader Ginsburg had already died, keeping that information from getting out publicly would involve a massive number of family members, Supreme Court employees, doctors, and media. Beyond that, she’s already put her name on decisions released in the last few weeks. That would mean the entire Supreme Court is in on this, including conservative justices who, presumably would want to see her seat open up.
- There is nothing unusual about keeping a less-active schedule to recover from surgery. According to numerous reports, Ginsburg has been working from home, reading transcripts of hearings to guide her decisions. There is nothing weird about this. Ronald Reagan resumed his presidential duties the day after he was shot, keeping a truncated schedule and working from bed for months. People can work and recover at the same time. Just because you haven’t done it doesn’t mean nobody can.
- Nobody is entitled to health information that isn’t theirs. Despite conservative demands for detailed briefings about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health (because she’s a public figure, you know), there is no way to compel a person to give up information about their health. HIPAA, people. Look it up.
- You don’t want to go down the road of being compelled to disclose your health status. If the government can publicize Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health information, they can demand and disclose yours. Is that something you really want? Really?
- She’s not Melania Trump. Conservatives are trying to link Ginsburg going out of the public eye with Melania Trump’s various retreats from the public eye. Because apparently liberals wouldn’t stop hounding the First Lady, but are demanding Ginsburg be left alone. These are not the same situations. Nobody expects an extensive public schedule from a Supreme Court Justice, while being First Lady is a job that, by its nature, demands a more outward-facing profile. Melania’s disappearances have also been shrouded in mystery, with conflicting statements from her office and the White House – par for the course with her time as a First Lady who has little interest in the traditional role of her predecessors.
The “RBG is dead” conspiracy is going to keep going, and get bigger and bigger. At some point, Fox News is going to embrace it, and then Donald Trump likely will tweet about it. If she doesn’t go to the State of the Union on February 5th (following a long tradition of SCOTUS justices skipping the speech for various reasons,) it’ll get even worse.
Remember, conspiracy theories fill up absences of information. The only information that will fill this vacuum is Ginsburg appearing in public – and even then, there’s always cloning to explain why she’s really dead.