Conspiracy theories are like Pringles. They’re delicious to consume, full of short-term hits to the pleasure centers of the brain, and you can’t eat just one of them.
We know that people who believe one conspiracy theory usually believe more than one. So if you believe that the Mafia and CIA worked together to assassinate JFK, you probably also believe that the Twin Towers were stuffed full of explosives that triggered after a terror attack the US allowed to happen. And on and on.
In fact, if you believe these conspiracy theories, there’s no reason to disbelieve any others. Why would you? Sure, some are more outlandish than others, but all are outlandish, depend on unseen evidence, dissolve under scrutiny, and fall into the realm of wishful thinking.
A perfect example of this is unspooling right now in the chaotic aftermath of the Ukraine whistleblower and the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Two conspiracy theories are going around, one embraced by some of the most powerful people in our government, and the other written off as crackpot lunacy from cultists who need to up their thorazine intake.
The first one is that back in 2016, the Democratic National Committee conspired with the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, Joe Biden, and the government of Ukraine to hack its own servers, steal potentially damaging emails and proprietary information, frame Russia for the attack, and dump the material online through Wikileaks to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign. All of this was done as an “insurance policy” with which to force Donald Trump to be impeached, which the deep state is now attempting to execute through a CIA plant dropped in the administration and turned loose now to make a whistle-blower complaint written by Adam Schiff.
The second is that at some unknown point, former President Barack Obama was arrested and taken to Guantanamo Bay in preparation for a trial for treason – but that Obama had somehow smuggled a satellite phone into his cell, which he was using to direct the deep state whistle-blower trying to take down the Trump administration. But Obama was turned in by his cell-mate, John Kerry, and in late September was executed via a firing squad (after being given his Muslim last rites, of course) – but the public would never know it because Obama was replaced by a clone at the time of his arrest.
One of these is completely insane, and the other is driving the potential impeachment of the president.
But which one is which?
Obviously, the first one is the one that Donald Trump is staking his presidency on, as he inexplicably tries to absolve Russia of a crime that was laid out in the Mueller Report – which he also believes totally exonerated him. In fact, the entire discourse of the Republican Party seems to revolve around a conspiracy theory that the Democrats hacked their own server in 2016 just in case Trump won, so they could frame Russia for it and connect Trump to it. It’s basically the entire first line of defense of the Trump administration against impeachment (the second being, “he’s just joking.”) Of course, it doesn’t make one god damn bit of sense. But it doesn’t need to.
The second one doesn’t make any sense, either, of course. And it’s not really clear if anyone other than a few hardcore QAnon believers think it’s true. But what’s the difference between believing the Democrats hacked themselves to frame Trump, and that Barack Obama was shot by a firing squad because his Gitmo cell mate John Kerry dimed him out?
And make no mistake, people do believe it. Read the replies to the tweets by QAnon guru “ChiefPolice2,” who claims over and over that he has inside knowledge of cloning, Gitmo’s execution schedule, and every other horrible thing going on.
This stuff gets hundreds of retweets and replies. Conspiracy tweets by bigger name figures in the movement get even more. If you spend five minutes on Twitter, you’ll see the damage being done. Three thousand retweets for this insanity about Whitey Bulger, the Heinz Ketchup Company, and the Vatican conspiring to commit treason:
Three thousand retweets for this gem, that Adam Schiff wrote a fake memo of the Ukraine call that got Trump’s impeachment inquiry going, and somehow planned it two years ago by changing the intelligence community’s whistle-blower forms – only to be beaten to the punch when Trump released the “real” memo.
A staggering 21 thousand retweets for a claim that the sons of America’s most prominent politicians were all secretly placed on the boards of directors of energy companies doing business in Ukraine…for some reason.
The conservative base has been eaten alive by conspiracy theories – and by the ability to easily share them.
They’ve poisoned their brains and ruined their ability to tell fact from fiction. These are now people who believe anything as long as it’s good for Trump and bad for Trump’s enemies. They think Adam Schiff is some kind of George Soros plant. They think Hillary Clinton’s missing emails are physically in Ukraine. They think Barack Obama has managed to hide his real country of origin for fifty years, going back to the birth announcements in Honolulu papers when he was born.
Maybe most of them don’t believe Obama was executed and replaced by a clone. But is that because it’s totally insane, or just because it hasn’t been pimped on Hannity and retweeted by the president? Give the “Obama firing squad” conspiracy the same treatment that “the insurance policy” has gotten, and take a poll of how many people believe it. And they will.
It’s impossible to overstate how conspiracy theories are driving political discourse right now. Yes, many are so insane that no thinking person could believe them. But which ones? Why are some less crazy than others?
Remember, conspiracy theories are like Pringles. If you eat one, you’ll want to eat more then one. Hell, you might want to eat the whole can, they’re so good. Then you’ll probably blame George Soros and Barack Obama for your stomachache.
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