By Bryan Zepp Jamieson
August 5th 2018
I had a client once who loved conspiracy theories. Not in the abstract; he didn’t collect them as amusing oddities; he earnestly believed each one, and strove to work each into his own, very peculiar theology. Cover up at Area 51? Check! CIA putting chemicals in the air to make us docile? You betcha! The Queen of England and the Bush family were secretly extraterrestrial lizard people? Let’s have them drop drawers and check for tails! He came up with a few of his own: the Pharaohs of Egypt were all secretly Jewish. (He self-published a book about this, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why they would be secretly Jewish, or what advantage this gave them, or anyone.) He adored David Icke, and fairly routinely lost money to cults and online scams vowing to reveal hidden truths.
This was back around the turn of the century, and the majority of conspiracy theories, and their adherents, were harmless cranks. My client, when he wasn’t sputtering utter drivel gleaned from some mimeograph with an eye of Mordur letterhead, was pleasant, intelligent, kindly and caring—as nice a person as you could possibly hope to meet.
But even before the rise of the toxic and vicious Alex Jones, and the systematic cruelty of his followers, conspiracy theories had a dark side. Many were racist, or at least bigoted, and some could be utterly vile. Tony Alamo took the same stance toward Catholics that Hitler had toward Jews, and with similar rationales. Conspiracy theories were a favorite element of demagogues, religious cults, and sociopaths. A local new age movement has definable links to Nazi groups, often with members of either being aware of the links between the two.
My client ran afoul of this dark element. He came in one morning with a self-written article he wished me to put up on his website. I glanced at it, and spotted the words “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Apprehensive, I gave it a quick scan. He was arguing that “Protocols” had been denigrated, not by the falsity of the claims, but by a vast hidden conspiracy of International bankers.
“You should drop this,” I said. “Nothing good will come of it.”
“I’m not afraid of Israel,” he declared stoutly.
I wasn’t worried about Israel either. But we had a fairly large number of mutual friends and acquaintances, and some of them were Jewish. I named some of them, and pointed out they would be hurt, and feel betrayed by the claim that this viciously anti-Semitic tract was factually based.
He considered, nodding slightly—either an affectation of showing deep thought, or a resting tremor—and drew a firm line with his mouth. Truth, no matter how unpalatable, must be upheld. This was hidden knowledge, and therefore must be True.
I could advise, but I couldn’t censor. I put the page up.
He caught hell for it, of course—not just from Jewish readers, but a lot of other directed sorts who knew hate speech when they saw it.
My client was hurt, depressed, and resolute. Hidden truths, he believed, were the most important truths of all. I’m happy to report that most of his friends understood that his page stemmed, not from some dark animus toward Jews, but from this odd psychological and intellectual tic of his. A few stopped talking to him, but it was generally understood that this latest page was a point on a continuum, and not a sudden dark descent into Nazism.
“Hidden” is key to understanding the psychology of the conspiracy theorist. It is the element that, in their eyes, proves the validity of the theory. If something is true, yet hidden, then clearly there must be a conspiracy involved! Conspiracy theorists don’t care much for mysteries, but they love secrets.
Every once in a while, a conspiracy theory turns out to be true: The CIA really did conduct mind-control experiments; the military really did do dry test runs of toxic gases in the NY subways, they really did spread contagion in Havana. The FBI really did track Martin Luther King and put spies in the anti-Vietnam peace movement. However: The instant a conspiracy theory is proven true, interest in it collapses. The attitude is “Yeah, it happened. Just proves government is evil. [Yawn]. But we still don’t know who murdered Princess Di!”
But since the turn of the century, something nasty has happened: conspiracy theories have become weaponized. They are more ludicrous, and at the same time more vicious. The followers are less amiable cranks and more meth-addled wannabee brownshirts. No longer content to dismiss nonbelievers as ‘sheeple’, they condemn, threaten, and sometimes even assault those who doubt their hidden truths. It is a confluence of several things; the rise of the web, the dark web in particular. A darkening of the public mood since 9/11, a greater willingness to embrace authoritarianism and savagery. And a flood of misinformation, either the paid-for variety of corporations and churches, or the general nuttiness of the truth seekers.
There are vile little sociopaths who adhere to the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, that the shootings never happened and the bereaved parents are just “trauma actors”–people paid to be professional victims by the media for interviews and ratings. They personify the aggressive viciousness of today’s nuts.
This dark web of conspiracy theorists has coalesced around some anonymous crackpot(s) claiming to be from the higher reaches of the “deep state,” striving to now destroy this deep state they served because Hillary or Infowars or some nutball thing. This entity goes by the name of “Q Clearance Patriot” and first showed up in the festering emotional swamps of 4chan. Q supposedly was highly placed government operative. This source has produced a panoply of conspiracy theories, both familiar (The Rothschilds, CIA stooges as foreign leaders) and strange—vast pedophile rings run by ranking Democrats and intelligence agencies, or that Mueller is secretly working with Trump to discredit Trump’s enemies. The people bathing in this raw sewerage call themselves “QAnon”.
Despite that last one, Trump is very warm to this pack of loons, and people wearing QAnon T-shirts are becoming more noticeable at his rallies. Yes, he’s encouraging them. Even worse, THEY are encouraging him. He’s actually subscribing to their craziness, or at least strongly pretending to.
Well, maybe not the Mueller one. I’m guessing he doesn’t view Bob Mueller as his hidden enabler.
It’s no surprise that Trump attracts such as supporters. We’ve long passed the point where any Trump supporter should be considered a fool, a crackpot, a crook, an enemy of the United States, or any combination of the above.
That Trump is openly encouraging them is troubling, and a sign of how desperate BLOTUS (Biggest Liar Of The United States) has become.
I suspect my client, if he was still alive today, would be appalled.
We have to make sure Trump’s desperation and recklessness in treating with these lunatics doesn’t become our crisis.