Some Lies Never Die
It seems that not a day goes by without someone – be it a student, friend, congregant or reader - sending me an email with a link to some long, long article, asking me to please read and distill it, and then explain how best to respond to the person who sent it to them. Sorry to say, I don’t respond to each and every request; there just aren’t enough hours in my day. What I do tell them is that no amount of facts or understanding are going to change their friends’ minds or beliefs; and that unless my correspondents are terribly fond of concussions (from beating their head against the wall), don’t even try.
In most every case, the link they send me leads to a website specializing in conspiracy - against Muslims, liberals, and Jews. Oh how I wish these conspiratorialists could be less long-winded! Their screeds frequently go over 5,000 words. (By comparison, the average length of my essays rarely exceeds 1,250 words.) There are plenty of people who fervently believe that Anti-Gentilism Causes Antisemitism; that the Muslims are getting ever closer to taking over both Europe and the United States; that Leftist American Jews are all anti-Israel; and that the Holocaust is a hoax. Then too, over a third of Americans believe that global warming is a hoax, over half believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and that the migrant caravan from Central America was financed by billionaire George Soros and thus a conspiracy on the part of Jews. And this little list doesn’t even include those who truly believe that the world is being destroyed/taken over by the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group or the House of Rothschild . . .
So what, pray tell, are the psychological factors which drive the popularity and omnipresence of conspiracy theories, no matter how idiotic, counter-intuitive or ahistorical they may be? How do these factors explain important events as secret plots by powerful and malevolent groups? What are the psychological consequences of adopting these theories? Current research seems to provide answers to the first question - about how these factors explain important events as secret plots - more thoroughly than the second. Writing in the journal Current Directions on Psychological Sciences, professors Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton, and Aleksandra Cichocka of the University of Kent note that “Belief in conspiracy theories appears to be driven by motives that can be characterized as epistemic (understanding one’s environment), existential (being safe and in control of one’s environment), and social (maintaining a positive image of the self and the social group).“ Reading through their exhaustive research, they find little to indicate that conspiracy belief fulfills people motivations. For many people, conspiracy belief may be more appealing than satisfying. In other words, no matter what churlish conspiracy they believe in doesn’t turn a chaotic, fearful world into some placid Garden of Eden.
One of the reasons why certain lies never die is that the followers of conspiracy have endowed the malevolent enemies they’ve uncovered with such diabolic powers as to be virtually unconquerable. “Hey, it’s not for lack of trying . . . those Jews (or Muslims or international bankers or whatever) are just too damn Herculean to be defeated or destroyed.” In other words, it’s the war against “evil- not the victory over it - that matters the most.
So much for the “true believers.” What of the purveyors? When one looks into the media superstars of conspiracy – people like Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Ann Coulter and Pam Geller - one has to wonder if they truly believe the bilge they spew, or have merely found an easy, gullible customer base who are more than willing to buy their books, DVDs, paraphernalia or (in the case of Alex Jones) water filtration systems, personal protective gear and health and wellness products - to name but three. Even P.T. Barnum would be envious.
There is, of course, nothing new about people believing in conspiracies. During the time of the “Black Death,” (c. 1250-1500) millions of European Catholics firmly believed that it was caused by throngs of Jews who poisoned water supplies throughout the continent. Proof? Why hardly any Jews died of the Plague. (n.b. It turns out that one of the primary reason that Jews were relatively unaffected was the religious law commanding Jews to wash their hands prior to eating.) Eerily, fast forwarding to 2018, and the accusation is back in the news, not from a Middle Eastern country indoctrinated to hate the Jews, as one would expect, but by a Daily Mail British columnist who wrote on June 26, 2018: “ In an unequivocal breach of international law, Israeli settlers have taken much of the best agricultural land, while depriving the Palestinians of water supplies and, according to a number of respectable sources — and I have witnessed this for myself — burning their olive groves and poisoning their wells.”
The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery first published by the early 20th century Czarist Russians and given world-wide fame by the American auto magnate Henry Ford, has been given yet another shot at life via the Internet. This lethal conspiracy has been “classed up” during the current administration. When ‘45 and his administration run an attack ad against George Soros, former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein (all 3 of whom are Jewish) conspiracy believers listen. When POTUS rants and raves about international bankers and the global elite, everyone on the radical right sees that as being about the Jews. Thing is, the president himself may well not harbor anti-Semitic animosities. Yet when he sprinkles anti-Semitic codewords into his speeches, his perceived support amplifies and normalizes messages the internet had already boosted to an unprecedented volume.
Some lies simply never die.
One of the newest - and weirdest - conspiracy theories goes by the name “QAnon.” QAnon details a supposed secret plot by an alleged "deep state" against U.S. President ‘45 and his supporters. The conspiracy theory, mainly popularized by supporters of President Trump under the names The Storm and The Great Awakening, has been widely characterized as "baseless", "unhinged" and "evidence-free". Its proponents have been called "a deranged conspiracy cult" and "some of the Internet's most outré Trump fans". And yet, there is hardly a single Trump rally at which one won’t see tens, if not dozens, of people holding large sings in the shape of the letter “Q." This is the conspiracy which began to take place in a suburban Washington pizza parlor which was believed to be the headquarters of a child sex ring (“Pizzagate”). Without going into overwhelming detail, “QAnon” believers of this bizarre theory assert that it provides 45’s most fervent supporters a way to explain away any scandal or slip-up the president may face. Even typos on the president’s Twitter account are viewed as “proofs,” or nods to followers that he is in on the conspiracy.
According to one of the leading prophets of QAnon, “All of Trump’s mishaps on the world stage, his detractors in the media, his various scandals can all be effectively be framed within the Qanon lore as attacks that are coordinated against him because he’s ever closer to taking down a global conspiracy committing the most atrocious crimes that could be imagined, like Satanic child sex trafficking, and blood sacrifice”
Before one laughs oneself silly just remember this:
These are the same people who believe that George Soros is an agent of Satan, that Rep. Adam Schiff has been specifically trained to take down ‘45 at the behest of globalists, and that G-d sent ‘45 to be the savior of Israel.
Some lies simply never die.
591 days until the next election.
Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone