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Thursday, February 23, 2023

When True Believers Get Weird–How The Crazed, Impossible Conspiracy Theories Of The Left Spread Like Wildfire

Anne Founder was a member of Americans For Democratic Justice, The Association of Concerned Citizens, and The Environmental Caucus; and was the leading spokesperson for The Progressive Alliance, an umbrella group comprised of all major organizations subscribing to the ethos of inclusivity, diversity, environmental sanity, and economic equity.  In other words an organization which brought together all likeminded advocates for social justice, civil reform, political action, and economic change.  It had been the spearhead of the One Wall Street anti-capitalist movement which underlay all progressive causes.  It was capitalism, the organization’s leaders wrote and Anne Founder eloquently articulated, that was the base evil of the American system, the end all of social justice, the destroyer of the aspiring, the predator of the people’s wealth, and the home for the renegades of the right.

Vintage Circus Freak Bearded Lady PHOTO PT Barnum Sideshow Woman Girl | eBay

The Progressive Alliance was a big tent, a revivalist community of the likeminded, the committed, and the willing.  Within it sectoral issues were set aside in a chorus of unity.  Environmentalists sat with gay activists who raised their voices in unison with feminists.  The hymns were anthems of allegiance to one another and to the cause of social revolution.  There were no discordant choristers, none who sang out of tune or rhythm.  It was a congregation of true believers who signed contracts in blood for the elimination of the greedy, oppressive, racist American system.

Anne had become a progressive early on.  She was an early adopter, a first responder to civil rights, environmental action, and economic replacement.  She was a tireless supporter of all liberal causes and favored none.  They were all branches of the same tree, equally important, equally strong, and equally lambent and extensive.  As such she was favored by older activists who saw in her catholic approach to social justice an ideal spokesperson for the movement.  She understood that capitalism was the cause of hatred and oppression, and that without a socialist restructuring of the American economy, no individual cause would succeed.  She was unabashed in her praise and adulation for Eugene Victor Debs, socialist, labor leader, and community activist.  Paolo Freire was her hero for his untiring work among the working classes of the Americas.  Marx and Engels were intellectual giants who understood the pernicious nature of capitalism, the inherent wisdom and power of the working class, and who promised early, lasting revolution.

The progressivism of the early 21st century was a heady time.  It was a political movement, a philosophical standard for social reform, and perhaps best of all a vibrant, loving community.  Everyone within the big tent loved each other with genuine affection.  They spoke the same language, were acolytes to the same secular church, and belonged to each other even more closely than brothers, joined as they were in unified civil purpose.

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey combined shows circus poster - NYPL  Digital Collections

From the podium, on podcasts, and in print Founder spewed bilious hatred for Donald Trump and the radical, subversive movement he headed.  Her speeches were electric.  The big tent roared with approval and hurrahs of support.  She talked of solidarity, spirit, and passion and spoke of the movement as holy, anointed, and meant to be.  She contrasted it with the evil of MAGA, the new silver shirts, the deep, malignant state of political renegades and anarchists led by Donald Trump.  As her speeches roused more and more applause and universal cries of approval, she expanded her vision of Donald Trump’s America.  He is no different from Hitler, she said, recalling images of brown shirts, the Gestapo, and the camps.  “It is no different in America today”, she shouted to thousands gathered in a Cleveland arena.  “Fascists, Nazis, storm troopers, and murder….and we are here to stop them”.  The thousands in the audience roared their approval, raising their fists in anger and solidarity.

Nazi's personal life revealed in trove of writings, photos

Before long even more circumspect, reasonable people were repeating these charges.  Social psychologists have long understood the nature of true believers and the conspiracy theories they spawn and endorse.  The more likeminded people talk only to each other, ideas become exaggerated versions of the original.  Once one accepts that Donald Trump is pathologically evil, then any rumor of wild subversive anarchists plotting to overthrow the government becomes part of the canon, never challenged, inherently right, and permanent.  Once one accepts that Donald Trump is a race-bating, racist, demon, then no one doubts his marshalling of the likes of Bull Connor and his ax handle-wielding white supremacist goons.  Once one accepts that Donald Trump is an abusive woman hater and a hateful homophobe every act of intolerance or gay-baiting can be laid on his doorstep.

If true believers talk only to themselves, then the idea of man-induced climate change becomes settled science, and every serious weather event can be linked to it.  No tornado, warm spell, flood, or earthquake can ever be an individual event.  The LGBTQ+ movement which started out to be a lesson in tolerance and inclusiveness, has now – thanks to an insular, closed environment – become a baroque championship of strange sexual alternatives.  The list of approved sexualities is endless, and every possible strange and impossible permutation exists on the gender spectrum.  Once the list becomes as set in stone and its tablets set forth as Biblical in nature and importance, there can be no questioning of its validity.

The more the movement gained foothold and made headway outside the coasts, the more exaggerations were openly stated.  The big tent, now even bigger, became a raucous side show of impossible claims.  Listening to this now completely inward-looking bunch, one would be convinced of America’s brutal but long-awaited demise.  According to these champions of social justice, America was a sinkhole of white, racist oppression; of predatory, destructive capitalism, and of raging murderous homophobes.  The bigger the crowd, the more synapses are formed within it – exaggerations become overstatements which become wild, unproven theories which become truth which demands justice.

Anne Founder has done her job brilliantly.  Now even the supposedly most thoughtful, reasonable people spout cockamamie conspiracy theories.  History is forgotten in the political fever of gross exaggerations.  How could anyone compare Trump to Hitler and America to Nazi Germany?  Has no one heard of Kristallnacht, torchlight parades, the SS, the Gestapo, and Treblinka?  Has selective memory airbrushed out the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust?  The tens of thousands killed in the Nazi blitzkriegs and the Battle of Britain? How could anyone compare modern history’s one, true, evil person to a vaudevillian, a clown, a lover of Las Vegas, glitz, cheap glamour, yachts, and arm candy?

Auschwitz: How death camp became centre of Nazi Holocaust - BBC News

Yet many people do, caught within the closed circle of true belief.  They speak these absurdities so often to themselves that they begin to believe it more than political reality but spiritual faith.  One hears conspiracy theories so loony, so wild and freakish, and so downright fantastical so often that the only conclusion is mass hysteria – a loss of reason and rationality.  Nut cases far more off the rails than the man they attack.

Social scientists suggest that people react on the basis of ‘dispositional’ factors – i.e. internal factors that have nothing to do with objective reality.

Conspiracy theorists are more likely to blame [Sociologist] Hofstadter’s  ‘preternaturally effective international conspiratorial network’ even when adequate situational explanations are available. This may be especially true when people are outraged or distressed and seek to justify their emotional state by claiming intentionality of actions even in the absence of evidence.

In very simple terms, many people are already disposed, for various reasons, to mistrust ‘the facts’ and have already internalized a belief that something is or is not true.  Those people who believe that 9/11 was an insidious plot by Bush, the CIA, or the Israelis; or that Donald Trump is plotting to overthrow the government of the United States are unlikely to change their beliefs on the basis of ‘situational factors’ – historical antecedents and the forensic evidence.  When these individuals join groups of likeminded conspiracy theorists, they are free to invent, fantasize, and create new, impossible realities with impunity.  Their claims will simply be taken up by their fellow conspiracy theorists and will make the rounds, increasing in intensity and transforming from one person to the next until the claims become unworldly.

Anne Founder is now in an assisted living community where she reportedly talks to the walls.  She has few visitors.  There is nothing lasting or memorable about a political side show.  One and done is the rule.  Once the big top is taken down and the circus moves on, few remember details about the clowns or the trained bears.  What they might remember is the bearded lady and the two-headed baby – stand-ins for true believing freaks.

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