I’m not entirely sure what to make of the proliferation of crazy on the political right these days. The latest conspiracy theory is that the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre was staged by the government as a pretext for gun control, that nobody actually died. And people believe this lunacy so completely that they think a grieving father is something worth laughing at.
With a society as large as ours is, you’re going to have crazy people in just about every demographic. But symmetry doesn’t always apply to the law of large numbers. There are liberal nuts out there, like 9/11 truthers. But let’s face it, there are more nuts in one basket than the other.
Conspiracy theories that you’ll find within the political right include FEMA concentration camps involving the census, Barack Obama being a Muslim from Kenya, NAFTA being a pretext to a single worldwide government, civil servants faking job reports, an army of gun-toting IRS agents, death panels, terroist training Mosques, at least one Muslim mole in the State Department secretly enacting Sharia Law, the Deep Water Horizon rig was sabotaged by enviromental terrorists, plots by the United Nations to take away all our freedom fries, Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster murdered, one-time nutzo Bill Ayers wrote some of Obama’s books, Obama had Andrew Breitbart murdered, and about a million others.
Right-wing conspiracy theories outnumber left-wing theories in number, tend to have more widespread followings, and are more commonly ignored. While the first amendment protects advocacy of this garbage, that doesn’t mean that these things are harmless. I think they represent a great danger to the government, and by proxy of government, our society, so long as they are tolerated by the right for self-serving reasons. There are Republican Governors who are birthers, Republican state legislators who not only advocate those beliefs, but write and pass legislation based on it, and Republican birthers in the House of Representatives do the same.
During the 2012 election, there was for a short time some question as to whether or not birther state officials in Kansas would remove Barack Obama from the ballot for the presidential election. Those officials had ties to the Romney Campaign at the time.
You’d have to search far and wide to find truthers in the halls of Congress, or truther legislation regularly making an appearance at either the state or federal level. And you won’t find them in such great numbers.
While you won’t find any truthers on MSNBC, Current TV, National Public Radio, or employed and writing regularly for the New York Times, it’s not hard to find birthers appearing on Fox News, or being employed by them. Glenn Beck, host of the network’s highest rated show and their star talent just a few years ago, soft-peddled the FEMA concentration camp story to his viewers by supposedly trying to debunk the conspiracy theory. Beck would claim Fox & Friends that he couldn’t debunk it, even after nearly a week of research.
Our lazy media, even some of its bright spots, is making the problem worse by treating conspiracy theory-wielding candidates and elected officials as serious people. Piers Morgan’s feud with gun rights advocates these past few weeks is a stellar example of how apathetic the media has become to people who are clearly suffering from serious delusions and are probably close to a psychotic break. Morgan invited Alex Jones on his program to debate gun regulation, yet Jones is one of the largest dealers of conspiracy theories in the world. One of Jones’s own writers attacked Beck in 2009 for not more forcefully slinging the FEMA concentration camp theory, writing that “[t]he existence of FEMA detention camps is a well-documented fact.”
Even when the media steps out of its normal and comfortable role of government worshiping stenography to actively challenge controversial views, it seems utterly incapable of telling the difference between reasonable activists and lunatics.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that a lot of people have decided that the recent string of rampage killings were all a hoax by the federal government as a pretext for disarming the public. They honestly believe that nobody died in Aurora, Colorado, or in Connecticut. More than that, they think you’re the stupid one for falling for all these hoaxes.
Virtually all of these paranoid delusions share in common the theme of the government slaughtering its own citizens as a pretext for taking away our freedom. None of them seem to be able to explain what happened to all the people who were killed in these tragedies, stretching back to 9/11, or why with all these false flag operations are still going on if they haven’t all been spectacular failures at taking away our freedom. Ironically, all these rubes ignore real acts by the government to curtail our rights, like the NSA warrantless spy program, and due process-free assassinations of American citizens with drones.
That is why it’s more dangerous to pretend that much of this crazy behavior isn’t concentrated on the political right, where it’s being ignored at best and actively embraced at worst. Being a birther is no disqualification when running for office as a Republican, as demonstrated by the numerous birthers currently serving in Congress and in state legislatures. The longer such behavior is tolerated, the more in may actually become an asset.
Where things start going off the rails is when anti-government extremism — like the kind that lead to the Oklahoma City bombing — ends up mistaken for the anti-government sentiments of sane and otherwise rational conservatives and libertarians. The more that anti-government (as opposed to small or limited government) feelings find a home on the political right, the more the right invites paranoid and delusional people into its fold as a base of power, which it then becomes reliant on to gain and maintain that power.
Because of all of that, any unrest we see within the GOP over the next couple of decades, I think, will be the price it pays for the Faustian bargain it made in the 1990s, and doubled down on in the 2000s, to remain large enough to maintain balance with the increasingly diverse, large, and dominant Democratic Party. The larger the minority communities grow, the more powerful the Democratic Party becomes, enough that the Republican Party by all rights may already be living beyond its expiration date. The GOP may only be viable today because of its embrace of the anti-government fringe in the ’90s, and is already addicted to it and inseparable from it today.
Conservative thought leaders should give a great deal of consideration to this issue, because if there’s any lesson from history that’s relevant to their current predicament, it’s the inherent nature of a monster. You can control it for so long before it will turn on you, and you’ll find no comfort or aid from the people you set it loose on.
It may be all fun and games to the GOP, the far right threatening insurrection over FEMA death camps, so long as they turn out in reliable numbers to elect Tea Party conservatives to Congress. But it won’t be so funny when they start aiming their guns at you.