I recently watched a PBS documentary on Alex Jones entitled "The United States of Conspiracy." It's online, so you can watch it yourself. Most interesting!
Jones is the king of conspiracy theorists, peddling his delusional scenarios through multiple media outlets, and perhaps best known for founding InfoWars, which is a cable news channel (though "news" is an overstatement). Most significantly, he's had the ear of Donald Trump for years; the two seem to echo one another on many topics. On election night 2020, Jones was following the vote-count with Roger Stone, a long-time associate of Trump, who was pardoned by Trump for lying to congress about Russian influence in the 2016 election. Jones and Stone called the election for Trump around 3 in the morning on November 3rd, long before the votes had been fully counted in several states that eventually went for Biden. This led them (and Trumpworld) to conclude that the election had been stolen through fraudulent votes -- an allegation summarily dismissed in over 60 court cases.
As of today, around 70% of Republicans still believe Trump really won the election, and they employ numerous conspiracy theories to justify their convictions. What makes these conspiracy theories is that they disregard demonstrable facts in favor of a narrative they prefer; hence, they are out of touch with reality.
What follows is an example of a discussion I had recently with a Trump supporter about the 2020 election. He is CT, for Conspiracy Theorist; I am P for Phil.
CT - So, Phil, you really believe Biden won the 2020 election? Why?
P - He got more votes.
CT - Well, that's your opinion, but there's a lot of disagreement about all that.
P - County and state election officials recounted several times in disputed states, and they certified Biden's victory.
CT - But did they count legal votes? How can we be sure?
P - They said they did. Why should we not believe them?
CT - Because there's considerable evidence of fraud, that's why. Huge shipments of unverified ballots, Dominion machines skewed for Biden, and other problems.
P- There was never any evidence for a degree of fraud or error that would change results. That was all investigated and aired out in the courts. Even AG Barr said there was no fraud.
CT - But the courts don't know for sure, do they? They didn't evaluate all the evidence, did they?
P - 64/65 court rulings found the ballots cast were legal and constitutional and refused to re-do the election. The one court case won by Trump concerned counting ballots received after election day.
CT - But there's evidence that the courts were biased, too.
P - Such as . . . ?
CT - They didn't even hear some of the cases brought to them.
P - These were appealed cases, which were rejected as being without merit.
CT - So Democrat judges get to say which cases had merit and which didn't, right? Not exactly fair!
P - The courts were headed up by both Democrat and Republican judges, some appointed by Trump.
CT - They were still biased and unfair.
P - So you reject vote counts certified by legitimate authority and the judgments of courts that considered evidence because you believe you know better or trust in someone else's opinions?
CT - Not opinions. Cold, hard facts.
P - Not sure where we go with that. There's no such thing as "alternative facts."
CT - Oh sure, and you don't really want to know the truth, either. I guess we just disagree on things. You have your opinions, and I have mine.
P - My opinion is based on factual evidence, yours on hearsay and delusional beliefs. There is no common ground between the two.
CT - Let's just agree to disagree, OK.
P - Hey, you brought it up. I'm just fine dropping it, but I'm really sad about how this conversation went.
CT - I'm sorry for you, too.
There's just nowhere to go in some of these "dialogues."
It's been said that this is a post-truth era, and what's ironic is that it's often the same people who criticize relativism and pluralism that are also peddling conspiracy theories about Covid, QAnon, vaccines, climate change, the 2020 election, 9/11 attack, and others. What's common to all is some significant variance on key points between demonstrable facts and innuendo. Usually some secret group is really running the show and pulling the strings of government to throw everyone off-track. Social media is used to disseminate misinformation (profiting all the while) and fact-finding sites pushing back are disregarded. Mainstream media resources are also blown off, even integrated into the conspiracy. The net result is that significant numbers of people can be cajoled into believing pretty much anything about anything and have no way to evaluate their position against others. Truth becomes more a matter of the narrative one prefers rather than a judgment of reason that is congruent with factual data. Bias and prejudice are allowed to flourish. Propaganda replaces news analysis.
Here is a link to a podcast I created on Covid-19 conspiracy theories. It includes information about characteristics of conspiracy theories in general, and how to fact-check them. You can also download it to your podcast app on your phone.
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