The 33-year-old man who shot at shoppers in Allen, TX, earlier this month and killed 8 people -- including a 3-year-old boy -- was a far-right extremist. He wielded his weapon while wearing a tactical vest with a RWDS (Right Wing Death Squad) patch embroidered on it. His body was tattooed with SS lightning bolts and a swastika. His online posts were anti-woman, anti-Semitic and anti-minority. Local, state and federal law enforcement agree on this. Yet conspiracy theorists think the evidence is "too neat." They suspect "psyops," or propaganda fabricated by the military to make the far-right look bad.*
Of course they suspect that.
If you look online it's not hard to find those who insist that the Sandy Hook shooting was a false flag ... and Dr. Anthony Fauci covered up or created the COVID crisis to line his own pockets ... and Lisa Marie Presley died of complications after a COVID booster ... and Donald Trump was re-elected in 2020 ... and Barack Obama's birth certificate is a fake ... and Princess Diana was murdered ... as was Marilyn Monroe ... and the CIA (or Mafia or Cubans) killed JFK ... and the moon landing was faked ... as was the Holocaust ... let's not even start down the WWG1WGA rabbit hole.
Why are people so fantastically gullible? Why do they insist, for example, that the 2020 election was stolen even after Fox News agreed to pay Dominion voting systems $787,500,000 in damages for their "Stop the Steal" reporting?
It's tempting to dismiss these people as stupid. And OK, I admit I often do because well, I mean, really! But that's pretty facile, isn't it?
So I've been reading and contemplating and researching† and it seems that I should be more compassionate. Two traits that conspiracy theorists often share are confusion and anxiety. They don't understand what's happening in the world, it stresses them out and leaves them uncomfortable, and they are trying to impose order -- order that fits their particular belief system -- to what they perceive as chaos.
Example: Princess Diana was beautiful and good. She was dedicated to helping AIDS patients and eradicating landmines. How could she be taken from us by something as ordinary and tawdry as a drunk driver with fatally bad judgement? It's so heartbreaking it simply doesn't compute. In their minds, a conspiracy of shadowy figures including the Royal Family and MI5 is more acceptable.
Imagine how painful and uncomfortable their anxiety must be regarding Donald Trump. Here they were, feeling disenfranchised by an increasingly progressive, secular, non-white and affirmative action-engineered America, and down the escalator comes a man who will "Make America Great Again" -- exactly as they define "great." He turns out to be a grifter. He admits (on the Access Hollywood tape and again in his sworn deposition in the E Jean Carroll case) that famous men can "unfortunately or fortunately" "grab women by the pussy." He encourages his supporters to march on the Capitol on January 6 and it turns into a riot. He could have pardoned these rioters before he left office but he didn't. Let's assume for a moment that these people are, at heart, patriotic. How disillusioning to have believed in this man!
I almost get this, in that I voted for Governor Rod Blagojevich twice. But when he was exposed as dishonest, I didn't deny the reality. I didn't blame "them" for driving him from office and into prison. Instead, I took the Christmas card The Guv sent to loyal supporters like me and thumb tacked it to my bulletin board. I wanted to remind myself daily not to be such an ass next time. To research candidates more closely. To get involved earlier -- during the primary process -- so that better candidates appear on the ballot.
But if someone isn't able to accept their own culpability, or feels so alienated that they are downright threatened by the way their country looks now that they imbued their guy with the power to rescue them, they may not be able respond logically. They are fragile, lack self-awareness, and feel excluded by "the mainstream." They take comfort in the fringes, in the echo chamber that confirms their biases, and in conspiracy theories.So from now on I'll try to view these people with more sensitivity.
Not acceptance. I hate it that these people drive cars, buy guns and vote in elections and will do whatever I can to see that their twisted worldview doesn't prevail. But I'll check myself when I'm tempted to mock them. They must be so paranoid, so frightened, so vulnerable to grasp at every bit of flotsam and jetsam they find. And I'll retire this picture. It's cruel, and my cruelty isn't going to help these sad souls heal.
*As if the far-right needs help looking bad.
†My sources include Scientific American, Psychology Today and Live Science. Not Elon Musk or 8chan.