The Conspiracy Defense: How the Right Denies Criticism of Trump

On asking when, not if

Politics Features Donald Trump
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The Conspiracy Defense: How the Right Denies Criticism of Trump

Growing up, my family always talked about the story behind the story. This was fueled, in no small part, by the natural paranoia of poverty. There’s a certain helplessness in being poor where the world seems out to get you. Finding evidence of a conspiracy to keep you in the hole can be as easy as looking at the taxes taken out of your criminally small paycheck, the inflated medical bills that arrive in your mailbox after a hospital stay, or even the flat tire on the way to your thankless job. When you’re poor and you look at the landscape, you see a rigged game.

This worldview inspired a conspiratorial mindset my family still suffers from. For thirty years now they’ve been decrying a New World Order that is both invisible and omnipresent. They’ve fantasized about an inevitable war against globalist forces and imagined fighting as an insurgency against United Nations’ troops confiscating weapons and enforcing martial law. To prepare, they’ve stockpiled weapons, ammunition, built bunkers and fortifications, began growing their own food and generally planning for an all-out war for the soul of this country.

My family, and others like them, are part of the reason why the conspiratorial right has gained so much traction. They listen to Alex Jones and they buy into the narrative that globalism is a front for a sinister group of rich men who want to thin the herd, whether that’s through genetic manipulation or phony wars. They voted for Donald Trump and they did so, in part, because he spoke to them in a language they’ve been speaking for years.

Now, with Trump’s presidency in real danger, they’ve incorporated that story into their denial of reality. As Robert Mueller’s investigation rolls on, they listen to Jones and other sources like Lou Dobbs and Fox News and hear a message that plays off of a generational fear that American sovereignty is under attack.

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Just last week Alex Jones took to the airwaves and said he’d been agonizing over a piece of news that’d been leaked to him by a major source inside the White House. This scoop was one of the largest he’d ever broken, he claimed, which meant, based on Jones’ past “scoops,” this was bigger than 9/11 being an inside job and the Sandy Hook Massacre a staged event. According to his source, three generals serving under the president – General John Kelly, General James Mattis, and General H.R. McMaster – were partnering with Democrats, Republicans, and rich globalists in planning a coup against Donald Trump.

According to Jones, this soft-coup is like the 1964 movie Seven Days In May, in which Burt Lancaster plays a radical general with designs on overthrowing the president. Roger Stone, who has served as Trump’s mischief-maker and handled much of the president’s dirty-deeds, confirmed Jones’ narrative and claimed Kelly, Trump’s new chief of staff, has already isolated the president in order to control what information he receives, which Jones, in his usual red-faced hyperbole, has claimed is how a coup begins.

It’s easy to dismiss the ludicrous ramblings Jones spews into his microphone seven days a week, but to totally ignore him is to ignore a glimpse inside the strategies and narratives that might soon find their way into the mainstream right-wing media. It’s no coincidence, after all, that Jones, by his own admission, has been surprised to hear the president parrot the very things he says on his shows. The paranoid style of the radical right has been co-opted by mainstream outlets and personalities, never more so than now.

It was Lou Dobbs who last month appeared on Hannity, the flagship program for the intersection of the radical and mainstream right, and summed up the Russia investigation as a “coup,” an assertion that right-wing powerhouse Rush Limbaugh echoed on his own show. This is the new method of framing the investigation, and we’ve only seen it grow in recent months. Recently Jeanine Pirro, the host of FNC’s Judge Jeanine—famous for attacking investigation principals James Comey and Robert Mueller—has begun saying that if Mueller’s investigation results in any prosecution, or the removal of the president, the country would be faced with the possibility of civil war.

In right-wing social media, the narrative has taken root. The hashtag #coup has been circulating for weeks now and what we find with only a mere glance is the proliferation of the overthrow narrative. Radical websites like 4chan and Reddit’s The_Donald are abuzz with discussions about the conspiracy, some of the members admitting openly they’d respond to impeachment with violence. Another tag – #fireMcMaster – recently took off with the help of Russian social media organs.

Of course these efforts, and those of Jones and Fox News, have been aided by Trump’s active insulation of his supporters, as well as the tightly constructed echo chambers in polarized society, but they’re aided to an extent by a narrative and mindset that originated well before Donald Trump ever ran for president.

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Last year, on a trip home, I surveyed a family member’s prepping materials. There were tons of MREs (Meals Ready-To-Eat), stacks of ammunition in nearly every imaginable gauge and size, at least a dozen guns, and a bag of silver and gold coins that’d been ordered from an ad off a conspiratorial podcast. The stash, according to my relative, was meant to last for upwards of a year, which is how long he guessed America’s next civil war would last.

The beginning would be ugly, he reasoned, with rampant, indiscriminate killing. There was a chance it would start as a race war and that might lead to martial law, he told me, and then the UN might step in to “restore order” and put its final plan for the New World Order in place.

I’ve had so many of these conversations with people like my relative. With them, it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s “when” the system will fall apart or “when” the New World Order will make its move. They were always able to tell me how the war would be fought – guerilla style skirmishes like what we saw in post-invasion Iraq – and with what weapons, what they could never decide on, or agree upon, back then, was how it would begin.

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