Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues
A couple of decades ago, I used to check out the conspiracy-minded, anti-communist John Birch Society’s in-house magazine, The New American, to see where the Right-wing fringe was at, as it were. However, compared with today’s new online paranoid fascists, Birchers now seem like moderates.
Kenn Thomas in Trumpocalypse Now! has shown how conspiracy theory has suddenly been transformed from a subversive taboo into a major spectacle. While most conspiracy theories are the subject of wild speculation, government skullduggery and corruption does indeed exist, which is why scholars distinguish between “populist conspiracism” and genuine “conspiratorial politics.” This essay concentrates on the former as well as the Trumpian worldview that favors tribalism over scientific and journalistic objectivity.
There was plenty of subterfuge, secrecy, and deception, on all sides, during the 2016 presidential election. Yet, conspiracy-mongering has itself become a vulgar spectacle. While Trump has been strategically using the conspiracy of a witch hunt for political mobilization, Mueller’s counter-intelligence investigation into Trump-Russsian collusion has become the Holy Grail of liberals in their quest to remove Trump from office, although there are less fantastic reasons for impeaching Trump.
During the 1960s, the conservative establishment fought against the radicalization of the American right. Archconservative William F. Buckley, for example, helped stigmatize the rhetoric of the John Birch Society – making it taboo within the conservative movement. Yet, the GOP no longer rejects the lunatic fringe since it has taken over the party.
The bottom line is if you want to anticipate which way the president is going to spin a story, don’t go to the conservative establishment, take a look at the lunatic fringe, because that’s where Trump’s ideology originates, before it gets watered down to reach wider audiences, like Fox & Friends.
The ideological sources of Trump’s campaign did not originate in Russia, like many liberal intellectuals have been insinuating, but on the edges of America’s political spectrum, where you find the likes of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose internet outlet Infowars regularly broadcast Roger Stone, a key progenitor of Trump’s political narrative, as well as nativist Steve Bannon, whose Breitbart online news network became a conduit between the Alt-Right and Trump’s campaign.1
Suffice to say Trump’s behavior toward Putin has been extremely strange and that elements in America’s national security are very upset in failing to deter Moscow’s cyberwar, which makes Russia a perfect scapegoat. In short, Trump’s crazy election victory may be explained without blaming the Kremlin. American plutocrats such as Robert Mercer, Sheldon Adelson, and Koch brothers played a much bigger role in the election than Russian oligarchs, although they don’t generate the kind of histrionic headlines.
The notion that Russian interference or propaganda genuinely changed the judgments, beliefs and attitudes of many voters is doubtful, due to the fact that people tend to interpret the world in ways that confirm their preexisting beliefs; for example, those who already hated Clinton were more receptive to negative Clinton adds, be they Alt-Right or Russian based-memes.
Although Trump was riding the wave of anger that also powered Bernie Sanders’ surprise campaign, his victory in the electoral college came as a total shock to the political pundits, who had underestimated populist indignation, Hillary’s unpopularity, and Donald’s demagogic electoral strategy.
Celebrity culture and spectacles have been driving journalism since the 1970s. Advertising revenue and audience decline over the last two decades have been fatal for quality newspapers that provide rigorous fact checking. This disruption within 21st century journalism as well as the emergence of distinct market niches is polarizing America’s epistemic community. Instead of getting objective reporting, people tune into what they want to hear. Today, two distinct views of the world have, more or less, emerged on American television news. The old mass audience has been torn apart by the likes of Fox News and MSNBC, which operate as competing echo chambers.
A growing body of research demonstrates that what people know is shaped by social, economic and partisan interests, and when our moral judgments come into conflict with evidence, we tend to look for ways to dismiss and minimize that evidence. In principle, overcoming cognitive bias is not impossible if one seeks truth in a non-partisan and non-ideological spirit. Objectivity requires due diligence, which is time-consuming and thus costly.
Broadly speaking, while news moves downmarket, where it’s more lucrative, social media is feeding our narcissistic preferences. If traditional journalism was subject to market incentives, online social networks have furthered the distorting influence.
In order to target advertisers, the internet has created algorithmically personalised online filter bubbles, which curates what we see on the basis of what we like. Unfortunately, filter bubbles also incubate and spread “fake news,” which outperformed real news on Facebook, towards the end of the 2016 presidential election, and reveals the demand for hyperpartisan content.
The same tendency of presenting opinion as fact exists in the realm of the so-called real news. Just look at America’s 24/7 cable news channels, which consists mostly of people talking to each other about stories they want to believe. In short, news with no factual content is designed for political as well as financial ends.
Unlettered barbarians outnumber literate citizens. What’s in fact popular often flies under the established media’s radar. The New York Times, for example, often underestimates the influence of religious and conservative best-sellers. Books like the Left Behind series, The Strange Case of the Obama Mama and The Plot to Destroy Trump are sold in mass across America’s chain stores. And conservative talk-radio hosts and televangelists, such as Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson, as well as tabloids, like the National Enquirer, are simply ignored by critics for being cognitively insignificant. Literature of a really high quality only interests a minority of the population, which is one reason why the complexity of political discourse has been trending downward for decades.
Contrarily, the impact of social media platforms on politics did receive attention from serious newspapers. The role that Facebook and Twitter had on facilitating social protest movements and electoral campaigns was typically covered in a positive light during the Obama presidency. For example, Iran’s so-called “Green Revolution” (2009) and the Arab Spring (2011) were cheered on as the media marched in formation with the government. This was also the case during Obama’s second term; for example, protests like Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, Ukraine’s Maidan and Black Lives Matter (2013). The emergence of database politics pioneered by Silicon Valley as President Obama’s data-science team utilized social media in 2008 and 2012 was also covered in glowing language. Although it had been covered, we only really heard about the dangers of social media in the aftermath of the 2016 election and last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Even though Trump was adept at using social media, Hillary was thought to enjoy an overwhelming advantage in terms of money and technical talent. Trump’s unconventional campaign courted America’s white working and underclass more than the Republican establishment that had financially ditched him.
Knowing what he was up against, Trump turned to Twitter to spread his populist message. On March 6, 2016, he told his followers. “How do you fight millions of dollars of fraudulent commercials pushing for crooked politicians? I will be using Facebook & Twitter. Watch!”2
Yet ironically, in spite of being outspent, the big television networks gave Trump free coverage, which turned him into the main story.
With his high ratings, the Donald was able to monopolize the media’s attention. He was a celebrity persona, after all, who had entered the national spotlight during the eighties bull market and came to personify the age of status and acquisitiveness before the crash.
By changing his business strategy from purchasing property with junk bonds, to licencing his name to others, Donald managed to maintain his real-estate mogul status even after infamously going bankrupt in the early nineties, a time when the Soviet Union was imploding and reality TV was taking-off. He literally cashed in on his iconic brand: firstly with Russian oligarchs and then NBC. In the 2000s, Trump was acting in predetermined unscripted storylines and fake sporting spectacles, like like The Apprentice and WrestleMania.
The lurid spectacle of reality-television is essentially a fictional genre that produces a highly “manipulated rendition of reality” that provides the same kind of vicarious experience which also drives tabloid sales. Ordinary viewers were spellbound by Trump. But why? Was it the fake realism of the genre? His dress, his demeanor? What is it that makes Trump so magnetic?
Well, according to The New Yorker, it’s “his impulse to transgress, the same quality that has made a captive audience of the world.” It’s like watching a train-wreck in slow motion, you can’t look away.3
Trump knows what the codified but unspoken system of culturally specific rules that he violates are. Yet he comports himself as if he doesn’t care about outward appearances or any inner psychological pain which he might be causing others. It’s this sadistic characteristic that makes him so fascinating to watch. Indeed, who didn’t enjoy watching him demolish his Republican opponents in the unscripted debates during the primary? His informal conversational style and forceful assertions blew away the professional politicians, whose oratory by contrast seemed so stilted.
The bottom line is Trump knows what he’s doing, for example, during his torturous and manic address at CPAC, he said,
“You know I’m totally off script right now and this is how I got elected, by being off script. And if we don’t go off script, our country’s in big trouble, folks, because we have to get it back.”
Trump instinctively knows how far he can go. While his tribalistic chauvinism crossed the line of his own party and pundits, whom tried to ridicule him, he understood something they didn’t; namely, what they find deplorable makes him popular.
In the end, Trump mobilized non-voters, who had lost faith in American democracy and justice decades ago. By promising to drain the swamp of crooked politicians and their cronies, who plagued the political system, Trump was going to Make America Great Again. It’s truly amazing, however, that so many estranged skeptics believed in the reality-TV star, turned anti-politican, but, then again, they had nothing to lose.
Trump is essentially a promoter, huckster, snake-oil salesman, whose hype knows no bounds. Kenn Thomas traces Trump’s propensity for hyping “alternative facts” back to Trump’s ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, who wrote The Art of the Deal (1987) and
coined the term “truthful hyperbole,” which he characterized as innocent exaggeration and a “very effective form of promotion.” Schwartz maintained, “people want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.” This is almost the reverse of conspiracy theory, where people believe the darkest, most sinister idea to be the most spectacular. That dialectic has come to characterize the beginning of the Trump era.4
Indeed, innocent hyperbole and sinister hyperbole may be two sides of the same cultural coin. Our celebrity and market dominated culture promotes and characterizes everything as the biggest and best and the shadow of this psychological tendency seems to be paranoid conspiratorial fantasy.
Pop Conspiracy Theory
Cosmic Convergence: 2012 and Beyond has become my go-to source for understanding the unfiltered Trump narrative. This site nicely blends fascist and new age ideology into a worldview in which common sense, chance an unintended consequences scarcely exist. They – whoever they are – attempt to explain away all of the president’s contradictions and political failures while attributing sinister machinations behind social as well as natural events, such as migration and ecological disasters.5
And what is the reoccurring and main explanation? You guessed it, Trump’s Boogie Man: the Deep State, the instrument of the Illuminati and/or Rothschild Crime Syndicate is behind all things evil.
In the worldview of grand conspiracy theory, every massacre and mass shooting, from casinos to churches, have been orchestrated and covered-up by the Deep State. The NWO Globalist are behind everything from the death of Anthony Bourdain, Hurricane Michael in Florida, which was “geoengineered to take out the Florida Panhandle just before the 2018 election,” to the recent stock market crash, which was incidentally designed to Sabotage Trump’s MAGA Agenda.
Well, with all of the crazy happenings last fall, New Age fascists went into high gear, theorizing how the migrant caravan from Central America was organized by George Soros, who allegedly used them to help House Democrats win the Midterm election.
However, considering how FOX News constantly hyped this story, I’d say that if anybody organized this caravan, it was more likely done by a conservative operator, somebody like Roger Stone, since it strengthened the right-wing narrative.
And lets not forget what they said about the mail bomb scare (by Cesar Sayoc, the Trump supporter), as well as the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting (by neoNazi Robert Gregory Bowers). They were false flag operations, directed by the deep-state to demonize the Right and help the Left win in November.
And it gets crazier. In order to distract Americans from November’s election theft, the globalist cabal attacked California with fires in Malibu and Paradise by weaponizing the weather. Since there is no climate change, obviously the Deep State literally firebombed California from outer space. And there’s more to the story behind California’s fire apocalypse than mere Directed Energy Weapons, it was also a PSYOP. They didn’t pick a town named PARADISE for nothing.
Now, a simple fact would undermine their melodramatic thesis. But, notice the common tactic of simply avoiding more plausible explanations, like extreme dry conditions and PG&E’s powerline failure. Also, notice how the main suspect of August’s “Holy Jim fire” in Southern California is never mentioned. Forest Clark appears to believe in Trump’s kooky conspiracy theories and the Sovereign Citizen ideology.
These narratives are not only factually challenged and ideologically-driven, they are patently absurd. It’s odd how those who claim they are skeptical of officialdom tend to believe the most spectacular and sinister scenarios over more probable explanations.
They not only discount and ignore information that doesn’t agree with their opinions, they invent things from whole cloth. Without any standards, we are in the realm of pure fabrication or disinformation. The “Alex Jones” or “anything goes” school of alternative media accepts any conspiracy theory as long as it’s against the official story.
Trump’s “forgotten man” has been conned. Anybody who would immediately appoint a Goldman Sachs banker to run the Treasury and John Bolton as National Security Adviser, along with his side kick Elliot Abrams, has no intention of draining the swamp!
At this point, the only way to understand the Trump phenomenon is primarily as a cult, with a fascistic structure that demands obedience from his followers.
1 According to Rolling Stone, Alex Jones had a bigger online audience “than Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck combined.”
2 “Brad Parscale, Trump’s top digital campaign strategist, told Wired, “Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing.” Reddit also played an important part of Trump’s strategy, providing a network for memes to go viral, which Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) allegedly seeded with disinformation.
3 According to Katherine Walker, a producer of The Aprentice, “Donald would not be President had it not been for that show.”
4 Kenn Thomas, Trumpocalypse Now! The Triumph of the Conspiracy Spectacle (Adventures Unlimited Press: USA, 2017), 21
5 I say They because their “Who are we?” page has been under construction for months, yet They have enough time to keep publishing their propaganda.
* Update: After the New Zealand mosque massacres on March 15th in Christchurch, I had a look at their unhinged interpretation of events based on free association or the alleged occult pattern, which they claim to understand. Due to the date and name of the city, They knew it was really a deep state conspiracy, just like the Shri Lanka church attacks on Easter and the synagogue shooting in Poway, San Diego on the Sabbath of Passover were really False Flag or staged events. Accordingly, Brenton Harrison Tarrant and John Earnest are deep state operatives or MK-Ultra level mind-controlled agents of Gladio and, at the same time, Mossad. It’s entertaining how They manage to amalgamate every pre-existing conspiracy theory together, without the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance. Indeed, these lone gunmen, who seem to be inspired by, or have links to, the far right identitarian movement, as well as Islamic terrorists are allegedly agents of the Illuminati. In short, what ever happens in the future and inspite of the facts, we can predict They will discover the same pattern without presenting any evidence.