This Is One of Our Two Major Political Parties

Marjorie Taylor Greene is 46 and serving her first term in the House of Representatives. She won the Republican primary for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District last year with 57% of the vote. She easily won the general election. The 14th District occupies the northwest corner of Georgia and is heavily Republican. This is what her official website says about her:

Marjorie graduated from the University of Georgia and received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Marjorie has been actively involved in her community, in her children’s schools, and been active on a national level as National Director of Family America Project.

Marjorie has a strong Christian faith and believes we must continue to protect our great freedoms and work to keep America a great country for our generations to come.

Marjorie and her husband, Perry, have been married 23 years. They have three children . . .. Marjorie believes the best part of her life is being a mother and spending time with her family.

Media Matters for America presents more information about Rep. Greene:

In another newly uncovered 2018 Facebook post, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) endorsed a conspiracy theory that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was videotaped murdering a child during a satanic ritual and then ordered a hit on a police officer to cover it up. She also liked a meme claiming that some of her now-Democratic congressional colleagues have used the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for human trafficking, pedophilia, and organ harvesting. 

. . .  She has received heavy criticism for her recently uncovered endorsements of the conspiracy theories that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were staged false flags. Greene is also a QAnon and 9/11 conspiracy theorist who has promoted anti-Muslim attacks and a conspiracy theory that Jewish people are trying to take over Europe through immigration. 

Greene is also a backer of [a] violent and absurd . . .  conspiracy theory, which is linked to QAnon and Pizzagate and essentially claims that Hillary Clinton and former aide Huma Abedin sexually assaulted a child, [mutilated her] and then drank her blood as part of a satanic ritual . . .  Greene endorsed the conspiracy theory on Facebook in May 2018. . . .

Greene also liked a meme that was posted to her Facebook page in June 2018 claiming that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Clinton, former President Barack “Obama and their Democrat friends … can’t have Trump repeal DACA as it would show DACA was used by them … for human trafficking pedophilia in high places and organ harvesting.”

CNN offers more:

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene repeatedly indicated support for executing prominent Democratic politicians in 2018 and 2019 before being elected to Congress, a [CNN] review of hundreds of posts and comments from Greene’s Facebook page shows. . .

In one post, from January 2019, Greene liked a comment that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In other posts, Greene liked comments about executing FBI agents who, in her eyes, were part of the “deep state” working against Trump.

I add this piece of news without further comment:

Her Republican colleagues have selected Rep. Greene to serve on the House Education and Labor Committee.

Three Weeks Listening to the QAnon Tribe Talk to Each Other

I don’t know if typical QAnon believers are relatively affluent or struggling. Are they worried about losing their privileged position in society or making ends meet? Do they have more problems than the rest of us (aside from being QAnon believers)?

New York Times journalist Stuart Thompson spent the past three weeks listening to an online QAnon chat room and came away with some impressions. (The Times story is fairly long and includes recorded conversations not included below.)

As President Biden’s inauguration ticked closer, some of Txxxx’s supporters were feeling gleeful. Mr. Txxxx was on the cusp of declaring martial law, they believed. Military tribunals would follow, then televised executions, then Democrats and other deep state operatives would finally be brought to justice.

These were honestly held beliefs. Dozens of Txxxx supporters spoke regularly over the past three weeks on a public audio chat room app, where they uploaded short recordings instead of typing. In these candid digital confessionals, participants would crack jokes, share hopes and make predictions.

“Look at the last four years. They haven’t listened to a thing we’ve said. Um … there’s going to have to be some serious anarchy that goes on. Otherwise, nothing is going to change.”

I spent the past three weeks listening to the channel — from before the Jan. 6 Washington protest to after Mr. Biden’s inauguration. It became an obsession, something I’d check first thing every morning and listen to as I fell asleep at night. Participants tend to revere Mr. Txxxx and believe he’ll end the crisis outlined by Q: that the world is run by a cabal of pedophiles who operate a sex-trafficking ring, among other crimes. While the chat room group is relatively small, with only about 900 subscribers, it offers a glimpse into a worrying sect of Txxxx supporters. . . .

“If the Biden inauguration wants to come in and take your weapons and force vaccination, you have due process to blow them the [expletive] away. Do it.”

There’s a persistent belief that the online world is somehow not real. Extreme views are too easily dismissed if they’re on the internet. While people might say things online they would never do in person, all it takes is one person for digital conspiracies to take a deadly turn. . . . Listening to the conspiracists — unfiltered and in their own voices — makes that digital conversation disturbingly real.

To participants, the channel is mainly a way to share and “fact-check” the news, cobbling theories together from fringe right-wing websites, posts on Facebook, and private channels on the messaging apps Telegram and Signal. They say their main focus is reinstituting paper ballots.

The most commonly used phrase is some version of “I heard,” followed by a theory . . .

_________________________________________________________________________

If the Q movement had a slogan, it would be “Do your research.” The conspiracy is designed like a game. Discovering clues that clarify Q’s cryptic missives produces a eureka effect, which offers a hit of dopamine and improves memory retention. It’s the same satisfaction that comes from solving a puzzle or finding the answer to a riddle.

Believers apply the same approach to everyday news: Find information that confirms any existing beliefs, then use it to augment their understanding of the conspiracy. Reject facts or information that counter the existing beliefs. It’s one of the reasons they struggle to recruit their family members, unless they’re persuaded to do research themselves.

I wondered what would happen in the days after Mr. Biden’s inauguration. Rather than re-evaluate their approach in the wake of Q’s failures, many doubled down. The problem wasn’t that the whole worldview was false, just that they had been led astray by inaccurate reports and misinterpretations. Their response was to improve their process. They would develop a list of sources, vet credentials, link to original material, and view unconfirmed information skeptically. They were, in a sense, inventing journalism. . . .

_________________________________________________________________________

What should Q’s followers inspire in us? Anger? Sympathy?

The audio chat offers a clearer picture of these believers than the Facebook pages and Telegram channels where they also gather. The all-caps screeds of the internet give way to gentler moments, like when they talk about their pets or babysitting their grandkids. Many members were struggling in some way — financially or emotionally, with legal troubles or addiction. As Covid-19 swept their states, many got sick, and some family members died. A few members were recently out of prison. Another was living in a sober house.

“I don’t think they understand that we’re not all evil,” one member said about how the left views them. “Like you said, we’re not evil. We’re not bad people.”

As I listened over these three weeks, I saw that they’re drawn to Q and Mr. Txxxx for many reasons. The political status quo wasn’t working for them. Mr. Txxxx was an antidote to Washington and was beholden to neither party. And Q offered not just a political orientation but also a way to place themselves in a bigger narrative that explains life’s shortcomings. Many believers have paid a price for their views. Some were shunned by friends and family. Apps and social networks, like this audio chat room, stepped in, offering a welcoming community with shared beliefs.

“Does anybody else’s family members on here think you’re crazy?” one asked.

“I have family that think that way. I think they’re crazy for not seeing what the heck’s going on,” another replied.

“I’ve stopped talking to every single person that isn’t on board with this,” another said.

“I can’t even express it enough — I’m so thankful for every person in this group.”

In the process, followers have become more isolated, stuck inside an echo chamber from which they may never escape.

Beneath the anger in their voices is often pain or confusion. When the chat dies down to just a few members, they’ll share stories about their struggles with affording health insurance or the shame of going on government assistance. Hearing them talk with one another, I could start understanding the pull of conspiracy communities — how they exploit the vulnerable and create a worldview out of shared enemies. Then you can watch those views harden. And while none of it excuses participation in a dangerous collective delusion, it takes the complex process of radicalization and gives it a human dimension. What seemed like a preposterous descent into a kind of madness made slightly more sense.

“Not every politician is bad. Not every Democrat is bad. But we’re going to automatically assume that they’re deep state. So, I mean, you have people, a small few, that makes the majority look bad.”

As I spent more time in the group, I understood why the conspiracy has such gravitational pull. And while I didn’t lose my way, I was taken aback by the experience. It turned my brain to mush. I was left rattled and deeply concerned. About what would become of this group when I left. And more important, how one can lessen the appeal of a conspiracy that gives so much purpose to people’s lives.

Listening in, I came to realize what extremism researchers and cult experts have long known to be true: You cannot just destroy a community and expect it to disappear when it is load bearing. If we are to deradicalize Q believers in a Biden era, how will we do it? What can we offer them in its place?

One woman had an idea for how to solve some of these problems. They could try hearing from their opponents directly. Maybe they could understand their point of view, learn what motivates them. But then she paused. “I’d love to get into their heads, but it scares the [expletive] out of me,” she said. “So I keep my distance and stay with you patriots.”

A President, a Poet and Poor Deluded Souls

Joe Biden gave an excellent speech at his inauguration. But as somebody said on Twitter:

Well that’s it. The ceremony is over and Amanda Gorman is now the president.

Gorman is from Los Angeles, is 22 years old and is America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. She spoke for six minutes and made a huge impression. You can read read her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, but it’s better to see and hear her recite it:

Poet Amanda Gorman reads ‘The Hill We Climb’ – YouTube

Here’s something else that happened. The New York Times reported that QAnon believers are  “struggling with the inauguration”:

Followers of QAnon, the pro-Txxxx conspiracy theory, have spent weeks anticipating that Wednesday would be the “Great Awakening” — a day, long foretold in QAnon prophecy, when top Democrats would be arrested for running a global sex trafficking ring and President Txxxx would seize a second term in office.

But as President Biden took office and Mr. Txxxx landed in Florida, with no mass arrests in sight, some believers struggled to harmonize the falsehoods with the inauguration on their TVs.

Some QAnon believers tried to rejigger their theories to accommodate a transfer of power to Mr. Biden. Several large QAnon groups discussed on Wednesday the possibility that they had been wrong about Mr. Biden, and that the incoming president was actually part of Mr. Txxxx’s effort to take down the global cabal.

“The more I think about it, I do think it’s very possible that Biden will be the one who pulls the trigger,” one account wrote in a QAnon channel on the messaging app Telegram.

Others expressed anger with QAnon influencers who had told believers to expect a dramatic culmination on Inauguration Day.

“A lot of YouTube journalists have just lost one hell of a lot of credibility,” wrote a commenter in one QAnon chat room.

Still others attempted to shift the goal posts, and simply told their fellow “anons” to hang on and wait for future, unspecified developments.

“Don’t worry about what happens at 12 p.m.,” wrote one QAnon influencer. “Watch what happens after that.”

And some appeared to realize that they’d been duped.

“It’s over,” one QAnon chat room participant wrote, just after Mr. Biden’s swearing-in.

“Wake up,” another wrote. “We’ve been had.”

Followers hoping for guidance from “Q,” the pseudonymous message board user whose posts power the movement, were bound to be disappointed. The account has been silent for weeks, and had not posted Wednesday.

Ron Watkins, a major QAnon booster whom some have suspected of being “Q” himself, posted a note of resignation on his Telegram channel on Wednesday afternoon.

“We have a new president sworn in and it is our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution,” he wrote. “As we enter into the next administration please remember all the friends and happy memories we made together over the past few years.”

Unquote.

Wow. If more of the previous president’s supporters realize they’ve been had — and more of their leaders admit President Biden won a fair election — there may be blue skies ahead.

Reports from the Dystopian, Disinformation Beat

Ben Collins is a reporter for NBC News. He says he works the “dystopian beat”. By that, he means he follows the crazies, I assume mostly the radical right. This afternoon, he shared some of what he’s found:

Over the last few years, I kept in touch with some QAnon supporters through DMs [Twitter direct messages], checking in on them to see if they’d ever come out of it when their next doomsday came and went.

They’d typically first message me calling me a Satanic pedophile. I’d ignore it and ask questions.

Usually they would draw hard lines. A big one was D5, which everyone thought would be mass arrests on December 5th two years ago. Didn’t happen, didn’t matter.

It’s about belief, anticipation, an advent calendar. One day soon, their problems would be fixed.

I would check in the week after the failed doomsdays. They’d point to a Q post like scripture, and say some ridiculous event proved it was still happening. An earthquake somewhere, a service interruption on Gmail.

I learned something: these people don’t want to be humiliated.

So many Q people have staked their entire identities on this. There are no real-life happy endings with QAnon, especially true believers. Just constant embarrassment and almost surgical extrication from friends or family.

So they retreat back to Q forums and pray for executions [executions of Q followers to confirm their fears?].

There are a lot of QAnon influencers saying the 20th is their last stand, that if Biden is inaugurated they’ll admit they’ve been conned. But they won’t. They’ll equivocate and buck-pass. They’ll find secret patterns in his speech and say he was secretly arrested [what???]. It’ll continue.

QAnon is a deeply pathetic and embarrassing thing to believe. For believers, there is safety from that embarrassment in increasingly volatile and toxic online communities. Getting people out of it safely is going to be very hard, but important.

I’d reach back out to some of those Q people, but they’re banned from this site now.

They grew to like me. I wasn’t a Satanic, blood-drinking pedophile . . . they wanted to save me.

Because, remember, they think they’re the good guys.

Unquote. Meanwhile:

Online misinformation about election fraud plunged 73 percent after several social media sites suspended President Txxxx and key allies last week, research firm Zignal Labs has found, underscoring the power of tech companies to limit the falsehoods poisoning public debate when they act aggressively.

The new research by the San Francisco-based analytics firm reported that conversations about election fraud dropped from 2.5 million mentions to 688,000 mentions across several social media sites in the week after Txxxx was banned from Twitter. . . . 

The research by Zignal and other groups suggests that a powerful, integrated disinformation ecosystem — composed of high-profile influencers, rank-and-file followers and Txxxx himself — was central to pushing millions of Americans to reject the election results and may have trouble surviving without his social media accounts.

Researchers have found that Txxxx’s tweets were retweeted by supporters at a remarkable rate, no matter the subject, giving him a virtually unmatched ability to shape conversation online. . . . [The] disinformation researchers consistently have found that relatively few accounts acted as “superspreaders” during the election, with their tweets and posts generating a disproportionate share of the falsehoods and misleading narratives that spread about election fraud, mail-in ballots and other topics related to the vote [The Washington Post].

They Merely Want To Protect Themselves and What’s Theirs

This is by an NBC News reporter, Ben Collins, who jokes that he works the “dystopia beat”:

What people say on Facebook and in comments sections is what they actually mean. The comments section may be our id, but social media networks exclusively target our id with a nonstop barrage of fear and hatred. . . .

I did this story over the summer about two women who became minor celebrities because of viral QAnon tirades. . . . Before the pandemic, they weren’t particularly political. By the summer, they were throwing masks on the ground at Target or calling their county commissioners pedophiles who needed to be executed.

. . . During the pandemic, some people lost their jobs. Others lost their ritualized social lives, real-life brunches or bowling leagues or church. . . So with the time they used to spend at work or church or with their family, they filled it with Instagram and Facebook. Extremist movements from QAnon to anti-vaxxers had been waiting for this precise moment for years and they pounced.

Algorithms catered to our worst fears, and “otherized” anyone who didn’t look and think exactly like you to the point of literal demonization. By demonization, I mean your newsfeed was telling you that Democrats are literal, child-eating Satanists.

In turn, social media created a world you could control: Bad guys were creating the pandemic, shutting down the economy, and you had secret knowledge that could stop it. It fed you autonomy and identity . . .

It was extremely alluring to so many people, and people in power winked at it for months. [Many of us] know someone who overtly believes this stuff. Many other entertained it, or believe pieces or variations of it. They brought it to the ballot box with them.

The QAnon Karen who destroyed [a display of masks at] Target realizes she was a victim of social media brainwashing, and she’s trying to stop it. But . . . she had a multi-million person intervention on Twitter. As our parents or friends or siblings get radicalized in less public ways, there’s no one there to step in.

I’m inundated with people asking for help, saying their family members need resources for someone in their life who has recently become divorced from reality and militant because of extraordinarily comforting lies on social media.

They want to know why people aren’t taking this more seriously and why we can’t quantify these things. Well, we can’t quantify these things because social media networks don’t want people to know how bad this problem is . . .

There are so many people out there earnestly struggling right now . . . They are being fed lies for power and profit. Its no wonder they believe them. . . . We need to take their emotions as seriously as the people manipulating them have been for the last ten years.

Unquote.

Of course, there are millions of people struggling who aren’t tempted by bizarre right-wing conspiracy theories, or conspiracy theories at all. What might distinguish the people who are?

John Hibbing, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska, published a book this year called The Securitarian Personality: What Really Motivates Txxxx’s Base. This is from the publisher’s site:

The Authoritarian Personality, . . . published by Theordor Adorno and a set of colleagues in the 1950s, was the first broad-based empirical attempt to explain why certain individuals are attracted to the authoritarian, even fascist, leaders that dominated the political scene in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, the concept has been applied to leaders ranging from Txxxx to Viktor Orban to Rodrigo Duterte. But is it really accurate to label Txxxx supporters as authoritarians?

In The Securitarian Personality, John R. Hibbing argues that an intense desire for authority is not central to those constituting Txxxx’s base. Drawing from participant observation, focus groups, and especially an original, nationwide survey of the American public that included over 1,000 ardent Txxxx supporters, Hibbing demonstrates that what Txxxx’s base really craves is actually a specific form of security.

His supporters do not strive for security in the face of all threats, such as climate change, Covid-19, and economic inequality, but rather only from those threats they perceive to be emanating from human outsiders, defined broadly to include welfare cheats, unpatriotic athletes, norm violators, non-English speakers, religious and racial minorities, and certainly people from other countries. The central objective of these “securitarians” is to strive for protection for themselves, their families, and their dominant cultural group from these embodied outsider threats.

Unquote.

The publisher could have said they strive for protection from outsider threats, real or imaginary. The point is that they feel threatened by those they view as outsiders, those who have been “otherized” (using the NBC reporter’s term). And once you view your fellow citizens as outsiders, it’s easy to mistrust everything they say and do. The standard Democratic rhetoric about us all being in this together and providing opportunity for everybody sounds like an attack to them.

Thus, we hear from an older couple who live in Mason, Texas, 50 miles east of Austin. They’re deeply concerned about immigrants and protesters, as if their isolated town with a population of 2,000 is on the frontlines of the culture wars:

Ms. Smith, 67, and her husband, Dennis, 69, tied their unequivocal support for the president — even in defeat — to larger cultural concerns.

Like Mr. Biden and his supporters, the Smiths saw this election as a battle for the country’s soul. To unify with Mr. Biden would be an admission that the battle is lost, and that the multicultural tide powering his victory will continue its ascension.

“Everything I worked for, Biden wants to give to the immigrants to help them live, when they don’t do nothing but sit on their butts,” Mr. Smith said.

“And if those protesters come here, if they go tearing up stuff, I guarantee you they won’t be in this town very long,” he added. “We’ll string them up and send them out of here . . .