Thomas B. Edsall | Why Conspiracy Theories Flourish in Trump’s America – The New York Times

Mr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.

“Whether he is out of power or in office, Donald Trump deploys conspiracy theory as a political mobilizing tool designed to capture anger at the liberal establishment, to legitimize racial resentment and to unite voters who feel oppressed by what they see as a dominant socially progressive culture.

The success of this strategy is demonstrated by the astonishing number of Republicans — a decisive majority, according to a recent Economist/YouGov survey — who say that they believe that the Democratic Party and its elected officials conspired to steal the 2020 election. This is a certifiable conspiracy theory, defined as a belief in “a secret arrangement by a group of powerful people to usurp political or economic power, violate established rights, hoard vital secrets, or unlawfully alter government institutions.”

Not only do something like 71 percent of Republicans — roughly 52 million voters, according to a University of Massachusetts Amherst poll released on Jan. 6, 2022 — claim to believe that Donald Trump won the 2020 election despite indisputable evidence to the contrary, but the Republican Party has committed itself unequivocally and relentlessly to promoting this false claim.”

Vanessa Barbara | Bolsonaro-Supporting Brazilian Telegram Channels Are Wild and Sinister – The New York Times

Ms. Barbara is a contributing Opinion writer who focuses on Brazilian politics, culture and everyday life.

“SÃO PAULO, Brazil — When Elon Musk reached a deal to acquire Twitter, right-wing Telegram groups in Brazil went wild. Here at last was a muscular champion of free speech. Even more, here was someone who — users rushed to confirm — wanted Carlos Bolsonaro, son of the president, to be Twitter’s managing director in Brazil.

That was, of course, not true. But I wasn’t surprised. I had been following these groups on the messaging app for weeks, to watch how misinformation was spread in real time. In Brazil, fake news seems to be something that the population at large seems to fall victim to — Telegram just offers the sort of deepest rabbit hole you can go down. So I knew — from horrible, eye-sapping experience — that for many right-wing activists, fake news has become an article of faith, a weapon of war, the surest way of muddling the public discussion.”

Who Is Behind QAnon? Linguistic Detectives Find Fingerprints – The New York Times

” “Open your eyes,” the online post began, claiming, “Many in our govt worship Satan.”

That warning, published on a freewheeling online message board in October 2017, was the beginning of the movement now known as QAnon. Paul Furber was its first apostle.

The outlandish claim made perfect sense to Mr. Furber, a South African software developer and tech journalist long fascinated with American politics and conspiracy theories, he said in an interview. He still clung to “Pizzagate,” the debunked online lie that liberal Satanists were trafficking children from a Washington restaurant. He was also among the few who understood an obscure reference in the message to “Operation Mockingbird,” an alleged C.I.A. scheme to manipulate the news media.

As the stream of messages, most signed only “Q,” grew into a sprawling conspiracy theory, the mystery surrounding their authorship became a central fascination for its followers — who was the anonymous Q?

Now two teams of forensic linguists say their analysis of the Q texts shows that Mr. Furber, one of the first online commentators to call attention to the earliest messages, actually played the lead role in writing them.”

“. . . . Mr. Furber said in an interview that he had inherited his passion for American politics from his parents, who had taught in Canada and traveled around the United States. He visited often while building a career in software development and writing for trade publications.

His fascination with conspiracy theories, he said, began with questions about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Then, around 1996, he found a site spinning alternative stories about the suicide of Vincent Foster, the Clinton White House counsel, and other deaths falsely said to be linked to the Clintons. “That sort of kicked off my interest,” he said.”

Far-Right Extremists Move From ‘Stop the Steal’ to Stop the Vaccine – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/us/far-right-extremism-anti-vaccine.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage

DL: Just when I think it’s really bad, it gets worse.

“Adherents of far-right groups who cluster online have turned repeatedly to one particular website in recent weeks — the federal database showing deaths and adverse reactions nationwide among people who have received Covid-19 vaccinations.

Although negative reactions have been relatively rare, the numbers are used by many extremist groups to try to bolster a rash of false and alarmist disinformation in articles and videos with titles like “Covid-19 Vaccines Are Weapons of Mass Destruction — and Could Wipe out the Human Race” or “Doctors and Nurses Giving the Covid-19 Vaccine Will be Tried as War Criminals.”

If the so-called Stop the Steal movement appeared to be chasing a lost cause once President Biden was inaugurated, its supporters among extremist organizations are now adopting a new agenda from the anti-vaccination campaign to try to undermine the government.

Bashing of the safety and efficacy of vaccines is occurring in chat rooms frequented by all manner of right-wing groups including the Proud Boys; the Boogaloo movement, a loose affiliation known for wanting to spark a second Civil War; and various paramilitary organizations.”

How Senator Ron Johnson Helps Erode Confidence in Government – The New York Times

“BROOKFIELD, Wis. — Senator Ron Johnson incited widespread outrage when he said recently that he would have been more afraid of the rioters who rampaged the Capitol on Jan. 6 had they been members of Black Lives Matter and antifa.

But his revealing and incendiary comment, which quickly prompted accusations of racism, came as no surprise to those who have followed Mr. Johnson’s career in Washington or back home in Wisconsin. He has become the Republican Party’s foremost amplifier of conspiracy theories and disinformation now that Donald Trump himself is banned from social media and largely avoiding appearances on cable television.

Mr. Johnson is an all-access purveyor of misinformation on serious issues such as the pandemic and the legitimacy of American democracy, as well as invoking the etymology of Greenland as a way to downplay the effects of climate change.

In recent months, Mr. Johnson has sown doubts about President Biden’s victory, argued that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was not an armed insurrection, promoted discredited Covid-19 treatments, said he saw no need to get the coronavirus vaccine himself and claimed that the United States could have ended the pandemic a year ago with the development of a generic drug if the government had wanted that to happen.

Last year, he spent months as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee seeking evidence that Mr. Biden had tried to pressure Ukrainian officials to aid his son Hunter, which an Intelligence Community report released on Monday said was misinformation that was spread by Russia to help Mr. Trump’s re-election.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times)

Mr. Johnson has also become the leading Republican proponent of a revisionist effort to deny the motives and violence of the mob that breached the Capitol. At a Senate hearing to examine the events of that day, Mr. Johnson read into the record an account from a far-right website attributing the violence to “agents-provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters.” On Saturday, he told a conference of conservative political organizers in Wisconsin that “there was no violence on the Senate side, in terms of the chamber.” In fact, Trump supporters stormed the chamber shortly after senators were evacuated.

His continuing assault on the truth, often under the guise of simply “asking questions” about established facts, is helping to diminish confidence in American institutions at a perilous moment, when the health and economic well-being of the nation relies heavily on mass vaccinations, and when faith in democracy is shaken by right-wing falsehoods about voting.” . . .

David Lindsay:  Today, March 26, 2021, we recieved a copy of the Wall Street Journal instead of the New York Times. The lead op-ed was by Kimberly Strassel, called “Yellow Journalism Turns Blue,” attacking the left wing fascist press complex of smearing Wisonsin’s Senator Ron Johnson. It was well written, full of distortions, misrepresentations and lies. One has to be concerned about the bubble of miss information supported by Rupert Murdoch and his papers and television shows.

How Pro-Trump Forces Pushed a Lie About Antifa at the Capitol Riot – The New York Times

“At 1:51 p.m. on Jan. 6, a right-wing radio host named Michael D. Brown wrote on Twitter that rioters had breached the United States Capitol — and immediately speculated about who was really to blame. “Antifa or BLM or other insurgents could be doing it disguised as Trump supporters,” Mr. Brown wrote, using shorthand for Black Lives Matter. “Come on, man, have you never heard of psyops?”

Only 13,000 people follow Mr. Brown on Twitter, but his tweet caught the attention of another conservative pundit: Todd Herman, who was guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s national radio program. Minutes later, he repeated Mr. Brown’s baseless claim to Mr. Limbaugh’s throngs of listeners: “It’s probably not Trump supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Right?”

What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of a right-wing disinformation machine primed to seize on a lie that served its political interests and quickly spread it as truth to a receptive audience. The weekslong fiction about a stolen election that President Donald J. Trump pushed to his millions of supporters had set the stage for a new and equally false iteration: that left-wing agitators were responsible for the attack on the Capitol.

In fact, the rioters breaking into the citadel of American democracy that day were acolytes of Mr. Trump, intent on stopping Congress from certifying his electoral defeat. Subsequent arrests and investigations have found no evidence that people who identify with antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, were involved in the insurrection.”

Thomas Friedman | Cyberspace Plus Trump Almost Killed Our Democracy. Can Europe Save Us? – The New York Times

To clean up the fake news on the internet, we should quickly get rid of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
“It stipulated that internet/cyberspace companies, which at the time were mostly crude search engines and aggregator sites . . . could not be held liable for defamatory or false posts by people using their platforms, the way The New York Times or CBS could be. ” Tom Friedman writes that Europe is leading the way.

. . . .  ” Shoshana Zuboff named this business model “surveillance capitalism,” and in a Times Op-Ed a year ago she detailed how these sites morphed from “bulletin boards” to “hyper-velocity global bloodstreams into which anyone may introduce a dangerous virus without a vaccine.”

Alas, our lawmakers were either too gridlocked, too bought off or too tempted to use these platforms themselves to produce serious legislation. And the platforms said, “Don’t blame us — regulate us.” But they all also used their vast lobbying powers to resist that.

The result? “While the Chinese have designed and deployed digital technologies to advance their system of authoritarian rule, the West has remained compromised and ambivalent,” Zuboff wrote last month in this paper. “This failure has left a void where democracy should be, and the dangerous result has been a two-decade drift toward private systems of surveillance and behavioral control outside the constraints of democratic governance.”

opean Union, which is already wary of the huge power of these big U.S. companies, has already forced search engines like Google to grant E.U. citizens the right to delete unfavorable or inaccurate online material about them from searches and is more sensitive to the dangers of fringe parties, will use its clout as the world’s largest trading bloc to show us how to democratically project our values into cyberspace.

A few weeks ago, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, released an open letter that pulled no punches. She noted that she had watched on television “as the angry mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. I found those images deeply unsettling. … This is what happens when messages spread by online platforms and social media become a threat to democracy.”

She noted that in December the E.U. leadership had proposed to the European Parliament a Digital Services Act and a Digital Market Act to make sure that “what is unlawful in the analogue world is in the future also unlawful online … We also want the platforms to provide transparency regarding how their algorithms work. … We also want clear requirements for internet firms to accept responsibility for the way in which they distribute, promote and remove content” and to mitigate the systemic risk they can pose.” . . .

Michelle Goldberg | QAnon Believers Are Obsessed With Hillary Clinton. She Has Thoughts. – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; photo by Eric Thayer for The New York Times

“A clear indication that Marjorie Taylor Greene was more than a dabbler in QAnon was her 2018 endorsement of “Frazzledrip,” one of the most grotesque tendrils of the movement’s mythology. You “have to go down a number of rabbit holes to get that far,” said Mike Rothschild, whose book about QAnon, “The Storm Is Upon Us,” comes out later this year.

The lurid fantasy of Frazzledrip refers to an imaginary video said to show Hillary Clinton and her former aide, Huma Abedin, assaulting and disfiguring a young girl, and drinking her blood. It holds that several cops saw the video, and Clinton had them killed.

When Greene posted a picture of Donald Trump with the mother of the slain N.Y.P.D. officer Miosotis Familia on Facebook, one of her commenters described Frazzledrip and wrote, “This was another Hillary hit.” Greene replied, “Yes Familia,” then continued, “I post things sometimes to see who knows things. Most the time people don’t. I’m glad to see your comment.”

Contemplating Frazzledrip, it occurred to me that QAnon is the obscene apotheosis of three decades of Clinton demonization. It’s other things as well, including a repurposed version of the old anti-Semitic blood libel, which accused Jews of using the blood of Christian children in their rituals, and a cult lusting for mass public executions. According to the F.B.I., it’s a domestic terror threat.

But QAnon is also the terminal stage of the national derangement over Clinton that began as soon as she entered public life. “It’s my belief that QAnon really took off because it was based on Hillary Clinton,” said Rothschild. “It was based specifically on something that a lot of 4chan dwellers wanted to see happen, which was Hillary Clinton arrested and sort of dragged away in chains.”

I was curious what Clinton thinks about all this, and it turns out she’s been thinking about it a lot. “For me, it does go back to my earliest days in national politics, when it became clear to me that there was a bit of a market in trafficking in the most outlandish accusations and wild stories concerning me, my family, people that we knew, people close to us,” she told me.”  . . .

“. . .  Looking back to the 1990s, it’s easy to see QAnon’s antecedents. In “Clinton Crazy,” a 1997 New York Times Magazine story, Philip Weiss delved into the multipronged subculture devoted to anathematizing the first couple. He described “freelance obsessives, the people for whom the Internet was invented, cerebral hobbyists who have glimpsed in the Clinton scandals a high moral drama that might shake society to its roots.”

The people Weiss wrote about targeted both Clintons, but there was always a special venom reserved for Hillary, seen as a feminist succubus out to annihilate traditional family relations. An attendee at the 1996 Republican National Convention told the feminist writer Susan Faludi, “It’s well-established that Hillary Clinton belonged to a satanic cult, still does.” Running for Congress in 2014, Ryan Zinke, who would later become Trump’s secretary of the interior, described her as “the Antichrist.” (He later said he was joking.) Trump himself called Clinton “the Devil.”

For Clinton, these supernatural smears are part of an old story. “This is rooted in ancient scapegoating of women, of doing everything to undermine women in the public arena, women with their own voices, women who speak up against power and the patriarchy,” she said. “This is a Salem Witch Trials line of argument against independent, outspoken, pushy women. And it began to metastasize around me.” In this sense, Frazzledrip is just a particularly disgusting version of misogynist hatred she’s always contended with.” . . .  

Michelle Cottle | Marjorie Taylor Greene Apologized and Got a Standing Ovation. Seriously. – The New York Times

“The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, issued a plaintive plea to his troops on Wednesday: Can’t we all just get along?

Congressional Republicans had two delicate items on their midweek to-do list involving the possible punishment of their own members:

1. Vote on whether to oust from leadership Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the chamber’s No. 3 Republican, over her vote to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol siege. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” Ms. Cheney had asserted on the eve of impeachment, provoking wrath among Trump loyalists.

2. Decide whether to strip committee assignments from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the conspiracy theory-embracing, race-baiting freshman from Georgia, who, pre-Congress, spent her time on social media indulging right-wing rants about killing prominent Democratic officials and agents of the so-called deep state.

In the matter of Ms. Cheney, Republicans declined to bow to their Trumpian cultists. During a conference meeting in the bowels of the Capitol Wednesday, Ms. Cheney refused to apologize for backing impeachment, even when members of the Freedom Caucus accused her of “aiding the enemy.” After some four hours of debate, the conference voted decisively, 145 to 61, to keep her as its chairwoman. That the balloting was secret enabled some of the more spinally challenged members to vote their conscience.

Credit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

With Ms. Greene, the party’s fringe carried the day. Mr. McCarthy issued a statement assuring the public that the poison conspiracy theories she had peddled “do not represent the values or beliefs of the House Republican Conference.” And Ms. Greene apologized to colleagues for some of her battier statements and for putting the conference in a tough political spot. For this, she received a standing ovation.

In the end, Republicans refused to take any concrete action against her. They instead left it to the full House to vote Thursday on a resolution put forward by Democrats to remove Ms. Greene from two committees. The House voted 230 to 199 to do so, with 11 Republicans voting with Democrats.

This dodge allowed Mr. McCarthy to denounce the move as a “partisan power grab” by Democrats, while he and others hawk the usual slippery-slope gibberish. If they come for Ms. Greene today, they warn, what’s to stop them for coming for other Republicans tomorrow?

On the surface, these moves — or lack thereof — appear to pull in different directions. But they have the shared aim of preserving the fraying ties between the party’s angry, Trumpist base and its more traditional wing. “We need to unite for us to take the majority and govern,” Mr. McCarthy reportedly urged in defending Ms. Cheney.” . . .

“Deliberation is a wonderful thing. But among the pile of already established facts are videos of Ms. Greene holding forth on some of the most unhinged fictions percolating on the internet. In her social media postings, she has even endorsed the “frazzledrip” conspiracy theory. Warning: Do not Google that one if you have a weak stomach.”

I dared to google, What is the frazzledrip conspiracy, and I wish I hadn’t. It is real story about an insidious lie, that investigators found a video on Anthony Weiner’s laptop of a girl being mutilated. From the U.S. Sun, a British tabloid?:

“The fake report claimed that the video allegedly shows Hillary Clinton and her former aide Huma Abedin, Weiner’s ex-wife, raping and mutilating a young girl.

At the end of the so-called video, the girl bleeds out before Clinton and Abedin drink the blood during a Satanic ritual sacrifice.

Hundreds of YouTube videos, each with thousands of views, are dedicated to the violent and untrue conspiracy theory, according to Vox.”

To repeat, there is no such video, and the people who pass on such stories, like Marjory Taylor Green, now in congress, are sick and dangerous. She apologized profusely, and her GOP colleagues gave her a standing ovation?

Paul Krugman | The G.O.P. Is in a Doom Loop of Bizarro – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…L.E. Baskow/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Here’s what we know about American politics: The Republican Party is stuck, probably irreversibly, in a doom loop of bizarro. If the Trump-incited Capitol insurrection didn’t snap the party back to sanity — and it didn’t — nothing will.

What isn’t clear yet is who, exactly, will end up facing doom. Will it be the G.O.P. as a significant political force? Or will it be America as we know it? Unfortunately, we don’t know the answer. It depends a lot on how successful Republicans will be in suppressing votes.

About the bizarro: Even I had some lingering hope that the Republican establishment might try to end Trumpism. But such hopes died this week.

On Tuesday Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who has said that Donald Trump’s role in fomenting the insurrection was impeachable, voted for a measure that would have declared a Trump trial unconstitutional because he’s no longer in office. (Most constitutional scholars disagree.)

On Thursday Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader — who still hasn’t conceded that Joe Biden legitimately won the presidency, but did declare that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack on Congress — visited Mar-a-Lago, presumably to make amends.

And the fringe is consolidating its hold at the state level. The Arizona state party censured the Republican governor for the sin of belatedly trying to contain the coronavirus. The Texas G.O.P. has adopted the slogan “We are the storm,” which is associated with QAnon, although the party denies it intended any link. Oregon Republicans have endorsed the completely baseless claim, contradicted by the rioters themselves, that the attack on the Capitol was a left-wing false flag operation.

How did this happen to what was once the party of Dwight Eisenhower? Political scientists argue that traditional forces of moderation have been weakened by factors like the nationalization of politics and the rise of partisan media, notably Fox News.” . . .

This is what Krugman wrote last week while he was hitting his head.  Yesterday, the GOP got a bit saner.  The voted in secret ballot to keep Liz Chaney in leadership, and 13 brave souls joined all the Democrats to strip Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee appointments in the house.