Category: Religion

What can we learn from PizzaGate?

The subject of fake and hoax news stories, including Russian disinformation (what they refer to as dezinformatsiya) has done a great deal to change the way modern society works. Conspiracy theorists are now more trusted than actual news sources and more and more, people can’t tell the difference between total bullshit, biased reporting, or a fair news report that just happens to disagree with their point of view. This has led to a massive shift in public opinion and likely had a significant effect on the election of Donald Trump.

One incident that serves as a perfect example, is “PizzaGate.” One of the most sensational fake news stories that was spread virally through social media was the claim that a child sex ring was ran by Hillary Clinton and/or her campaign manager John Podesta out of a Washington D.C. pizzeria named Comet Ping Pong. The story was absorbed into the anti-Hillary fervor during the 2016 Presidential election. The conspiracy theory has its origins in leaked Podesta emails about food, including an email regarding the restaurant itself. The hashtag #PizzaGate spread the rumor, alleging the pizzeria’s menu had secret codes that were used by pedophiles to order sex. Conspiracy theorists quickly linked Podesta and Comet Ping Pong to the belief in a group of elite pedophile occultists secretly ruling the world (this is a recurring theme in Illuminati conspiracy theories).

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One of many #pizzagate memes spread amongst believers on Facebook.

The story leapt from Internet crazy to real-life danger when one man, inspired by word-of-mouth retellings of the PizzaGate rumors decided to drive six hours to Comet Ping Pong to investigate. The man, 28 year old Edgar Madison Welch of Salisbury, NC drove from his home to Washington D.C. with a handgun and semi-automatic rifle. Once in D.C., Welch says he abruptly shifted his plans. Instead of “investigating,” Welch decided to come armed with his semi-automatic to “rescue the children.” There were no children held in the pizzeria and Welch surrendered peacefully. Though Welch now feels he acted in haste, he does not believe that the accusations of a pedophile ring in a pizza place were wrong, but that the child sex slaves must be elsewhere.

“The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent”

– Edgar Madison Welch

This story is not new. Mass media being used to spread rumors and innuendo leading to acts of violence now even has its own specific term, stochastic terrorism. The problem is, this is likely to prove a very simplistic and skewed understanding of this new world of digital misinformation, the way this relates to the culture wars, and their potential for inspiring political violence.

It wasn’t just that a massive wave of new internet and social media users that changed the impact of social media in the political discourse, but increasing numbers of rural residents and the elderly are logging on to social media. The YouTube video above illustrates another aspect of this is also a chance for religious extremists to spread their worldview; promoting their belief in a Satanic conspiracy in the highest levels of government (always surrounding Democrats for some reason).

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It isn’t just Russian hackers and hucksters spreading leaked and potentially doctored emails alongside fake news stories, dezinformatsiya, and sensational clickbait. Certainly Russians were heavily involved in the 2016 US Election, as well as the Brexit vote, and helped promote and fund various European Far-Right movements but there is still quite a bit of confusion (and denial on the part of the incoming President) as to the level of the Russian interference, the intent, and the actual Russian entity or entities doing the meddling. State actor or bored Runet users, the goal of destroying the “Western Empire” has long been the stated objective of Eurasianists and the election of Donald Trump is only one step in a process of destabilizing their ideological rivals.

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There is a cultural legacy of placing special relevance given to word-of-mouth information and advice. People share rumors, opinions and what news they feel is important whether other options exist or not. It is a folkway, a traditional mode of doing information spreading. The fact that you can now do it online has made for an interesting parallel to word-0f-mouth communication. Now people can spread news stories (with or without fact checking) which people either read in full or just check the headline. The town gossip of old is now the Facebook conspiracy theory super-spreader and the Internet, as the story of Pizzagate can attest, has the potential to become a pernicious rumor mill. Only now, with social media, the power to spread rumors has much greater arsenal than the town gossip; YouTube videos, memes, and private Facebook groups make the production of a one-sided conspiracy worldview both easy and potent.

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A tweet mocking the PizzaGate controversy.

Social theory in the Twentieth Century noted an increase in secularization due presumably to modernity. The term disenchantment of the world coined by Max Weber became an important aspect of conceptualizing the modern world. Now, with social media, the return to the old folkways of social information spreading and fewer barriers between conspiracy theory and millions of people ideologically primed to believe; we are seeing what can only be described as a re-enchantment. The technology this time has led to greater potential for the spread of supernatural claims. The hypothetical has replaced the demonstrable as the most revered level of information. The post-fact era, as it has been called, may also be the era of multiple mass-hysterias, new witch hunts, and a new technological dark age.

Related story from Right Wing Watch: Alex Jones: ‘Hillary Clinton Has Personally Murdered And Chopped Up And Raped’ Children.

Letting them die: parents refuse medical help for children in the name of Christ

The Followers of Christ is a religious sect that preaches faith healing in states such as Idaho, which offers a faith-based shield for felony crimes – despite alarming child mortality rates among these groups

Written by Jason Wilson (Guardian)

Mariah Walton’s voice is quiet – her lungs have been wrecked by her illness, and her respirator doesn’t help. But her tone is resolute.

“Yes, I would like to see my parents prosecuted.”

Why?

“They deserve it.” She pauses. “And it might stop others.”

Mariah is 20 but she’s frail and permanently disabled. She has pulmonary hypertension and when she’s not bedridden, she has to carry an oxygen tank that allows her to breathe. At times, she has had screws in her bones to anchor her breathing device. She may soon have no option for a cure except a heart and lung transplant – an extremely risky procedure.

All this could have been prevented in her infancy by closing a small congenital hole in her heart. It could even have been successfully treated in later years, before irreversible damage was done. But Mariah’s parents were fundamentalist Mormons who went off the grid in northern Idaho in the 1990s and refused to take their children to doctors, believing that illnesses could be healed through faith and the power of prayer.

As she grew sicker and sicker, Mariah’s parents would pray over her and use alternative medicine. Until she finally left home two years ago, she did not have a social security number or a birth certificate.

Had they been in neighboring Oregon, her parents could have been booked for medical neglect. In Mariah’s case, as in scores of others of instances of preventible death among children in Idaho since the 1970s, laws exempt dogmatic faith healers from prosecution, and she and her sister recently took part in a panel discussion with lawmakers at the state capitol about the issue. Idaho is one of only six states that offer a faith-based shield for felony crimes such as manslaughter.

Some of those enjoying legal protection are fringe Mormon families like Mariah’s, many of whom live in the state’s north. But a large number of children have died in southern Idaho, near Boise, in families belonging to a reclusive, Pentecostal faith-healing sect called the Followers of Christ.

The Followers of Christ’s cemetery is full of graves marking the deaths of children who lived a day, a week, a month.
The Followers of Christ’s cemetery is full of graves marking the deaths of children who lived a day, a week, a month. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

In Canyon County, just west of the capital, the sect’s Peaceful Valley cemetery is full of graves marking the deaths of children who lived a day, a week, a month. Last year, a task force set up by Idaho governor Butch Otter estimated that the child mortality rate for the Followers of Christ between 2002 and 2011 was 10 times that of Idaho as a whole.

The shield laws that prevent prosecutions in Idaho are an artifact of the Nixon administration. High-profile child abuse cases in the 1960s led pediatricians and activists to push for laws that [combat] it. In order to help states fund such programs, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (Capta), which Richard Nixon signed in 1974.

But there was a fateful catch due to the influence of Nixon advisers John Ehrlichman and J R Haldeman, both lifelong Christian Scientists.

Boston College history professor Alan Rogers explains how the men – later jailed for their role in the Watergate scandal – were themselves members of a faith-healing sect, and acted to prevent their co-religionists being charged with crimes of neglect.

“Because Ehrlichman and Haldeman were Christian Scientists, they had inserted into the law a provision that said those who believe that prayer is the only way to cure illness are exempted from this law,” he said.

They also ensure that states had to pass similar exemptions in order to access Capta funds. The federal requirement was later relaxed, but the resultant state laws have had to be painstakingly repealed one by one.

Some states, such as Oregon, held on longer until high-profile deaths in the Followers of Christ church in Oregon City attracted the attention of local media; over time the state reversed course.

As a result, several Followers of Christ members in Oregon have been successfully prosecuted. In 2010, Jeffrey and Marci Beagley were convicted of criminally negligent homicide after the death of their toddler, Neal, who died from a congenital bladder blockage. In 2011, Timothy and Rebecca Wyland were convicted of criminal mistreatment and the court ordered that their daughter Aylana be medically treated for the growth that had been threatening to blind her. Later that year, Dale and Shannon Hickman were convicted of second-degree manslaughter two years after their newborn son died of a simple infection.

Next door, Idaho presents a polar opposition to Oregon. Republicans, who enjoy an effective permanent majority in the state house, are surprisingly reluctant to even consider reform. Last year, the governor’s Task Force on Children at Risk recommended change: “Religious freedoms must be protected; but vulnerable children must also be appropriately protected from unnecessary harm and death.” Democratic legislator John Gannon proposed a repeal bill which he “never thought would really be that controversial”.

The chairman of the senate health and welfare committee, Lee Heider, refused to even grant it a hearing, effectively killing it.

Brian Hoyt at home in Boise.
Brian Hoyt at home in Boise. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

Brian Hoyt, who lives in Boise, grew up in the Followers of Christ church.

Hoyt is a fit 43, and lives in a well-scrubbed suburban neighborhood. He runs a successful window cleaning business that started with a squeegee mop and a bucket after his teenage escape from home left him with no cash and few educational opportunities. When I visited him, his house was being renovated – what was once a “barebones bachelor pad” now accommodates his partner and step-children. Slowly, Hoyt has developed the capacity for family life, after a life in the sect left him “unable to relate to families” for a long time. “I didn’t understand the concept,” he said.

He lost his faith around the age of five, when a baby died in his arms in the course of a failed healing. While elders prayed, Hoyt was in charge of removing its mucus with a suction device. He was told that the child died because of his own lack of faith. Something snapped, and he remembers thinking: “How can this possibly be God’s work?” His apostasy set up lifelong conflicts with his parents and church elders.

In just one incident, when he was 12, Hoyt broke his ankle during a wrestling tryout. “I ended up shattering two bones in my foot,” he said. His parents approached the situation with the usual Followers remedies – rubbing the injury with “rancid olive oil” and having him swig on Kosher wine.

Intermittently, they would have him attempt to walk. Each time, “my body would just go into shock and I would pass out”.

“I would wake up to my step-dad, my uncles and the other elders of the church kicking me and beating me, calling me a fag, because I didn’t have enough faith to let God come in and heal me, while my mom and my aunts were sitting there watching. And that’s called faith healing.”

He had so much time off with the untreated fracture that his school demanded a medical certificate to cover the absence. Forced to take him to a doctor, his mother spent most of the consultation accusing the doctor of being a pedophile.

He was given a cast and medication but immediately upon returning home, the medication was flushed down the toilet, leaving him with no pain relief. His second walking cast was cut off by male relatives at home with a circular saw.

Other people who have left the group, such as Linda Martin, told similar tales of coercion, failed healing using only rancid olive oil, and a high level of infant mortality, isolation and secrecy. Violence, she said, was “the reason I left home. My childhood and Brian’s were very similar.” Deaths from untreated illness are attributed to “God’s will. Their lives are dominated by God’s will.”

Martin and Hoyt have both lobbied to change the laws, with Martin in particular devoting years of patient research to documenting deaths and other church activities. Hoyt has faced harassment online and at his home, and church members have even tried to undermine his business.

So far, their testimonies of abuse have not convinced Idaho’s Republican legislators. Senator Heider, for one, describes the Followers of Christ as “very nice people”.

Linda Martin, who left the Followers of Christ.
Linda Martin, who left the Followers of Christ. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

Child advocate and author Janet Heimlich, who has campaigned against exemptions around the country, says that Heider told her before the legislative session began that “he would carry the bill” and helped with the production of a draft, but by the time the session began in October he indicated that no bill would be passed or even heard.

Heider’s repeated response to these claims was a welter of contradictions and bluster.

After telling the Guardian that no bill was lodged (John Gannon confirmed that he did, as was reported in local media in February) and that he had been told by the attorney general and the Canyon County prosecuting attorney that the laws did not need to change (both men deny saying this), Heider took refuge in the US constitution.

“Republicans didn’t feel the need to change the laws. We believe in the first amendment to the constitution. I don’t think that states have a right to interfere in religions.”

When pressed on the fact that children are dying unnecessarily as a result of exemptions, Heider makes an odd comparison.

“Are we going to stop Methodists from reading the New Testament? Are we going to stop Catholics receiving the sacraments? That’s what these people believe in. They spoke to me and pointed to a tremendous number of examples where Christ healed people in the New Testament.”

Heider blamed outsiders for stirring the pot on this issue, even challenging the Guardian’s right to take an interest in the story, asking “what difference does it make to you?” and adding “is the United States coming in and trying to change Idaho’s laws?” He confirmed that he attended a Followers of Christ service last year – a rare privilege for an outsider from a group that refuses to speak to reporters.

But if we take Heider at his word concerning the reasons for his opposition, his view of the constitution is simply mistaken.

Alan Rogers, the Boston College history professor, points to a string of US supreme court decisions that distinguish between freedom of belief and freedom of practice, which affirm the former and limit the latter where it causes harm. These stretch back as far as Reynolds v United States in 1878, which forbade Mormon polygamy, and include Prince v Massachusetts, which affirmed the federal government’s ability to secure the welfare of children even when it conflicts with religious belief.

Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow at Political Research Associates, has long researched the connection between religion and conservatism. He points out that “almost all American politicians are cowards when it comes to religion”.

Religious liberty is a powerful idea, and a great achievement in the history of western civilization, but “it’s also used as a tool by the rich and the powerful, and by politicians who want to look the other way”.

There’s also the fact that conservatives have been mobilizing religious liberty in recent years, first as a reason to kill same-sex marriage at the state level, and now to limit the scope of the supreme court’s decision that it cannot be outlawed by states.

A taskforce set up by the Idaho governor estimated that the child mortality rate for the Followers of Christ between 2002 and 2011 was 10 times that of Idaho as a whole.
A taskforce set up by the Idaho governor estimated that the child mortality rate for the Followers of Christ between 2002 and 2011 was 10 times that of Idaho as a whole. Photograph: Jason Wilson for the Guardian

While Idaho legislators stonewall, children in faith-healing communities continue to suffer.

According to coroners’ reports, in Canyon County alone just in the past decade at least 10 children in the Followers of Christ church have died. These include 15-year-old Arrian Granden, who died in 2012 after contracting food poisoning. She vomited so much that her esophagus ruptured. Untreated, she bled to death.

The other deaths are mostly infants who died during at-home births or soon after from treatable complications, simple infections or pneumonia.

In one Canyon County report on the death of an infant called Asher Sevy, we see the difficulty that the shield laws create for local authorities.

When Sevy died in 2006, a Canyon County coroner’s deputy attended by two sheriff’s deputies asked to take the body away for an autopsy. According to the coroner’s account, the family “were very much against this for any reason”, and informed the deputy that she “was not going with me or anyone else” and removal would have to be done “forcefully”.

After a liaison with the county’s chief deputy and the prosecutor’s office, the assembled county officials decided to leave “rather than escalate a problem that could be worse than it was now”. The conclusion? “The cause [of death] will go down as undetermined.”

Autopsies are at the coroner’s discretion, and the deputy, Bill Kirby, did write that at the time there was “no evidence of a crime”. The incident is unsettling, though.

Canyon County coroner Vicki DeGeus-Morriss, who has been in office since 1991, refused to speak directly with the Guardian. However Joe Decker, a county spokesman, insisted that the coroner and other officials had been successful in building a better relationship with the Followers.

“Back when Vicki first took office, the Followers rarely, if ever, reported a death. And when they did, they would often be uncooperative with both the Coroner and law enforcement when they arrived on scene,” Decker said. Now, they “have a relationship in which every single death is reported and autopsies are almost always performed”.

For the outsider, there may still be something unsatisfying about this – a lingering impression that exemptions from child abuse prosecutions have led Followers to form the impression that the law can be negotiated with.

Nevertheless, local officials can’t make laws, only enforce them. The frustration at the local effects of shield laws was perhaps evident in the support that Canyon County prosecutor Brian Taylor gave to efforts to change the laws.

Campaigners such as Mariah Walton, Janet Heimlich, Linda Martin and Brian Hoyt are determined not to let this matter rest in the next legislative session.

A new “Let Them Live” campaign, involving a television ad campaign featuring Mariah, is being coordinated by Bruce Wingate at Protect Idaho Kids. Resources are limited, but all are confident that improved public awareness will build pressure on legislators.

Gannon, the Democratic legislator, says for his part that his bill will be back next year. “It’s not going to go away,” he says. “Dead children don’t care about the first amendment.”

666 is everywhere, as long as you are looking for it.

Disclaimer: This is not a theological discussion.

Human perception is a funny thing.

We tend to be pattern-seeking and often find patterns and shapes where there are none; this phenomenon has a name, pareidolia. A few examples of pareidolia are the appearance of faces or facial features in an inanimate object, or the shape of an animal in the clouds. Whether a sub-category or separate but related phenomenon, apophenia is also common perceptual miscue; the tendency to finding meaning in random sensory input.

One of the most common examples of apophenia is the obsession with the number 666.

If the number 666 been an obsession for you, you likely scoffed at the allegation that  the number is in any way ‘random.’ To be fair, mathematically speaking, 666 is a triangular number (as is 2016, FYI). The dark, satanic imagery that the “number of the beast” invokes can bring believers in evil and demonic forces to a level of fearful concern that borders on obsession.

But that’s just it, you have to not only know the backstory, but also believe it.

In the New Testament Bible book of Revelation chapter 13, verse 18 it reads:

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.

Right, well, depending who you ask. Some Christians with an ever-zealous concern for accuracy have pointed to the recently (1895 C.E.) unearthed Oxyrhynchus manuscripts (dated 300 C.E.) which translate the number as 616.  This is, essentially, irrelevant for this discussion. We are not concerned in debating the Bible, but rather illustrating a very pernicious case of finding patterns where there are none.

‘The Mark of the Beast’ is not the only pattern of ill-repute, or renown of course. Another example of pattern-seeking and obsession plays out in the Darren Aronofsky movie Pi. The movie explores the obsession with numbers, the ease to which an idea becomes crystallized within the psyche, and the role religion can play in legitimizing and reinforcing the obsession; in this case a ‘perfect’ 216 digit number, the ‘true name of God.’

So, if the number is meant to represent something good or holy (i.e. the 216 digit number in the movie Pi) their tends to be an obsession with perfectionism (I once knew someone who was certain the “perfect number” was 22). The obsession with the number 666 comes from the opposite; an obsession with pure evil, and an obsession to avoid evil at all cost thus aligning one’s self with all that is good and holy (it is a perfect time to mention that excessive pareidolia has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder).

If, like someone who views the world in terms of ‘good and evil,’ you eschew all potential 666s and stay steadfast in your resolve as some extreme Fundamentalist Christians may opt for, it is likely that you will soon find that, like Max in Pi, if you look for 666 everywhere then you will find it everywhere.  What results is not the banishment of evil but, rather, absolute obsession.

“When your mind becomes obsessed with anything, you will filter everything else out and find that thing everywhere.”

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Google, Visa, Disney, Monster Energy Drinks, Taco Bell, Mitsubishi Motors, Coca-Cola, etc., etc. 666 is everywhere, apparently. Need more amazing examples?  Here’s a video.

If you are certain that all these images represent a finite collection of possible 666 images, including the “Mark of the Beast” hand signal, the potential to take the leap to anything or anyone being satanic increases exponentially when the use of Hebrew and/or Greek are employed.

The above is an example of Greek numerology-to-symbolism work around that was used to connect jihadi extremists with the ‘Mark of the Beast.’ This is a bit far-fetched, but I doubt many would argue on behalf of a jihadist, but what about Jesus Christ himself? the Chi-Xi-Sigma combination (pictured above), using similar numerological logic, has been linked to the common christogram or abbreviate for the Christ, IHS.

The logic that links Jesus Christ to Satan (essentially saying Jesus is satanic) through numerology is necessarily flawed. Of course, most people aren’t looking to prove that Christ is the Antichrist (as this link claims). The reality is, those who are looking to demonize that which they detest will find a means to do so. No more apparent example can be shown than this attempt to vilify Barack Obama (one of many, of course) through this same set of false logic.

BHO. What more proof do you want?

If you need a bit more evidence, here is the webpage that “proves” Obama is the Antichrist.

Of course, this is not so much an attempt to vilify Barack Obama, Coca-Cola, Disney and Jesus but, rather, the very pattern-seeking that is in human nature set to the coordinates defined by a specific interpretation of a specific religion.

Another permutation of pareidolia plays out in the ‘sacred numerological message’ of 11:11 (often depicted in this clock type-face). As with extreme Fundamentalist Christianity, so too with Uri Geller and the New Age consciousness.

Along with 666, and 11:11, other double-digits and repeat patterns have been accused of a sacred nature in various numerology circles. The ultimate deciding factor on whether you dwell fearfully on the number 666 or think 11:11 somehow signals a New Age awakening seems to be nothing more than the epistemological worldview you have adopted.

Pattern recognition is one of the important mental tasks humans developed as a means for survival in the wild. Changes in our surroundings often meant a threat. A pair of eyes glinting in the forest could be a predator. A change in wind direction could imperil or herald nearby food sources. This pattern seeking only grew more acute and nuanced as humans advanced into and through the Neolithic and into modernity. Patterns of life and death morphed into good and evil and may well morph again as Humanity continues to embrace science over superstition. It is not likely that pattern seeking behavior in humans will cease to be the norm but, hopefully, that intense capacity to seek patterns can continue to be harnessed (as it has been increasingly throughout the Modern Era) into a force for improved health and well-being for as many as possible.

Election 2016: Candidates and Conspiracy Theories

UPDATE: This post was originally written 7 months before the November Election. There is no chance that I could fit even a tenth of the conspiracy theory related content that has become newsworthy in that time. Needless to say, a post-election update may be in order. I would hope that interested parties would read previous posts and archival material about the proliferation of “psuedo-political scientific” bullshit, the Hillary Clinton reptoid conspiracists, the story of who the “Blacks for Trump” are, and the most complete list of conspiracies connected to or attributable to Donald Trump and lesser known presidential candidate, Jill Stein.

The 2016 American Presidential Election has not only been one of the most bombastic in the country’s history. Starting out early, with speculation for Hillary Clinton’s potential Presidential bid beginning as early as September of 2013, and remaining a constant subject of media attention thereafter. It was the GOP side which at its peak boasted 17 candidates running for the nomination, including now famously forgotten candidates as Jim Gilmore, and Bobby Jindal, that started Presidential speculative mockery in a July 2013 New Republic article that mentioned Republican ‘wacko birds’ considering their bids; including Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and promoted New Republic’s most favored candidate, Peter King (who did not end up running after all).

Back then, Donald Trump was only used as a way to mock other famous loonies that may clog the airwaves:

Making a play for the Donald Trump slot (the celebrity who only threatened to run) is Ted Nugent. No, really, Ted Nugent, who once brandished two machine guns onstage at a concert, shouting, “Hey, Hillary! You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.”

So, it is amazing that a little under 3 years later, 22 major Presidential candidates came, and only 4 remain: Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Cruz. With all the rancor, speculation, and shady underhanded discourse this Presidential election has brought with it, let’s have some more! Shall we?

 

The Conspiracist’s Choice?

Who do 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists, Anti-Vaxxers, Anti-Illuminati, and the elite of fringe ideologues want for their 2016 Presidential candidate?  I feel like the answer is so painfully obvious at this point that delaying the answer would seem pointless.

It is, as you expected, Donald Trump.

donald-trumpThe smug demented fuck.

The folks that have endorsed Donald Trump are, by and large, the same people who believe that the world is run by a shadow government of elites who wield power from behind closed doors. Why? Because Donald trump is an elite who has wielded power from behind closed doors.

I am not making this up. The conspiracist sees in Trump one who ‘played the game’ and ‘knows the game’ but is, for whatever reason, willing to ‘change the game.’

The cavalcade of famous Trump supporters reads as a who’s who of the famously crazy. Jon Voight (actor), Aaron Carter (pop singer), Mike Tyson (retired boxer and Muslim), Jean-Claude Van Damme (a naturalized American citizen), Kid Rock (American bad-ass), Jesse James (American Outlaw ‘author’), Dennis Rodman, Gary Busey, Hulk Hogan, and Ted Nugent. The list goes on, but the reality is that all of these people see in Trump what most everyone else sees in him, a demented megalomaniac and demagogue. The only difference being that they like that about him.

Trump has also become the outspoken demagogue of choice for anti-Muslim sentiment.

 

Foremost for conspiracy theory aficionados is Alex Jones, who dedicated several InfoWars articles and videos to extolling both tacit support and explicit shade at major opponents to the Trump campaign. The InfoWars.com interview with the GOP candidate on December 3rd, 2015 made Trump look presidential by virtue of Alex Jones’ lunacy. Jones’ interview with elderly Conservative scion Phyllis Schlafly was picked up as a funny-come-disgusting story by Right Wing Watch when he asked the leading question “Does [Trump] smell like Reagan to you?” Jones, for his part, has also made it a point to denounce the other ‘anti-establishment’ candidate in the election, Bernie Sanders, by saying his supporters need to have their “jaws broken.”

It wasn’t always smiles and ‘smells’ from conspiracists for Trump. Early on, Trump was accused of being a ‘plant’ or an electoral ‘false flag’ by conspiracy theorists convinced that his real mission was to destroy the hopes of a Republican President in 2016 and ensure the election for Democrat Hillary Clinton. The Hill’s Brent Budowsky penned an opinion piece on this subject on August 6, 2015. Jeb Bush, during the nadir of his candidacy, floated the theory publicly and two days later it was the subject of a BBC article on the American electoral process.

The difference between conspiracists endorsing Trump and conspiracy theories being promoted by the likes of political candidates, pundits and wonks should be notable. The fact is that this is the type of emotion and mental gymnastics needed to deal with an existential situation in which Donald Trump is running for President and doing well, whether his candidacy was ever fake or not.

Trump himself is a very conspirative thinker. Regularly entertaining conspiracy theories, such as the suspected murder of Justice Antonin Scalia, and regularly using conspirative language in an accusatory manner. During his time in the March 29th CNN Town Hall, Trump has suggested that the GOP establishment is treating him unfairly and that Ted Cruz had planted supporters in a crowd of what was supposed to be undecided voters, specifically calling audience members who booed him “Cruz supporters.” The only conspiracy theories Trump doesn’t seem to enjoy, are the ones that implicate him.

Then there’s the possibility that Trump is experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s, how’s that for a conspiracy theory?

 

Conspiracism for a New Generation.

If the Far Right has found their ideological mirror image in Donald Trump, then it could be safe to say that the Far Left has been edging ever closer to its own reflection.

I am referring, of course, to Bernie Sanders.

Surowiecki-Bernie-Sanders-Healthcare-1200Bernie proudly leaning to the Left.

Even though Politico describes Sanders as “the most prominent conspiracy theorist in America,” this claim (mostly an attention getting one-liner) takes Sanders’ simplistic view of economics and regularly repeated rhetoric that the economy is ‘rigged’ at face value. Even though Sanders’ foisting the lion’s share of economic blame on the nameless and faceless ‘Wall Street,’ this is not the reason his candidacy is worthy of consideration for it’s conspirative nature.

Bernie Sanders, save us from your fans!

Sure, like most people, Bernie Sanders may take some liberties with his rhetoric. I am pretty sure no political candidate does not. Sitting at the hard center of Bernie’s political movement are young people, many who are not comfortable with ‘establishment politics’ and many of whom are also learning to deal with the various set-backs endemic of a political campaign season through that all-powerful cognitive management device: the conspiracy theory.

When a narrow defeat met Sanders in the Iowa caucus, Bernie Sanders supporters raged on Reddit and suggested that Des Moines votes were rigged for Clinton and speculating on how she won six coin tosses (resulting in her tacit victory). On Twitter, the crowd suggested the Microsoft voting machines played a role in the defeat (hearkening back to 2000 Presidential Election in which election devices and irregularities were suspected by conspiracists supporting Al Gore).

Little over a month later, and Bernie Sanders voters have; suggested Hillary Clinton supporters have infiltrated the Sanders camp, voter fraud is causing various caucus defeats, and that Democratic leadership has it in for Bernie Sanders. Some suggest that Bernie supporters’ essential take-over of a Donald Trump rally in Chicago, originally hailed as a Progressive political coup, was in fact the world of so-called ‘Hill Shills’ when the event backfired, apparently hurting Sanders in that weeks’ primaries.

The conspiracist tendencies and poor reputation of Bernie’s early deciders showed itself quite early on. A documented attempt to sway reaction polling for the first Democratic Debate by Sanders supporters was thwarted, to which they reacted with indignation and the conviction that they and Bernie were the victims of a conspiracy. An apparent Twitter War between Hillary supporters and Bernie supporters also yielded some very unseemly press, first via the BBC, and later Cosmopolitan and others began reporting on the #BernieBros that have become a blight to the Sanders campaign image.

Of course, all of this is objectively a politics-as-usual issue. Conspiracy theories seem to have a firmly embedded place in the American Democratic system (if only in the mind’s of the runner-up’s base). Whether Bernie Sanders likes it or not, his anti-Establishment campaign has generated a significant amount of fairly commonplace knee-jerk reactions and ‘establishment conspiracy theories.’

The Female Suspect.

If there is one thing Hillary Clinton has been able to boast about, it has been that she has been attacked by Republicans for over 25 years. And, yes, she has boasted about that. A few times. It seems as if she is using that as one of her campaign talking points. Could it be that being one of the most distrusted, suspected, accused (accursed) candidates can end up being a selling point?

Hillary Clinton is banking on it!

clinton-benghaziBenghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi …

Yes, if you have been following American politics within the past 25 years, you have probably heard about this feminazi. Ever since her appearance in the National political spectrum as the first First Lady to be significantly politically active during her husband’s tenure in the White House, Republicans and Right Wing pundits have attacked Hillary Clinton for everything from her decision to maintain her maiden name, to her decision to hyphenate her maiden and married names, to her decision to drop her maiden name, and then of course there is the constant accusation that she has a (Muslim) lesbian lover.

The list of potential conspiracy theories, scandals (be they truths, half-truths, or down-right lies) is too great to list. Benghazi. So much of the fervor from the Right has been centered around one event. Benghazi. That story which was to be her Achilles Heal eventually fizzled into nothing more than a long drawn out narrative of a Fog of War scenario. Benghazi, talk about Benghazi! Rather than focus on the decades of material before Clinton’s 11 hours of testimony regarding Benghazi on October 22, 2015, I will instead focus on the various Hillary Clinton conspiracy theories that have developed within the past six months alone.

In January, The Oregonian posted “11 Hillary Clinton conspiracy theories that could dog her during the general election” which was essentially a list of potential digs that the Trump campaign may have on Clinton if they are head-to-head in the General Election. These range from the e-mail scandal containing a potential money laundering component, to her personal server placing American intelligence operatives at risk, to the suggestion that Clinton is being ‘positive’ towards President Obama so that she may be granted a Presidential pardon should the e-mail scandal lead to charges. This article mainly quotes Donald Trump or paraphrases FoxNews and maintains that hilariously unhinged Right Wing aesthetic we have all come to expect from the Tea Party class of the GOP.

Oh, let’s not forget Rush Limbaugh. He is still alive and still hates Hillary Clinton with a fiery passion. His latest rants claim that Bernie Sanders is not playing dirty-pool politics because he is afraid Hillary will have him suicided (a reference to an older conspiracy theory, also popularized by Limbaugh, that the Clintons had their lawyer, Vince Foster, killed and made it look like a suicide).

From the Left, or from the anti-Hillary left as it were, a growing suspicion that ‘establishment’ politics and other ‘establishment’ entities have a specific yen for a President Hillary and, thus, are pulling strings to prevent any likelihood of a President Sanders. This has played out over months in some of the most likely places you would expect people to shout obscenities into the ether: The Internet. When Twitter algorithms didn’t promote the #WhichHillary hashtag story, meant to show Clinton as a flip-flopping political opportunist with little integrity whatsoever and to promote awareness that Clinton used the phrase “super-predators” to describe Black youths as somehow engineered to commit violent crime, Bernie Sanders’ supporters including the group Guerilla Socialists cried foul (primarily because they were cited by Twitter for spamming).

Of course, the real story of Hillary conspiracy theories isn’t the actual Left or Right leaning narratives. The true power of the conspirative mind is unleashed in brutal fury through the anti-Hillary meme! Image and text flow together with such beauty as to make the viewer think that the conclusion that is drawn from the image may truly be the stuff of ‘common sense.’

Below are a brief selection of conspiracy-related anti-Hillary memes, for a full selection check Google.com.

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Of course, if we are on the subject of memes, we have to turn away from Hillary Clinton and toward …

The Canadian.

If there is one thing that the GOP establishment, the Democrats, the vast majority of Americans and Donald Trump can all agree on it’s that Ted Cruz is a suspicious character. They just can’t seem to agree on what to suspect him of.

This is one case where Donald Trump’s is not the most outrageous claim. Not even close.

Trump’s assertion, by way of innuendo, that Ted Cruz is a Canadian citizen is based on the fact that Cruz was born in Canada to an American citizen was one that echoed years of ongoing ‘birtherism’ surrounding the Texas Senator. Though Trump suggests that Cruz’s election would be “tied up in the courts” for years, the whole subject died down within the course of a few days after Cruz, various legal scholars, and public opinion seemed to unite in asserting the illogic and illegality of the claim.

Well, that’s not what this blog is about.

The Internet, again, has brought the election into a new level of surreality. This time, the major benefactor is Él Canadían Ted Cruz, or should we say, The Zodiac Killer? A meme-based conspiracy theory that neither has the ring of truth, nor the mere feasibility that would required to keep a normal conspiracy theory going (Cruz was a baby during the time of the Zodiac murders) has led to an explosion of hilarious auxiliary memes due to one thing: Florida.

March 14, 2013, @RedpillAmerica posts joke on Twitter eluding to Cruz announcing he is the Zodiac.

February-March 2016, Cruz Zodiac jokes and memes pick on on Twitter.

February 25, 2016, Public Policy Polling release results of poll ahead of Florida GOP Primary stating “38% of Florida voters think it’s possible that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer. 10% say he for sure is, and another 28% say that they are just not sure. Cruz is exonerated from being a toddler serial killer by 62% of the Sunshine State populace.”

2odiac CruzA 2016 Cruz Campaign Flyer

After the revelation that Florida, by and large, doesn’t get the joke … all internet hell broke loose. Memes of Cruz as everyone from Grampa Munster from the 1960s television show The Munsters, to Mrs. Doubtfire, to Rob Kardashian, to Michael Sweet; lead singer of Christian Hair Metal Band Stryper.

 

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As if this weren’t enough crazy for one candidate, there is also the little matter of the conspiracy theories that this guy buys, or bought, into.

If you follow Right Wing American lunacy you may remember a little multi-state military drill called Jade Helm 15. Jade Helm 15 was a military preparedness drill with joint military branch cooperation and coordinated through the SOC (Special Operations Command), but what Ted Cruz and many other Tea Partier GOP and assorted Right-wing folks (especially in Texas) suspected was an absolute arrest of all civil liberties, the removal of all rights, the confiscation of all weapons by the Federal Government through the guise of Martial Law and that all good, hard-working American Patriots would be rounded up and detained in makeshift Fema Camps in caverns dug under Wal-Mart Superstores (no, fucking really, this was what they thought). Though the military training mission came and went without martial law declared and no mass-detainment of the citizenry, the insanity did lead to the arrest of three North Carolina men attempting to launch a massive domestic terror plot, and caused one fearful man to shoot at military personnel (at great distance) outside of Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

Ted Cruz made it a point to state that he “reached out to the pentagon” to ensure that Jade Helm 15 was on the up-and-up because he claimed he “[understood] the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying.”

In other words, lack of trust leads to wildly outlandish claims seeming feasible. That, Senator Cruz, is how you get an American Presidential candidate who stands accused of being a Canadian-Cuban immigrant and/or the Zodiac Killer.

 

Errata

John Kasich is still running for the GOP Nomination. As with most things in this 2016 Presidential Election cycle, Kasich-related conspiracy theories are neither as loud or as interesting as those of the other candidates.

635707550955479453-20150624-bp-kasich-01Here he is, waiting in the shadows.

One conspiracy theory remains, and will as long as he the Ohio Governor is still in the running; the theory that there is a conspiracy to keep John Kasich in the running. It’s more-or-less a given that Kasich and his supporters are itching to post a primary victory outside of his home state, which he is also the Governor of. It is also, a fairly believable narrative, considering how loathed both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are of the GOP establishment. It would seem that Kasich is the only remaining candidate to retain the tone and content of the Republican Party in any way.

It may well also be that Kasich is going to lose the next few primaries, miserably.

That would make the ‘President Kasich Conspiracy’ end abruptly. With it, for all intents and purposes, would as well be the ‘Establishment’ that is the Grand ol’ Party.

If Trump was, in fact, a Clinton plant; the darkest deed has been done. An implosion of the GOP has been signed, sealed and delivered at the hands of, as John Kasich often puts them, ‘Sychophants.’ The results of the next few months will be the stuff of myth and legend for aeons to come, perhaps showing themselves to be the true path of Democracy; straight into the gutter.

If you are interested in understanding the workings of an evermore interconnected and conspiracy-minded populous (i.e. the American polity), however, this is perhaps one of the best possible times to be alive.

Revealed: Missouri mom-turned-ISIS backer was obsessed with anti-vaxx theories and chemtrails

Written by Tom Boggioni (Raw Story)

Safya Yassin - Greene County Sheriff's DepartmentSafya Yassin – Greene County Sheriff’s Department

Facebook and Twitter posting of  Missouri woman who was arrested in February for threatening the lives of FBI agents in the name of ISIS reveal a woman with a penchant for conspiracy theories including chemtrails and a belief that childhood vaccinations are linked to autism.

Safya Roe Yassin, 38, was taken into custody in late February after she made multiple threats against President Barack Obama, published names and addresses of military members and threatened two FBI agents with the message “Wanted to kill.”

According to The Daily Beast, Yassin had an extensive presence on social media with 97 Twitter accounts — many using a variation of the name “Muslimah” (a Muslim woman) — and a Facebook page with thousands of followers.

Despite that, neighbors and friends say that Yassin is a Christian, may have never met a Muslim in her life and is likely a lonely single mother looking for attention.

“She believes in Jesus Christ as her personal savior,” explained one of Yassin’s cousins. “I gave her her first Bible, and she still has that.”

According to an arrest affidavit, Yassin declared her allegiance to ISIS online, while tweeting, “The day is near when the #IslamicState uses the Jets & Weapons from the Kuffar against them. Insha’Allah,” under one of her aliases.

“The disbelievers used to be called ‘barbarians’ and described as ‘uncivilized’ — they can still be called barbarians, they are just dressed in nicer/cleaner clothes is all, and have modern day tools to act like uncivilized beasts and barbarians,” her last Facebook post reads. “What they see as backwards is worshiping Allah, women being modest and covering, shariah law and even Halal food is backwards to these barbarians.”

Before taking up the cause of ISIS, Yassin’s Facebook account showed she was enamored with online communities discussing “vaccine damage” awareness, providing a link to a discredited report that stated there was a 20,000 percent increase in autism over the past 20 years. Additionally she worried about chemtrails —  a conspiracy theory positing that chemicals are pumped into the atmosphere by the government in order to control the populace.

According to family and neighbors, Yassin has a son with autism who she homeschooled after pulling him from a local school — thereby increasing her isolation and plunging her into anti-vaccination speculation.

Family members also say her flirtation with ISIS may have stemmed from feeling ostracized after being told she looked like a Muslim —  born to a white mother and an Arab father who immigrated to the U.S. from Jerusalem.

“The real story is, she’s not a terrorist,” explained her aunt, Sandra Mick. “She retweeted and reposted what other people had posted, that’s the story. She’s never been outside this country. I doubt she’s even met a real Muslim.”

In fact, Yassin convinced a friend to convert to Islam and that same friend notified authorities when her Facebook posting became more extreme.

Speaking with The Daily Beast, Audrey Alexander, a researcher at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, noted that Yassin’s postings might be confusing to other ISIS supporters due to her originality.

“She is questioning whether ISIL is the end of times army,” Alexander said. “That’s something that a lot of the community doesn’t necessarily latch onto, which is why we believe her views are quite well informed.”

She added, “I think this is one of the steps they had to take in the legal system to take her case farther and see if she’s a big threat. You can be sort of a nobody, and rise to a certain height online.”

Texas Religious-Right Group’s Ridiculous Rant: Mickey Mouse Is Coming for Your Crosses

Written by Dan Quinn (Texas Freedom Network)

This is just plain Goofy. After Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto on Monday of a bill that would have encouraged individuals and businesses to use religion as cover to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, a Dopey religious-right group in Texas is warning that Disney could soon ban Christian crosses from its theme parks. Here’s an excerpt from the Grumpy statement issued by Texas Values:

“It’s clear that corporate giants like Apple, Disney, NCAA, Intel have finally come out of the closet and declared public war on the religious freedom of clergy and religious schools… Will Disney now ban you from wearing a cross outside your shirt at their parks. Will a Catholic priest be forced to remove his white collar when he takes a picture with Mickey Mouse? This is how extreme the attacks now are on religious freedom, it’s a zero tolerance policy for religious freedom.”

Good grief. That kind of hyperbolic nonsense makes us wonder whether Cruella de Vil or Dumbo is running Texas Values now. (OK, we’ll stop.)

Texas Values is an affiliate of Focus on the Family and brags on its website about being “recognized” by the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as an anti-LGBT hate group. Last year Texas Values helped lead the effort to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance because that measure included protections against discrimination in employment, housing and public services for LGBT folks.

So it’s not surprising that the group went on this silly rant after Gov. Deal’s veto.  In its statement, Texas Values complains — petulantly — about businesses that had warned enactment of the bill would spark a backlash severely harming Georgia’s reputation and economy. The group also argues — falsely — that the veto means “religious freedom protections on marriage” for clergy are somehow endangered. And, of course, it suggests — ridiculously — that business objecting to the bill would now discriminate against religious people.

But discrimination bills like the one vetoed in Georgia have sparked severe backlashes from business and others in states like Indiana, Arkansas and now North Carolina. Moreover, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution already protects clergy from having to perform, preside over or celebrate marriages that violate their religious beliefs. And the Constitution and civil rights laws protect against religious discrimination.

What’s really going on here is an effort by extremists to radically redefine religious freedom to mean something it never has and never should: the right to use religion as a weapon to discriminate against and harm others, to ignore laws one simply doesn’t like, and to impose one’s religious beliefs on those who don’t share them. Georgia’s Gov. Deal, a Republican, firmly refused to support that cynical effort.

Efforts in Texas to pass similar legislation failed in 2015. But religious-right pressure groups and politicians like Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton have already made clear that they want to try again when the Legislature returns to Austin next year.

Televangelist Jim Bakker: Christians Who Pray at Graduations Will Soon Be Killed with Machine Guns

Written by (Patheos)

Televangelist Jim Bakker has figured out the Donald Trump secret to success: Always say the dumbest, most provocative things you can, and people will keep talking about you.

Granted, they’ll point out how much of an idiot you are, but if that’s the price of admission, so be it.

Bakker’s latest comment involves comparing the U.S. government to ISIS… because both go after Christians in basically the same way. And if American Christians don’t watch out, they’ll also pay for their prayers with their lives.

BakkerBible

Bakker and guest Rick Wiles had this delusion-filled exchange in which they spoke about Christians being beheaded and starvation

BAKKER: It’s over, people! The Gospel is over in the United States of American if we’re not careful! We have turned our back on the Bible! We can’t preach the Bible anymore!… How could it be that it’s been almost illegal to say “Merry Christmas”? The big department store says “You cannot say ‘Merry Christmas’” — they said it. I know people who work at those stores… they were told “Do not say ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore.”…

WILES: … Who says you can’t pray [at a high school graduation]? A stupid judge 500 miles away in a courthouse says you can’t pray?… So what happens if, in that graduation, most of the parents stand up and recite the Lord’s Prayer? What are they going to do? Is the judge going to come over and arrest you? Let’s get an uprising going.

BAKKER: They would threaten to arrest you. They would threaten to mow you down with a machine gun.

WILES: So what if they did? They’re going to come in and shoot 500 parents at a high school graduation for saying the Lord’s Prayer?

BAKKER: Not right now. But eventually they will if we don’t stop it.

Needless to say, Christians can preach the Bible, it’s legal to say “Merry Christmas” though it might exclude potential customers at your store, and parents are allowed to pray at a graduation. The ACLU and every church/state separation group out there support these things.

Bakker’s fantasy that he would be gunned down for praying is just that. It’s the same nasty conspiratorial, “everyone’s out to get you” rhetoric used by Trump and Ted Cruz. And it’s all bullshit.

(via Right Wing Watch)