The government controls the weather, they caused 9/11, there was no Holocaust, mass shootings are false flag attacks from the government — these are all conspiracy theories peddled by conspiracy theorists cited in a new examination in The Atlantic’s “Shadowland” project.
“My assumption about people like [Alex] Jones was that they were nihilistic grifters, exploiting innocent people seeking to satiate the deep human need for coherence,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg. “Jones told me he was busy; I could have 30 minutes. Four hours later he was still talking—we were having dinner at a Mexican restaurant by then—and I was looking for an exit.”
“We’re living under tyranny,” Jones told Goldberg. “The bankers, the New World Order, they’re using the War Powers Act to grab our guns. This isn’t a republic. Come on, if you say the bankers are forcing fluoride on us, if you call 9/11 an inside job, they’ll destroy your life, that’s how evil they are.”
Unlike the conspiracies Goldberg had heard over the years in the Middle East or the Russian conspiracy-mongering, he noted people like Jones were generally a source of amused mockery than serious consideration. Then came President Donald Trump.
“Your reputation is amazing,” Trump told Jones as he launched his campaign in 2015. “I will not let you down.”
Goldberg noted that Trump has stayed true to his promise.
“Trump does not defend our democracy from the ruinous consequences of conspiracy thinking,” he wrote. “Instead, he embraces such thinking. A conspiracy theory—birtherism—was his pathway to power, and, in office, he warns of the threat of the ‘deep state’ with the ferocity of a QAnon disciple.”
He’s not just proposing injecting disinfectant, he’s prescribing drugs he knows nothing about, and promoting sending people back to work whether it’s safe or not.
“This improbable question—how did a person with a weakness for conspiratorial thinking achieve the presidency?—might be among the most consequential of the coming election, which is not merely a political contest, but a referendum on enlightenment values and on reality itself,” wrote Goldberg. “Nonsense is nonsense, except when it kills. And conspiracy thinking, especially when advanced by the president of the United States, is an existential threat.”