The GOP And The Conspiratorial Mindset

The wacko fringe of the GOP is increasingly finding room in the mainstream of the party.

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Ever since Barack Obama became President, indeed while he was still running for office, there has been a cottage industry of conspiracy theories on the right making seemingly outrageous allegations about the President. They’ve ranged from the now familiar birther conspiracy that, even with the release of the President’s long-form birth certificate, still refuses to die, to claims that the Administration was conspiring to confiscate weapons from legal gun owners. For the most part, though, these conspiracy theories were mostly the province of the Internet and a segment of conservatism that most mainstream Republicans tried as best they could to distance themselves from. As John Avlon reports, though, it now seems like Republican politicians themselves are starting to engage in some of the same thinking as the fringe elements of their base:

A few days after the Boston bombings, Stella Tremblay went to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page to express her conviction that the terror attack was, in fact, orchestrated by the U.S. government.

“The Boston Marathon was a Black Ops ‘terrorist’ attack,” she wrote. “One suspect killed, the other one will be too before they even have a chance to speak. Drones and now ‘terrorist’ attacks by our own Government. Sad day, but a ‘wake up’ to all of us.”

She then linked to a video at Infowars.com called Proof! Boston Marathon Bombing is Staged Terror Attack.

Tremblay’s post, though, stood out from the wave of post-attack crazy because of her day job: she is a New Hampshire state legislator.

Like too many enthusiastic dupes, the Republican representative was echoing conspiracy entrepreneurs like Beck and InfoWars’ Alex Jones, who blend dark alternate history with a dystopian future, offering the listeners the “secret truth.”

Tremblay is part of a disturbing trend of – conservative state legislators and even congressmen entertaining conspiracy theories that are creepy and unseemly coming from average citizen, but a sign of civic rot when they start getting parroted by elected officials.

Tremblay isn’t alone:

This week in Missouri, state legislators voted to cut funding for the state’s divers license bureau because it had been tasked in 2003 with also overseeing concealed-carry permits. The wife of state Rep. Kenneth Wilson explained – in the words of theColumbia Tribune - that the bureau “was part of a plot to impose United Nations policies in this country. ‘I have been doing some study on U.N. Agenda 21,’ Melissa Wilson… told the committee. ‘With this information going to the federal government, I feel that I will be a target. With Agenda 21, I will be someone who will be put on a watch list.'” She added that Agenda 21 is being pushed through in part because of a mass brainwashing known as the Delphi Technique.

This is shadowy conspiracy theorist stuff, but this theory isn’t just isolated to a few folks in Missouri. Last November, the conservative head of the Georgia state legislature invited his conference to a four-hour briefing on Agenda 21. The invitation read: “How pleasant sounding names are fostering a Socialist plan to change the way we live, eat, learn, and communicate to ‘save the earth.'” The presentation was MC’d by a local Tea Party activist who is also a 9/11 Truther, and a Birther.

Even the Economist has felt compelled to weigh in on the absurdity of Agenda 21 conspiracy theories, for the record.

Adding to the reality-free high pitch of anxiety was the Texas state attorney general who – during the height of the North Korean escalation earlier this month – declared that the real danger to America wasn’t a communist dictatorship threatening to attacks us with nuclear weapons, but the Obama administration.

“One thing that requires ongoing vigilance is the reality that the state of Texas is coming under a new 
assault,” A.G. Greg Abbott said, according to the Waco Tribune, “an assault far more dangerous than what the leader of North Korea threatened when he said he was going to add Austin, Texas, as one of the recipients of his nuclear weapons. The threat that we’re getting is the threat from the Obama administration and his political machine.”

This is the leading elected law enforcement official in our second-largest state.

The bizarre behavior reaches all the way into  the halls of Congress, where Congressman Louie Gohmert said on Friday that the Obama Administration’s response to terrorism, including the Boston Marathon attack, was being influenced by members of the Muslim Brotherhood who have inserted themselves into the Administration somehow. Now, admittedly, Gohmert has made crazy statements in the past, such as alleging that the real purpose of the 2011 intervention in Libya was to deplete the military so that Obama could raise a private army answerable only to him and that terrorists were illegally crossing into the United States for the purpose of having children in the United States who then would grow up to become citizen terrorists. So, it’s not at all surprising that he, or someone like Michele Bachmann, who last year was stoking anti-Muslim fires in her attack on Huma Abedin, are going to be saying things like this. However, as Avlon notes, it truly does seem to be becoming more common:

The fact that conspiracy theories are percolating up to local party leaders and even the halls of Congress should be a warning sign for the GOP. As the faithful know, you reap what you sow, and the steady diet of hyper-partisan media has seeded these conspiracy theories in the minds of party activists to the extent that they are starting to shape policy debates. The embarrassing incidents are evidence of a larger problem that needs to be confronted: when you do not condemn the use of hate and fear to serve as a recruiting tool against your political opponents, the ability to reason together is undermined and self-government is compromised. There is a cost to condoning extremism when it seems to benefit “your team.”

Jonathan Bernstein makes a similar point:

[S]ometimes, it’s worth remembering that — while there’s always a lunatic fringe on both sides of the aisle - the lunatic fringe among conservatives these days is firmly planted within the Republican conference, and treated by the sane part of the party, at least in public, as a legitimate, reasonable faction. Indeed, folks such as Gohmert and Michele Bachmann (who, David Taintor reminds us, has taken this McCarthyite route too) are treated by mainstream conservatives as conservatives-in-good-standing, while anyone who deviates in the other direction is rapidly ostracized as a RINO.

Democrats really don’t treat their fringe the same way. I don’t care about condemning Gohmert — but mainstream conservatives are making a big mistake, it seems to me, by allowing themselves to be defined by the worst Republicans out there.

They’re both right, of course. There are those on the right who have tried to warn their fellow Republicans and conservatives about the dangers of associating with people who push bizarre conspiracy theories or who mire themselves in the “Obama is a Socialist Muslim” (or what not) rhetoric that has been a staple on the fringe right since the day the President took office, and which has been stoked by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Fox News Channel. To a large degree, those warnings have gone unheeded, especially when it comes to elected officials who sign on to these conspiracy theories. Gohmert and Buchanan are considered valuable members of the House Republican Caucus, rather than the fringe wackos that they actually are, and people like Allen West are seen as heroes to the conservative base. The people who denounce them, on the other hand, are labeled RINOs and written out of official conservatism.

This isn’t to say that every Republican and every conservative is a conspiracy theorist or a birther, of course. There are plenty of them who aren’t and who have a perfectly rational opposition to the President and his policies that doesn’t include the need to allege that he’s involved in some vast conspiracy to destroy the country. The problem is, as it always has been for the past four years, is that these voices tend to get drowned out by the shrill voices of the Obama Derangement Syndrome crowd, and it’s that crowd that becomes associated in the public mind with the party and the movement. That is the price the GOP is paying for giving these people space to grow rather than denouncing him in the manner that they should have been.

FILED UNDER: General,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    That is the price the GOP is paying for giving these people space to grow rather than denouncing him in the manner that they should have been.

    What do you expect them to do? There’s a reason this “fringe crazy” is starting to manifest itself in the mainstream of the GOP–a lot of Republicans agree with it. The GOP leadership denouncing this nonsense would be seen as a direct insult to a sizable portion of the party.

    This is what happens when the world moves on and a political party remains mired in the past–the party goes crazy.

  2. CSK says:

    The fringe on the right is having a hard time with the Marathon bombings. On the one hand, they’d like to blame it on a secret operation by the Obama administration to make us all comfortable with the imposition of martial law On the other hand, they also want it to be an Al Queda operation directed and funded by the Middle East.

  3. @CSK:

    And on the third hand, I’m sure they’d love to find a way to blame this on Putin and the Russians

  4. mantis says:

    Or the UN and the ACLU.

  5. CSK says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Possibly. But my sense is that they kind of admire Putin because they think he knows how to deal with terrorists, which according to them is arrest and execute without anything inconvenient like a trial intervening.

    Another problem for them is that while they admire the U.S. military, they’re also perfectly willing to believe that that same military would blow up Boston on orders from the current president.

    It must be very strange to live in a constant state of cognitive dissonance.

  6. al-Ameda says:

    Just once I’d like to see Glenn Beck get implicated in a major crime.

  7. Carlos Valasquez says:

    Straw men littered through out this article.

    Main stream conservative thought is represented by Rush Limbaugh Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, #1 through 3 in terms of audience size.

    None of these crackpot theories are embraced by mainstream conservatives, so your main point is a fail.

    As for you mixing in real threats like the possible muslim brotherhood influencing the white house, perhaps you should call the egyptian free press a bunch of conspiracy nuts.

    http://www.investigativeproject.org/3869/egyptian-magazine-muslim-brotherhood-infiltrates

  8. @al-Ameda:

    If being an idiot were a crime, he’d be the first person arrested.

  9. KariQ says:

    The amazing thing is, there does not seem to be any awareness of the self-parody in Carlos’ post.

    @CSK: On the one hand, they’d like to blame it on a secret operation by the Obama administration to make us all comfortable with the imposition of martial law On the other hand, they also want it to be an Al Queda operation directed and funded by the Middle East.

    @Doug Mataconis: And on the third hand, I’m sure they’d love to find a way to blame this on Putin and the Russians

    @mantis: Or the UN and the ACLU.

    I sense a unified conspiracy theory coming.

  10. matt bernius says:

    Perhaps the best thing about @Carlos Valasquez’s post is that, after arguing that real republicans don’t buy into “wacky” conspiracy theories, he pushes the report that the Obama administration has been infiltrated by the Muslim brotherhood. And the source he gives? None other than Steven Emerson’s terrorist watch website.

    For those who don’t know, Emerson is a journalist, turned “Terrorism Expert” and a frequent Fox News contributor. Emerson was the key person pushing the Saudi connection in the Boston Bombing. He’s also well known for, among other things, theorizing that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was the work of Islamic Terrorists.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Emerson

    Emerson’s Investigative Project, btw, solicits money by by telling donors they’re in imminent danger from Muslims.

  11. george says:

    @CSK:

    The fringe on the right is having a hard time with the Marathon bombings. On the one hand, they’d like to blame it on a secret operation by the Obama administration to make us all comfortable with the imposition of martial law On the other hand, they also want it to be an Al Queda operation directed and funded by the Middle East.

    Actually, I suspect they’re quite comfortable with the idea that Obama himself is an Al Quaeda operative.

    And a godless commie one at that (they’ve gotten to be good enough at ignoring reality that the contradiction between being a godless commie and a Muslim is kid stuff for them).

  12. The problem is, as it always has been for the past four years, is that these voices tend to get drowned out by the shrill voices of the Obama Derangement Syndrome crowd, and it’s that crowd that becomes associated in the public mind with the party and the movement.

    Hench my question on the Jon Huntsman post the other week about how one can appeal to the right-wing nutjobs in the base and still be a viable general election candidate, a question that went unanswered.

  13. al-Ameda says:

    @Carlos Valasquez:

    Main stream conservative thought is represented by Rush Limbaugh Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, #1 through 3 in terms of audience size.

    Of course, mainstream conservative thought is that women who take birth control are sluts

  14. Carlos Valasquez says:

    @matt bernius:

    Attacking Emerson? Why not attack the Egyptians who reported this?

    Or Eli Lake at the Daily Beast, who’s alse reported on this?

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/watercooler/2012/jul/19/picket-video-fireworks-napolitano-hearing-dhs-sec-/

    Keep throwing up straw men, the evidence that the administration is compromised can be found over and over again. Starting with Eric Holder’s law firm defending terrorists. Tell me how an attorney general’s old law firm can be defending terror while his doj is supposed to be prosecuting it?

    Ah, but these conflicts of interest are all conspiracy theories, right?

  15. steve says:

    “Ah, but these conflicts of interest are all conspiracy theories, right?”

    Yes.

    Steve

  16. James H says:

    I blame Milli Vanilli.

  17. Andre Kenji says:

    there is no fringe in the GOP. The entire GOP is a fringe.

  18. Crusty Dem says:

    @Carlos Valasquez:

    I’m sure no one meant to insult you by not including all the crazy people you believe are good sources of factual information. To clarify, they are all crazy, or liars, or both. And if you believe them, you’re crazy..

  19. Scott O says:

    ‘I have been doing some study on U.N. Agenda 21,’ Melissa Wilson… told the committee.

    Studying at WND.

  20. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @James H: As long as you don’t blame it on the rain.

  21. Tony W says:

    I just struggle with the conspiracy logic – if our Kenyan, Muslim President wants to impose Sharia law and otherwise gain support for and instill Muslim values in the United States, why would the “government” then choose to use a Muslim perpetrator for the attacks? Is the government not smart enough to know that choice will create a huge public anti-Muslim backlash?

    If you are going to create a conspiracy theory, it feels like you at least need to give some thought to what the perpetrators were hoping to accomplish. This is not the Republican’s best work, C-minus at best.

  22. matt bernius says:

    The hits just keep coming…
    @Carlos Valasquez:

    Attacking Emerson? Why not attack the Egyptians who reported this?

    Well, I was attacking Emerson as a reliable source. And did you catch that in the article that you linked, Emerson notes that the Egyptian journalists who wrote the initial article didn’t actually back up their claims:

    Quote Emerson: The story is largely unsourced

    In other words, no actual evidence is given and no people are quoted. But we’ll still treat it as Gospel truth, cause… you know… MUSLIMS!

    OK, then you flat out lie with:

    Or Eli Lake at the Daily Beast, who’s also reported on this?

    Um… no… Eli Lake did not remotely report on the issue you raise. What Eli Lake was reporting on (original article here, not your jive ass Washington Times article quoting Lake’s article without a link to the original) was a recently elected member of the Egyptian parliment’s visit to the White House as part of a larger delegation. The delegate in question belonged to an organization that had been placed on the US’s list of Terrorist Organizations.

    The only way one sees the two stories connected is if they start to… play conspiratorial connect the dots. Which is a nice way of saying, thanks for proving Doug’s point.

    Starting with Eric Holder’s law firm defending terrorists. Tell me how an attorney general’s old law firm can be defending terror while his doj is supposed to be prosecuting it?

    You really don’t understand the legal system do you? That’s like saying that someone who once served as a federal public defender could never transfer to the attorney general’s office because they have a history of defending criminals.

  23. Rob in CT says:

    I, for one, would like to thank Carlos for showing up and helping prove the point.

    If anything, Doug was far too restrained in his post. “The base” laps this stuff up and comes back for more. That’s why it’s so lucrative…

  24. G.A.Phillips says:

    If being an idiot were a crime, he’d be the first person arrested.

    lol…Beck? How about your readership?How about you?

    Oh ya, you are never wrong or stupid, I forget you’re a lawyer and a fringe very low % of the population liberal Libertarian. Or should I say perfect?

  25. Nikki says:

    Gawd, I loved reading this post, especially when actual rightwing conspiracy-theory primed nutjobs showed up to comment.

    OTB is the best!