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Luige Del Puerto, was telling me a story last week about photos showing blue-roofed structures surviving the recent Maui wildfires. Posts on TikTok and Twitter suggested that the island was actually hit by a directed energy weapon attack, and the blue-roofed houses survived because, as everyone knows, lasers do not impact the color blue.

Folks, this is a conspiracy theory — a fun one, no doubt — but as false as a blue-cheese moon.

Conspiracy theories like this appear to have taken over our minds, our internet and our politics. The presidential election is so drenched in conspiracy theory that I’m not sure many voters will be able to separate reality from fantasy in time to vote. Welcome to the United States of Conspiracy.

One of my all-time favorites is that Denver International Airport is the global headquarters of the secret group the Illuminati, which clandestinely runs the world, of course. There are said to be secret tunnels and lizard lairs lurking beneath the building. And certainly the red-eyed Blucifer statue smacks of demonic purpose.

The Super Bowl spawned the latest great conspiracy theory. A new Monmouth University poll shows one-third of Republicans — 32% — believe Taylor Swift is part of covert op engineered by the “Deep State” to reelect Joe Biden.

According to Cynthia Wang, director of the Dispute Resolution and Research Center at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, such conspiracies are especially common during times of uncertainty, deep social distrust, polarization and alienation.

“What’s new is this conspiratorial rhetoric has become more mainstream in the conversation,” Wang said in a post on the Kellogg Insight web site. “We’re seeing candidates inviting fringe conspiratorial communities onto their platforms.”

When there’s uncertainty and fear, people are going to cast about for explanations that make sense to them, even in the face of contrary facts. What’s new is a whole host of media outlets that do all they can to reinforce these beliefs, indoctrinating their followers with their reports like so much spiked Kool-Aid.

Wang points out that “social media is being used to propagate conspiracy theories quickly and deeply to voters. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t see this rapid a spread.”

What’s worse, when some people think they have carte blanche to use conspiratorial language, others are emboldened, and that can kick off an endless cycle, priming audiences to be even more receptive to conspiratorial language.

And then politicians decide: “Why the hell not embrace it if it helps the cause? Facts are all relative anyway!” My guess is that many political leaders don’t even believe the conspiracy theories they embrace, but they spout them anyway to please their party bosses or connect with voters who are feeling a lack control over their lives.

This scares the bejesus out of me. It seems Americans have lost their ability to distinguish magical thinking from reality altogether. Psychologists call that delusional.

The Associated Press did a recent investigation of conspiracy theories and concluded that democracy is especially prone to fueling them.

“From the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, to fears of the Illuminati, from the Red Scare to the John Birch Society to QAnon, conspiracy theories have served as dark counterprogramming to the American story taught in history books. If a healthy democracy relies on the trust of its citizens, then conspiracy theories show what happens when that trust begins to fray,” AP reporter David Klepper wrote.

I think we all have an urgent responsibility this election to be especially vigilant in sifting fact from fiction, triangulating our sources of news to find the best approximation of truth we can. And we all need to tune to the news sources that have long track records of empirical trustworthiness, and tune out the rest. And tune out the people who continue to spread these conspiracy theories.

So here’s my effort to reassert some control: a quick list of the seven conspiracy theories that are messin’ with our heads the most during this election season:

1. The Great Replacement Theory. This is the racist conspiracy theory that says there’s a plot to diminish the political power and culture of White people through the deliberate immigration of non-White people into the country. House Republican Elise Stefanik recently released Facebook ads warning that Democrats were engaged in a “PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION,” hoping to grant amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants in order to “overthrow our current electorate.” Ideas from the “great replacement theory” also filled a racist document posted online by the White 18-year-old man accused of targeting Black people in a rampage in Buffalo, N.Y., killing 10 people.

Soros network gave paid fellowship to head of anti-Israel center propping up terrorism
George Soros, billionaire and founder of Soros Fund Management, speaks during a session on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 23, 2015.

Chris Ratcliffe, Bloomberg
2. Similarly, a prominent conspiracy theory has resurfaced that Jewish people are promoting “hatred against Whites” and support bringing “hordes of minorities” into Western nations. Elon Musk endorsed this conspiracy theory last year, posting “You have said the actual truth,” in response to the poster, but later apologized. This theory is a variation on a long list of antisemitic conspiracy theories that depict Jews as an all-powerful, global cabal of “puppet masters” who secretly engineer world events. Today’s versions often name Jewish elites like George Soros as the leader of such a cabal. A YouGov poll in December showed fully 60% of Republicans and 28% of Democrats believe there is “a single group of people who secretly control events and rule the world together.”

3. One in 3 Republicans in a recent poll said they believed Taylor Swift’s romance with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was fabricated by the government as part of a secret psychological operations plot. The goal of the plot is that the Chiefs’ victory on Sunday presents Swift with an even larger pulpit from which to endorse Biden, swinging the 2024 presidential election in his favor.

4. YouGov polling in December also showed 42% of Republicans believe “many top Democrats” are caught up in child sex-trafficking rings. This conspiracy theory led to tragedy in Washington a few years ago. A man read online that Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington, was harboring young children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton. He so believed this conspiracy theory he drove six hours to the pizzeria and opened fire with an assault-like AR-15 rifle. (This one hit close to home: I’ve played ping pong in that place.)

5. There is a whole cottage industry of conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden. Originally, the theory was that President Biden ordered Deep State federal prosecutors to go easy on his son. But when Hunter was charged in a nine-count indictment in December, the theory morphed into something about the Democratic Party planning to use the indictment as an excuse to dump Biden. Sebastian Gorka, who served as a deputy assistant in the Trump administration, wrote on X: “The only logical explanation for the earth-shattering news about #HunterBiden is that they’ve decided it is time to jettison Joe.”

Dave Williams Colorado GOP (cp print)
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dave Williams addressed the state GOP central committee in August at a church in Castle Rock.

Colorado Politics
6. Dave Williams and other members of Colorado’s GOP leadership have spent years claiming Dominion Voting Systems, based in Denver, used its machines to steal the 2020 presidential election from defeated former President Donald Trump. There has been some justice in this case: Fox News agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems nearly $800 million to avert a trial in the voting machine company’s lawsuit that would have exposed how the network promoted lies about the machines.

Capitol Riot Proud Boys
Proud Boys member Ethan Nordean walks toward the U.S. Capitol in Washington, in support of President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021.

associated press file
7. And last but not least, polls generally show around 6 in 10 Republicans continue to believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, despite the complete lack of evidence more than three years later. The head of the Colorado Republican Party, Dave Williams, still repeats this unsubstantiated claim all the time. A Suffolk University poll shortly after Jan. 6, 2021, showed 58% of Donald Trump supporters said the Capitol riot was “mostly an Antifa-inspired attack that involved only a few Trump supporters.” There remains zero evidence for this.

Wang points out that conspiracy theories need not win out — at least, not forever. “People generally support leaders who speak rationally more than they support those that espouse conspiracy theories. And support for conspiratorial rhetoric is not fixed — when one group wins: Its support for conspiracy theories drops.”

America has withstood such cycles of conspiracy before. Den Hartog, a Samford historian, said he would like to believe the nation can do it again.

“This gives me some hope, to know that we’ve had problems and we weathered them,” he told Klepper. “There is an American capacity to take a breath, to try harder on our civic life and to rebuild trust.”

Until that happens, the only real answer to this blizzard of bunk is to paint your roof blue, I suppose, and pray the storm of lies passes you by.

— Denver Gazette 






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