Americans historically accept that our politicians aren’t perfect. Our system of government is messy, and the beauty of it lies in the fact that anyone can put themselves forward for public office. You don’t need to be rich, or from a powerful family, to be elected (though it helps, of course).
Something else you don’t need to be? Smart. Or at least rational enough to reject some of the crazier conspiracy theories out there. But as Politico notes, we’re living in a “golden age” of conspiracy theories. Social media, privately funded media companies that masquerade as objective news channels, and good old-fashioned fear have combined to make us as a country susceptible to all manner of disinformation and moon-man talk. There’s still, after all, a sizable population of people who believe that the world is flat, that the moon landing was faked, and that the Beatles never existed.
This would be tolerable — entertaining, really — if we could rely on our elected officials here and around the world to be more levelheaded. Unfortunately, even a casual survey of politicians around the world reveals a disturbing tendency to buy into some seriously weird stuff. Here’s a list of politicians who believe in crazy conspiracy theories — when they’re not making decisions that affect your life every day.
Lauren Boebert believes in QAnon
It is impossible to explain QAnon to a rational person. Sure, you can give an outline of the absolutely insane things its adherents believe, and the whole thing is often boiled down to a pro-Trump movement that believes the president is playing 4-D chess against a worldwide cabal of wealthy, powerful pedophiles. But as The Atlantic makes clear, it’s so much crazier and stranger than that. It plays out on the internet almost like an alternate reality game, with clues and puzzles dropped in plain view.
So belief in QAnon should be disqualifying for anyone seeking a place of authority in our society … but it isn’t. In fact, as Media Matters reports, Lauren Boebert just won the Republican primary for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District despite being a very outspoken believer in the whole QAnon mess.
At least, she was an outspoken believer until her chances of winning an election became pretty good — she’s tried to downplay her support in recent weeks. But Media Matters notes that there have been 63 current and former candidates for Congress who have expressed support for QAnon — more than dozen of whom will be on ballots in November 2020. Some of these politicians are probably using QAnon to get quick support, but some of them actually believe a mysterious, high-ranking member of the government is posting obscure clues to the internet in hopes of inspiring thousand of “digital soldiers” to help President Trump defeat the Deep State (of pedophiles). And that’s terrifying.
Michele Bachmann believes the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated Washington DC
American politics have become so deeply weird and unpredictable in the past few years that ideas and people who were once considered crazy or terrible are now seen as, if not acceptable, at least tolerable. Case in point: Michele Bachmann, who was once considered to be the vanguard of the crazy wing in the Republican Party. But that was 2012, which science tells us was something like 400 subjective years ago in terms of politics.
Bachmann, the former Republican Congressperson from Minnesota and presidential candidate, retired from politics in 2015 after an ethics investigation was opened against her. But while she was in office, she was a source of many hilariously misinformed and bigoted opinions. As The Washington Post reports, one of those opinions was a belief that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the highest levels of the United States government.
This is wacky stuff, but Bachmann doubled down on it, intimating that Hillary Clinton’s aide at the time, Huma Abedin, was more or less the ringleader. No one really took Bachmann very seriously on the issue — and The Atlantic reports that the Muslim Brotherhood itself managed a nice burn on the former Congressperson when they responded by saying they’d never heard about the rumors and that, “Surely the United States government selects its employees very carefully.”
Ron Paul thinks the Charlie Hebdo attacks were a false flag
Ron Paul, father of Senator Rand Paul and long-serving Congressman in his own right, is a delightful repository of some very strange ideas, like, for example, that the heinous 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack that left 12 journalists dead was staged by the United States.
The attacks were conducted by two Islamist gunmen in response to cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad that the magazine had published in 2012. The cartoons were satirical in nature, and some even depicted the prophet nude, which was guaranteed to anger a lot of Islamists. It was pretty clear that the killings were the work of two young Muslim men.
Clear to everyone but Ron Paul and his buddies. As Salon reports, Paul’s website published an article by noted crank and conspiracy theorist Paul Craig Roberts (who’s also a big 9/11 Truther, to give you an idea of his intellectual acumen) that speculated the attack was actually a “false flag” operation conducted by the United States to punish France for not supporting US foreign policy. When Paul was confronted by this insanity, he didn’t denounce it. Instead, he fell back on the tried-and-true strategy of saying he was simply “asking questions,” which is fine, unless the questions you’re asking are outright crazy.
Stella Tremblay thinks the Boston Marathon bombing was a false flag
One of the easiest ways to pick out the crazy conspiracy nuts is to look for the phrase “false flag.” A false flag is a staged event designed to shift blame and optics and “control the narrative,” and conspiracy buffs pretty much assume every single thing they read in the news is somehow a false flag, because conspiracy nuts are all convinced they’re living a kind of Truman Show life where the world is working very hard to fool them specifically.
This is amusing when the crazy person is someone in your office or local bar. It’s less funny when they’ve been elected to your state legislature, as Stella Tremblay was in New Hampshire. In the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, conspiracy theories were flying around suggesting that the attacks were yet another false flag staged by the government in a complex plan to take away our civil liberties … somehow. And Stella Tremblay went ham on this conspiracy theory, wondering out loud and in a very official manner whether the government should be investigated over these very reasonable and not-at-all insane ideas. As Esquire reports, this did not end with Tremblay being carried around the state legislature while her fellow lawmakers cheered her as a hero. Instead, she was officially rebuked, offered a weak apology, immediately fell back on the “just asking questions” strategy, and doubled down on the conspiracy. Tremblay wound up resigning.
Ted Cruz says radical Islamic Sharia law is taking over the US
Ted Cruz is a junior senator from Texas and former presidential candidate, and he has some wild and crazy ideas. One reported by Think Progress was that President Obama was planning to put Texas under military rule in 2015. As The Washington Post reports, another of those ideas is that Islamists are infiltrating communities around the country and instituting extralegal “Sharia Law” zones.
Sharia, in a nutshell, a set of religious rules Muslims must follow. It’s derived from the Koran and augmented by centuries of rulings from religious leaders. Cruz’s belief is that Muslims take over neighborhoods and force the residents to adhere to Sharia and bypass traditional law enforcement and courts. It’s an incredibly xenophobic myth — while it’s true that many Muslims in the US rely on Sharia and the judgments of their religious leaders to settle many aspects of their lives, it’s a voluntary process, and the local police and courts still retain their legal authority.
Instead of dismissing this conspiracy theory, Senator Cruz has embraced it, saying that it’s actually happening and should be investigated. Luckily, no one has taken him very seriously on the matter, possibly because no one can actually find these Sharia zones where Muslims have superseded the police.
Hillary Clinton claimed there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to destroy her husband
Nothing inspires belief in conspiracy theories among politicians like losing. In 1998, Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill, was in the midst of his second term as president of the United States — but he was also embroiled in a little something you might recall: the impeachment process.
While the criminal charges brought against him didn’t stick very well, the investigation and impeachment dug up some dirt on Bill, including his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. As the embarrassing details piled up, it’s easy to see why people began describing Bill’s presidency using words like “beleaguered.”
As The Washington Post reported, instead of looking inward (and possibly consulting a divorce attorney), Hillary defended her husband and supported his denial of the affair. She decided that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was to blame for everything. She didn’t offer any details of the supposed conspiracy, and of course, the fact that Bill did indeed have sexual contact with Lewinsky eventually came out. Although, if there was a vast conspiracy to destroy the president, it wasn’t vast enough — Bill Clinton survived his impeachment, served out his final term, and went on to a lucrative speaking and consulting career.
Louie Gohmert's terror babies
Texas representative Louie Gohmert is reliably entertaining, and he hasn’t met the right-wing conspiracy theory he can’t love, as shown by the chart of conspiracy theories he created to demonstrate just how awful the Obama administration was. Even people in his home state describe many of his beliefs as “idiotic,” yet somehow, the man has won seven elections. Of the many, many conspiracy theories that crowd Representative Gohmert’s brain, however, one stands out as especially entertaining: terror babies.
As The Texas Tribune details, Gohmert really does seem to believe that terrorists are smuggling pregnant women into the United States so their children can be born citizens and then be returned to their home countries to be raised as terrorists — terrorists with all the rights and privileges of US citizens. As Gohmert puts it, “one day, 20, 30 years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.”
Gohmert claimed he’d gotten information on this insidious plot from FBI contacts, but as CNN reports, actual FBI contacts said pretty clearly that there had never been a credible report describing anything of the kind. Of course, when it comes to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories designed to scare people into supporting specific immigration policies, credible facts rarely come into play.
Donald Trump wants to see the birth certificate
Donald Trump likes conspiracy theories. He likes them so much it’s hard to keep track of just how many he’s supported either implicitly or explicitly, though some have tried. But picking one to highlight isn’t all that difficult, because there is one conspiracy theory that more or less defines Trump as a politician: birtherism.
As you might recall, birthers believe that former president Barack Obama is not a true citizen of the United States and thus was not eligible for the presidency. The conspiracy theory comes in several varieties, ranging from those who simply think Obama should have been disqualified to those who believe he’s some sort of sleeper agent, infiltrating the White House to destroy America from within. Or something.
As The Atlantic reports, the birther conspiracy was more or less what put Donald Trump on the national stage. In alliance with Fox News, Trump came out swinging as a vocal supporter of the idea that Obama wasn’t a true American citizen, despite a complete absence of evidence (and the huge amount of evidence demonstrating otherwise). Trump weaponized one of the crucial aspects of any good conspiracy theory: the impossibility of disproving it, since it’s just a “theory,” a loose conjecture. No amount of evidence matters, because supporters can just pivot to a slightly different position or simply imply that the evidence against the theory is somehow not good enough. And as the 2016 election shows, it certainly worked well for Trump.
Jair Bolsonaro says environmental terrorists are burning the Amazon
Back during Joseph Stalin’s time in the Soviet Union, the ruling communist party developed the concept of “wreckers.” Wreckers were mysterious people who didn’t love the USSR and therefore wrecked things on purpose. Whenever one of Stalin’s half-baked economic plans failed disastrously, wreckers were to blame.
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has embraced a similar tactic. Known as “Captain Chainsaw” for his strong support of logging operations that clear huge swaths of the Amazon jungle in pursuit of profits, Bolsonaro took an oath to uphold all the laws when he became president of Brazil, even ones he might not like so much. So when mysterious fires began sweeping through the Amazon — fires everyone assumed were the work of loggers and farmers in direct violation of Brazil’s regulations — Bolsonaro countered by suggesting that the fires were being set by … environmentalists. You know, the people trying to save the Amazon.
As Vice explains, Bolsonaro’s tortured reasoning goes like this: Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that fight for environmental causes are “losing money” and seek to drum up donations via false-flag operations like these fires. When pressed, Bolsonaro admitted he had no proof of this, but who ever needed proof about a conspiracy theory? Not being able to prove them is half the fun.
Nicolas Maduro believes in Zionist plots
The anti-Semitic mind is a bizarre place where the Jewish people are simultaneously subhuman and yet somehow all-powerful. And it’s a quaint tradition among dictators with failing states to blame everything on a Jewish conspiracy, because anti-Semitism remains a popular hobby all over the world, so bringing up Zionist plots is usually guaranteed to get an enthusiastic response from at least some of your people.
All of this explains why the embattled president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, has suddenly embraced conspiracy theories concerning a Jewish plot to topple his government and take over Venezuela, as reported by the Anti-Defamation League. As Venezuela sinks into truly epic chaos and Maduro’s rule is under serious stress, he’s seizing on the whole “evil plot by those conniving Jews” angle like a drowning man. He’s linked it with anti-American sentiment, charging that the supporters of rival Juan Guaidó are controlled by CIA agents serving both American and “Zionist” interests.
It’s not working — Maduro remains spectacularly unpopular, which isn’t surprising considering the economic mess Venezuela is in. (Its inflation rate is close to 20 percent.) What is surprising is Maduro’s durability. Despite his crazy conspiracy theories, obvious incompetence, and unpopularity, he’s still president, and it looks like he will be for a long, long time. Guess the Zionists aren’t that powerful after all.
Beth Van Duyne thinks Sharia is taking over
Conservative politicians are convinced of two things: America is the strongest and best country in the world, and America is a fragile snowflake of a country that could be totally destroyed at any moment. That’s the only explanation for the sheer number of politicians, like former mayor of Irving, Texas, Beth Van Duyne, who believe that Muslims are scheming to impose Sharia law on innocent Americans.
As the Dallas Observer notes, Van Duyne made her conspiracy theory bones in 2015, when a group of imams set up a dispute resolution group at the Islamic Center in Irving, Texas. The group intended to follow Sharia law, which is derived from the Koran and augmented by the teachings of prophets and the decisions of Islamic scholars throughout history. Muslims who wished to follow the precepts of their religion could, if they so chose, seek a judgment from the group on any dispute.
To Van Duyne and her allies, this wasn’t a local matter of folks resolving disagreements with the help of their local religious leaders — it was a sign that Muslims were seeking to overthrow the rule of law and force everyone to live by Sharia. As The Dallas Morning News reported, Duyne speculated that people within those neighborhoods were being forced to abide by Sharia law and judgments — something she had zero proof of.
Rand Paul believes the Bilderbergers are plotting a New World Order
Anyone familiar with classic conspiracy theories has heard of the Bilderbergers. If you’re not lucky enough to have encountered someone who wants to talk to you for hours about them, the basic idea is that the Bilderbergers are a secret group of globalists who infiltrate governments and seek to form a single world government, trampling our rights in the process. As Politico notes, this conspiracy theory gets a boost from the fact that there really is a Bilderberg group. It’s an invitation-only meeting drawing the rich and powerful each year to discuss world events. It’s essentially a club for the powerful to share ideas and perspectives.
Senator Rand Paul is a libertarian who often traffics in weird conspiracy theories, and the idea that the Bilderbergers are trying to erase American sovereignty — with the cooperation of traitors in our own government — is a favorite of his. Worse, as Mother Jones reports, when Paul was asked about the theory before his election to the Senate, he claimed that everything he knew about it he’d learned from Alex Jones, noted huckster and crazy person.
When Paul became a senator, he suddenly stopped talking about the Bilderbergers, which means he either decided conspiracy theories are bad for his political career … or they got to him.
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