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Caroline O. @RVAwonk
, 21 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
Now seems like a good to repeat my regularly scheduled warning about the dangers of conspiracy theories and conspiratorial logic. So let's talk about that, and why conspiracy theories are particularly dangerous when combined with the politics of fear. ...1/
Critical context for this discussion: Robert Bowers, the suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, was reportedly inspired in part by a conspiracy theory (peddled by right-wing media, pundits, & politicians) about Jews funding the migrant "caravan." 2/
This conspiracy theory has been around for a while. In April, Big League Politics (a right-wing website founded by former Breitbart employees) ran a piece falsely claiming that Soros-sponsored groups are funding the migrant "caravan." Fringe right-wing sites ran with it. 3/
The Soros/migrant "caravan" conspiracy theory made a resurgence recently, thanks largely to a video tweeted out by Rep. Matt Gaetz on Oct. 17. Pretty soon it was spreading across right-wing media, and by the next day it was on Trump's Twitter feed. 4/
Meanwhile, as the Soros/migrant "caravan" conspiracy theory spread, Trump was holding near-daily rallies during which he warned that immigrants are "pouring" over the border, "taking over" cities, bringing gangs/violence, voting illegally, & pushing us to a "breaking point." 5/
Trump called the "caravan" an “assault on our country" & warned that the migrants seeking asylum are "some very bad people" who threaten the American way of life. He also said "unknown Middle Easterners" are hiding among the migrants - a thinly veiled reference to terrorists. 6/
Just this week, Trump warned that Democrats want to release "criminal aliens onto your streets"; that Democratss are encouraging immigrants to break our laws; that "a vote for Democrats is a vote for open borders"; that Democrats will "destroy our country." 7/
The message from Trump/GOP/right-wing media couldn't be clearer: Soros is funding a "caravan" of migrants who are coming to destroy America, and Democrats are going to help them do it.

A perfect storm of scapegoating, demonization, & apocalyptic fear-mongering. 8/
So that's the context. Now let's step back and look at the logic of conspiracy theories, why people believe them, and why they inevitably lead to a cycle of scapegoating that, all too often, erupts into violence like it did this week. 9/
People are drawn to conspiracy theories because they offer a simple way to make sense of a complex world. Research suggests that feelings of anxiety, fear, & uncertainty make people more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. 10/…
Conspiracy theories are appealing b/c they claim to provide explanations for otherwise inexplicable or uncontrollable events. But this comes at a cost. Maintaining the belief leads to 'crippled epistemology' — a rigid style of thinking that rejects disconfirming information. 11/
Conspiracy theories serve a palliative function by allowing people to attribute external events/circumstances to some person or group, which produces a sense of control over one’s environment (b/c the risk is less random when it’s attributed to a powerful, nefarious actor). 12/
This, too, comes at a cost. Conspiracy theories lead to a dangerous cycle of scapegoating because the regressive logic of conspiratorial thinking can only be maintained by implicating an ever-expanding group of "conspirators" involved in the conspiracy and/or the "cover-up". 13/
This is why conspiracy theories are favored by anti-democratic leaders. That cycle of scapegoating creates an outside enemy on which to blame societal problems; then, a "solution" is offered, and anyone who opposes the "solution" is portrayed as naive or working w/ the enemy. 14/
We can see this in Trump's rhetoric. After portraying immigrants as an existential threat to America, Trump calls for harsh anti-immigration laws and then claims anyone who is opposed to them (Democrats) wants to "destroy the country."

i.e., opposing Trump = anti-American. 15/
In this way, conspiracy theories offer a way for anti-democratic leaders to exploit basic democratic principles by turning strengths (like protection of human rights) into signs of nefarious intent, and by turning opposition into a form of conspiring with the "enemy." 16/
And so now you have an ever-expanding outgroup of co-conspirators working with the "enemy" to destroy America. It's not hard to see how someone could take this and feel justified -- righteous, even -- in seeking to destroy the "enemy" before the "enemy" destroys them. 17/
The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was obviously an attack on Jews, motivated by anti-semitism, but it was also an attack motivated by the anti-immigrant fervor that Trump continues to cultivate and exploit for his own political gain. 18/
Trump and his GOP/right-wing media allies are playing with fire. No, they didn't put the gun in the shooter's hand (or the bombs in the bomber's hands), but they did ignite the fuse and fan the flames of their own creation. This inferno didn't start itself. 19/
Violence & human rights violations are the endpoint when conspiracy theories are wielded as weapons by power-hungry authoritarians. This can be seen throughout history, from Nazi Germany, to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, to the brutal crackdown on anti-fascists in Russia. 20//
And because conspiracy theories implicate an ever-expanding group of enemies, you never know who will be next. Vulnerable groups & minorities are usually the first to be targeted.

Speak up for them.

If you can't do it out of altruism, do it because you might be next.

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