When the Trump train rolled into Q central and truly went off the rails in 2017, people initially laughed off the cult’s influence on American politics. Many saw the rapidly growing group as a childish mash up of conspiracy theories pulled from across the lexicon of paranoia. Those who looked a bit deeper saw foundational roots in the deeply antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion and were wary as to the influence these type of hate and fear based frenzies could have.
What almost no one expected was for the group to become a main influence on GOP rhetoric, for it to soak up auxiliary conspiracy communities to create a broad appeal and spread faster than any cult movement had before. Civil rights and other activists on the left like to talk about how intersectionality is needed in order to form a coalition that can demand change. Conservatives have gathered a broad caucus like this over the last several years, but instead of a coalition fighting to improve the lives of others it has devolved into a reactionary echo chamber of hatred inundated with paranoia and fear, drawing Americans who are uncomfortable with the rapid changes hitting our society, those who are disenfranchised and looking for someone to blame, and people who exist entirely in their own selfish worlds, unable to understand that the goal of societies should be uplifting people to thrive rather than making life miserable for everyone else in a zero sum game.
As the Trump administration shuddered along on squeaky wheels threatening to fall off at any moment, conservatives leaned more into grievance based identity politics. In doing so they pushed accelerationism to fascism even harder, absorbing lies that allowed their supporters to continue denying reality and guided them to rabbit holes of radicalization that told them all their problems would be solved if the shadowy cabal of rich people and politicians were killed, if they defeated the ambiguous army of domestic terrorists and peodophiles that was ‘Antifa.’ Then the pandemic hit and conservative reactionaries had to find new ways to keep their audience living in ignorant bliss, to distract from real issues such as increasing economic inequality that ALL Americans should be concerned about; threats to our democratic process, and a White House that simply didn’t care how many Americans died from a slow response (in part because the Trumps initially believed the virus would impact blue states the worst).
In weaving this narrative and maximizing fear monger tactics the GOP shamelessly used concocted gibberish about Bill Gates and other billionaires using COVID vaccinations to ‘track’ us, that vaccines are just a means to an end from a government that wanted to trap us in full blown authoritarian rule (an ironic projection in my opinion). And so we saw the conservative identity rapidly change in the span of a few years; where many started with low level kinds of conspiracy beliefs that had some elements of fact to them (the moon landing was faked, aliens have visited, deep dark CIA stories) yet still lived grounded in reality, accepted science and other facts, we now see doctors, lawyers, teachers, and our own family members rejecting truths they’ve known for years in favor of unhinged theorizing that the deep state is hiding access to treatments like Ivermectin because this cheap alternative was better for people than a free vaccine…or that JFK Jr. will walk over the grassy knoll if they believe hard enough.
In this post I would like to explore how the GOP has gotten sucked so far down the rabbit hole, the main figures that gave life to anti-vax becoming a mainstream political stance, and challenge readers to consider why we must think outside of our own personal experiences. I hope it is a thought provoking discussion that explains why we can’t think of our country as a bunch of individuals living their life how they want, but as a collective society that does what is needed for the communities auxiliary to our individual selves to thrive. With that being said, let’s dive into this topic by outlining some of the people grifting hardest off of fear and uncertainty during the pandemic. (Please note some of this research/writing was done a few months ago at the height of Ivermectin craziness). It is an attempt to tell explain how an ex president who pushed misinformation and claimed the virus wasn’t serious is now attempting to reverse his position and tell his followers to get vaccinated, garnering him the label of traitor to the cause. The GQP is beginning to eat themselves alive unwinding the convoluted threads of radicalism that keep their base afloat.
One of the more successful duos in regards to COVID-19 misinformation have been Bret Weinstein and his wife Heather Hayer, using their aesthetics and backgrounds as biologists to lend credit in their audience’s mind for what appear to be rational responses to the pandemic and vaccines. As with Q, rational people seeking validation for irrational feelings without challenging their metacognition has led them to listen to Weinstein’s ludicrous suggestions, and the pair have been called the “Roger and Jessica rabbit” of fascist YouTube. They are the epitome of a ‘crunchy’ lifestyle, yet these privileged and disconnected suburbanites have gotten thousands to buy into their alternative “natural remedies.”
Bret and Heather have been grifting views and money off the pandemic since the beginning, using their platform to claim that SARS-Cov-2 was leaked from Wuhan or that standing outside in the sun’s UV rays will kill viruses and bacteria, framing their arguments as something that “mainstream” scientists don’t want to discuss despite ‘mainstream science’ not being a valid notion. (Valid science is just science). When every credible virologist came out against the idea that it was a man-made virus they doubled down, claiming that real scientists aren’t allowed to talk about its artificial origins because of the “truth suppressing complex” and insisting that it would be conspiratorial to not say COVID was possibly created in a lab. (Bret says this is 90% likely). In every possible way COVID-19 appears to be natural, not functioning as any other man made virus has with multiple strain variants emerging rapidly. Professional and accredited virologists are having conversations on viral origins, not two random biologists in rural Oregon. Skepticism of good science that doesn’t seem plausible to you isn’t actual science, as much as you want it to be.
As the pandemic went on the duo committed deeper into conspiratorial language, unsurprisingly embracing anti-vax rhetoric when they came out, and their libertarian obsession with ‘natural’ lifestyles has led them to champion a manmade antiparasitic agent, Ivermectin. Scientists found that 5 micromolar concentration of this substance killed SARS-Cov-2 in Petri dishes, so Bret naturally took that to the extreme and began recommending his audience dose themselves with the substance, saying that the government has restricted people’s access to this miracle drug in some global conspiracy to prevent cheap remedies and force reliance on the vaccines. Even though the vaccines are free for us to get. Ivermectin does have antiviral properties, but it isn’t possible to achieve effective antiviral doses mixed within plasma because the drug itself is tightly bound to blood proteins. Even giving 8.5x the FDA approved dose resulted in blood concentrations far below antiviral effects, and Virology Today provided evidence for COVID treatments’ validity while ranking them, giving Ivermectin a ‘D.’
Bret says that he’s like Trump, the guy that people are putting down for trying to promote their delusions. He continues to push prophylactic Ivermectin as a 100% guaranteed COVID treatment, giving you a ‘natural’ immunity based on phony science and anecdotal stories. Pierre Corey, another conspiratorial darling, even gathered evidence for its effects from a survey of his neighbors on the NEXTDOOR application and tried to push it as valid science. When his research group was called out on their sketchy statistics his co author admitted to drug producers covering the cost of getting the study published while saying they (he and Corey) weren’t “statistical analysts.” People like Sen. Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) picked up on this and began touting Corey and friends as heroes despite the acknowledged scientific flaws that led to papers getting pulled, because by the time the media gets its hands on a study, false or not, and circulates it widely it is too late, the damage has been done and the disinformation spread.
Unfortunately at least two people who fell through Weinstein’s gateway to conspiracy died after dosing themselves with Ivermectin, and three other prominent conservative talk radio hosts have passed away since taking the dewormer, but that was just the deep state too, right? 70% or more of the poison control calls in Mississippi have been from people who bought Ivermectin at feed stores and a significant portion of these people are at risk of neuroparalysis because they have been taking hyper concentrated doses meant for deworming horses. (Hey, it’s apple flavored though). We have actual medical and scientific standards for a reason, peer reviewed research that is backed by fact. Fetishism of the ‘alternative’ aesthetic and callbacks to the past and how we did it in the good days feeds into the conservative vein that MAGA relies on. His podcast even happens in a fucking log cabin. Upon proper research Ivermectin’s effectiveness drops from an already paltry 66% down to 2%, and a med student found that in one study Bret references it appears the authors used entire paragraphs from press releases and websites that noted Ivermectin in regards to COVID-19; they had just replaced key words, such as ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome’ becoming ‘extreme intense respiratory syndrome.’ Bret uses similar “garbage in, garbage out” science for his other claims.
The pandemic has now taken the lives of over 600,000 (now upwards of 800,000) Americans despite a year and a half to prepare and build up our healthcare infrastructure for what we knew would be a drawn out global event; yet we are still having mind numbingly dense debates about wearing masks and getting vaccinated to protect others because it has been turned into a wedge issue, as any identity centered culture war talking point is. There is no regard for human life, only how individual agendas can win within this war, and the agendas are not for the benefit of society despite what the alt right claims.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) has a list of 12 individuals who are most responsible for spreading COVID-19 misinformation, the disinformation dozen. They account for 65% of pandemic misinformation as their followers trust these internet skeptics more than their own doctors; Sherri Tenpenny is one such grifter, claiming that the virus isn’t real, you become magnetized after getting a vaccine (based on spoons sticking to her sweaty body), or that the way to stay healthy is buying her supplements. Of course she and the dirty dozen (Including Bret) have made oodles of cash selling their alternative cures, like Tenpenny’s ‘zinc remedies.’ These people feed confirmation bias within the politicized lives we lead, using social media that has done nothing to stop their viral spread as a hunting ground, as clickbaity fake info titles spread 6.5x faster than legitimate science because that shit’s boring. It’s so ironic that their audiences have been convinced the ‘deep state’ and fake media are against them, claiming that they are ‘goats’ while the rest of America is sheep, yet listen to random internet voices that tell them barnyard dewormers are safer than tested science. When somebody is seeking out the irrational to confirm a feeling they have, it is too late to try and educate them with truth. They have already made up their mind.
Hospitals are overflowing during the pandemic, and 97-98% of people hospitalized with the virus are unvaccinated (85% of nurses and 98% of doctors are vaxxed). It has been scientifically proven numerous times that the vaccines are not only safe, but with them you are going to have much less severe symptoms if the virus infects you, and unvaccinated people have an exponentially higher chance of death or severe side effects. This has done nothing to stop garbage like Marjorie Greene and her conspiratorial brethren from railing against basic common sense, loving the statistic that COVID-19 only accounts for 30% of our filled hospital beds, so it can’t be that bad right? Yet they are missing a crucial logical step in their assessment of the pandemic’s severity.
The way that our healthcare industry runs is for profit, as is every American institution in savage capitalism, so we have doctors and hospitals that try to keep beds as filled as possible to begin with so that there aren’t idle resources not making them money. When a pandemic or some other catastrophe hits there are already limited spaces to be filled, so when another 30 or 40% of the population gets sick with a deadly and highly contagious virus there’s no room for the millions and millions of people getting infected. This only perpetuates catastrophe as resources get taken from patients with other ailments because staff is preoccupied with COVID-19, not to mention the spread of the virus itself. People with cancer (in some cases stage IV), in need of dialysis, and patients in cardiac arrest have all been forced out of hospitals to make room for new COVID patients coming in who could have avoided the ordeal if they’d just worn a mask or been vaccinated. The rabid desire to have your feelings vindicated in federalism for me and not for thee has led us to allow rampant harm done by stubborn MAGAlites who irrationally believe (because Trump or Rogan or Weinstein said) if they wear a mask the government is going to make them give up their first born next.
Identity politics conveniently let conservatives be OK with wearing “muzzles” during the AIDS epidemic.
If you didn’t get vaccinated because you don’t think it’s a big deal or don’t have faith in our institutions, why trust the medical field to cure you if you didn’t think it was necessary in the first place? Stop running to the hospital and kicking other people out of care they need while spreading a deadly disease. If you believe nonsensical internet personas over real science, stay home and do your best to avoid the healthcare system if you think it has bad intent. This is all just compounding the issue of not providing baseline healthcare standards as hospitals run like corporations and people living on their own islands refuse to take precautions that protect themselves and others. As Americans die from something they knowingly let themselves be exposed to, spreading the virus to vulnerable populations and taking resources away from others, they claim it is coercive or too dictatorial to require vaccine mandates that protect us from our own ignorance and irrationality.
Not only is pandemic misinformation irrational, it’s flat out laughable; think about the various other institutions or attitudes that exist within America which are far more restrictive than receiving a vaccine. Ironically, Rick Perry made Texas the first state to mandate HPV vaccines for all teenage girls. Autonomy for me, not for thee. There was a recent conversation between Laura Ingraham, a major proponent of disinformation, and the “Bar Rescue” guy in which they were discussing cutting off unemployment so that average people would go back to working for Fox’s corporate donors, saying,
“You only feed a military dog at night so he’s more motivated to work.” This is brutal honesty from the right and the unspoken mindset that guides their policy, so why do you think they care about your health any more when they say not to wear a mask or that shots are dangerous? Additionally COVID vaccines are being used to further agitprop race divisions, as people like Dan Patrick (Lt. Governor of Texas) claims that black people are less vaccinated and causing viral spread, yet within his own state black populations are more vaccinated than whites are, as is the case nationwide. They are feeding a culture war line that lets them occupy headspace, nothing important, but it’s loud and emotional while serving to reinforce confirmation bias and the white supremacy that their constituents want as the status quo.
At times we must put personal belief aside to make a just decision, doing what is right and necessary to protect people in our society from needless harm. Rather than politicizing every issue, dividing us for not wearing a mask to protect others, or calling someone a “sheep” for caring about the lives of their family and friends, we must try to challenge our metacognition and seek the truth underlying. Bans on smoking indoors, seatbelt requirements, getting groped by TSA, vaccine mandates for every school (Polio, Mumps, Rubella, Chicken Pox, etc.) and other ‘infringing’ laws have existed for decades to protect us or drain us of every penny. Hell, George Washington even mandated his troops get vaccinated during the Revolutionary War and in Jacobson v Massachusetts the Supreme Court upheld compulsory vaccine laws by noting that individual liberty is not absolute. AKA, when your dumbass decision causes undue harm, it is within the right of the state to arrest you. The idea that a mask or shot is some plan by the government to monitor our thoughts is absolutely ridiculous; they already control and track us through our digital lives.
Some school districts, such as Miami Dade, have had 15 teachers die within a span of 9 school days and DeSantis still won’t enforce mandates as kids and their families become infected at the highest rate of the pandemic yet. The most tragic part about the misinformation people staunchly defend has been seeing them on their deathbeds asking if it’s too late to get vaccinated. The right has whipped the pandemic into such a politicized culture war that the goalpost will always be moved, they will always keep their audience distracted from reality and in the dark through some agitprop such as this. Once the FDA approves vaccines and moves towards mandates, the GOP argument will immediately shift to say something like ‘the FDA is corrupt through the deep state,’ or that mandates are ‘killing freedom,’ conveniently replacing lines about the vaccine being “untested/untrustworthy.”
Logic is so far gone that someone like Joe Rogan, the largest podcaster in America, is staunchly anti-vax because he ‘doesn’t trust’ it, the FDA hadn’t approved COVID shots at the time, and he felt like he was fine. A side note, Joe is known to take steroids and sell supplements that are not FDA approved. People will go to any length to validate their self entitled feelings, and when a population is so stubborn that they will refuse to listen to basic reason while avoiding all accountability and wantonly damaging others through their refusal to acknowledge reality, how do you solve that? How can we make any progress when people are so disconnected that nearly half the country supports someone like DeSantis, allowing dozens of teachers and children to die from this virus, yet shrugging it off as a casualty of winning the culture war? Identity politics and individual ideological stances within our establishment have become the only thing that matters, even more than life itself, so no collective action can ever be taken. Is there a solution to that? On many levels it seems that the philosophizing I’ve done in this chapter is meaningless because it will fall upon deaf ears in echo chambers, closed off to the idea of change. How do we get people to self-reflect and take into consideration the humans around them, not just their own feelings and personal gain?
Credit: Datawrapper, The Root. Discrepancies in Republican states feeding into misinformation vs. Democratic ones. Republicans govern 17 of the 25 states highest in daily deaths, hospitalization rates and cases. This is not “fake news.”
Some of our radicalization and isolation within echo chambers has been driven by American’s propensity to cancel or aggressively confront those they see as wrong, leading to petri dishes of rhetoric that feed off each other and up the ante constantly. Cancel culture and the loss of rationality go hand in hand because we aren‘t having conversations, instead dropping people or getting in their face, which only makes them double down and become more defensive of their feelings while becoming increasingly unlikely to inwardly reflect on what is wrong with their harmful opinions. A good example of this has been the buildup of Q 2.0, as calls by liberals to have Trump silenced and Qanon taken off of social media along with other alt right accounts were met the radical figures just moved to obscure communication apps like Gab or Signal, where they have no restrictions and have created spaces where a more virulent, organized, and potent form of Trumpian and white supremacist rhetoric can brew.
Calls to silence others never end well, and we become no better than an authoritarian in shutting their voices out of the mainstream. It is a testament to how poisoned our democracy is that we even allowed the selfish rhetoric of someone like Trump to become so influential since establishment politics, especially Democrats, do not want to threaten the status quo in any way to maintain their economic and legislative power. Thus instead of actually addressing the issues that a figure like Trump presents and working with the communities that support him to understand what it is that isn’t allowing their needs to be met, we silence him. The left will forget small communities brewing hate from lack of education and GOP propaganda, only taking notice when it is too late to stop their retaliation, but refuse to look internally at the dangerous ideologies that they harbor in their own party. Deplatforming is not the answer to successfully rid our society of an evil idea once it has taken root, as they can just hide from the mainstream. Educating people on empathetic thought, showing them that there are many core similarities Americans and humans in general share, while providing an alternative solution besides hate is the way that we tackle dangerous rhetoric and its influence.
Living within a bubble extends to those who are in cities or other traditionally liberal areas, and by refusing to address the brewing rhetoric of the alt right out of feelings it wasn’t serious, many Democrats treated the Tea Party or similar movements as farcical. In the left’s refusal to empathetically approach rural communities or other conservatives who felt disenfranchised, it pushed conservatives to further buy into propaganda that Democrats are elitist and only want to make life better for urban dwellers while ‘brainwashing’ their children away from the traditional way of life. It also began the vicious cycle of using irrationality to justify reasons for hate, such as the Qanon vision of anyone that opposes them being child rapists, because cities and rural areas have no connections that would allow for discussion.
Dismissing someone as a hick in 2010 when they said that it seems like Democrats only care about civil rights, forgetting about rural communities in the process, may have led them to lean further into hate as a result. They turned on the TV, saw Tucker Carlson or some other figure talking about how the ‘out of touch’ left just wants to brainwash rural families into living heathen lifestyles. Maybe they became so disillusioned about where the country was heading and their perceived lack of value that they stormed the capitol in 2021, or joined the Three Percenters. Too often we don’t give people in our personal, everyday lives a chance to show that they’ve changed their views for the better. Instead we turn our backs or entirely cut contact, which will only fuel the view on both sides that our respective left and right are too out of touch to even be rational. This pushes us farther away from collective thought which will actually work towards solutions and instead upholds the status quo of scapegoating problems while making us hate each other.
My point is that buying into a state of constant reactionary culture war has led us to ignore the rotten ideologies at the core of our parties’ agendas. Rather than looking internally to wonder why nobody wants to be their friend, many conservatives double down on takes that push people away because they believe it was purely them being a Republican that caused the shunning. No, they were ignored because people don’t want to engage with vile, hateful rhetoric that tries to explain why some segment of the population is lesser, and if they took the time to reflect on their outdated ideals or engaged in a conversation outside their bubble maybe it would sway their radicalization. Because American culture is one of turning your back on those you disagree with instead of trying to educate and bring them into reality, we cast out thousands who become even more racist or accelerationist within their echo chambers.
Our two party system has been forced to keep up with accelerationist rhetoric, with numerous false idols trying to get their messages out to an audience with one common theme; preaching division by rallying around an “enemy.” America’s political structure was intended to feature multiple parties of interest because the founding fathers believed it provided “greater security” against the “event of any one party being able to outnumber and oppress the rest.”Madison even acknowledges that “in an equal degree does the increased variety of parties comprised within the Union, increase this security.” He was against the idea of a few big parties for the reason that it dilutes the desires of the people. Rule is consolidated under a minority that becomes the de facto voice of their majority, and due to the monetary aspects plus constant conflict within politics, those figureheads have become increasingly outlandish to keep up. Parties became nets that scooped up voters indiscriminately and forced them to compromise or reconcile with multiple different agendas. The GOP did this very well, the Democrats not so much, as we will see in the coming chapters.
People like Kaitlyn “Poo Poo” Bennett (shit her pants at a frat party) or Steven Crowder viciously affirm their audience’s hatred within their “silent majority,” validating their privileged fears of the ‘others.’ This trope of conservatives being “silenced” could not be further from the truth; again their rhetoric is disgusting, empathetic humans don’t want to hear it, and the GOP is just a loud minority that literally could not shut up if they tried due to their privileged victim complexes. They demand constant validation from other even more privileged babies like Bennett, Crowder, or any of the other pandering alt right sources who assure them that everyone in America hates black people or Jews, they just aren’t brave enough to show it. Rationality has gone so far out the window in the cult of personality that the right has successfully convinced minorities to hate themselves within our systems of white supremacy. Latino immigrants support racist GOP rhetoric by claiming we should block new Mexicans or Cubans because they somehow don’t work as hard as we did. They’re only dirty, no good immigrants, and I don’t want those in my America! Says the second generation Cuban-Canadian Rafaél Edward Cruz.
At the same time Democrats rally behind virtue signaling false idols, and many establishment party members only care about improving social conditions to the extent that their politicians are whispering sweet performative nothings; they could care less if another kid is murdered by police. There is no consideration beyond binary, personal agendas being fulfilled and as we are distracted within our identity spheres the real roots of American disenfranchisement go unsolved, leaving the establishment to profit off of our isolation and ignorance.
The fact of the matter is politicians on either side of the aisle are too absorbed in their own self interests to combat the ignorance poisoning our society. Instead they have further bought in and intentionally misled the American public into supporting policies that do more harm for them than good so that they will be distracted from the shady dealings our government does to maintain power. There has been complacency in progress towards any meaningful solution to issues like climate change that are destroying us, as each party so strongly opposes the other’s agenda that they simply undo everything that the previous administrations worked towards, even if it was positive. Many of our establishment politicians fit perfectly into the stereotypical box of acting like sociopathic liars because they simply have no morals. The only force controlling their decisions is how they can best maintain power and gain personal wealth.
I recently saw the movie “Don’t look up,” and it was a fantastically funny, yet depressingly real, commentary on where our nation stands as a people. Instead of thinking how we can manipulate situations to achieve the most personal profit or status, we must begin thinking about how to make this country a place we are proud to call home, one in which everyone can meet their basic needs and look forward to our children’s future in. As always, thank you for reading and stay safe.