David A. Graham: Marjorie Taylor Greene is just a symptom of what ails the GOP
Conspiracy theorists aren’t just cranks in tinfoil hats drifting around the margins of society. A December poll found that fewer than half of Americans would say that the core idea of QAnon—“a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media”—is definitively false. Nearly 40 percent believe the QAnon tenet that the “deep state” is out to get Donald Trump. Almost half agree with the lie that the majority of the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were violent, and one-third believe that voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election.
Who constitutes these fractions matters just as much as how big they are. People tend to embrace conspiracy theories because they’re experiencing fear, ostracism, or a sense of losing control. They seek stories to explain what’s happening in a way that suits their needs and convictions, and those narratives become sources of power, validation, even superiority. Perhaps, then, given the country’s diversifying demographics and liberal mores, it’s no surprise who is flocking to conspiracy theories: people like Greene, who are white and on the right. Despite their enduring privilege, many white Americans feel left out or left behind. A sprawling disinformation ecosystem—including Fox News, Breitbart News, YouTube channels, and Facebook groups—reinforces their grievances ad nauseam.
What the data on conspiracy theories don’t always reveal, though, is the DNA of the lies plaguing America. Today’s most prominent falsehoods are really just variations on old themes. Embedded in QAnon’s depiction of a conniving global cabal, for instance, is ZOG, or Zionist Occupied Government, a white-supremacist fantasy dating back to the 1970s in which powerful Jews are conspiring to run the world. ZOG draws from the same wells of prejudice that Nazism did—and those waters run centuries, even millennia, deep. The space-laser theory endorsed by Greene, which elicited so many LOLs online, has shades of ZOG in its claim that a secretive corporate league, including “Rothschild Inc,” controls the imaginary machines.
QAnon’s mandate to #SavetheChildren may seem benign on its face, but then so do the 14 Words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” That influential white-supremacist slogan, coined in the late 20th century, sounds a whole lot like a passage in Mein Kampf : “What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children.” Similarly, the Ku Klux Klan pledged in its founding principles “first, to protect the weak, the innocent, and the defenseless”—including white children.
Meanwhile, the notion that the election was stolen from Trump, and thus from MAGA believers, has echoes of the Lost Cause—power and purpose unjustly ripped from the lives of good, God-fearing white Americans. Never mind that a cataclysmic war was fought over those Americans’ right to hold fellow human beings in bondage, or that Trump’s administration, by turns cruel and incompetent, inspired a record-breaking number of people to go the polls to remove him from office. Why face reality when you can take comfort in a lie?