There are a couple conspiracy theorists in my life that I can’t quit. I know them as well as I know my older brother and slightly less older sister. Like all believers in the fantastical, Lenny and Virginia (oops) share a common desire for the otherworldly. Life itself, in all of its grand, scary, short but also really long-feeling wondrousness, is clearly not enough for them. Maybe play some Dungeons & Dragons instead? Asking for a fragile democracy.
Conspiracy-y people are drowning in you-spin-me-right-’round headlines, even more misleading conmen on TV, and way too many Fakebook posts from the class of ’79 to be able to grasp reality firmly. The fantasy stays alive when one clings to two or three plausibilities chained to an anvil of fiction rather than accept a night sky’s worth of verifiable, non-litigable truths. Please understand that believing only what you want to believe doesn’t make it factual. Information that cannot be disproven isn’t inherently true.
This is the kind of world we live in. These are the kinds of people we’re dealing with — the kind who would also murder our mother with a plastic butterknife to cast a ballot.
I wish most of us empathetic, globalist folks cared enough to beat them. I’m afraid we’re way too easily distracted. Passionate — yes, we’re that — but also prone to cocooning. The dopamine drip from our devices (text, scroll, text, scroll, smile!, post, check phone 900 times before bed) breaks up the grind of painting or teaching yoga or running through scales or writing literary zombie novels or chasing whatever other fun, mostly unprofitable creative dreams our DNA instructs us to pursue — there was an election yesterday? Was it mentioned in Artforum? Or on Spotify? Maybe Netflix said something about it. When’s the next vote? I’ll definitely put on some good sweatpants, drag myself out of the apartment, get in the car, reflexively flip on the radio, suffer through soul-crushing traffic (I hear you, “Slow Ride”), ch-ch-change the station a few hundred times, and wait in line for hours to cast my ballot (“I don’t wanna wait in vain,” either, Brother Bob). Yeah, I’ll do that right after I finish penning this chapbook of Ashberyian poems that will almost kill me but that no one will ever read.
“One consistent theme for 2022 is that Republican turnout has been more robust than Democratic turnout, particularly as compared to 2018,” said Kyle Kondik from the University of Virginia after the summer primaries. “If you believe that this is a Republican-leaning cycle and that Republicans are poised to do well in November, more robust Republican turnout is consistent with that story.”
I am — or once was — friends with a couple conspiracy theorists in my neighborhood. I haven’t talked to them since not long after the most recent presidential election (no surprise), and I’m afraid they’ve only dug deeper into the postmodern, literally surreal ooze of fantasy. I asked my wife about them a while back. “You don’t want to know,” she replied. As he has with so many friends and families, the Sultan of Spray Tan has come between our dear former pals and us. I wish them well. I just want to know why they’re thinking what they’re thinking and why they turn to Fox News and worse when nearly everyone else on the planet is screaming the provable truth within comfortable, clickable earshot.
I’m pretty sure the wealthy or wannabe-wealthy, Whitey-first version of Christianity probably has a lot to do with conspiracy theorists’ willful ignorance. Example: If Black lives matter, the willfully ignorant ask, then why do African Americans keep shooting up one another in the ghettoes? Capsule answer: because decades ago our government, in its infinite wisdom, thought that confining former slaves and their descendants to certain, shitty parts of the country through redlining would maintain the façade of separate but equal. As history has proven, living stacked on top of one another in rat shacks with no job, supermarket, or bank nearby but with lots of places selling essentially whiskey in Home Depot bucket-sized cans for $1.99 creates a toxic mentality that leads to survival-at-all-costs decisions, including crime. Not excusing the behavior, just providing the kind of context that most white people willfully ignore because Fox News has scared them senseless. “Ooooh, Black people defacing statues. Never mind cops actually murdering living, breathing human beings — Black, white, and every other color in between. Look at those poor statues!”
There’s also the fetuses. Christianity’s wealthy whites keep trying to find the right Bible verse that says life starts at conception. All they can come up with is “People with flat noses can’t get communion!” (Leviticus 21:18-21), “Nonvirgins should be stoned!” (Deuteronomy 22: 20-21), and “Eat your children if you sin!” (Leviticus 26:27-30). The closest the Bible comes to addressing the question is to say that life starts with the first breath, so until Dr. Oz proves that fetuses are inhaling oxygen and exhaling CO2 in the womb like Usain Bolt after a 100-meter sprint, practitioners of this warped species of the faith should just admit the truth: They want to abolish abortion to punish women, poor women, Black and brown women.
Banning choice also probably means some ladies want to pump out kids and stay home with them (#blessed #joy #noviolentthoughtsatall) while their husbands do all of the timecard-punching and money-earning. It’s just too sad and pathetic to think about. Do better, sister-mothers. You are vessels of pure energy existing for a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a millisecond in universal time, riding the only rock capable of nurturing life out of a zillion of them hurtling through the vast canyons of space. And men are stupid. Do better.
“Let me say that I am not implying that all evangelicals will become conspiracy theorists,” writes Joel Lawrence, executive director of the Center for Pastor Theologians, “but in the last few months, we have witnessed a disturbing number doing just that.”
Christians, tweets atheist activist @godless_mom, are “more susceptible to conspiracy theories because they’ve been groomed to accept ideas w/o evidence. The threat conspiracy theorists pose to the health and wellbeing of our world today is precisely why atheists have been vocal about the dangers of faith for years.”
Texas is one of the most conspiracy-heavy states in the union. I’m virtually fanning you right now because I know you just fainted. The most popular tall tale among us, according to BetKansas, a sports betting site, is not that the JFK assassination in Dallas was an inside job, though it’s up there (No. 3, behind that other done-dirty deal, 9/11). It’s an airport.
Ranked as the second overall conspiracy in the country, behind 9/11, the Denver International Airport is where conspiracy lovers believe the Illuminati and architects of the New World Order reside. Both groups. I’m just curious. Do they share a communal kitchen and the same Keurig? Do they have reserved parking spots? How can they focus on transforming society to their image and bending us to their will with the roar of all those 737s taking off and landing constantly? Anyway, secret bunkers and Freemason signage dot the facility and environs, and lizard people prowl the subterranean depths. The Denver airport is also the top-ranked conspiracy in Colorado and Nevada, two states I expected better of.
With one eye closed, I googled what this supposed New World Order is. What I learned is that a bunch of really rich, really powerful Jews are now-not-so-secretly orchestrating our current la fin du monde (runaway viruses, mass shootings, climate disasters) to subjugate us. Only the super Heebs can save us, and in our salvation, we will become their slaves, doing their laundry, I guess, fluffing their pillows, mowing their lawns, taking down their trash, directing their Hollywood movies. To which I would like to add, with great respect to actual slavery, isn’t Conald Trump already our savior? Isn’t his New World Order (white supremacy, probably genocide, definitely lots of golf) already taking over? And aren’t the rest of us already effectively shackled? More than half of our daily lives is spent preparing for, participating in, and recovering from work, and the minimum wage hasn’t gone up one cent in 13 years. That was in 2009. In 2009, Obama had been in the White House a year, and most of us probably believed that that was the start of a new world order of peace, justice, love, and endless veggie burgers with mountainous sides of quinoa. In 2009, I was two years into my marriage, 12.5 pounds lighter, and writing about largely uncaring local bands and painters as if it was going to launch me to The New York Times’ Arts & Leisure desk. I’m smarter now. Heavier and totes glummer but smarter. My current daydreams revolve around living on an island in the middle of the ocean with my family and spending my days fermenting native fruits. I can’t imagine what the NWO or the Illuminati would want from any of us other than maybe our black liquescence like in The Matrix. (Where do I sign up?)
Here is the rest of the Top 10: After 9/11 and the Denver airport, we have 3.) the Illuminati is real, 4.) the JFK assassination was an inside job, 5.) COVID-19 is a hoax, 6.) QAnon, 7.) the moon landings were faked, 8.) HAARP (?) is behind all our global catastrophes, 9.) Area 51 is hiding aliens, and 10.) Wayfair trafficking (??).
I believe I’m correct in assuming that most of us have heard about a majority of the Top 10: Little green men crash-landed in New Mexico decades ago and were hauled to Nevada to be examined, bombing our own landmark skyscrapers was an excuse to build a pipeline through Afghanistan, the coronavirus, which escaped from a Chinese lab, doesn’t exist, but the lab does (the first rule of conspiracy theorizing is not to ask too many questions), the commie mafia killed JFK, no one really landed on the moon, and some faceless guy named Q is right about everything while everybody else is wrong. The two I had to look up are HAARP and Wayfair. After conducting some heavy, in-depth research on them (on the toilet), I found they’re just specific names for common conspiracies: weather modification (HAARP, or the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks) and human trafficking, here by the titular furniture retailer. Someone in Wayfair’s marketing department should have known better than to give super-white girl names like Ainsley and Kathrina to high-priced sectionals and poufs. We are a nation of ridiculous, absurd, infantile fantasists. Everyone knows this, Wayfair. Everyone.
BetKansas doesn’t say how many people actually believe these fictions, just that each theory was stuffed through Google Search Trends and KeywordTool.io and aggregated. The email BetKansas sent me contains a link for additional info, but when I clicked on it, I only ended up being taken to a generic welcome page. (Illuminati!)
One conspiracy theory conspicuously missing from the Top 10 is the Big Lie. More than 70% of all Republicans, and probably 100% of all Kansas Republicans, believe the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent. Their “information” comes from one source: Fox News, a joke that somehow got away from Rupert Murdoch (and the rest of the right-wing puppet masters). They don’t care. No one cares. Tucker Carlson and the rest of the network’s propagandists masquerading as “journalists” say precisely what most conservatives want to hear, a litany of falsehoods and innuendo, anything but the verifiable truth. In 2020, Carlson beat a slander case against him by having his lawyers argue that he lies on-air for money. Kind of like a whore. Relying mostly on the attorneys’ arguments, U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, a Trump appointee, said the “ ‘general tenor’ of [Carlson’s] show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’ ” His viewers love his untruthfulness and the lies of Fox News and the lies of contemporary conservativism in general. As it was explained to me a while back by a bro from the old, sad neighborhood, “Sometimes just saying crazy stuff makes the cockroaches scatter.” Two weeks ago, I had to go in for a routine colonoscopy. The lady next to me in the prep room cranked up Fox News on her hanging TV. They were trashing the vice-president because of course they were. She’s Black, a woman, and in charge. She’s what the right has nightmares about. I responded the only way I knew how: setting my iPhone on the table between us and blasting my Nina Simone playlist. “To be young, gifted, and Black / Is where it’s at! Is where it’s at! Is where it’s at!!!”
I often wonder what’s keeping a lot of us here in Texas. Along with banning abortion, banning books, not banning assault rifles, and pulling a seemingly endless number of other unfunny, incredibly dangerous pranks, Gov. Greg Abbott’s gutless acquiescence to the Big Lie is why he and his co-conspirators in Austin have installed apparatchiks into the sacred halls of government. They’re there to overturn the will of the people next time. The same may be true in Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, three swing states whose Republican candidates for governor and secretary of state reject the results of the 2020 presidential election. Just be prepared. When Abbott and his thieves slip victory out from Beto O’Rourke’s back pocket, I’m saying burn the whole damn thing down. I’m googling “how to light a stupid, ridiculous, probably racist statue on fire” right now. I’m serious. Action must be taken. And then we can move away to an island in the stream, not a moment sooner.
You could say that what separates us from the conspiracy theorists is that while they’re living in the future, we are here in the Now, doing normal things like helping people, even some we don’t agree with, doing our dishes, brushing our teeth, curling our hair, accepting reality, you know, being normal. We aren’t existing in the Great Beyond. If the Bible is to be believed — and as a Catholic schoolboy, I’ve read almost all of it — then realize that as much as Jesus wanted us to repent to enjoy a five-star hereafter, he wanted us to live our divinity now. When asked what the churches look like in heaven, Willem Dafoe said there are no churches in heaven — you’re already there. And that’s what Jesus wanted on Earth, what Willem Dafoe said in that Scorsese movie from the 1980s.
The Former Guy does figure prominently in one of the Top 10. The country’s sixth-highest trending conspiracy, QAnon, says that Donald tRump is waging a secret war against “a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles [sic].” Yes, the guy who regularly walked in on teen beauty queens in their dressing rooms is leading some kind of global battle against demonic pervs. How he does all this from a shitty golf course in the nation’s armpit is even more miraculous. Grab some pine, guy who rose from the dead after three days. Our new savior is here.
Being white and blonde isn’t where the similarities between Jesus and Don-old end. Both men grew up poor except for the one who inherited millions of dollars, both were smart, so smart you didn’t know what to do with them, they were so smart, so terrifically smart, you still can’t even see their grades, that’s how smart they were, both knew money (one hated it; the other developed a preternatural talent for blowing it), and both died on the cross — Donald Trump’s “great life” ended on June 16, 2015, when he announced his candidacy for president.
“I had a great life, great company, great business, no problems,” Trump has said, “and now, all I do is, people go after you. It’s vicious. It’s horrible.”
Is there no end to the sacrifices this guy makes for all our straight, rich, white loved ones on the daily?
The November election will determine whether we remain a free, fair democracy or a Christian caliphate. This time, it’s real. Sorry, but we have to say this every other minute because we hope it will stick someday. Maybe the people we elect will be able to, possibly, pull themselves away from MSNBC and takeout Le Diplomate long enough to effect change we can count on. We do not need any more “URGENT!” fundraising emails or more kowtowing to sWiNg VOtErS or any more nonsensical tweets that have nothing to do with voting rights, choice, or equality. You went to Taiwan today. Congrats. Now can you come back to Washington and maybe save democracy? Because that would be great. *slurps coffee*
We need to bury white supremacy and the desire for a church-state completely, or we will fracture even further. There’s a lot more of us than there are of them. The difference is that our conservative kinfolk aren’t as easily distracted from rocking the vote as we mankind-enlighteners are. They don’t make worthwhile music. They don’t make worthwhile food. They can’t dance. Their incredibly awkward, painfully wooden Christian melodramas suck. (I know. I’ve had to steer my 10-year-old away from them in his mistaken belief that they are “just sports movies.”) The only artist on their side is that weirdo who painted Trump grabbing Robert Mueller by the tie, and dude’s understanding of human anatomy is almost as painful as the hellscape he’s going to be deposited in for forgetting Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” including the right’s massa in chief, who’s undoubtedly swinging a 9-iron and … Truth Social-ing? … as we speak.
We relatively normal contributors to the world’s intellectual and emotional betterment are way more distracted than the competition. In the primaries so far, more Dems have been staying home than Republicans. We’re probably busy making art. More likely, watching Black Bird and reading literary zombie novels. A’hem.
I promise I’ll do my part to get ready for Nov. 8.
“Hey, guys,” I’ll text two people I love dearly but can’t trust with their ballots — at all. “Check out this list of the Top 10 conspiracy theories in the country. Can you believe the Denver airport is only No. 2?!? I definitely thought it’d be first. What are those list makers smoking, amirite??”
Can I keep this up through Nov. 9? Using tricky messages to distract an older brother whose name might be Lenny and a slightly less older sister possibly named Virginia through election day? I should add that “Lenny” is an incredible illustrator and “Virginia” is an amazing singer. They’re the only Republicans I know who add to the world’s edification. Them and Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the Congressional committee investigating Jan. 6, who referred to TFG’s attempted coup as a “seditious conspiracy.”
Not that kind of conspiracy, BetKansas. A real one.
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Submissions will be gently edited for factuality, clarity, and concision.