The Republican Party has completely lost its mind (updated)

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When I was young, I had a job that required me to travel throughout the central and mountain states. I frequently drove at night, because it was easier on the eyes than in the daytime.

Unfortunately, this part of the country had a dearth of good radio stations that played music at night. The AM dial was mostly populated with late night evangelical preachers spreading their apocalyptic end-times theories about the Book of Revelations, and conspiracy theorists ranging from the John Birch Society, to the JFK assassination truthers, to the moon landing truthers, to UFO abductees, and the “New World Order” conspiracists explaining how the Communist Party, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, the Bohemian Grove, the Illuminati, the Masons, the Federal Reserve, the CIA, the United Nations, etc. were all part of some grand conspiracy to enslave mankind.

It was enough to make you wonder how this country ever survived as long as it had with so many stupid people with so many stupid conspiracy theories inside their heads (government mind control through radio waves, didn’t you know?)

These people were always consider fringe wackos by regular folks. But then came the rise of right-wing talk radio, cable television and, God help us, the internet. Social media was a late comer to this party, but now the major player. These fringe wackos now had a “community” of people who believe the same crazy shit as they do. They were no longer isolated individuals who largely kept to themselves. Having a community empowered them and only encouraged them to go completely nuts.

Now we have way more stupid people with way more stupid conspiracy theories inside their heads. It has become all consuming on the political right, so much so that it has taken the Republican Party captive with one of its own chief conspiracy theorists, Donald J. Trump.

Now it has come to this: Believer in QAnon conspiracy theory wins Republican Senate nomination in Oregon:

Oregon Republicans on Tuesday elected a Senate nominee who believes in QAnon, the baseless conspiracy theory that has taken root among some far-right supporters of President Trump.

Jo Rae Perkins bested three other candidates to win the GOP nomination to face Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in November.

In a now-deleted video posted to her Twitter account Tuesday night, Perkins said she supports the conspiracy theory, which revolves around “Q,” an anonymous Internet user claiming to be a government agent with top security clearance.

“Where we go one, we go all,” Perkins said in the video, reciting a QAnon slogan. “I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. And together, we can save our republic.”

You’re probably thinking to yourself “eh, she’s just another Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell, nothing to worry about.” Maybe so.

Then again, maybe not. Marc-André Argentino has this truly disturbing report about QAnon at Salon. The Church of QAnon: How right-wing conspiracy theories take the form of religious movements:

Followers of the QAnon movement believe in wild and dangerous conspiracy theories about U.S. President Donald Trump. Now a faction within the movement has been interpreting the Bible through QAnon conspiracies.

I have been studying the growth of the QAnon movement as part of my research into how extremist religious and political organizations create propaganda and recruit new members to ideological causes.

On Feb. 23, I logged onto Zoom to observe the first public service of what is essentially a QAnon church operating out of the Omega Kingdom Ministry (OKM). I’ve spent 12 weeks attending this two-hour Sunday morning service.

What I’ve witnessed is an existing model of neo-charismatic home churches — the neo-charismatic movement is an offshoot of evangelical Protestant Christianity and is made up of thousands of independent organizations — where QAnon conspiracy theories are reinterpreted through the Bible. In turn, QAnon conspiracy theories serve as a lens to interpret the Bible itself.

Trump vs. the “deep state”

The QAnon movement began in 2017 after someone known only as Q posted a series of conspiracy theories about Trump on the internet forum 4chan. QAnon followers believe global elites are seeking to bring down Trump, whom they see as the world’s only hope to defeat the “deep state.”

OKM is part of a network of independent congregations (or ekklesia) called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). The organization’s spiritual adviser is Mark Taylor, a self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” and QAnon influencer with a large social media following on Twitter and YouTube.

The website of Omega Kingdom Ministries mixes QAnon theories and biblical references.

The resource page of the HCW website only links to QAnon propaganda — including the documentary “Fall Cabal” by Dutch conspiracy theorist Janet Ossebaard, which is used to formally indoctrinate e-congregants into QAnon. This 10-part YouTube series was the core material for the weekly Bible study during QAnon church sessions I observed.

The Sunday service is led by Russ Wagner, leader of the Indiana-based OKM, and Kevin Bushey, a retired colonel running for election to the Maine House of Representatives.

Bible and QAnon narratives

The service begins with an opening prayer from Wagner that he says will protect the Zoom room from Satan. This is followed by an hour-long Bible study where Wagner might explain the “Fall Cabal” video that attendees had just watched or offer his observations on socio-political events from the previous week.

Everything is explained though the lens of the Bible and QAnon narratives. Bushey then does 45 minutes of decoding items that have appeared recently on the app called QMap that is used to share conspiracy theories. The last 15 minutes are dedicated to communion and prayer.

At a service held on April 26, Wagner and Bushey spoke about a QAnon theory, called Project Looking Glass, that the U.S. military has secretly developed a form of time-travel technology. Wagner suggested to e-congregants that time travel can be explained by certain passages in the Bible.

On May 3, the theme of the QAnon portion of the service was about COVID-19. Bushey spoke about a popular QAnon theory that the pandemic was planned. (There is no evidence of this.) And when an anti-vax conspiracy theory documentary called “Plandemic” went viral , the video was shared on the HCW websites as a way for e-congregants to consume the latest in a series of false theories about the coronavirus.

Leveraging authority

What is clear is that Wagner and Bushey are leveraging religious beliefs and their “authority” as a pastor and ex-military officer to indoctrinate attendees into the QAnon church. Their objective is to train congregants to form their own home congregations in the future and grow the movement.

OKM’s ministry is rooted in Taylor’s prophecies. Wagner regularly mentions that if it wasn’t for Taylor, he would have never started this ministry.

On its website, OKM references the Seven Mountains of Societal Influence. Seven Mountains utilizes the language of Dominionism — a theology that believes countries, including the United States, should be governed by Christian biblical law. Its goal is to attain sociopolitical and economic transformation through the gospel of Jesus in what it calls the seven mountains or spheres of society: religion, family, education, government, media, entertainment and business. This blends QAnon’s apocalyptic desire to destroy society “controlled” by the deep state with the need for the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Wagner and Bushey have taught their congregation to stop listening to any media —even Fox News — because they’re are all “Luciferian.” What they provide instead is a road map to QAnon radicalization comprised of QAnon YouTube channels for the congregation’s daily media diet, the Qmap website that lists new QAnon conspiracy theories and Twitter influencers.

“Deep state church”

They further insist that as Trump continues to “drain the swamp” in Washington, it’s “our” responsibility to drain the deep state church swamp. They believe the same deep state that controls the world has also infiltrated traditional churches. As Wagner stated in his April 12 service: “I am here to focus on the deep state church. This goes beyond our church and involves our culture and our politics. Kevin is here to talk about QAnon and the military operation to save the world.”

Like any church, they also run outreach ministries. OKM is currently raising funds for something called Reclamation Ranch, which Wagner describes as a safe place for children rescued after being held underground by the deep state. Children at risk is an ongoing theme in many QAnon conspiracy theories, including the famous fake “Pizzagate” theory.

As of May, OKM moved from Zoom to YouTube to accommodate the growth in attendees. At last count, approximately 300 accounts participated in the recent services.

While that’s not a lot of followers, we should be concerned about these latest developments. OKM provides formalized religious indoctrination into QAnon, a conspiracy movement that is both a public health threat by spreading false information about the coronavirus pandemic and a national security concern.

So, combine one part evangelical Christian Reconstructionists (Dominionism) with one part right-wing political conspiracy theories, amplify it with the conservative media entertainment complex, and we get a religious cult built around Donald Trump as the world’s only hope to defeat the “deep state” (fka the New World Order). Dominionists do not believe in democracy, they believe in a theocratic state in which they are the ruling class serving as God’s chosen representatives, according to them anyway. As Attorney General William Barr said, “History is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who is writing the history.

All of the collection of crazy that used to be just fringe talkers on late night radio years ago have now metastasized into a unified political movement, i.e., a quasi-religious personality cult of Donald Trump. This is a new and dangerous development in American history.

Philip Bump at the Washington Post says About a sixth of the country relies most on Trump as the source of information about the coronavirus:

I was presented with new data from Pew Research Center documenting how people’s preferred sources of information about the coronavirus pandemic overlap with their views of what’s happening. Of those Pew polled, about a quarter said the source of information about the pandemic they relied on the most was the national news media, such as The Washington Post. Another 18 percent said it was public health professionals. Sixteen percent identified Trump and the White House coronavirus task force as the source of information they rely on the most.

More than 9 in 10 of those who rely most on information from Trump and the White House were Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, meaning about 15 percent of all respondents were Republicans/leaners who rely most on the president’s team for information.

Among those who rely on Trump for information, nearly three-quarters said the media had at least slightly exaggerated the risks posed by the virus.

More than half of Republicans (and leaners) who rely most on the White House said the media greatly exaggerated the risks posed by the virus.

And Trump’s promise of ‘Warp Speed’ fuels an anti-vaccine movement in fertile corners of the Web (excerpts):

Some of the same online activists who have clamored to resume economic activity, echoing President Trump’s call to “liberate” their states from sweeping restrictions, are now aligning themselves with a cause on the political fringe — anti-vaxxers preemptively forswearing a vaccine. To further their baseless claims about the dangers of vaccines and to portray the scientific process as reckless, they have seized on the brisk pace promised for the project, which the Trump administration has branded “Operation Warp Speed.”

Both movements represent the views of a small minority of Americans. But leading medical experts fear that the ability of their adherents to spread misinformation online could plant seeds of confusion and distrust in the broader public — and undermine future efforts to distribute a vaccine.

Daniel McCarthy
Photo: Arizona Republican Senate candidate Daniel McCarthy speaks to the crowd during a rally for the governor to open the state at Wesley Bolin Plaza in Phoenix on May 3, 2020. Arizona Republic.

The online activity illustrates how anti-vaccine stalwarts have found common cause with those protesting stay-at-home measures, flocking to their demonstrations and staging their own. The two movements are also drawing on a common online organizing infrastructure, increasingly merging in the fluid corners of Facebook.

Their groups and pages, which frequently boast followings in the six figures, easily swap out one target of perceived government overreach for another, in an early sign of how misinformation could thwart efforts to immunize the public from a disease that has killed 90,000 Americans.

In a Yahoo News-YouGov poll this month, nearly 1 in 5 Americans said they would not take a coronavirus vaccine.

Trump is actually encouraging this movement. GOP fronts ‘pro-Trump’ doctors to prescribe rapid reopening:

Republican political operatives are recruiting “extremely pro-Trump” doctors to go on television to prescribe reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet safety benchmarks proposed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The plan was discussed in a May 11 conference call with a senior staffer for the Trump reelection campaign organized by CNP Action, an affiliate of the GOP-aligned Council for National Policy. A leaked recording of the hourlong call was provided to The Associated Press by the Center for Media and Democracy, a progressive watchdog group.

CNP Action is part of the Save Our Country Coalition, an alliance of conservative think tanks and political committees formed in late April to end state lockdowns implemented in response to the pandemic. Other members of the coalition include the FreedomWorks Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council and Tea Party Patriots.

Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director, confirmed to AP that an effort to recruit doctors to publicly support the president is underway, but declined to say when the initiative would be rolled out.

Murtaugh said the campaign is not concerned about contradicting government experts.

“Our job at the campaign is to reflect President Trump’s point of view,” Murtaugh said. “We are his campaign. There is no difference between us and him.”

In other words, you should believe our all-knowing “Dear Leader” and ignore the medical scientists.

When the obituary of the great American Experiment in democracy is written, it should accurately state that it died at the hands of right-wing conspiracy theorists and religious extremists.

UPDATE: Conservative columnist Max Boot has something relevant to add to this post. The three reasons conspiracy theories are more dangerous than ever (excerpt):

Naturally, the novel coronavirus has been subsumed into the all-encompassing QAnon conspiracy theory that has become a quasi-religion among some Trump supporters. They think that the virus was created by the “deep state” to bring down their hero.

What’s different about this particular moment in conspiracy history? Three things, I think.

First, conspiracy theories spread more efficiently by social media than by previous communications media. The online world is a post-truth space where there are no undisputed facts, only competing narratives, and even the most deranged claims (e.g., QAnon) can aggregate an audience.

Second, the stakes are higher now. It doesn’t much matter if someone thinks that UFOs landed at Roswell, N.M., or that Elvis is still alive — but it matters greatly if someone thinks that the coronavirus isn’t real or that a vaccine may be more dangerous than the disease. Such beliefs, if they become widespread, pose a danger to public health. Indeed, anti-vaccine activists are already a menace.

Third, we now have an unhinged conspiracy-monger in the White House. When he is not ranting about a vast, nebulous plot perpetrated by the prior administration (“Obamagate”) or about how Joe Scarborough supposedly murdered an aide, Trump is opining that the virus started in a Chinese lab, that hydroxychloroquine is an effective prophylactic, and that injections of bleach can treat the disease. His son, Eric, recently said that the coronavirus has been hyped by Democrats eager to stop his dad from holding rallies, and that “after Nov. 3, coronavirus, will magically all of a sudden go away.”

This is nuts, but it gains credence by being promulgated by authority figures. In fact, the entire GOP — which just nominated a QAnon believer as its Senate candidate in Oregon — is becoming a modern-day Know Nothing Party, a cesspool of prejudice and irrationality. What was once the fringe has now moved into the mainstream — and will become even more prominent as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Let’s hope that people can find saner and safer ways to make sense of this terrible time, because if they give in to irrationality, our current predicament will only get worse.




6 COMMENTS

  1. David Atkins at the Political Animal blog writes, “We Need to Speak Honestly About the GOP’s Evolution Into a Conspiracy Cult”, https://washingtonmonthly.com/2020/05/23/we-need-to-speak-honestly-about-the-gops-evolution-into-a-conspiracy-cult/

    (excerpts)

    But recently there has been a shift among GOP voters that is different not just in degree of virulence, but also in kind. For a host of different reasons, core Republican voters have begun to reconstitute themselves as a conspiracy theory cult devoted to beliefs that were once relegated to the farthest fringe–fictions that cannot help but end in civil conflict and violence if they fully become canon among conservative voters nationwide. This process arguably began as far back as Glenn Beck’s prominence on Fox News, but it has now blossomed into a grandiose collective paranoid fantasy.

    It’s long past time for even the venerable pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post to start calling this what it is, and stop normalizing it as standard partisanship. It is deeply dangerous in a democracy whose constitution functionally guarantees a two-party system, for one of those two parties to become a conspiracy cult.

  2. The conservative publication the National Review took the rare step of denouncing a GOP Senate candidate over her belief in the QAnon conspiracy theory. “National Review Denounces QAnon-Supporting GOP Senate Nominee”, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/national-review-comes-out-against-qanon-republican-senate-nominee_n_5ec96cd8c5b65e5835bc33f8

    Jo Rae Perkins, Oregon’s Republican nominee in this year’s Senate race, should be “shunned and repudiated” for her belief in a dangerous, baseless conspiracy theory, the publication said in an editorial Saturday.

    “Perkins is an unreconstructed exponent of a batty and corrosive conspiracy theory running a longshot campaign that carries only political downside for Republicans,” the editorial reads. “They should do what they can to distance themselves from her candidacy.”

    More from the editorial:

    “QAnon is a story of exploitation, in which some digitally literate person (or group of people) strings along the gullible with a fanciful story, inviting them to work together to decode clues and discuss lore. It is also a story of radicalization, in which skepticism about the Mueller investigation or distrust of political institutions mutates into a fantasy world in which the American elite is full of Jeffrey Epsteins. We don’t know whether Perkins is a cynic or a true believer, but whatever the case, she should be shunned and repudiated.”

    Why stop there. Shouldn’t National Review shun and repudiate the Q’s spiritual leader Donald Trump as well? Just sayin’.

    • QAnon in the hizzy!

      It’s almost as if brucedesertrat can see into the future…. the future… the future….

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