NPR has a worthwhile look at four of the most prominent election conspiracy theorists crisscrossing the country to speak to rapt (and extremely gullible) audiences about how the orange-headed narcissistic clown not winning reelection is Actually because of a secret conspiracy against him. It includes mention of Mike Lindell, forever known as That Pillow Dude; it doesn't mention Michael Flynn, the Trump-pardoned national security adviser who, for plane fare and three hairs plucked from a comely virgin's scalp, will come to your event to embrace whatever conspiracy theory you like.
The three names in focus are the Lindell-discovered Douglas Frank (ex-high school teacher), Seth "Captain K" Keshel (ex-Army intelligence, and yes, they really call him that), and David Clements, (ex-business professor fired from New Mexico State for jeopardizing student health during a pandemic.) Between Pillow Dude and the three of them, they've racked up over 300 appearances nationwide, regaling audiences with charts and graphs and the general insistence that despite outside experts debunking each of their testable claims, the election was somehow stolen and they're the only ones in the country clever enough to have found it.
NPR is vague about its specific claims, which is appropriate because there's no point in hashing them out yet again. An internet search will gladly explain why each of these people is Completely Damn Wrong, though if after doing that search you start getting advertisements for garlic-infused air fresheners able to ward off car vampires or Mike Lindell-approved ancestry tests that can tell you whether your great-grandfather was a chupacabra. Good luck with that. Each of the claims boils down to “I found secret math that the experts can't handle.”
This is, as it turns out, a very good all-American scam. Most Americans are science-illiterate enough to believe anything you tell them, as long as you've got a chart to point to. It's a go-to approach for hucksters selling the latest "nutritional supplements," it's wonderful for insisting that crime is going up when it's actually going down, and you can use it to demonstrate the planet's climate started changing roughly around the time mankind invented photography, thus suggesting that elevated temperatures in 2022 are due to a critical mass of human souls being stolen away by flashbulbs, thus strengthening the forces of Hell and causing the invention of new Flamin' Hot snack foods.
People have a natural tendency to believe information that comes in visual form, which is why the political campaigns and "news" shows most eager to promote sedition surround their saboteurs with as many waving American flags as they can muster.
There are a few lines in the NPR piece that stand out. Clemons "begins his presentation with a prayer," another commonplace technique in which speakers begin by borrowing God's own authority to sell whatever grift is coming next. The audience is "all white and mostly middle-aged," because these things have a demographic to them and it's white, middle-aged Americans who are most likely to both be Trump supporters, signaling gullibility right off the bat, and most likely to feel so very damn entitled to getting their way that they naturally believe not getting their way in an election can only be the result of a worldwide conspiracy against them.
But the main impact of the small- and mid-scale events hosted by the four is to turn Americans mean. That’s the goal. The election conspiracy crowd doesn't merely want their audiences to believe the election was stolen, they want each audience to believe that their own personal towns are in on the plot but that local election officials, to quote conspiracy crank Clements, "respond to fear." He advocates taking the fight to local elections offices. The results of the presentations, unsurprisingly, can include a surge in threats to local officials or new bouts of "suspicious citizens" going door-to-door demanding the general public give them information about their private voting habits.
It's not that pro-Trump Americans are being shown crappy math claims and coming away believing in conspiracies. It's that pro-Trump Americans are being shown crappy math claims and acting on those claims by insisting that anyone who doesn't believe the claims is in on the plot.
Since it's the people who actually know things about election data doing the debunking of all these false new claims, that naturally puts "people who actually know things about election data" as the conspiracy-believing audience's new mortal enemy, and here we are.
Conservatism has long been viciously anti-intellectual. It becomes more anti-intellectual every time a conservative ideology gets tried in the real world and fails, spectacularly, for the reasons that actual experts in a subject said it would. The list of mortal enemies already included climate scientists, energy scientists, doctors, biologists, historians, government data gatherers, journalists, and anyone with even a passing familiarity with other modern nations. The audacity of people who have studied and implemented elections through entire careers piping up to explain that a collection of conspiracy-embracing gadflies has not, in fact, discovered a Math Conspiracy only Trump supporters know about ... is not something they will easily forgive.
Now then: What are we supposed to make of this new cottage industry of election deniers traveling the nation to sell monorails—er, conspiracy theories—to small local audiences? Despite the omnipresence of Pillow Dude, we can't really claim these to be "coordinated" efforts. The charlatans are responding to a market need, which is that many Americans want to pay somebody money to tell them that their ideology is not being rejected by the rest of America, it is being suppressed. It is a commercial enterprise, filling a market need that would not exist if the Republican Party did not furiously promote fraudulent election hoaxes on behalf of Donald J. Loudmouth, delusional crank.
Mike Lindell and his less pillow-oriented market competitors might be best thought of as the Proud Boys of election conspiracies. They want to fight for the fascist cause, and if they don't have a good reason they're going to invent one. The purpose is to raise up a wider group of people willing to fight too—a crowd large and angry enough to disrupt their own local elections for the sake of Trumpism, one that would rather have no democracy at all than a democracy that puts them on the legitimately losing side.
That's the role played by the conspiracy promoters: If you're angry but not in good enough shape to join the shock troops threatening school board members or other hyper-local officials, you're in luck. You can still help to derail American democracy by making it impossible for any non-Trump supporting official to do their jobs. Anyone whose first introduction to civic participation is precipitated by a random traveling crank waving a chart in their face and who comes away from that presentation believing that they too now know more about elections than the actual people running them is ... well, precisely the sort of Americans the cranks are trying to gather. Angry and gullible may be no way to go through life, but it's the essence of what Republicanism has now become.
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