The other night I was a on a call with some friends, and they were talking about a video they’d seen called Plandemic. I listened. One friend was skeptical, the other less so. I hadn’t even heard of it, so I stayed quiet. After the conversation, I looked up the video. I was horrified.
The video (I won’t link to it) features a discredited scientist, Judy Mikovits, and the thesis is that vaccines weaken the body’s immune system and cause people to be vulnerable to coronavirus. And that Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci are leading some global conspiracy to rule the world.
How had my sophisticated Manhattan friends believed any of this bunk? I was shocked but I probably shouldn’t have been. Plandemic has been discredited by every single reputable newspaper and magazine, but that seems not to penetrate the corners of the internet where the film is still celebrated.
I am certainly not the first person to point out that we are living in a post-truth America. It’s an America where the president who asked “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” now announces almost on a daily basis that he’s been “exonerated” from “the Russia hoax.” Ben Wittes and Quinta Jurecic write in The Atlantic that “Trump and his supporters need to keep up their attack on the Russia probe for one final reason: Bob Mueller’s findings were actually devastating for the president…”
And right now, that same president is promoting something called “Obamagate,” but he won’t or can’t say what it is. He tweeted over the weekend, “OBAMAGATE!” and “The biggest political crime in American history, by far!” but when asked at Monday’s press conference to explain this great crime, the president said “Obamagate, it’s been going on for a long time.” And then “some terrible things happened,” but Trump was unable to word-salad himself into anything but more word-salad.
But it doesn’t matter. The president considers himself to be exonerated, and that means even mainstream news outlets feel a little sheepish bringing it up. After all, that was last season.
We are in the perfect political and social climate for conspiracy theories. Coronavirus has created a fertile nesting ground for conspiracy theorists, between the isolation of social distancing and the restrictions of government lockdowns, the powerless and the fear of infection have led to people needing something thing to believe in and these conspiracy theories provide easy answers. I thought I would be immune to such moronics in my sophisticated coastal elitist world. Boy, was I wrong.
Since the pandemic has hit, I have been sent a copy of a page from the Dean Koontz 1981 novel The Eyes of Darkness, which friends guaranteed to me showed that Koontz had “predicted all of this.” It did not, though the virus was a coronavirus, but that’s where the similarities end. In the book, the virus has a mortality rate that hovers at 100 percent. And then there were the texts people kept sending me, in the early days of the pandemic like March, when I was one of the very few among my friends to stay in Manhattan (I’m still here!).
A friend in Florida kept sending me a meme of a text that said “President Trump will invoke a law known as the ‘Stafford Act’ and implement a mandatory quarantine.” In the text, it mentioned that the president was going to close the tunnels and bridges in and out of Manhattan.
I pushed back, and my friend said that the information came from the administration. I pushed back again, and she said the information came from someone close to the president’s large adult son junior. That of course made sense, because there’s no one who enjoys misinformation more than the circle around President Boomer’s gun-loving spawn.
Conspiracy theories can be sold in a number of ways, but the way the president sells them is couched in phrasing such that he himself is just asking questions. “So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous—whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light—and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body.” He’s not saying the statement as an affirmative, merely as a question.
Later, after the torrent of criticism he got for that one, Trump said he was being sarcastic. The notion is that the president can say anything if he says it as a joke or a question is something the president fully takes advantage of. He asks questions and while doing that advances lies like the many times he was “just asking questions about Hunter Biden,” the goal is to muddy the water, change the narrative, sully the other party so that voters assume everyone is corrupt.
I have a friend like that. She just “asks questions” on Facebook. She is spreading misinformation, but you can’t accuse her of it because she can say she’s just “questioning the narrative.” RFK Jr. recently gave an interview in which his “most outrageous claim was that Bill Gates is installing chips in people across America. He said that these chips could be used to store a person’s medical records, but said that they would be used for something far more sinister.”
A few years earlier, his own family had to write an op-ed saying “We love Robert F. Kennedy Jr., but he is part of a misinformation campaign that’s having heartbreaking—and deadly—consequences.” Kennedy went to Harvard and studied at the London School of Economics but somehow still believes this insane anti-vaccine claptrap.
We made a reality-television host president. We should have seen this coming. People who don’t understand science believe arrant nonsense because it makes the world less scary, and the world is very scary right now. We have a climate that is filled with instability, an economy cratering and on the brink of collapse, a pandemic raging that has already killed 80,000 Americans. If there ever were a time to believe in fairytales and happy talk, it’s now. But happy talk and fairytales kill. We need to trust science not charlatans.
When we see a friend “just asking questions” on Facebook, it’s our responsibility as people with brains to push back to explain to them that 5G and Bill Gates are not out to get them.