As the nation reels from a wave of far-right, racist and anti-semitic violent terrorism, it’s worth taking a step back to consider the context. Yes, these hate crime incidents have increased significantly since the political rise of Donald Trump and the enabling of the alt right. And yes, America has seen its share of political violence in the past.
But we have become so inured to the asymmetric polarization of our politics and the bizarre, increasingly conspiratorial nature of modern conservative belief systems that it’s easy to ignore the causes of right-wing violence right in front of our eyes.
Non-state-sanctioned individual political violence (as separate from state violence like the Iraq War and police shootings, or mob violence like Ku Klux Klan lynchings) tends to occur when people feel overwhelmed, desperate and with no other options. That this sort of violence is increasing on the right at a time when Republicans control all branches of government should strike us as particularly strange and noteworthy, and it requires deeper examination.
The mystery begins to unravel, though, if we look a sample of the beliefs required of the modern conservative.
To be a modern conservative, you must believe that there is a grand conspiracy of scientists all around the world promote a hoax about global warming and climate change in exchange for….well, it’s not entirely clear what. Grant funding? Payoff by global Marxists? Who knows? It’s pretty bizarre, but tens of millions of American conservatives believe it.
To be a modern conservative is to believe that thousands of desperate Central American migrants are being paid by George Soros–himself a symbol and often a substitute code word for Jews, also coded as “globalists” in mainstream Republican rhetoric–to come to the United States to vote illegally and disrupt the midterm elections.
To be a modern conservative is to believe in a ludicrous, grandiose conspiracy of tens of thousands of organizers, undocumented people and elections officials to implement voter impersonation fraud at scale.
To be a modern conservative is to believe that there is a byzantine “Deep State” conspiracy involving the highest levels of law enforcement, including well-respected members of both parties, to entrap and frame the president–rather than the much more obvious conclusion that the president and his associates are guilty of wide-ranging wrongdoing on multiple fronts.
To be a modern conservative is to believe that white men face the most discrimination of any group in the country, that older white conservatives in the South are the least racist people in America, and that liberal whites are keeping people of color down on what they call the “Democrat plantation” by providing social services not to make up for institutional prejudice, but in a unbreakable and corrupt bargain for votes.
To be a modern conservative is to believe that all of the collected mainstream media are corrupted Democratic campaign operatives, while Fox News is singledhandedly engaged in real journalism.
To be a modern conservative is to believe that abortion of first-trimester fetuses constitutes a holocaust of living babies, and that the medical consensus of developed nations worldwide constitutes a united conspiracy between feminists and scientists in defiance of God.
To a great many modern conservatives, it is far more important to prepare for the Rapture–including by supporting a far right government in Israel to fulfill dispensationalist prophecy–than to prepare for climate change or job losses due to automation.
To be a modern conservative, per majority opinion, is to believe that the last Democratic president was born outside of the United States and ineligible to be president.
And that doesn’t even touch the more outre conspiracies believed by significant minorities of conservatives, from Sandy Hook false flags to various versions of QAnon, pizzagate and much more.
The collective weight of these belief systems is massive and psychologically destabilizing. It blares every day from the collective conservative media bubble in a 24/7 stream of Fox News broadcasts, Breitbart articles and Rush Limbaugh radio hours.
Imagine if you believed that there was a gigantic collective, multi-faceted conspiracy of all the world’s scientists, celebrities, media figures, professors, public intellectuals, and tens of thousands of activists, immigrants and international boogeyman to commit heinous fraud with the intent of robbing you of your cultural and ethnic heritage, impoverishing you and stealing your rightful possessions. Imagine if your prominent and most trusted figures–including the President of the United States–were telling you this over and over again every hour of every single day.
It would lead to a cultic mindset, a derangement from reality, and a consequentialist ethics where any means were justified to defeat the forces of evil arrayed against you.
It’s frankly shocking that there hasn’t been even more violence from the enraptured yet privileged victims of the Svengalis hypnotizing them with stories of their perpetual victimization by dark, shadowy and sinister forces just beyond their reach and accountability.
And it will likely get significantly worse before it gets better.