Absurd claims like imagined plot to kill Trump would be big if true • Nevada Current

When FBI agents converged on Mar-a-Lago in August of 2022, they did not come just to seize highly classified national-security documents that Donald Trump had taken illegally from the White House and then refused to return, in defiance of a court order.

Those agents had come to kill Trump. That is, if  you believe the latest right-wing conspiracy theory.

“The Biden DOJ and FBI were planning to assassinate Pres Trump and gave the green light,” as Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted late last month. “Does everyone get it yet???!!!!”

“Were they going to shoot SS then Pres Trump, Melania, and Barron too???”

It might be tempting to dismiss this as just another outburst from our own Georgia nutball, but in fundraising efforts Trump himself picked up the accusation and ran with it, endorsing it to millions of followers.

“They were authorized to shoot me!” the former and perhaps future president wrote in one mass email. “You know they’re just itching to do the unthinkable … Joe Biden was locked & loaded ready to take me out & put my family in danger!”

The allegations are ridiculous on their face, but for the record: The FBI timed the raid when Trump was not on the property and was 1,000 miles away in New York; FBI officials arranged it in consultation with the Secret Service; language in the search warrant about using deadly force only if someone’s life is threatened is standard in every FBI operation; the same standard language was used in documents when the FBI went to President Biden’s Delaware home to pick up documents that, unlike Trump, he was turning over voluntarily.

And what has been the political impact of this extremely inflammatory accusation? None. If a candidate for local dog catcher made such crazed allegations against an opponent, most voters would understand that the person had lost touch with reality and had no business holding public office. But somehow, in a race for the U.S. presidency, that degree of common sense evaporates.

Part of the problem is that outrageous conspiracy theories are everywhere these days. For example, another member of Georgia’s stellar congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, tweeted recently about a “study” supposedly proving that “10–27% of non-citizen adults in the U.S. are now illegally registered to vote,” a percentage that translates to somewhere between two million and five million illegal voters on the books.

That certainly sounds troubling, if true. It’s not true.

In fact, the methodology of that “study” is very similar to Republican “studies” claiming that in November of 2020, some 2,560 felons, 66,247 underage voters and 2,423 votes unregistered people voted in Georgia, supposedly creating grounds to invalidate the election results. But when it came time to prove their case, Republicans could not identify a single felon, underage voter or unregistered voter who had cast ballots. It was all made-up nonsense.

The same is true of those millions of alleged non-citizen voters: If they exist, where are they? Produce them. Produce one. Local, state and federal prosecutors, particularly in Republican areas, would become political heroes by uncovering and prosecuting such cases, yet they never find any.

As recently as 2022, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger conducted an audit of the state’s voting rolls and found that the number of non-citizens registered to vote in the state was zero. In 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis created a special “election integrity” task force, and to date that Office of Election Crimes and Security has announced zero cases of immigrants illegally registered to vote.

Every time they look for non-citizen voters, in every state, they find zero or next to zero, and the reason such illegal voters cannot be found is the most obvious reason on earth: They do not exist.

Yet such lies persist, and expand, and multiply, becoming less and less tethered to reality. What is the value of such lies, and why do people increasingly choose to believe them, despite overwhelming evidence of their falsity?

Such lies serve to inflame, of course, and many people yearn to be inflamed. They validate a sense of persecution, and many yearn to feel persecuted. They act as a test of unity, because any who dare voice public doubt, even of the most absurd claims, is marked as disloyal. Once you commit yourself to believe outrageously unbelievable things, such as “The Biden DOJ and FBI were planning to assassinate Pres Trump!” and “Merrick Garland basically issued a kill order for President Trump,” then you have given yourself the permission you need to do outrageous things in response, as we saw on Jan. 6.

One of the most astute analysts of 20th century politics, Hannah Arendt, spent her life studying how totalitarian leaders had come into power.

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is … people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist,” she wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism.”

Once people “reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true,” then the moment was ripe.

“Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow,” Arendt wrote. “The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

Arendt had neither a crystal ball nor a time machine. In 1951, she was writing of a then-recent past, events that she had witnessed first-hand, events in which as a German Jew she had been an unwilling participant. So if her words from almost 75 years ago seem to have resonance today, if they have power to describe things that she had never seen but we have, to explain words that she had never heard but we have, maybe it’s because the frailties of human beings and human reason can’t be safely relegated to some distant time, place, culture or people but instead are universal, always lurking, ready to trip us up should we abandon the safeguards that in wiser, calmer times, we ourselves erected to guard against chaos.

This column was originally published in Georgia Recorder, which like Nevada Curren is part of States Newsroom.

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