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Sandy Hook and the Big Lie

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I don’t think I can even imagine anything more horrifying than what Alex Jones did to the parents of the children who were murdered at Sandy Hook. Elizabeth Williamson has just written a book about the through line from Sandy Hook to PizzaGate and the Big Lie:

“Sandy Hook was a foundational moment in the world of misinformation and disinformation that we now live in,” Williamson says. During the Trump era, conspiracy theories that might have once existed at the margins of American political life became a central feature. Conspiracy theorists also seemed more emboldened to act on their beliefs. “I traced a throughline: from Sandy Hook to Pizzagate to QAnon to Charlottesville and the coronavirus myths to the election lie that brought violence to the Capitol on January 6th,” she says. “I started to understand how individuals, for reasons of ideology or social status, tribalism, or for profit, were willing to reject established truths, and how once they’d done that, it was incredibly difficult to persuade them otherwise.”

This at bottom is what the Trump era is all about:

One thing that has been a throughline is that the audience for this has never really changed. The genius of Alex Jones, like Donald Trump, is that they have identified a segment of the American population that is deeply distrustful of all government narratives, of all sources of “official” quote-unquote information like the mainstream media, and they have turned them into a constituency.

It’s a target market for Jones’s products: diet supplements and alternative cures for people distrustful of traditional medicine, untraceable ghost gun parts, doomsday prepper merchandise, and so on. Roger Stone made the connection for Trump to go on Alex Jones’s show because he’d identified his audience as deeply distrustful, paranoid, or suspicious of outsiders. They were so distrustful and looking for someone to back. That person became Donald Trump.

Like with Sandy Hook, the people who coalesced around the 2020 election lie were people that were really impervious to outside challenges. Anyone who came to them with outside facts, those people weren’t only villains in the plot, they were actually threats to this worldview and this social group they’d formed around this idea. They’d defend it with confrontation, or even violence.

There’s an interesting horseshoe component to all this as well”

It’s less about politics than psychology and a need for social connection and status. Many of the people that I interviewed for the book who are conspiratorially-minded started out being on the political left and then they moved to the far right. What I learned through the psychologists and the political scientists I interviewed for the book, about the motives behind the spread of these conspiracy rumors, is that it can be about fact-finding, it can be about a shared doubt in the official narrative. There’s an element of self-esteem involved — they are possessors of superior knowledge. It’s, as one family member described it to me and psychologists have confirmed, an element of narcissism: You’re the only person who knows. There’s a sort of smugness I noted — “I guess you only understand half the narrative at best” — that kind of thing.

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