When a lie gets too big

When does a lie become so ubiquitous and consistent that its truth can no longer be discussed responsibly?

Perhaps when a deceived mob starts a riot and storms the Capitol to stop confirming the presidential election results.

The events of January 6th were inspired by two enormous lies. One of them was that President Trump was deprived of victory in the 2020 presidential election. The other was the QAnon conspiracy theory. Both lies were promoted by the president and contributed to the loss of life.

On August 19, 2020, President Trump held a rare non-coronavirus-related press conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House to announce that he is in breach of Iran Nuclear Deal provisions. However, the first question he received was about the growth of the QAnon conspiracy group. He replied, “Well, I don’t know much about the movement unless I understand that they like me a lot, which I really appreciate.”

This led to a follow-up question:

When asked if he believed the core of the theory described by a reporter as the belief that the president is “secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals,” Trump said, “Well, I haven’t heard, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? “

“If I can help save the world from problems, I am ready to do so,” he continued. “I am ready to stand there. Indeed, we are saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country. “

On January 6, 2021, Ashli ​​Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran and QAnon supporter, was shot and killed by a Capitol police officer while trying to get into the Capitol through a broken window.

Babbitt was a loyal Fox News watcher, according to thousands of tweets to Fox News presenters, but she also got involved on social media with the internet news site InfoWars for conspiracy news. In 2020, Babbitt began tweeting QAnon accounts and using QAnon hashtags. QAnon conspiracy theorists subscribe to a false belief that high profile Democrats and Hollywood celebrities ritually sacrifice children and that Trump is fighting to stop it.

A few hours later, 34-year-old QAnon supporter Rosanne Boyland died as one of three insurgents from medical complications when she collapsed in the Capitol rotunda after the storming of the building. She may have been trampled on the way there.

Boyland’s brother-in-law Justin Cave said: “My personal belief is that … the president’s words and rhetoric sparked an uproar that killed four of his biggest fans.”

Of course, President Trump spent a lot more time and energy fueling the other conspiracy theory about a “stolen” election. In a July 9 interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, the president stated that mail-in votes would rig the election and refused to say that if he lost, he would accept the results: “I’m not good loser. I don’t like to lose, ”he said. “I don’t lose too often. I don’t like to lose. “

We know the rest of the story. He was defeated in the elections but refused to admit, made false accusations of fraud, and sent a mob to the Capitol to stop the electoral college count.

Even before the elections, social media had dealt with the spread of disinformation on their platforms, which led to violence and undermined confidence in our elections.

In September, Twitter and Facebook began tagging Trump posts with warning notices that spread lies about mail-in polls.

In October, Facebook started banning QAnon groups and YouTube started removing QAnon videos. On Friday, Twitter followed suit, banning thousands of QAnon-supporting accounts, including those of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former Trump attorney Sidney Powell.

The reaction of the big tech companies after the uprising was quick and harsh. Trump was permanently dumped from Twitter, denying him access to his 88 million followers, many of whom switched to conservative alternative parler. Google and Apple then removed Parler from their application stores and Amazon booted it from their servers. As of Monday, Parler was offline.

It’s not just social media sites trying to end the lies. On January 6, the day of the uprising, Cumulus Media, which features many of the most popular right-wing talk radio shows, issued a statement that their “on-air personalities… no longer suggest that the election stolen President Trump was – or there is a threat of termination. “

And then there are the Republican lawmakers who supported Trump’s efforts to challenge the electoral college, thereby helping spark the deadly Capitol revolt. In the Senate, ringleaders Josh Hawley from Missouri and Ted Cruz from Texas, who both appeared to believe it would help their aspirations for the 2024 president, were loudly condemned at home.

Protesters in St. Louis sang “No Hawley. No KKK. No Fascist USA ”and urged him to resign, which may not be noteworthy unless they agreed with the editors of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch calling for Hawley’s resignation Thursday. The Houston Chronicle editors asked Ted Cruz to step down on Friday.

The Associated Press reports that many of the 139 Republican Congressmen who voted against confirming Biden’s presidential victory are condemned and asked to resign from protesters and newsrooms in their home counties.

All of these actions have one thing in common. They are efforts to define the false beliefs that inspired the insurrection as being out of the arena for debate.

Distinctions are important. Democrats Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Senator Barbara Boxer claimed that “widespread irregularities” challenged the results in Ohio in the 2004 election that turned the election over to George W. Bush. (John Kerry had already admitted and it challenged an aspect of a state that did not claim a mass conspiracy.) But that is different in degree and kind from what happened in 2020 when the president and his supporters attempted to overthrow several state competitions , based on the allegations that had been thoroughly rejected by the courts. Kate Ruane, an ACLU attorney, made a good point when she told the New York Times, “It should affect everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter have the uncontrolled power to remove people from platforms used for talk of Billions have become indispensable. “

On the other hand, it should affect everyone if a mob fed on lies attacks the Capitol while singing “Hang Mike Pence.” It should concern everyone that the hashtag #HangMikePence was trending on Twitter after the president’s account was banned.

At least since Justice Robert Jackson’s famous 1949 dissent in Terminiello versus City of Chicago, in which he argued that the First Amendment was not a “suicide pact,” the country has struggled to strike the right balance between protecting freedom of speech and protecting it To find protection of the public.

In this case, a Catholic priest was fined $ 100 for inciting racist and inflammatory rhetoric. Judge William Douglas, who wrote for the majority, overturned the fine:

… language is often provocative and challenging. It can be prejudiced and prejudiced and have profoundly worrying effects when it pushes for an idea to be accepted. For this reason, freedom of speech, while not absolute, is nonetheless protected from censorship or punishment unless it is demonstrated that it poses a clear and present threat of serious material evil well beyond public inconvenience, anger, or unrest goes out.

The Capitol Rebellion is undoubtedly a “substantial evil” as it hit the heart of our system of government. However, it is more difficult to point out a single act that caused it. Rather, it was the result of a multitude of factors, some technological, some cultural, and some that arose from the peculiar mind of Donald Trump.

What is clear is that lies were allowed to grow and fester until a mass delusion caused “a clear and present danger”. The country is now trying to cool this fever before it kills body politics. The failed coup justifies this treatment with certainty.

But turning Americans away from these lies is made difficult by the complicity of so many Republicans. How can they be part of the solution if they should instead be held accountable?

It would be an ideal world if Republican officials and broadcasters consistently and forcefully state that Biden won the election and that QAnon is kidding. But there needs to be accountability, starting with President Trump, who clearly instigated the insurrection.

His lies eventually became so ubiquitous and consistent that the country couldn’t stand the pressure. Now its followers and enablers have been de-plated and their arguments are not necessarily protected language.

This too will be part of Trump’s legacy. He broke every norm and got to the point. He led the Republican Party so far astray that many of their lines of applause are no longer suitable for publication.

There is no easy or quick fix for this, but the road to recovery begins on January 20th.

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