Hundreds of thugs, dressed in black and loaded with gear boarded a plane en route to Washington DC. The mission: disrupt the Republican National Convention. This didn’t happen of course, but the President of the United States claimed it did anyway. But aside from engaging in conspiracies directly, there is something about Trump’s particular way of speaking that makes him appealing to conspiracy theorists, and it is worth exploring.
“They Can’t Believe What They are Finding…”
Trump tendency to engage with conspiracy theories didn’t begin with his presidential run. No, Trump made his name in politics during the Obama years when he became the central figure of the “birther” movement that questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States and eligible for the Presidency.
Trump’s focus turned to Obama’s alleged lack of a birth certificate, and in a 2011 interview on ABC, Trump claimed that he had investigators looking into the matter.
Trump: “I have people that actually have been studying it and they cannot believe what they are finding.”
Reporter: “You have people now down there searching, I mean in Hawaii?”
Trump: “Absolutely, and they cannot believe what they are finding.”
Notice the vagueness in Trump’s claims. Trump states that he has “people" investigating the issue. He doesn’t specify who, how many people, or provide any detail whatsoever about these investigators.
He goes on to claim that these “people” “cannot believe” what they are finding…as if they are uncovering groundbreaking evidence refuting Obama’s claim to being a natural born citizen. Trump didn’t reveal what these “people” found, or who they were, not in this interview, or in the nine years since, despite being repeatedly questioned and given the opportunity to do so. In fact, there is no evidence that Trump ever sent investigators to Hawaii at all.
Trump doesn’t say things, he makes suggestions. These suggestions are vague, lacking detail, context, or evidence. But they are nutritious fodder to those people who are hungry to believe conspiracy theories, and in this case, for people hungering to believe that Obama was not eligible to be President. Trump’s vague statements form the skeleton of the conspiracy, but his followers bring the meat.
“People that are in the dark shadows”
Trump used this same vague suggestion tactic more recently in a swipe at Joe Biden, when he claimed that Biden was “controlled” by other mysterious figures. When asked who was controlling Biden, Trump stated:
“People that you’ve never heard of. People that are in the dark shadows.”
Again, we see Trump using the word “people,” without additional description, no names or any identifying information of any kind. Yet, he goes a step further and states that these people are individuals that the reporter “had never heard of.”
If Trump knows who these individuals are, would it not behoove him to release such information, especially against rival candidate who is far ahead in polling? How does he know that the reporter doesn’t know who these individuals are? The only way he could be absolutely certain is if these “people” do not exist.
[The Plane] was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and…was coming to the Republican National Convention.”
Soon after accusing his Presidential rival Biden of being controlled by shadowy figures, Trump launched into the a pretty remarkable series of statements about ANTIFA trying to disrupt the RNC.
“We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane, it was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that. They’re on a plane. … But they came from a certain city, and this person was coming to the Republican National Convention.”
Notice again the use of vague suggestion, “somebody,” and “from a certain city.” The context here is so vague, it could describe any plane taking off from anywhere. But on a more critical note…does Trump really believe that a clandestine ANTIFA movement would book a single airplane and dress everyone in matching black uniforms? That would draw immense unwanted attention to illegal activity. This is more akin to the plot of a B-movie thriller than the real world.
Additionally, since Trump is claiming that they had “gear” with them…how did they get their “gear” past the TSA and onto the airplane? Is the TSA complicit as well? Why are there no cell phone photos of hundreds of ninja-antifa-thugs boarding the airplane? That would be, after all, something that would have gone viral on Twitter. You would expect dozens, if not hundreds of photos and videos of “thugs” boarding a plane…but again there is nothing. Trump here, is just throwing another bone.
Trump, Our New Nostradamus
Trump is unknowingly utilizing the same tactics used by Nostradamus. Nostradamus, if you remember, is the famous 16th century oracle who wrote prophesies that allegedly predicted future events. But Nostradamus’s prophecies only come true to those who believe in him. Rather, it is Nostradamus’s style of writing, using vague phrases that could be read and interpreted any number of ways, that give him this “ability.” Believers, don’t read his verses, they read into them, seeing something and making connections that aren’t really there. In other words, like Trump’s statements, Nostradamus’s writings suggest, but are purposely lacking in detail: it is the reader who provide the missing pieces and the all-too-important meaning.
Especially vulnerable to suggestion are those people who are unwilling to think critically. I explored this in detail with Qanon. In the era of social media, the power of suggestion becomes more salient. In years past, conspiracy theorists may have lived in quiet isolation, but now they have a means of connecting and reinforcing each other as they circle the drain into ever deeper levels of detachment from reality. This is how Qanon followers have been able to amplify themselves into believing that Covid-19 is fake, or that “Pizzagate” was real.
But conspiracies aren’t just damaging to those who believe in them, they are also profoundly and uniquely divisive. Whereas before we could have differences of opinion, now conspiracies are eating away at the foundations of facts and logic that support our opinions. Without this underlying factual foundation, upon which we can all agree, there is never going to be compromise in opinion or a meeting of minds in politics or society. If we don’t right this wrong soon, Americans will find themselves fighting among each other, denying and debating what is real and what is not, while the rest of the world leaves us behind.