Professor: Donald Trump Uses "Strategic" Misinformation That Funnels Conspiracies into the Mainstream
In an article in the Washington Post the other day, Paul Farhi explored how Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination, is helping conspiracies theories and fringe ideas enter into the mainstream by engaging in uncritical repetition of bad ideas from unreliable internet sources. Prof. Jeffery Hemsley of Syracuse University told Farhi that Trump engages in “strategic” misinformation in order to reflect back to ignorant and biased voters the bad ideas they already believe (or are primed to believe) are true:
So for many centrists and those on the left, Trump seems crazy. But for a segment of those on the right, Trump speaks to them. If Trump is using poor sources for his information, that isn’t really a problem for his audience. That is where they are getting their information, too.
The confluence of Trump and the craziest members of the fringe led to the strange situation where Trump appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s radio show to talk with the man who rants about elites who venerate trans-dimensional clockwork elves accessible through drug use, among other conspiracies. (The elves are almost certainly a slightly garbled version of Terence McKenna’s DMT-visible Machine Elves. But just for kicks: Jones grew up in Rockwall, Texas, home to the infamous Rock Wall, a natural formation that creationists believe to be an artificial construction and evidence of antediluvian giants in America.)
What’s interesting is that the various professors and pundits Farhi interviewed seem extremely interested in the process of how biased and uneducated audiences approach information and evaluate the credibility of sources now that it seems to have political repercussions. But these are the same trends that have been operating in the growing audience for fringe conspiracies for decades.
Ancient Aliens star Giorgio Tsoukalos, for example, is hardly any different than Donald Trump except in degree. Both men are pompous, vain, obsessed with their hair, and eager to inflate their accomplishments to impress the gullible. They are also quick to anger and hold grudges for decades at a time. Both claim to be accomplished authors despite not having written any books. (Tsoukalos claims to be the “author” of a PowerPoint presentation, while Trump hires ghostwriters for books he signs off on.) Most importantly, both are uncritical megaphones for repeating bad ideas that other people make up and they have no incentive to check. Trump, notoriously, repeats information he reads on racist Twitter feeds (such as fake “statistics” about Black crime originating on white supremacist websites) while Tsoukalos merrily repeats whatever other ancient astronaut theorists (especially Erich von Däniken) tell him, regardless of its logic. Both men similarly use misinformation to bond themselves to their fans and develop a cult of personality based on a cycle of media appearances and outrageous claims. In both cases, there is very little difference between the faulty statistics and twisted facts Trump employs and the mangled ancient texts and misinterpreted art Tsoukalos talks about; it is all bad data transformed into worse ideas and fed to an audience that is unable or unwilling to separate emotion and ideology from evidence.
Trump is different in that he took for his material political conspiracies rather than their close cousins, extraterrestrial conspiracies, and rode the outrage he generated to a commanding poll presence. But we shouldn’t forget that the same conspiracies Trump tacitly endorses are part of the same constellation of fear that scholar Michael Barkun has convincingly shown to be deeply woven into the fringes of radical conservatism. Ancient astronauts and UFOs are simply the sillier side of the same vocally ignorant anti-government ideology that yields birtherism, Jade Helm, and any number of other conservative fantasies.
In short, something like Trump was inevitable from the moment establishment conservatives began to cynically use conspiracy theorists and their ideas to rile up the base and get out the vote. Eventually, when everything is portrayed as a conspiracy, only a conspiracy theorist will satisfy voters.
12/14/2015 04:11:47 pm
Hmmm, I must be right leaning. Almost everything Trump(et) says is exactly what many want to hear. I admire his convictions even if they are up the wall. I always knew the same for Tsoukalos but at least he can't run for president.
12/14/2015 04:38:59 pm
The issue in the article wasn't his ideology but rather his use of lies, conspiracy theories, and bad information to support his ideology.
12/14/2015 07:09:58 pm
And let's not forget John pod eats who is running clintons campaign and his belief in Roswell and ufos. Seriously there are enough wacky experts on the left as well just because they are in academia means little. Most social science is just left wing Marxism selectively searching for facts to back their insane ideas lije Keynesian economics and diversity. Trump is a bombastic screamer but he is showing the political elites for what they are a bunch of corrupt thugs
12/15/2015 12:18:30 am
Colavito pontificated, "Ancient Aliens star Giorgio Tsoukalos, for example, is hardly any different than Donald Trump except in degree. Both men are pompous, vain, obsessed with their hair, and eager to inflate their accomplishments to impress the gullible."
12/15/2015 12:55:50 am
*Reads Steve's comment.*
12/15/2015 06:29:17 am
Just in case Steve cares, Giorgio Tsoukalos self-identifies as a liberal and advocates left-wing political positions.
12/15/2015 07:53:04 am
In that respect Trump is no different than any other politician spinning half truths and complete fabrications into rhetoric designed to whip up fear in the masses. WMDs in Iraq, Hussein buying Yellow Cake in Africa, Ebola epidemic in the U.S.A., Jews controlling the media, and the Communist infiltration of the 1950s are just a few examples.
Duke of URL VFM #391
12/15/2015 01:52:57 pm
In that case, presuming you aren't just shilling for the DNC, shouldn't you have included how 0bama uses lies, stirred-up racism, false science like Globalwarming, and bad information to support HIS ideology?
terry the censor
12/15/2015 11:10:57 pm
12/16/2015 11:57:50 am
Not trying to speak on Jason's behalf, but his article has less to do with which party Trump is in but with his tactics in an attempt to appeal to a specific group of people. He is using basic fear mongering arguments and his utilization of blatant lies and falsehoods in his rhetoric is very similar to those used by fringe theorists.
12/24/2015 05:47:25 am
Hi Jason,,, I truly hope Trump wins,,, I want to see all the illegals deported, especially the ones that were arrested for crimes, then released, protected, then kills a college girl.... He is still in the US but people like you allow this.... I really don't care who wins as the elections are all fixed. I want him to win to piss you off cause you are such a rumprobbing, fudgepacking, buttpirate....
Ashley M Heidi Carter
12/25/2015 03:59:14 pm
Steve StC - Within the last year, I met a man who not only claimed to have the same first name as the one you've given us here but he also claims to be a retired professor from a local University where I currently reside AND NO LESS than the former prison psychologist for James Earl Ray. Tell me and us Steve, John Edwards...the politician....the adulterer as well...are we look look at or abuse and tinker with Gestalt psychology and connect his name that of a fictionalized and Sparkly 'Edward" not to mention the handful of books that have been published on Gothic and the Law which Jason has not "deigned" to review or should we follow your breadcrumbs a bit "deeper" into the Edwardian period that numerous academics as well as Jason explored and again avoid gender and religion and look at old laws in the State of Illinois and old legal laws on the books that were overturned sometime around the 2008 election called "Alienation of Affection"? So many fascists on both the left and right and so many homosexuals jumping ship and not breeding babies is such a problem after all isn't it?
12/14/2015 06:30:23 pm
When Trump was asked about his strategy for combatting ISIL, he responded "You don't want to know." Well yeah, dumb ass, we DO want to know. Trump says he will build a wall along our border with Mexico and get Mexico to pay for it. How? The US/Mexican border is 1,954 miles long. Trump is a jack ass.
12/14/2015 07:11:50 pm
Well I sure hope it's not overthrowing secular dictators to make the Middle East safe for democracy and Goldman Sachs. Clinton like bush has blood on her hands. Thousands of dead Libyans and Syrians
12/14/2015 10:18:54 pm
I object. I don't think any self-respecting Jack-ass would want to be associated with Donald Dump.
12/16/2015 10:45:27 am
There are walls between the US and Mexico, but only in a few heavily "migration" locations. Having Mexico pay for a totally full length wall? Tell me another fantasy.
12/16/2015 12:34:49 pm
Iraqi oil will pay for the invasion.
12/14/2015 04:33:31 pm
Clockwork elves, machine elves? Whatever happened to gremlins? Did the fornits wipe them out?
12/14/2015 05:00:39 pm
I wonder how many new followers Trump could get if he promises to first expose ancient aliens as the original "Illegals", then round up and deport all remaining progeny of these invaders.
12/14/2015 06:22:39 pm
He's gonna have his work cut out for him, then, since no less than every human being ever is the spawn of the Anunnaki.
12/14/2015 06:32:58 pm
I have to object to one of the professor's statements. A great many of us on the right ALSO think Trump is crazy.
12/14/2015 07:22:21 pm
A number of people in my family are conservative, and they all think Trump is an idiot.
12/14/2015 11:06:04 pm
I suspect that a not insignificant portion of his support rallies to him simply because they figure better him than a democrat. If we don't vote for our lizard, the wrong lizard might get in.
12/14/2015 07:28:29 pm
I'm sorry but there is no equivalency between the right and the left on important issues. As Krugman put it today when discussing the climate agreement: "the G.O.P. is spiraling ever deeper into a black hole of denial and anti-science conspiracy theorizing."
12/14/2015 07:39:05 pm
The Climate Change Conference was another great excuse to feast on good meals in expensive hotels. How is it going to be monitored and policed? What will the penalties be to those countries who do not abide to the agreements, LOL. What a load of rubbish.
12/15/2015 07:56:19 am
What I find most amazing is the conference was not held in Tahiti, in the middle of February.
12/15/2015 12:06:15 pm
Paul Krugman? Seriously? the chief rabbi of Keynsian Astrology? That guy is an idiot. He believes that money comes from trees and has zero hard science background.
12/15/2015 02:15:54 pm
In a sense, money does come from trees. The abandonment of inconveniences like the Gold Standard, and the ingenuity of modern fractional reserve banking, means that when a bank makes a loan, most of the money loaned did not exist until the loan was made.
12/16/2015 08:49:22 am
When you seriously look at the modern banking system, a majority of money is created from nothing, a true magic act. Well, money is mostly created from debt, which is why the US Government has no incentive to ever pay off the National Debt.
12/14/2015 08:45:28 pm
I heard a theory on radio the other day that made sense. Trump is taking a page out of his book - Art of the Deal. He suggests that you start with an outrageous idea so that your later ideas sound more reasonable. Even he has to know that his ideas are not implementable. However ratchet the back a few notches and they could be
12/15/2015 09:43:18 am
Why would anyone listen to Donald Trump for history insight?
12/15/2015 02:35:52 pm
God, I want to troll everyone on this page so badly. I realize that political arguments are the hallmark of an involved civic society, but I really don't understand the point of being so angry and arguing with anonymous people on the internet.
12/16/2015 08:01:49 am
I'll second that, and add to it that I still get a hearty laugh when the argument turns to those filthy lying Democrats and their "Global Warming". It's as though people are still stuck in the 80s and didn't notice Global Warming and Climate Change are two different topics (hint, folks: one is about surface temperature, the other is about surface temperature and every other aspect of climate). They simply wish to rail against one and ignore the other entirely.
terry the censor
12/15/2015 11:49:26 pm
Allow me, a Canadian uneffected by party loyality, provide an outsider's perspective.
You get no argument from me about the wrongness of Trump on 99.9% of all fronts. I find his presidential bid to be highly questionable however, I do find myself thinking back to the promotion of Ayn Rand by Romney's former running mate. I have a sense of proprioception about abstract things and occasionally, politics. Conversely, I am also thinking about Justice Roberts reversal on the ACA (Obamacare). There is an old adage I would rather not repeat about "interesting times" that also comes to mind. Watch and Wait everyone and let's avoid the TV as usual.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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