We have confirmation. We have a political cult in this country. It is full of the same crank true believers other cults across history have. It is replete with the same dead-enders, conspiracy cranks, and White Supremacists that we have seen in the past. Some you probably know. This is the literal crazy uncle at Thanksgiving. We also know via polling that they are a vast minority of people in this country who are very loud. However, one of the cranks is the president, who encourages their antics. This is how they become dangerous. They hold power, which gives the illusion of the majority. In the recent past we have experienced a resurgence of their movement, oh lovers of liberty they claim to be. Live free or die has been subverted into the ghoulish live free and die.
They were in full display during the astroturfed “free states” marches that the president, as a good cult leader, promoted. They came with signs, full of allusions to conspiracy, such as QAnnon, and the Proud Boys as well as the anti-vaccine, by extension anti-science movements. These are part of the populist right, which mistrusts big government, and intellectual coastal elites. It’s beyond distrust. There is a level of Chinese Cultural Revolution thinking, where the egg heads don’t do useful work and are useless eaters. So they took to the streets, in clumps, without masks. That was the whole point. It was defiance of medical science with some street theater to boot. They willfully put themselves, and others, at risk. And local media showed this without too much critique or question. The essential journalism question of why did not occur. Why? The media went for the visuals, as they always do. But they rarely ask critical questions. This helps these cranks to fly, mostly, under the radar.
There was another troubling factor though during these marches. It has to do with your local police. If the people disobeying stay at home orders had higher melanin content, the officers would have done far more than just observe, perhaps tell people to keep the social distance. We know this because we have data. Police have been very aggressive in over-policing the usual suspects, read black and brown. For example, LAPD broke an illegal party last week, which coincidentally was held in a minority area. To be specific, South East Los Angeles. They even arrested one person for having a gun.
However, these demonstrations in places ranging from Wisconsin to San Diego were observed, but not interfered with, by officers. It was almost as if there was some tacit agreement. Anecdotally, in a hot mike moment, somebody who said was off duty, gave an atta boy to one of the organizers. In reality, we know the right has penetrated law enforcement ranks for years. So this moment, quickly turned off by the videographer, came as no surprise for those of us familiar with this problem. However, these demonstrations were just as dangerous as the party in Los Angeles, from a public health perspective. Yet, not surprisingly, officers used force in Los Angeles, but kid gloves otherwise.
And at this point, it is beyond obvious why we are seeing this dissimilar enforcement. Incidentally, for things like this enforcement mostly means ticketing people, because you do not want to take people to the local Petri dish (jail) to wait to hear from the Judge. In fact, in many places, the courts are functionally closed. Under pressure, my local police did ticket the organizer after the fact. More on this bellow.
Then there is the obvious astroturfed nature of these “protests.” The Columbia Journalism Review put it this way:
Several mainstream outlets have compared the anti-lockdown protests to the Tea Party movement — which, of course, has faced allegations of Astroturfism itself. In 2011, Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin, of Harvard, wrote that Fox and other right-wing media entities didn’t just encourage the Tea Party, but acted, in a sense, as its “membership and communications infrastructure,” since, on the ground, the Tea Partiers were only “loosely interconnected.” Asking whether the current anti-lockdown sentiment is “real” or manufactured is both a hard question to answer and, in some ways, a false one: conservative “movements,” these days, never exist independently of the right-wing media echo chamber. The echo chamber is the apparatus by which they operate. Anyone covering these rallies should remember that — even if photos like Bickel’s don’t feature members of the media in the shot.
It is important to recognize the political nature of these protests and law enforcement response. The far right-wing media environment has gone out of its way to diminish the latter and the nature of the pandemic. There is a natural libertarian bend to the far right, and distrust in authorities. This is hardly new. Some of the worst fire breathers, from the comfort of home studios, encourage their behavior. Neither Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh are hitting the field or the studio. They are not dumb. Like the rest of the commentariat, they have the ability to do it remotely. The difference, while Chris Cuomo did the show from his basement, and was transparent about it, both right-wing personalities are giving people false information and encouraging them to demonstrate. It is not them who will get it, and the culture wars need foot soldiers to die.
There is evidence that Hannity helped to spread the virus, and perhaps he will finally be held for his irresponsible behavior. And yes, he did call it a hoax and weaponized this in the culture war so essential to the far right.
But there is an element of white supremacy as well. Look, communities of color, due to structural reasons going back centuries, are paying a higher price than well to do middle-class whites…who are most of the people at these demonstrations. If the people they feel superior to die in larger numbers, it confirms their White Supremacists ideology. You can find elements of this in the armpits of the internet.
Incidentally, back to our local protests. Our local organizer, Naomi Soria, is a well know Antivaxer on social media. The fact that she can do this, in the middle of a pandemic, without mostly facing any consequences is baffling. She was issued a ticket by SDPD under community pressure last week. And here is where things get interesting. According to NBC San Diego:
The Center for American Liberty, a nonprofit, also issued a news release supporting Soria.
Turns out the founder of that nonprofit is Meuser’s boss, a lawyer named Harmeet Dhillon who also happens to be the National Committeewoman of the Republican National Convention for California.
President Donald Trump recently introduced Dhillon at a White House meeting.
This helps to confirm the AstroTurf nature of these protests. They are loud, and a middle finger to the rest of the community. Chiefly, they are pure culture wars, but also a way to keep this cult engaged with the leader. And it is not just San Diego. One has to wonder why people from as far as Arizona and Nevada came to demand the opening of a beach in coastal community hours from them? The community they chose to protest is pretty liberal, freewheeling, and chiefly not part of their base.
Then there were the themes that these cult members have chosen to embrace. One of the themes for these cranks is that the flu vaccine gave people COVID. No, you cannot talk your way out of that delusion. Nor was this limited to my city. This is significant. According to the Guardian:
The paper also says that such movements have received a boost in recent years due to their “alignment with other conspiracy movements including the far right … and social media misinformation and propaganda campaigns by many foreign and domestic actors. Included among these actors is the Internet Research Agency, the Russian government–aligned organization.” Ben Harris-Roxas at the University of New South Wales, an expert on public health, endorsed the epidemiological reasoning in the paper.
”Vaccine hesitancy represents a significant threat — not just for any Covid–19 vaccine that might be developed, but also to measures that might assist people and health services now, such as people getting flu vaccinations,” he said.
So it is not an accident who is part of these protests. Or in fact, who is leading them. These are very noisy groups but are far from organic. We also know, from polling, that they are not resonating across the nation. This report from Politico is average:
A CBS News poll published Thursday reports that 70 percent of respondents believe the country’s top priority should be to “try to slow the spread of coronavirus by keeping people home and social distancing, even if the economy is hurt in the short term.”
Let me repeat this for effect because we have seen this in the past. As the tea party protests, some, if not most, of the protesters are not locals. We witnessed the same exact phenomena at the Embarcadero in 2010. This speaks to just how much of a minority, loud as they are, these people are. But they are the foot soldiers of an aggrieved culture war that has morphed into a death cult. It is an insular world, with its own far-right media and social media. A lot of this starts in places like 4chan Pol, Stormfront, and Alex Jones. And some of them will get other attendees sick because they were asymptomatic when they came to lead a protest. One of the leaders of Reopen North Carolina has tested positive, for example.
Cults are distrustful of those outside the tribe. They are also easier to organize against the larger society. And as long as they do not face real consequences, they will continue to do this. Some will be disease and a few will die. The virus cares not for the culture wars of the far-right or left…or center. Realize when a vaccine is deployed, it will have to be near-universal. The anti-vaxxer component is positive this will be forced upon them by an overreaching, and evil state. It matches the number of crazy and privileged that think vaccines are unnecessary. Just because you believe Bill Gates, who has replaced George Soros as their focus of anti-globalist anger, is behind this plot, is not enough. Otherwise, we will not reach herd immunity.
The worst part is that the president is part of the same death cult, so is the Republican Party, with some notable exceptions. For the president, it is his rage and narcissism. He needs the country to open because he craves the rallies where he can mainline this ideology to the faithful. He is also a malignant narcissist who will never accept responsibility for anything. What happens when he loses the election? Some members of the cult showed up carrying long arms, not just Gadsden flags. It was not accidental.