On October 26, federal authorities arrested Cesar Altieri Sayoc in Plantation, Florida in connection with mail bombs sent to outspoken critics of Donald Trump. But Sayoc, dubbed the MAGA Mail Bomber, or MAGAbomber for short, was just one of the many lunatics we discovered that day.
As soon as the news broke, the right-wing conspiracy theorists came out in droves to offer their own far-fetched explanations in an effort to deflect the blame from Trump and his rhetoric and place it squarely on the left — and especially on the targets of Sayoc’s bombs.
On virtually any comment-enabled website that reported the news of the MAGAbomber’s capture, we find dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands of readers sounding off about a variety of conspiracy theories designed to make the GOP “look bad before the election.” Rather than just disavow the actions of one disturbed and misguided man, these seemingly brainwashed right-wingers go the extra mile to ignore the evidence in front of them and make up outlandish explanations in an effort to keep #winning at all costs.
For example, let’s look at the live coverage from conservative cesspool Breitbart. On Friday, they shared live updates as the arrest was unfolding on their website: Live Updates: FBI Arrests Man in Connection to Mail Bomb Campaign. It’s a fairly straightforward news piece with minute-by-minute updates posted as they happened. What’s really telling is in the comments.
At the time of this article, there are nearly 43,000 comments on the Breitbart piece. After reading through a great deal of them, I can honestly report that the majority of commenters support some sort of conspiracy theory involving the left, rather than the evidence in front of their faces — a disturbed man with a history of criminal activity, threats, pro-Trump and anti-Democrat social media posts, and a van covered in pro-Trump propaganda. Here are some examples:
And then there’s this guy, who’s obviously been a staunch conspiracy theorist since the 1960s.
And these conspiracy theories from the right are making their way into mainstream society. In the case of the MAGAbomber, conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Geraldo Rivera even bought in, along with Donald Trump Jr.
Here’s Geraldo finally changing his mind. Apparently he “outsmarted himself.” That’s next-level intelligence right there.
Never mind; outsmarted myself in conjuring false flag operation designed to hurt @realDonaldTrump & #GOP. Actual alleged perp 56-year old #CesarSayoc is apparently stereotype most media assumed: a middle-aged, rabid, extreme right winger w a troubled past & long criminal record.
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) October 26, 2018
I’m not just sharing these to give us something to shake our heads at or create a slapping symphony of facepalms. We need to be aware that the MAGAbomber is just the tip of the iceberg here. Conspiracy theories aren’t just fun and games anymore. They’re causing damage at an alarming rate. We’ve come a long way from speculating about Area 51, the Kennedy assassination, or faking the moon landing. Today’s conspiracy theories are often politically motivated and have actionable militant components. We’ve moved on to 9/11 truthers, flat-earthers, mass shooting deniers, New World Order, Illuminati, and more. These theories, combined with a person’s diminished mental state, can result in deadly consequences as we nearly witnessed with Pizzagate.
So what can we do about it? Here are a few suggestions.
- Stop vilifying the media. Sure, there are media outlets who show bias. But in terms of straight reporting, most mainstream news outlets report on facts first. They bring live coverage to the masses as events happen and do their best to get the story right. They also issue corrections when they incorrectly reported something. They are not the enemy of the people. They are the reason we know as much about what’s happening in the world as we do.
- Fact check everything. When you see something posted on social media that supports your position on an issue and you want to share it, fact check it first. Search Snopes, Factcheck.org or Politifact. You can even search Google. If all of the Google results about the topic you’re searching are from non-mainstream sites, it’s probably not because they “refuse to report it.” It’s more likely what you’re searching has no reliable sources, or better yet, isn’t true.
- Challenge people who share misinformation. When you see something posted that is the propagation of a conspiracy theory or other untruths, challenge the poster. You can do this however you deem appropriate. Some people are harsher than others. Some do it privately. I recommend doing it publicly, because while you may not sway the mind of the person you’re challenging, you’re likely affecting the opinion of someone else who is reading your comments. You may even dissuade someone from sharing the misinformation.
- Stay vigilant. If you see someone’s personal rhetoric going from simple talking points to hate speech or threats, notify authorities. Don’t be the guy getting interviewed on the news the next day talking about all of the warning signs that you thought were “just talk.”
I’m a realist. I know these suggestions aren’t going to change the world or solve the entire problem, but we all need to do what we can to squash this stuff when we see it. An informed populace is a better populace. And until we can rid our own circles of misinformation, we can’t be sure our friends and families are voting with a clear head. Every little bit helps.
Do you have other suggestions? Let us know in the comments.
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