Disinformation is nothing new; throughout history many monarchs, dictators, and warlords have used this tactic in order to keep the population subservient to their cause. Dictators like Adolph Hitler, for instance, spread lies adroitly enough to kill millions of people. As Marty Ansley from The Daily Chronicle put it, “The lifeblood of a democracy is independently verifiable information. The lifeblood of dictatorship or strongman government is disinformation.”
Last week we got a taste of what months and even years of disinformation can lead to. Hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the capitol on Wednesday, January 6 wreaking havoc in one of the most sacred symbols of our democracy. Just moments before the deadly riot, Trump and a couple of his minions went on the stage and provoked the deadly insurrection which resulted in the death of 5 people including a capitol police officer.
“All of us here do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left democrats, which is what they’re doing, and stolen by the fake news media that’s what they’ve done and what they’re doing. We will never give up, we will never concede.” -Trump’s declaration just moments before hundreds of his supporters marched over to the capitol.
“Let’s have a trial by combat,” Rudy Giuliani , Donald Trump’s attorney added.
Of course, this insurrection came to no surprise to many experts. According to the social media analytics cited in the New York Times, the phrase, “storm the capitol”, was mentioned 100,000 times across various platforms in the 30 days before January 6th. The hundreds of extremist Trump supporters rioted the capitol in protest against the election results. They believed the election was “stolen” and that by threatening the lives of congressmen and women, they would get what they wanted. Luckily that is not how a democracy works.
At the time, the senate was confirming president-elect Joe Biden as president. Surprisingly, or should I say not surprisingly, no armored vehicles were in sight when rioters began overpowering the laughable amount of capitol guards surrounding the building. The obvious lack of action not only threatened the lives of hundreds of congressmen and women but also highlights racial bias and disparities in our current justice system. Just months before, Black Lives Matters protesters peacefully marched the streets and were confronted by riot police in full gear, rubber bullets and tear gas. The distinction couldn’t have been made clearer.
Trump’s extreme supporters, most of whom have no idea how a Democracy works, followed his stolen election claim and have polluted social media and other platforms with false narratives and conspiracy theories which are based off of false accusations that have been denounced by experts over and over again. To them, it didn’t matter that state and local officials painstakingly counted each and every vote by hand to prove the machines weren’t rigged. It didn’t matter nearly every news outlet declared and proved over and over there was no evidence whatsoever of widespread fraud. So how did Trump lead millions of people to believe this election was stolen?
For years now the Trump campaign has gone full throttle on conspiracy theories and misinformation. By issuing statements through Twitter, his main weapon of disinformation, he got millions of Americans aboard his disinformation train. Among a vast array of instances , on June 1, 2017, just months after his inauguration, Trump decided to abandon the Paris agreement. He then made claims that climate change is “an expensive hoax”. Not surprisingly anti science groups accompanied by proud “Antivax moms” as many people call them, began popping up around the country.
More recently, the Trump campaign downplayed the novel corona virus and called it a hoax created by democrats and the news media in order to hurt his campaign. He also used the intolerable term some people began calling the corona virus, “kung flu” in order to cement the blame on China instead of his own inaction and incapability to deal with the virus effectively as the president. As a result, Chinese Americans across the country were targeted and discriminated against. He also made rallies, contrary to health expert’s advice, with thousands of mask less people screaming and yelling in each other’s faces. Unsurprisingly, these all became super spreader events.
The Trump campaign also began releasing numerous conspiracy theories which targeted mail in ballots prior to the election. He used Twitter as his main weapon which I should mention got permanently banned. Still, over 77% of republicans, including some congressmen and women, believe this election was fraudulent according to a poll conducted by quinnipiac. It’s shameful and utterly disgusting to see such prominent figures in our country join Donald Trump’s bickering only for personal and political leverage.
Thankfully Trump’s actions won’t go unpunished. He is the first president in US history to have been impeached twice. On Wednesday, January 13, the house passed an article of impeachment charging him for the “Incitement of insurrection.” Many who participated in the insurrection including some widely known figures are still being investigated and arrested. The FBI is using social media platforms and footage from video recordings made by the rioters themselves to apprehend those who played a role in such a shameful act of violence.
“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stant by the president,” -Theodore Roosevelt