The conservative lurch toward propagandism and conspiracy theory now turns deadly

    By Hunter | 16 March 2020
    Daily Kos

    They said the virus was no big deal. Now it’s going to be worse than it should have been.

    There are specific demographics that appear to be especially resistant to public health advice during a crisis. For expediency, we will call them the Fox News demographic. They are conservative; they are, shall-we-say, performatively religious; they likey their guns and have certain fantasies about how they may someday use them; and they are deeply distrustful of experts and government while quick to believe ideological allies, no matter how obviously fraudulent their claims might be.

    If you tell them a foreign terrorist group is operating out of a Chuck E. Cheese’s ball pit, now that they may believe, so long as it is Sean Hannity saying it. If you tell them a virus is spreading that is absolutely certain to have the same effects on our population that it is having in China, in Italy, and elsewhere, they will tell you you are wrong. We are seeing the results of this now: the COVID-19 pandemic now seems likely to spread through conservative populations at far higher rates than other groups. Some of them will die, and all are likely to spread the virus throughout their communities and regions before becoming sick themselves.

    From The News & Advance, here is one quote from a West Virginian who traveled to Lynchburg, Virginia, for a conference on “taking back Biblical manhood”:

    “Everywhere you look, on your phone, on the news, it’s all bombarded. It’s overrated. It’s over- exaggerated. It’s bad news, so the media loves it. But it doesn’t concern me. It’s blown out of proportion.”

    Another, from a Los Angeles Times report interviewing customers in an Oklahoma gun store doing “booming” business: “People all scared of this—it’s the flu. It’s some made up stuff from the coasts.”

    There’s the hard-right Florida megachurch pastor who’s confidently predicting that Jesus will protect his congregation from the virus, and argues “if we die, we die for Christ.” There’s Fox News, as in all of it. There’s celebrated far-right lunatics like ex-Sheriff David Clark, whose Twitter profile currently proclaims he is “LEAVING TWITTER” after Twitter pulled some of Clark’s weekend rants encouraging his followers to, essentially, go get themselves killed.

    This man was in line for a position within the Trump administration, at one point. We were not far from a timeline in which he was one of the people standing behind Donald Trump, behind Mike Pence, during these daily briefings.

    At this point it’s difficult to know quite what to say. We are entering a period when the conservative push toward disinformation on all subjects will, with absolute certainty, be killing a great number of Americans. It seems likely that conservatives, and perhaps especially hard-right religious conservatives, will die in greater numbers than others—but that is unclear, due to the inevitable “community spread” from infected individuals ignoring public warnings as a media “hoax.”

    And if it does … then what? There are no laws against it. There have been no previous instances in which movement ideologues responsible for vast numbers of human deaths have been shunned or discredited; those that insisted the Iraq War would be quick, cheap and democracy-spreading still have their perches, and still sing their songs. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms have no stomach for doing the bare minimum to restrict false information. Fox News will come back from the pandemic unconcerned, unapologetic, and belligerent, this time with a new reason why the deaths were, in fact, the fault of anyone and everyone who isn’t them.

    This may not be the right time for any analysis other than the basic one. Fox News, the corporation, is emptying out its studios to protect against the virus after weeks of their hosts telling viewers, falsely and unforgivably, that the concerns are overblown. Many of the people working hardest to downplay the virus do not believe their own claims, but continue to peddle the ideological lines that best serve an incompetent administration careening from snap decision to snap decision based on the political needs of any given day.

    But it does look likely that the conservative insistence on peddling conspiracy over fact, on dismissing the free press as “fake news” that cannot be trusted on any issue in which facts or events conflict with party orthodoxy, on stubbornly lying to their audiences even in matters of life and death—it does look likely that those efforts will see a harvest, now. It is almost certain to cost lives, and possibly many, many lives.

    When it does, what will the response be? What response could possibly be sufficient?

    Conservative Pastors Encourage Congregants to Dismiss COVID-19 | NowThis

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