THE BLOG

All I Know Is What's on the Internet - Trump, Conspiracy and Extremism

16/03/2016 14:55 GMT | Updated 17/03/2017 09:12 GMT

Donald Trump has accused Thomas Dimassimo on Twitter of having connections with ISIS. This shows either an inability from the Presidential hopeful to know fact from fiction; or an example of Trump using the appeal of 'a conspiracy' to attract voters in Republican America. As Trump's campaign train remains on course to finish strong, conspiracy theories are part of the fuel that's keeping its oversized engine humming. Extinguishing them will help starve the Trump machine, and reduce the long-term damage his campaign could inflict on US politics.

Since he announced running for the Presidential campaigns, Trump has challenged the US government's account of 9/11, suggested political correctness was to blame for the San Bernardino shootings, questioned the cause of death of Justice Antonin Scalia, 'joked' that China invented global warming , and kept the embers of discussions on Barack Obama's 'real' birthplace smouldering. His son, Trump Jr, has also chipped in by accusing Bernie Sanders of planting people at his rallies to perform Nazi salutes.

Trumps most recent "truth" was informed by a video he watched online. He asserts that the Ohio civil rights protestor who tried to attack him at a rally was affiliated with ISIS. The video, a hoax, shows Mr Dimassimo performing various pro-ISIS and anti-US acts. It's debateable whether or not Trump really believed this, but it was Tweeted from his official Twitter account. His public response to the tweet was to confess that "all I know is what's on the Internet"; an alarming admission from someone running for President, and a good title for an article.

Trump's use of conspiracy theories alludes to distrust felt by many Republican voters towards mainstream media and government institutions. Trump was echoing, conceitedly or otherwise, what many of his voters agree with - that the truth is not what the media says it is. Trusting sources on the Internet that appear divorced from mainstream news outlets plays into this. Trump was being cunning. Or he was being stupid. In all honesty, it's difficult to tell and I am not sure which is worse.

Graciously, Trump does not have a monopoly on 'conspiracy' in the race for the Republican leadership; perhaps an example of his support for a free market economy? Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have also bought shares in this profitable marketplace for earning votes from self-proclaimed, disenfranchised Republicans.

If Jeb Bush is to be believed, then Donald is actually just a pawn in a House of Cards style masterplan conceived by Hilary and Bill Underwood/Clinton. For Ted Cruz, 'the media' are the real masters behind Trumps campaign success. In an interview for CBS News, Cruz said 'the media', as if acting as a single entity, are amplifying Donald Trump's voice in order to get him the Republican candidacy. Once this is achieved, 'the media' will crush Trump's reputation with information 'they' have been keeping of all the terrible things he has done.

This willingness to vocalise illogical or incendiary opinions has led Cruz and Trump to make claims like defending Muslims is defending Islamist-extremism, and that economic inequality is linked to the malevolence of immigrants. These are dangerous precedents to set when considering the power these men may wield.

The marginalized far-right voices of America are seeing politicians who, on the surface, agree with their misgivings and confusions over 'what's really going'. Ambiguous phrases such as "there's something going on, and it's bad" are bait for the conspiratorial underpinnings of far-right beliefs. Broad dismissals of the merits of immigration, and warnings over the risk posed by Muslims, both fit this ideology neatly. What is remarkable is that this approach is appealing to a large audience. What is worrying is that it can give confidence to far-right extremists, such as former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and Trump supporter David Duke, to see this new platform for voicing far-right sentiment as theirs to share.

Encouraging critical thinking and cynicism should be a positive thing. Popularising irrational distrust of the media, government, and the institutions that make-up America, is reckless. Vocalising the views of extremist's, justifiably marginalised for their bigotry and intolerance, will inspire them to become more active and vocal in their communities. Presidential hopefuls standing shoulder-to-shoulder with '9/11 Truthers' and racists will normalise distrust and intolerance, turning the atmosphere bad. In a poisoned climate, fanaticism and extremism won't just survive, it will thrive.

For now the Trump campaign continues on, unfazed by attempts to slow it like an unmanned runaway locomotive confronted by railroad workers optimistically waving a stop sign. The implications and dangers of him popularising conspiracy theories and distrust sits in the last carriage of this train, which will flip up, over, and beyond the front engine when it finally grinds to a halt. The momentum will propel it far, impacting the landscape the railroad workers thought would be safe. Emergency response will be vital then, but emergency prevention now would be far better.