“Honestly? I think it was an ‘operation’,“ my cousin told me on the phone from Seattle when I asked him about the storming of the Capitol Building.
“Look at the pictures. If you follow politics long enough, you know that things that are not planned and in the heat of the moment, the footage from it isn’t all that great. [But] the photos of the people in the Capitol building are very, very clear… It felt very manufactured. Probably by the three-letter agencies [FBI, CIA]. Or maybe it was actually mostly done by the media itself under instructions.”
Since late October I’ve spent months travelling across the US, speaking with voters from all walks of life, from midwestern states like Ohio – the former ‘bellwether’ that resoundingly backed Donald Trump in November – to Georgia, the formerly ‘red’ state that just delivered the Democrats the keys to the US Congress.
Everywhere, I’ve found plenty of people keen to talk about conspiracy theories involving the ‘Deep State’ or the Washington establishment. Ex-marines who say Joe Biden’s a paedophile. ‘MAGA moms’ who just want the truth about all the voter fraud. Young fathers concerned about the human trafficking they’ve read about on Facebook.
The conspiracies run along familiar, often predictable lines: the virus was manufactured by the Chinese; wearing masks only makes it more lethal. There’s a spectrum of beliefs, from full QAnon to the gently sceptical military officer who was concerned about voter fraud until he came across a CNN 60 Minutes episode debunking key claims on YouTube.
But talking to these mainly friendly, welcoming, ordinary people across the country has also helped me better understand why Trumpism has taken such a deep hold, why it took swift and violent form on 6 January – and why, even as a new president takes office, it will shape America’s future for many years to come.
Lies, more lies – and Big Tech
My Seattle cousin is college-educated. He’s ‘liberal’ in his views on abortion, climate, same-sex marriage and much more. He reads The New York Times, but also 4Chan. He was a fan of Bernie Sanders who then voted for Trump.
“Mostly I feel like I’ve been lied to about politics ever since it started,” he told me. “If you’re wondering why I’m hitting all of the people that are against Trump, and why I think they’re lying about this: it’s because they’ve already been caught lying about some equally awful, if not worse things, mostly regarding the Iraq war.” (He was 13 when the war began.)
“We, the American people, were lied to by the White House, our intelligence agencies and the media… And now, it’s the same set of characters: the very same people still up to their old tricks.”