By David Thornton
That was the case this week when CNN ran a story titled “Donald Trump is turning liberals into conspiracy theorists.”
The piece by editor-at-large Chris Cillizza cites four examples of liberal conspiracy theories that have emerged in recent weeks that Cillizza admits are patently false, misconstrued or blown out of proportion. These incidents include the alleged celebratory shipment of Bud Light to the Capitol building after the House passed the AHCA, the claim that the AHCA would make sexual assault a pre-existing condition that would cause victims to be denied health insurance coverage, the claim that the FCC was targeting Stephen Colbert and the claim that the White House chief usher was fired because she was a woman.
While I applaud the fact that Cillizza realizes that liberals are espousing conspiracy theories, a.k.a. fake news, he is off base in his assumption that liberal conspiracy theories are a recent phenomenon that was initiated by Trump Derangement Syndrome. To disprove Cillizza’s hypotheses, we only need to recall the behavior of liberals during the presidency of George W. Bush.
The granddaddy of modern conspiracy theories was the 9/11 “Truth” movement. A Public Policy poll on the eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks asked the question, “Do you think President Bush intentionally allowed the 9/11 attacks to take place because he wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East?” Twenty-seven percent of liberals polled answered “yes” compared to 10 percent of conservatives and 12 percent of moderates. Liberal 9/11 conspiracy theorists were given respectability by filmmaker Michael Moore in his 2004 film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a purported documentary that won a bevy of awards.
Not all liberals bought in to Moore’s accusations, however. Christopher Hitchens amusingly trashed the movie in Slate. “To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability,” he wrote. “To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental.”
A separate Public Policy poll found that almost three out of four Democrats believed that President Bush “intentionally misled” the public about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as late as 2013. Many liberals still hold this view in spite of the fact that the New York Times detailed the discovery of “roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs” after the invasion of Iraq. The Times report detailed how American and Iraqi soldiers were exposed to “nerve or mustard agents” as they secured the country.
The Bush era gave birth to several other liberal conspiracy theories as well. Among them were the claim that Dick Cheney was a “puppet master” manipulating President Bush while Bush himself was variously seen as both an incompetent boob and an evil genius. The Washington Post noted in 2014 that liberals were just as likely to believe that Bush committed voter fraud in 2004 as conservatives were to believe that Obama committed voter fraud in 2012.
The purported conservative conspiracy about Barack Obama’s background, championed for years by Donald Trump, has its roots with an apparent liberal as well. Andy Martin, a failed lawyer and self-proclaimed consumer activist, allegedly made the first claims that Obama was closet Muslim in 2004. Martin got his start in politics as an intern for US Senator Paul Douglas (D-Ill.) and first ran for public office as a Democrat. Martin ran for president in the Republican primary in 2000 where he ran ads accusing George W. Bush of using cocaine, notes the New York Times, another conspiracy picked up by liberals.
Liberal conspiracy theories don’t stop there. Two large anti-science conspiracy theories are promulgated by liberals and have been for years. Liberal anti-corporate and environmentalist attitudes come together in conspiracies about GMOs and Monsanto. In 2014, Manny Schewitz complained on Forward Progressives that many liberals were “denying science” and refusing to listen to liberal icons Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jon Stewart when they ridiculed GMO conspiracy claims.
Likewise, the Washington Post in 2014 noted that anti-vaxxers, people who reject the science that vaccines are safe and effective, are concentrated in liberal communities. Seth Mnookin, a journalist who has covered the anti-vaccination conspiracy, noted that you only had to go visit a Whole Foods to find anti-vaxxers.
No discussion of conspiracy theories would be complete without mentioning chemtrails or the Kennedy assassination. A Public Policy poll found that roughly equivalent percentages of Obama and Romney voters believed that the government spread chemicals through aircraft exhaust. Twice as many Obama voters were “not sure” and potentially open to the possibility. With respect to JFK, the common theory that the president was murdered by the CIA reflects a liberal mistrust of the national security apparatus.
So, when liberals go off the deep end with outrageous claims about Republican health care reform legislation or Donald Trump, contrary to what Chris Cillizza says, it’s nothing new. For every Jade Helm story on the right, there is an equally outrageous and opposite belief from the other side of the political spectrum. A major difference between the two is that right-wing conspiracy theories and “alternative facts” are largely confined to fringe sites like Infowars and Breitbart while liberal conspiracy theories are often given serious treatment by mainstream media outlets.