Tinfoil Hats, Black Helicopters, and the Politics of Paranoia

Tinfoil Hats, Black Helicopters, and the Politics of Paranoia
Tinfoil Hats, Black Helicopters, and the Politics of Paranoia
Associated Press

Public Policy Polling released the results of an interesting survey this week, which you probably heard a bit about – it dealt with public attitudes towards conspiracy theories (some of which weren’t really conspiracy theories). Not surprisingly, we learned that a lot of folks believe a lot of strange stuff.

But it’s worth appreciating the fact that this phenomenon isn’t limited to the general public. We’re occasionally reminded that federal lawmakers buy into some bizarre conspiracy theories, too.

We talked yesterday, for example, about the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations, and the oddity of watching Republicans align themselves with the position adopted by Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Let’s also take a moment, though, to highlight the GOP’s reasons for doing so. For example, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) appeared on a right-wing radio show yesterday, arguing that the treaty would “literally change” and “essentially repeal” the Second Amendment. This is patently ridiculous, but Fleming said it anyway.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose affinity for conspiracy theories is bordering on unhealthy, wrote a fundraising letter on the treaty for the National Association for Gun Rights that was truly crazy, even for him.

“I don’t know about you, but watching anti-American globalists plot against our Constitution makes me sick. […]

If we’re to succeed, we must fight back now. That’s why I’m helping lead the fight to defeat the UN “Small Arms Treaty” in the United States Senate. And it’s why I need your help today.

Will you join me by taking a public stand against the UN “Small Arms Treaty” and sign the Official Firearms Sovereignty Survey right away? Ultimately, UN bureaucrats will stop at nothing to register, ban and CONFISCATE firearms owned by private citizens like YOU.

Paul’s letter added that the United Nations intends to “force” the United States to “CONFISCATE and DESTROY ALL ‘unauthorized’ civilian firearms,” while creating “an INTERNATIONAL gun registry, setting the stage for full-scale gun CONFISCATION,” which isn’t part of the Arms Trade Treaty and also isn’t sane.

But it does offer a reminder about why the politics of paranoia makes governing so difficult.

Reflecting on the hysterical opposition to the ATT, Greg Sargent raised an important point yesterday.

Republican Senators (and too many red state Dems) have fallen into line behind the NRA’s lurid claims not just about the treaty, but also about gun control, endorsing its paranoid and false claim that expanding background checks would create a national gun registry. With United States Senators eagerly feeding such fringe views rather than engaging in genuine policy debate, is it any wonder that it’s a major struggle to implement even the most modest and sensible effort to limit the ongoing murder of innocents, one that is supported by nine in 10 Americans?

I strongly agree, and the more I thought about it, the more I started noticing how broadly applicable this is.

We couldn’t pass a disability treaty because Republicans believed conspiracy theories. We can’t address global warming because Republicans believe the entirety of climate science is a giant conspiracy. We couldn’t pass bipartisan health care reform in part because Republicans were too heavily invested in the “death panel” conspiracy theory.

This problem, in other words, keeps coming up, and probably won’t get any better until the electorate sends fewer conspiracy theorists to Washington.