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Leading GOP senator raises the specter of a 'secret society'

When powerful congressional committee chairmen take seriously the idea of anti-Trump "secret societies," it's more than a little unsettling.
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's \"Road to Majority\" legislative luncheon in Washington, D.C., June 18, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's \"Road to Majority\" legislative luncheon in Washington, D.C., June 18, 2015. 

Despite his idiosyncratic approach to politics and policy, Senate Republicans decided to make Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is a pretty powerful post on Capitol Hill.

Whether the Wisconsin Republican is using that position responsibly is a subject of some debate.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) says that a whistleblower has told Congress about secret meetings between FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials who allegedly gathered to discuss ways to undermine President Trump following his victory in the 2016 election. [...]Speaking Tuesday on Fox New Channel's "Special Report," Johnson, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he has an informant to back those claims up. "The secret society -- we have an informant talking about a group holding secret meetings off-site," Johnson said.

You know, I try to be open minded about these things. And sure, I suppose it's possible that life is like a Dan Brown novel and somewhere in the bowels of the Justice Department, there's a cabal of nefarious liberals who hatched a secret plot to undermine the president.

Of course, if such a plot existed, there doesn't appear to be any evidence of it. (Perhaps the cabal of nefarious liberals is terribly ineffective. Or maybe they got distracted by Donald Trump taking a series of steps to undermine his own presidency before they could hatch their fiendish scheme.)

Is it too much to ask that the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee avoid peddling strange conspiracy theories on national television? Because once powerful politicians start throwing around phrases such as "secret society," we're forced to confront awkward questions about just how far from reality Republican politics can reasonably stray.

What's more, Media Matters noted yesterday that Johnson isn't the only one going down this road.

Fox News' morning show Fox & Friends pushed the conspiracy theory that a "secret society" meant to discredit President Donald Trump might actually exist in the FBI.The story originated when Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) claimed on another Fox show, The Story, that in a text message exchange after the 2016 election, FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page said, "Perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society." Gowdy omitted any context and offered no evidence to show that such a text, which has not been released, wouldn't have been facetious.Conservative media and Trump allies have repeatedly attempted to scandalize texts between Strzok and Page, who were in a personal relationship, alleging that they and other FBI officials were working against Trump during the election. But as HuffPost noted, "Most of the information that came out of the bureau during the election was damaging to Hillary Clinton, not Trump," and Strzok and Page "exchanged texts slamming politicians and officials of all ideological stripes, not just Trump."

For context, let's also note that the president has also suggested that the FBI officials in question may be guilty of "treason."

Writing in The Week this morning, Paul Waldman lamented that many Republicans appear to have gone "full Illuminati," complete with a "bizarre fantasy world."

Waldman added, "The latest 'revelation' came when a couple of congressmen rushed to Fox News to tell of a reference they found in a text to a 'secret society.' Egads! They don't know what it means, but it certainly couldn't be tongue in cheek. Is the FBI controlled by the Illuminati? The Freemasons? The Rosicrucians? Some powerful secret society so secret and powerful that it has prevented us all from even knowing what it's called?"

I can appreciate that imaginative Trump acolytes are feeling a little desperate, and if we were just talking about random conservative media personalities, I probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow. But when congressional committee chairmen seriously entertain the idea of "secret societies," based on the thinnest of evidence, it's more than a little unsettling.