In the immediate aftermath of the deadly insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, Republicans weren't quite sure whether to celebrate or condemn the rioters. For his part, Donald Trump professed his love for the attackers.
Soon after, however, Trump's allies started pushing the line that the pro-Trump mob only appeared to be a pro-Trump mob. Assorted right-wing lawmakers and media personalities insisted there were "antifa" activists "masquerading as Trump supporters," and they were responsible for the violence at the Capitol.
The FBI explained that there simply isn't any evidence to support such nonsense. The Washington Post looked for antifa members joining the riot and also concluded that the claims were wrong. There's simply no denying the fact that Trump fed his followers lies, and it was his followers who acted on those lies.
But a new national Suffolk University/USA Today poll offers a timely reminder on why so many Republican voices peddle such nonsense: they know their followers will believe things that aren't true.
Asked to describe what happened during the assault on the Capitol, 58% of Trump voters call it "mostly an antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few Trump supporters." That's more than double the 28% who call it "a rally of Trump supporters, some of whom attacked the Capitol." Four percent call it "an attempted coup inspired by President Trump."
The fact that this is not surprising does not make it any less amazing: most Trump voters have simply decided to believe, facts be damned, that the former president's supporters didn't attack the Capitol. In these voters' alternate reality, it was really a loose alliance of anti-fascist groups pretending to be right-wing activists, as part of an elaborate ruse.
If it were 20% or 30% of Trump voters who thought this, it would still be exasperating. But it's actually a 58% majority.
It's likely these same Americans will also assume that the Green New Deal caused Texas' recent energy crisis, President Biden secretly lost the election, and masks don't help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The incentive structure is fundamentally unhealthy in a democracy: Republican leaders and their allies in conservative media will see survey results like these and be reminded that they can concoct absurd lies with impunity, confident that much of their base will believe what they're told to believe.