Since the chaos of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, disparate groups of Trump supporters advocating the former president’s false assertions of a stolen election, QAnon adherents, election fraud promoters and anti-vaccine activists have organized events around the country to promote their causes. This phenomenon underscores the extent to which the line separating the mainstream from the extreme has blurred, and how mainstream efforts to undermine democratic institutions are bolstered by extremist and conspiratorial narratives and their supporters.
These narratives, which go well beyond the mainstream into extreme territory, include the following lies:
- The 2020 presidential election was stolen by the Democrats (touted at the Health and Freedom events, organized by right-wing entrepreneur Clay Clark, as well as at other events.)
- A global cabal of pedophiles (including Democrats) who are kidnapping children for their blood will be executed when Donald Trump is reinstated as president.
- The coronavirus was co-created in a lab by Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
- The coronavirus vaccine contains dangerous ingredients that change your DNA and make vaccinated people “shed” dangerous toxins.
- Satanic socialists are attempting to take over the country.
- If Democrats and “the left” remain in power, a confrontation, potentially violent, will be necessary to “reclaim” the country.
In 2021, a variety of conferences have brought together right-wing extremists, conspiracy theorists and “mainstream” conservatives. As recently as July 11, speakers at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) raised the issue of “election integrity,” which in this context is a euphemism for the election fraud conspiracy theories promoted by former President Trump and his associates. Attendees at this nominally mainstream event were able to purchase QAnon merchandise, while members of two extremist groups—the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys—freely walked the halls of the conference.
While presenting themselves as American “patriots,” many event speakers have celebrated conspiracy theories that sow distrust in not only the government but also in democratic institutions and scientific facts. The overriding view is that America is being corrupted by nefarious entities like “the Deep State,” communists, socialists and scientists, among many others.
People with varying ideologies are finding common ground in their desire for a more “traditional” society that embraces American nationalism, religion and what they consider “patriotic” values. Conspiracy theories like QAnon are merging with bigger, broader theories focused on election fraud and government control, which in turn attracts right-wing politicians to the conferences to promote these amalgam theories. This has the effect of normalizing these conspiratorial views and spreading disinformation to a broader audience.
Clay Clark, a right-wing entrepreneur, has held numerous Health and Freedom conferences across the country, many of which feature QAnon figures like Michael Flynn (in the background) and others promoting various conspiracies.