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Cult of denial: Lies, injustice and the new American way

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Elon Musk is planning to open up Twitter to "free speech", which could turn it into a breeding ground of hatred and deceit (Image by Dan Jensen)

The modern Far-Right has become a world of contradiction and stupidity after being consumed by lies and conspiracy scams, writes Dr Alex Vickery-Howe.


There are lots of problems with cults, but one is that they’re not terribly self-aware. The Make American Great Again (MAGA) “movement”, to frame it generously, lacks even the most rudimentary self-awareness. Many of its staunchest adherents – zealots, perhaps; those who disseminate their religion with furious keyboard strokes and oddly-placed capital letters (you’ll know them from the Kool-Aid running down their chins) – are not even cognisant of the ideology they’re embracing.

We all know there are Nazis at Trump rallies. There were Nazis at Charlottesville. There were Nazis storming the barricades during the attempted coup on 6 January. We all know the KKK endorses Trump. But the people who don’t know it, the people who deny it with every misspelled slur, every comedic self-own, are Trump supporters.

It's weird. They don’t even know what they stand for.

You can get into some absurd online pissing contests with them. Many essays and articles have been written about Trump supporters idiotically declaring that Hitler was a socialist. It’s such a transparently dumb claim that commentators, historians and social theorists all around the world – look, even I had a go – have been left completely flabbergasted. It’s a dangerous fantasy that requires Trump’s base to literally ignore dictionary definitions while disrespecting the victims of the Holocaust.

Such a complete rejection of empirical reality spits on the memory of all those who died fighting the fascism of the Far-Right during World War II. It’s a disgusting attempt to rewrite the historical record and cast themselves, the RWNJs (Right-Wing nut jobs), as heroes. When they post smiley faces around their lies, smugly rolling in the excrement that is their toxic ignorance and their disregard for history, for sanity – for the sacrifice of millions – it’s difficult not to give up on the American experiment altogether.

The Nazis themselves are not so confused. Deep down, the Trumpkins know this. There’s a reason why they never test their “genius” by walking up to an actual skinhead and saying “hey, you’re from the woke Left!” Everyone above the age of 12 with at least a moderate IQ knows that Hitler despised and murdered Leftists. He was a right-wing authoritarian bigot and hatemonger. The cultists won’t dare to admit that widely understood fact because, if they did, they’d have to look at that fat guy from The Apprentice with a more critical eye.

There’s some cold comfort in knowing that these lies never pass the real-world test. Even so, with business magnate Elon Musk now having let his frail ego get the better of his business acumen and finally taken control of Twitter, the right-wing trolls are foaming over their neckbeards at this new “free” era of online deceit — a veritable orgy of misinformation.

Fascists don’t really believe in free speech, you see. That much can be seen already. They believe in spreading their speech, regardless of its truthfulness or lack thereof, in order to denigrate trans people, lie about President Biden’s economy, or share the “benefits” of horse medicine among other gems. They’re out in force to lie about the climate emergency, too. As much as the “liberal Nazi” bullshit doesn’t pass muster in the offline world, the “I know all about the climate, but I choose to publish my findings on Twitter instead of a scientific journal” plan of attack is, if anything, even more starkly ridiculous. It doesn’t stop them, though.

Misinformation is the point.

According to Musk, the new vision for Twitter is a town square where all opinions may be shared openly. This doesn’t really work either. In a physical town square, people are booed or laughed at when they jump onto a soap box and share lies. If you go to any public forum and opine on a topic while ignoring all research that conflicts with your cult narrative – dictionaries and encyclopedias included – you will get roasted.

My hope is that social media becomes just as critical as an actual town square, just as fraught as a live lecture and that people respond to these viral lies with healing facts. It may not be exactly what Musk himself wants, but it’ll be real. And we desperately need reality.

The trick is that the cult can call everything “fake”. It can dismiss any words it finds too honest and, therefore, too threatening. The zealots can simply refuse to even look at articles they suspect might be truthful. “Oh, it’s The Washington Post? Fake!” “It’s one of those hacks from The Guardian? Fake!”, “Oh, it’s an account from a Holocaust survivor? How do we even know that happened?” One thing is for certain — they’re not coming back to Earth anytime soon. These trolls are living on Planet MAGA, where all are blissfully ignorant.

So, let’s circle back...

It’s happening again.

What’s happening again, you ask? The cult is denying one of its own. It’s bizarre enough when it denies its direct affiliation with contemporary fascist movements, but when one of its very own hardcore, Q-spouting, poison-sputtering, straight-up conspiracy-mad cultists goes out on a limb and walks the walk, they pretend he’s a Democrat.

I’ve written before about Ricky Shiffer, the tragic knucklehead who tried to terrorise the FBI with a nail gun only to die for what he believed in: lies, injustice and the new American way. Trumpkins have allegedly floated the possibility that Shiffer may have been part of a false flag operation to discredit their Don.

Rather than being blessed with the martyrdom and “respect” poor Ricky believed he was due, and no doubt imagined he might earn from his fellow cultists with his murderous intent, he has been wiped away like an unpleasant stain. The causes Shiffer thought he was fighting for – the lies he was spooned – will sadly live on without him, but he has been erased from the narrative.

The cult has decided to pretend he was an embarrassment at best — or, at worst, a double agent. Shiffer would be devastated had he lived to witness this cowardly betrayal from the group he believed he belonged to and the leader he loved. Only in Ricky’s dreams did Donnie love him back. He truly did die for nothing.

David DePape is alive. The radical who violently assaulted Paul Pelosi in his home for the sin of... [checks notes]... being the husband of a successful politician is lucky to have survived his own abysmal judgment. He will now suffer the added indignity of being the subject of yet another far-right, far-fetched conspiracy scam.

The white noise has already started crackling online. If you believe the buzz in the town square of Twitter, DePape never once posted anything pro-Trump, pro-misogyny, pro-insurrection or pro-fascist.

If you believe actual journalists, the police and the people who knew him, he was in fact estranged from his family, having dug all the way to the bottom of the QAnon rabbit hole (if, indeed, there is a bottom). He was so indoctrinated, he even paid attention to the My Pillow guy. That’s only one level below taking actor Kevin Sorbo seriously.

The “argument” goes that because DePape was a nudist activist and had a thing for hemp, he therefore must be left-wing... as though the mouthpieces/mouthbreathers of the Far-Right have never been credibly accused of doing anything less than puritanical. If DePape is wise, he will do what many of those arrested in the coup of 6 January did and call out those who smear the internet with hatred. He has been radicalised and the cult is accountable.

More broadly, if the American experiment is to be redeemed – and, despite some barbs that may imply the contrary, I desperately want to see its swift redemption – then the world must gather in the town square to keep the bastards honest.

A special shoutout to Nick “Alpha Male” Adams, one of our more hideous and hilarious ex-pats who has come to embody the very worst of American soft power propaganda, served with a side of kitsch ‘80s chauvinism and cheesy fries. Somehow, this guy is four years younger than me and acts like he’s a bit player from Wall Street.

There is a school of thought that Australians should stay out of American politics and, to be fair, Nick is a poster boy for precisely that attitude. But the link between fascists at home and fascists abroad is getting harder and harder to deny. Our well is poisoned with Kool-Aid, too.

It remains to be seen what Elon Musk will actually do with Twitter. He should, perhaps, be given some time to refine and finesse his position. While free speech is something every progressive embraces, a global platform that actually encourages hateful, ignorant and violent cultists to spread their insane lies with impunity will continue to have real-world consequences.

A balance must be struck for the sake of the next would-be martyr willing to sacrifice everything in the name of stupidity — the next Ricky Shiffer, the next David DePape. If cult thinking is permitted to eclipse rational debate, that town square may well be littered with bodies.

Dr Alex Vickery-Howe is an award-winning playwright and social commentator. He teaches creative writing, screen and drama at Flinders University. You can follow Alex on Twitter @AlexVickeryHowe.

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