BOB GARFIELD This is On the Media, I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Now we talk about nightmares. The rhetoric of the far right depicts the world as bleak and bitter night, dark and full of terrors. And one of those terrors is ANTIFA.
TRUMP We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend and in the plane, it was almost completely loaded with with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that they're on a plane.
REPORTER Where is this?
TRUMP I'll tell you sometime. But it's under investigation right now. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE That investigation, if indeed there ever was one, never surfaced. But in the landscape of that cold, dark night ANTIFA terror took hold, terror misplaced.
BRANDY ZADROZNY So Antifa is a loose collection of hundreds, maybe a couple of thousand radical groups and people, generally the far left who share an ideology and tactics.
BOB GARFIELD NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny has traced the twisted path of conspiracy theories through the Web, including the one surrounding ANTIFA.
BRANDY ZADROZNY The way that I best describe it is if you see a Nazi punch, a Nazi, you don't go call the cops and say there's a Nazi. And it's rooted in the idea that, you know, the Nazi party would have never come to power in Germany if people had literally fought them in the streets. I think the idea behind the anti fascist ideology is that fascism and the far right is inherently violent. It violates and it hurts marginalized people, people of color. They believe that it is inherently right to fight, sometimes violently, a movement and the far right that is violent itself.
BOB GARFIELD Antifa stalwarts are by definition looking for a fight and there has been violence, but they offer far less of a threat in terms of numbers, firepower, actual bloodshed and mission than the heavily armed self-styled guardians of the American way who believe they must take arms to defend it and themselves.
MILTIA We are literally standing at the cusp of a post American world. Are you all f*ck in. Over.
RECRUIT I ain't got nothing holding me back, so if it kills me, it kills me. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD But the country's unleashed by the current president are full of mixed motivations. Some are big caliber bullies who just want to shoot something. Some are proud boys who burn Black Lives Matter banners and defaced black churches, enraged and threatened by a nation that's changing. That's what they see. Then there's that vast array of people horrified by what they don't see. But here on the Internet, those enlisted in the conspiracy theory called QAnon believe that Donald Trump is working tirelessly to rid the world of left leaning politicians and celebrities who prey on children and eat human flesh.
INFLUENCER I have been digesting information from my guides about what this light worker in human form looking like the name Donald Trump has been doing for the entire human collective.[END CLIP]
BRANDY ZADROZNY QAnon on at its core, is this belief in good versus evil, right versus wrong of biblical proportions. And so almost like evangelical Christianity, they are winning souls.
BOB GARFIELD Brandy Zadrozny kept us updated throughout 2020.
BRANDY ZADROZNY They call it red pilling. How can I red pill my husband? How can I read my neighbor? Often the answer is a YouTube video or have them join this Facebook group. In the most recent groups that formed around Save the Children. The people who have organized these groups are major QAnon believers. They post videos. They say, here is what you need to know. And there are people saying, oh my God, I never knew.
INFLUENCER Nothing as we know it is true. Yes, there is good in the world, but our world is being run by evil. [END CLIP]
BRANDY ZADROZNY QAnon has a hashtag that's really popular and it's #we are the media now and they're not wrong. They've been very good for years at highjacking hashtags, highjacking trending topics, getting things into the national conversation. Through the president's Twitter account, a QAnon proponent is headed for the halls of Congress. [END CLIP]
INFLUENCER If you are aware at this point that we are at the precipice of like the dawning of the ages, like, then I don't know. I don't know what you're doing. You're still asleep. [END CLIP]
BRANDY ZADROZNY If I'm being really honest, I feel scared a lot. They claim in the open to be there to save the children or they're patriots or they're just evangelicals who love Donald Trump. But when you get into their private groups, it's just post after post wishing mass murder on, you know, their political enemies or members of the media to which I belong. I talked with this guy, Scotty, the kid. At the end of our conversation, I said tomorrow after I report this, you're going to call me a pedophile and all the people on your page are going to call me a pedophile and I can't have a public Instagram page because you guys send me pictures of my own kids. It's very upsetting. So could you not do that tomorrow? And he said: yeah, I won't do that. And he said, and I don't think you're a pedophile, but your boss is. You want to think that you can make a human connection, and I think it's beyond that.
BOB GARFIELD Jeff Sharlet, an author, scholar and journalist with a focus on religion, recognizes a certain Christian adjacent idea in such certainty and suspicion, one that can be traced back nearly 2000 years to the heretical movement known as Gnosticism.
JEFF SHARLET One of the things that makes Gnosticism a nice metaphorical frame for Trumpism is that it presents the Divine as this sort of series of contradictions. Probably the most famous Gnostic texts, The Thunder, Perfect Mind. It's quite lovely poem. And it sort of set up as a divine voice that is speaking. I am the scorned and the revered and so on.
NARRATOR I am the one whom they call law and you have called lawlessness. [END CLIP]
JEFF SHARLET The deep state is what the Gnostics would have viewed as the church, the bishops, the authorities, the so-called experts. They call them waterless canals, and beyond that is what they called the depth. The depth that you experience, not through fake news, not through experts, not through even elections. You just know you don't have to trust expertize. You don't have to trust those who have put in the work of developing bodies of knowledge. Because here's the Americanized aspect of this gnosticism is it has a small D democratic veneer. Which is to say that you make this gospel through your research. You two can become an expert in the technology of voting machines. With just a few hours on Parler and a few YouTube instructional videos. They said, I am finding out for myself, I personally am helping President Trump make America great again because I am making the real knowledge that is beyond the fake knowledge, the fake news.
BOB GARFIELD And in this kind of world, experts and journalists, they're not just misguided, their enemies.
JEFF SHARLET The press is functioning for Trump, the way the Jews function for the czar that communist functioned in the Cold War, they could be anywhere. Within this kind of Trumpian gnosticism. It is very much people like you and I, Bob, who are laboring in the veil of delusion, both promulgating the conspiracy. But we're also sort of trapped in the conspiracy. We can't actually see the truth because we haven't done the hard work of research. How can so many Americans embrace what to many of us looks like authoritarianism or even full fascism and the true ideological sense and and yet insist that they're not? It's because you're helping make it happen. It feels democratic, even as it does away with even the need for democracy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So the mind of the ascending right that enabled Trump's march to political dominance, causing much celebration and some consternation within the GOP, has no use for democracy. It never has had use for it.
RICK PERLSTEIN One of the things that Jimmy Carter realized when he became president was that a lot of people who wanted to vote had a hard time voting for the same kind of stuff we see now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Rick Perlstein is a historian of American conservatism and author most recently of Reagan Land America's Right Turn, 1976 to 1980.
RICK PERLSTEIN So one of the first major initiatives he undertook as president in the spring of 1977 was to come up with a comprehensive voting reform plan proposing to have a constitutional amendment to end the Electoral College and to have same day registration. When he announced this, there was overwhelming support from both parties. But lo and behold, the right wing of the party cried foul. The right wing magazine Human Events called it euthanasia for the GOP. Another figure enters the story. Reagan, the former governor of California who is making a tidy living, writing newspaper columns and giving radio addresses every day. He calls this a horrifying prospect, and he revives that story of civil servants voting because their bosses tell them to of dead people voting. One of Reagan's arguments. Was that Jimmy Carter won in Minnesota because of same day registration and that he wanted to use this kind of same day registration scheme to assure Democrats won every election. And once again, the argument is Republicans are harmed when more people vote. In 1980, the Christian right held a massive rally for ministers in Dallas. One of the speakers, Christian Right Pioneer, a new right organizer named Paul Weyrich, who gave a very famous speech.
PAUL WEYRICH They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not. Now, as a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Matthew Sitman, once a conservative Catholic, now a progressive one, is associate editor of the liberal Catholic Journal Commonweal. He also co-hosts a podcast, Know Your Enemy, tracking the Intellectual Drift of the Extreme Right, which is why I suspect he named his podcast with some irony, because as he's observed over and over again, religious conservatism has migrated to Trumpism, which views what was once the opposition as the enemy, which must be vanquished now and forever. That enemy being political liberalism.
MATTHEW SITMAN Liberalism is not the partisan contemporary political meaning, but liberalism is a political philosophy grounded in individual rights, human equality, the rule of law, due process. Constitutional governments are what they're rejecting, especially the individualism and the equality of it. When you take aim at human equality, that's also the foundation of democracy. One person, one vote. That is what they're rejecting. They're saying that actually they know better. They are no longer speaking the language of a Democratic majority of the people being with them. They are saying we must crush our enemies because we know what the highest good is. That move from democracy to simply saying we're right is the essential thing. And my concern is that these conservative intellectuals are creating the conditions, are giving themselves permission to go along with what amounts to authoritarian rule by a political party that doesn't have anywhere close to the support of a majority of Americans.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You said that within 20 to 30 years it's possible that 70 percent of senators will be representing 30 percent of the country?
MATTHEW SITMAN By 2040, It's predicted that 70 percent of the country will live in 15 states. That means that 70 percent will be represented by only 30 senators. That number is actually not radically different than what has existed at other periods in our history. But what makes it so deeply troubling is that never before has our country been polarized the way it is. The difference between rural voters and urban and suburban voters is so great that the system's structural problems are running into the buzzsaw of polarization that it'll be balanced kind of radically against the Democratic Party.
BROOKE GLADSTONE On his podcast, Sitman quoted conservative turned moderate Damon Linker, who wrote When social conservatives thought that they were the Moral Majority, it made sense for them to dream of exercising real political power. When they recognized they were a minority, it made sense for them to resign themselves, to adopt a defensive posture and prepared to live out their days in the country as dissenters from the reigning liberal consensus. What makes no sense is for social conservatives to think that they can be both weak and strong at the same time. A minority that wields the power of a majority. Unless, of course, social conservatives no longer care about democracy.
MATTHEW SITMAN He put it very well. The key is to implement the highest good, to implement the order they think is true and just and good, and the ways you get there matter less.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So that brings us to the end of our review of 20/20 lethal lies and terrible truths. But listen between the lines and you'll hear the wind blowing over the virgin territory before us. The chance to replace America's founding myths of justice and equality with something real and durable.
JAMES BALDWIN The bill has come in. It is not coming in. It is in. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE That's James Baldwin in 1964, speaking about housing racism in San Francisco.
JAMES BALDWIN And the very question now, is precisely what we've got in the bank. This, of course, is everything we think we have. Everything. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE I think Trump's most shattering legacy is that the lies he told, but the truth he exposed. Well we always have next year, am I right?
BOB GARFIELD That's it for this year's shows. On the Media is produced by Alana Cassanova-Burgess, Micah Loewinger, Leah Feder, Jon Hanrahan and Eloise Blondiau. Xandra Ellin writes our newsletter and our show was edited...By Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Monsen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Katya Rogers is our executive producer. On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield. Merry Christmas, everybody.
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