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What Conspiracy Theorists and Tea Partiers Have in Common

I suppose it was only a matter of time before I gave in to the pressure and blogged about something political.

But before I start, let me first discuss my political beliefs, albeit briefly.  I think I can sum them up in one word: apathetic.  I certainly do my part and vote when the time comes, but I have grown utterly weary of dealing with all things political.  I’ll talk about this in a bit more detail shortly.

Anyway, back to my point.

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago.  My parents are split down the middle politically—my mother is apolitical and doesn’t vote, my father is a card-carrying member of the “Bill O’Reilly” fan club.  It is slightly surprising, then, that I’ve been staunchly liberal for as long as my brain could understand that concept.

Perhaps Bill should become a Juggalo. MAGNETS.

(One note, I do not really identify with the Democratic Party, nor the greater “liberal movement”.  I am liberal, but I do not consider myself a liberal.  At least, not in the sense of the word that ties me to a group of people with supposedly similar ideologies.  While that may seem a minor semantic difference, I do not derive my views from a party, but rather on my own and they just happen to be described well by the word liberal.)

But while I do my best to respect all peoples’ political beliefs, sometimes it becomes hard.  For example, I think George W. Bush was a horribly misguided President, but have never thought at any time that he wasn’t doing anything that he didn’t think was in our country’s best interest.

This, apparently, separates me from certain people within the political arena.  In the past I think most people viewed political affiliations besides their own as perhaps misguided, but still doing what they think is best.  Lately the rhetoric seems to indicate that there are a number of people who think that some politicians literally want to destroy our nation.  (The rhetoric surrounding Obama is a no holds barred example of this.  Detractors often assume Obama wants to destroy all things American.)

But I digress.  Recently I saw a sign for the “Northern Illinois Patriots”.  I have this unintentional reaction to the use of the word patriot—specifically that of revulsion—because often one only hears it as a means to define anybody who disagrees with them as unpatriotic.

So out of curiosity I looked up this organization.  Turns out that they are affiliated with the Tea Party.  Big surprise.  That’s what led me to this article.

Why I’m Apathetic, Just So We’re Clear

Before I go any further, I feel I should define my political standing so there is no misunderstanding about where I am coming from.  This post, as with everything I do related to politics, has an agenda.

As a teenager I found myself profoundly interested in becoming politically active and making my voice heard.  Perhaps it was the delusion that all teenagers hold—that I had an opinion that had to be heard—or perhaps the realities of college numbed me to that idea, but I no longer care so much about that.

I am liberal.  I am probably as socially liberal as they come, and I think that anything abridging anybody’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is wholly wrong.  That means I am, in fact, pro-choice and think it is despicable that there is even a debate as to whether or not homosexuals can marry.

Moses on the Supreme Court. His depiction is not religious, but rather of him as a lawgiver. An example of religion in government, but not defining government.

I think that religion has no place in how we govern, but I think that it is welcome in the government.  That is, I have no problem with people who wish to be sworn in on the Bible, nor do I oppose “In God We Trust” as a national motto.  What I do oppose is using religion as the basis for legislation, as in the case of every argument that has ever stood against gay marriage.

The 24-hour news cycle, the internet, the rise of blogging and numerous other factors have made it so every person can have his voice heard.  In general, this ends up creating a cacophony of voices, none of which are saying anything but all of whom refuse to stop speaking.  Pundits like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly cater to a subset of viewers who only wish to have their views confirmed.

(In case you’re wondering why I’m adding to this, I would respond that I feel I have something slightly different to say than most, otherwise I would just shut up and let other people do the work for me.)

If you’re Republican you watch FOX News.  If you’re liberal you watch CNN and bitch about it.  If you’re part of the Tea Party, you believe even FOX News is part of the “liberal media” and find your information in various e-mail forwards, rumors and blogs across the internet.  There is this neat little thing called the confirmation bias, a cognitive bias through which people filter out information that does not fit their hypothesis.

Each media source spews the kind of vitriol that would previously be unheard of, accusing the “others” of being the ones who are deluding themselves.  Liberals think they have no bias—CNN is totally balanced—but FOX News spins everything.  On the other hand, the extremely conservative are convinced that anybody who doesn’t agree with them is part of some diabolical “liberal media” out to destroy the American family.

The truth actually lies somewhere in the middle. Nobody wants to seem to admit this, but if we could then maybe we could actually start a dialogue.

That depends on what the definition of “diddle” is.

Beyond all of this, the person behind the policy has become such an obsession within the political arena that our politicians are subject to the same invasions of privacy that every celebrity faces with the paparazzi.  Is it any of my business if a politician decided to diddle a staffer?

Not really. Not as long as he hasn’t impacted his ability to hold the office and/or abused the powers of the office in doing so.  Yet we call for the modern day equivalents of putting politicians in stocks when they should happen to be less than the paragons of moral virtue that, for some reason, we want them to be.

In the “good old days” of politics (if there is any such thing), you got set news from set sources, so you could not just tune in to a channel that confirms what you want to hear.  Now we have that, and it should be no surprise that the partisan gap in the United States has become almost completely polarized.

If you haven’t gathered by now why I consider myself politically apathetic, you probably do not have a career in detective work.  That is to say, I cannot stand any of the above, and in the end I think it gets in the way of policy-making.  At a time when our candidates are too busy insulting each other to actually tell us what they’ll do for the country, I find it safe to say that we have hit perhaps the lowest possible point in the history of American politics.

Besides telling you about me so that you can make up your mind about what my agenda actually is, I think that everything I just said has a fair amount of relevance in this post.

About Conspiracy Theories and Otherness

It may seem strange to lump conspiracy theories in on this, unless you are prescient enough to know where I am planning to go with it.

We probably all know someone who thinks there was a second shooter that took out JFK, or who insists that the Moon landing never happened, or perhaps even someone deluded enough to believe that 9/11 was an inside job.

If you’ve ever dealt with a conspiracy theorist but weren’t, before this post anyway, aware of the confirmation bias, I would imagine that just this sentence can link those two concepts so inextricably together for you that you will never view their behavior in the same light again.

Go ahead and add “and Tea Partiers” to that caption. Plus, I think that “racist” and “are Jesse Ventura” are being underrepresented in this totally reliable pie chart.

What I’m saying is, conspiracy theorists only hear what they want to hear.  Anybody who disagrees is either in on the conspiracy or is part of some group of “others”, those who just haven’t opened their eyes to the truth yet.

Given that trifurcation of the world in the eyes of the conspiracy theorist, one might wonder why they are always so vocal about it.  After all, you’re either in on the conspiracy, you know the secret, or you are just oblivious.  Why bother telling the world about it, especially when the odds are you won’t convince anybody?

The simple-to-the-point-of-glib answer is to feel special or unique and, quite possibly, to give order to things.

Imagine how difficult a time some would have if our world truly were just completely random.  Events like 9/11 have no greater meaning or purpose, but are just random acts perpetrated by evil men.  There is, really, a sense of comfort in knowing that there is a reason or cause behind it.

More than that, there is something that people like about knowing secret information, we like when we are somehow “smarter” or more in-the-know than the masses.  We absolutely love being in that position that seats you with power, while everyone else is just outside of it.  We are the special ones, everyone else is the “others”.

Furthermore, by sharing their knowledge the conspiracy theorists are both bringing people into the fold as well as ensuring that there is an otherness to people who do not accept their ideas.  If the conspiracy theorist held his beliefs quietly, he would not be in defiance of any evil cabal organizing the events, nor would anybody know that he is not an “other”, but special in his knowledge.

The Northern Illinois Patriots and Otherness

What spurred this post is looking at the website of the Northern Illinois Patriots (NIP from here on out).  They are affiliated with the Tea Party, so it’s safe to say they share many core beliefs.  However, they may differ slightly in some aspects, so for that reason I’ll be referring mostly to NIP, with the occasional reference to the Tea Party.

There’s no racism in that at all. I take back my remarks about that pie chart. It should be 90% “racist” and 10% “Sell T-Shirts”. (From NIPatriots.org)

The core purpose of NIP is “to help protect our God-given rights as intended by the framers of the Constitution by being informed, getting involved, and making a difference in our great nation.” (As oen of my soon-to-be-trademarked completely irrelevant asides, I think it’s interesting that their abbreviation doubles as a racial slur.  I’m sure it’s entirely coincidental, but it still makes me slightly uncomfortable.)

At first glance this is a particularly innocuous goal.  But a further look at their “9 Principles” should help clarify their agenda.  I will not reproduce all of them here, but I will give you some of the highlights. (I will also ignore some of their egregious spelling and grammar errors instead of making light of them.  Because I’m just that nice. Also, nobody is perfect.)

The 9 Principles start innocuously enough, stating that America Is Good, God is the Center of My Life, and that we must always try to be more honest and that family is sacred and the spouses are the ultimate authority (not the government), plus some platitudes about not being above the law.

When things get interesting is on number eight, which states:

Good old American Values, like teaching your kids to attack someone’s race the second you disagree with him.

8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
On your right to disagree “In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude; every man will speak as he thinks, or more properly without thinking.” George Washington [Emphasis mine.]

I will not be so kind as to ignore the fact that the quote these people chose is actually a chastisement of the voice of the multitude.  Had they selectively cropped “or more properly without thinking” from this quote, perhaps the sentiment would be another cute touch to their website.  Instead what we get is a self-defeating quote, one that basically states that while the multitude will always try to be heard, those people will often do so without bothering to think about what they’re saying.

Certainly this is an unintentionally appropriate quote from avowed tea partiers, those who seem to so often make statements without vetting them as the truth.  However, I cannot imagine that NIP would have intended that interpretation of the quote.

But I promised a discussion of otherness, and I will deliver. On the website there exists an item called “The Patriot’s Pledge”, a pledge that all members (presumably) must take.  This is where NIP really begins to distance themselves from everyone.

One of the items that the member pledges to be aware of is “[u]nderstanding the infringement on my constitutional rights and the erosion of the American Dream that is currently taking place.”

While I may have poked fun at the lack of thought the NIP put into the Washington quote, let me be clear that I do not underestimate these people.  In this case, what the NIP have done is state clearly that the “American Dream” is eroding.  That part is not even remotely in question.  Rather, what is in question is whether or not you are aware of it.

Presumably if you are aware of it you are one of the selected, while if you are not aware of this you are just “other”.  Just as knowing that there was a shooter on the grassy knoll brings you into the fold, so does its denial make you one of the others.

I won’t bother going into terrifyingly deep detail with the rest of their points because we all know what Tea Partiers stand for, and NIP are nothing if not a part of that movement. Rather, I want to discuss why this otherness is so useful.

As I discussed earlier in the scope of my politics, it seems as though both political parties and most people engaged in politics are so affected by the confirmation bias and yet completely oblivious to it.  Groups like the NIP are, perhaps, the most oblivious of the bunch.

Pictured: Reasonable political discourse for the average Tea Party member.

Normal political discourse, if there is such a thing, may disagree on policy but they may also disagree and actually discuss the fundamental underpinnings of those ideologies.  While liberals and conservatives may disagree about government spending, most of them would agree that the government should spend money on at least certain things. The finer details of what those things might be is a part of what politicians discuss and compromise about.

The Tea Party, NIP and other groups have circumvented this process.  They have assured themselves that the underpinnings of their ideologies are non-negotiable, a feat they accomplish by claiming to believe in the Constitution.

Let’s look back to the example of the American Dream.

Some of us (hopefully most) would question if the dream is even eroding, the NIP has moved beyond that portion and thus made it so that the basic underpinnings of their beliefs are not in question.  The JFK conspiracy theorist doesn’t ask if there was a shooter on the knoll, but if it was a government agent, foreign national or what have you.  Those who deny the second shooter don’t bother with that question, because they do not accept the premise upon which it is based.

This is the same picture the NIP paints with the Constitution.  The question isn’t if its being ignored and circumvented, but rather how any by whom.  They ignore that most people who are not wildly conservative or liberal don’t consider that the truth, and instead just assume it is a fact.  In drawing the lines in this way, they allow their entire set of beliefs to go unchallenged.

Just as the conspiracy theorist also feels special for knowing what he knows and considers other people either complicit or ignorant, so too does the NIP member/tea partier.

If you disagree with these basic understandings you will find no compromise (as recent politics has shown us), but rather are just considered an “other”, a person who doesn’t get it.  You haven’t taken the oath.  You aren’t aware that the American Dream is being eroded by ignoring the constitution, so you couldn’t possibly understand what their beliefs are, but you are definitely wrong.


About the Constitution

I feel it would be unfair to go through this article without providing even a little justification for why I think the Tea Party and NIP are so wildly misguided.

See also: racism.

A premise that Tea Partiers refuse to accept is that the Constitution is necessarily a fluid document, the interpretation of which must change as the world changes in order to ensure our continued survival as a society.  To these people the Constitution is a one-shot, a document that must never be amended, reinterpreted or circumvented.  The idea that the Founding Fathers could not have predicted various aspects of the modern world is irrelevant, solely because to agree with this would be to undermine the basic premise of everything for which they fight.

To act like the Constitution is not a fluid document, one that must continually be reconsidered in light of technological and societal shifts, is a discredit to the Founding Fathers. While the Constitution (as well as the Bill of Rights, just to be clear) is an extraordinarily resilient document, it can only bend so much with the times before it becomes implausible to uphold it.

What NIP and Tea Partiers suggest is that there is no reinterpreting that document. What I suggest is that there is a way to do so that is in line with what, given access to society as it exists now, the Founding Fathers would have wanted.

A great example is gun control.  Tea Partiers often consider the Second Amendment to be absolute.  You either can bear arms or you can’t (which, besides being a pointless way to interpret it, is incredibly dangerous as I’ll explain near the end of this post).  If we strictly interpret the constitution, as the Founding Fathers intended it, would gun control be even remotely constitutional? No.

But the times change, and so does technology.  At the time of the drafting of the Constitution the average weapon—in the hands of a skilled soldier—could fire two, perhaps three, times per minute.  When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they did so with such arms in mind.  That Constitutional protection does not necessarily extend to assault rifles, a type of weapon that the Founding Fathers would likely never have conceived when they drafted our Constitution.

Totally what the Framers meant.

To consider this on an even more extreme level, grenades are an armament.  If one were to read the Second Amendment as the right to bear arms, clearly one must be allowed to have a hand grenade.  And  a jet fighter.  Also, since technically it’s an armament, probably a nuclear weapon.

In a hundred years when our wars are fought with giant mechanical exoskeletons with railguns capable of leveling an entire building, I can imagine that Second Amendment proponents will argue that such a weapon is constitutionally protected.  Plus, it’s only to hunt. Clearly.

I realize I’m creating a ridiculous example, but I have two points from that.  First, that a strict reading of the Constitution as just the words on the page, without considering current social context, is not totally appropriate.

We would have to assume that when drafting the Constitution they sat around and discussed every possible technological and societal change that could happen and, in response, drafted the Constitution with all of those possibilities in mind.

If the Founding Fathers had such foresight, why has a Constitutional amendment ever been necessary? Why, if they were so able to draft an infallible document, wasn’t slavery abolished within the Bill of Rights?  Thomas Jefferson held slaves, and if we are going to interpret the Constitution in the spirit that Founding Fathers such as Jefferson intended it, why have we not repealed the amendments abolishing slavery? If the Founding Fathers predicted (as they must have, if they had the foresight that the Tea Party ascribes to them) that abortion would be such a hot button issue, why does the Constitution remain silent on it?

While I am a huge admirer of the minds that founded our nation, I do not hold them in such high esteem that I consider them to have near omniscience.  To do so is the height of hubris, as well as the true depths of stupidity. If one is going to argue that we can interpret the Second Amendment to be so well crafted and have such foresight to extend to the devastating weaponry of today, we cannot selectively pretend that assumption doesn’t apply to the rest of the Constitution when it is not politically advantageous.

The second point I wanted to make was that even a staunch proponent of the Second Amendment would probably oppose allowing private citizens to own and use a military aircraft and/or nuclear weapons.  They might argue that the Founding Fathers were referring to the arms a single person could use.

What the logic that my straw man opponent reveals says is that the Founding Fathers had intentions, and that those intentions are relevant to how we read the Constitution.  Such an argument is self-defeating, then, as we have to consider what the Founding Fathers would have intended given today’s societal circumstances.


I’ve been hoping that you, my esteemed readers, have been able to draw your own conclusions about the (tenuous) connections I’m making in this post.  If you haven’t, though, allow me to connect the final dot: NIP (and on a larger scale the Tea Party) is a conspiracy theory.

Where conspiracy theorists feel in the know, so do the members of NIP.  These people believe they’re the only ones who are truly trying to uphold the Constitution, and anybody who disagrees is something wholly “other”.  These people may have the best of intentions, but their methodology is to ignore anything that disagrees with their preconceived world view and carry on as if it never existed in the first place.

The issue here is that NIP and the Tea Party are mired in inherent contradictions.  They insist that they have a right to their opinion (and, in theory, so would anybody who disagrees), yet cast crude Us vs. Them distinctions to demonize anybody who would stand against them.

The name “Northern Illinois Patriots” says it all.  You are either a patriot or you aren’t.  You either believe in the Constitution or you don’t.  You’re one of Us or you’re something other.  In the end their tactics are the same as the conspiracy theorist, except that for some reason people take them seriously.

The last part of that statement is what could do the most damage.  Conspiracy theorists never have the best interest of anybody but themselves at heart, despite their admonitions to the contrary.  Those who claim 9/11 was an inside job do not do so to inform the public, but to wield the power of knowledge over the rest.

In the same way, the Tea Party and local groups such as the Northern Illinois Patriots attempt to wield knowledge over the rest of us.  They know something the rest of us don’t and intend to use that to gain their own political advantage.

You may think I’m being extraordinarily harsh, especially for someone who claims to be apathetic about this whole political ordeal.  The fact of the matter is that I find the basic tenets of the NIP and Tea Party to be wholly offensive to Americans.

The world is not black and white, good and evil, etc.  There is no “us” and “them”.  You are not Tea Party or “other”.  To cast the world, and America, in such a light is to stand against everything the Founding Fathers would have wanted.  It is an affront to America and an affront to our Constitution.

Perhaps most of all, though, it is the ultimate irony that those who claim to best understand and want to most faithfully uphold that document are the ones who are the most ignorant the spirit in which it was drafted.

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