America’s dangerous descent into paranoia and distrust of institutions


Amit Deshpande and Jordan Katz

In Nov. 2020, Marjorie Taylor Greene was elected to the United States House of Representatives to serve for Georgia’s 14th congressional district. While she was not a significant name then, she caught the attention of then-President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during her campaign.

Now, she is primarily known for her association with the far-right conspiracy theorist group QAnon and other conspiracy theorist groups. Predominant beliefs that she has, among many others, include a theory that the government has used false-flag shootings in order to drive support for gun control and that Democratic families such as the Clintons have killed political enemies.

Notoriously, she confronted Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg in a viral video in which she followed him and accused him of using children to attack the Second Amendment before claiming that he was being funded by George Soros and left-leaning groups.

Groups such as QAnon don’t have a specific date when they came into existence, but the infamous Pizzagate conspiracy theory in 2016 was one of the earliest far-right large-scale conspiracies. 

“Conspiracies are for weak-minded people,” history teacher Jonathon Stack said. “They are emotionally vulnerable and are being taken advantage of. People have a growing sense of loneliness and the social media sites devoted to these conspiracies give them a sense of value and belonging.”

While these absurd notions would seemingly be thrown away, a growing portion of the population is drifting further to the right. The amount of extremist conspiracies that have come to prevalence in recent years proves one thing with certainty: United States politics is broken.

Far-right politics has always existed in the United States, but unlike what most people may think, moderate conservatism is not necessarily a gateway to extremism. To understand its increasing popularity, one must first recognize the fundamental differences in moderate conservatism—which includes the general policies and ideals of a more neoconservative Republican party—and Trump-era populism. While conservatism prior to Trump primarily focused on conservative morals and ideals, the Trump-era populism that aids many strains of far-right politics is inherently based on anti-establishment and anti-institution sentiment. 

This largely became the focus of the Republican Party because former President Obama’s neoliberal policies, along with his corporatist Democratic allies in Congress, were the perfect targets to score political points against. Former President Trump’s campaign attacked unpopular yet powerful figures in Congress like Nancy Pelosi and used them to rally people against the establishment. 

As former President Trump’s time in office progressed, these sentiments continued to grow stronger. They culminated in a multi-month campaign saying that there was no way that Trump could lose the 2020 election and that any result except for Trump winning was fraudulent. By the end of his term, a mob of hundreds of far-right extremists armed with a few explosives and makeshift weapons stormed the United States Capitol to stop the certification of the election.

“I initially thought it was a dumb cult that nobody took seriously,” senior Jesse Artz said. “After the Capitol riot, I think they’re too militant to not be considered a threat.”

Ultimately, his administration left behind a cult that even abandoned its own leader in pursuit of unassailable validation of its anger. They seek to justify their outlandish conspiracy theories to handle cognitive dissonance.

“QAnon is a threat to the United States because they use misinformation to inspire people to commit acts of terrorism,” senior Ezri Abraham said.

Misplaced institutional distrust has had and will continue to have dire consequences on society as a whole. Right now, there are too many groups of people that are fearful of the COVID-19 vaccine due to misinformation that has been spread across social media. 

This paranoia is no longer a political issue; it directly results in the virus spreading faster and causing more deaths. While institutional distrust is valid in many situations, the solution should be to build more transparent institutions instead of burning them all to the ground. One example of peaceful populist takeovers of historically elite-serving institutions is the inflation of various unrelated stocks by Reddit users in January. While its consequences may not have been ideal for everyone, they created a powerful precedent of uplifting the average American above the upper class, all while avoiding destructive rhetoric and violence. 

It’s important for Americans to engage in productive changes rather than cyclical violence, to direct their anger towards the right causes. If ridiculous conspiracy theories can be thrown away for good, then the country will truly be able to start its path to healing.


Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan / Creative Commons / via Wikimedia Commons