Birds, QAnon and the quicksand of conspiracy

Rather than sweating the specifics of nutty fantasies, ask: Why are they being concocted?

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) shouts at journalists as she goes through security outside the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. on Jan. 12, 2021.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) shouts at journalists earlier this month as she goes through security outside the House chamber in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Metal detectors were added outside the House chamber after a mob attacked the Capitol Jan. 6. Greene and some other GOP members objected to the additional security.


The common murre is a big seabird found, among other places, on an island off the coast of Sweden. The New York Times ran an article about these murres Tuesday. I read it, even though I have no particular interest in either seabirds or Sweden.

I’m glad I did. The article explains how biologists are eagerly exploiting the pandemic shutdown of global travel to see what effect the departure of humans has on ecosystems such as the murre colony at the Stora Karlsö nature preserve.

The general perception when it comes to the natural world is humans = bad. But here “the sudden absence of tourists at Stora Karlsö during the pandemic set off a surprising chain reaction that wreaked havoc on the island’s colony of common murres, diminishing its population of newborn birds.”

Opinion bug


Oh no! What happened?

The murres aren’t the only birds in the area. There are also white-tailed eagles. Researchers discovered that the eagles don’t like people — and who can blame them?— so they stay away when tourists tramp about. But with people gone, the eagles are emboldened, and their presence, swooping around, throws the ungainly seabirds off their egg rearing.

I love that. Because it supports my belief that the world is complicated, interconnected and counterintuitive. Though if scientists found the opposite — with people gone, the murres are having a jubilee — I’d accept that, too. Because I’m an adjust-my-outlook-to-the-facts kind of guy.

The world doesn’t always tickle your biases. That seems, to me, a given. Not everyone got the memo, though. Many swap this enormous, beautiful clockwork of endless complexity for a little ball and cup contrivance of their own dry imagining. Because its plop-plop makes them feel better about themselves.

On Wednesday, a video surfaced of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-QAnon) harassing Parkland massacre survivor David Hogg.

“Why do you use kids?” she yells. “Why kids?”

Meaning, why do your handlers enlist young people in their vast, anti-gun conspiracy? She isn’t speaking to Hogg as a teenage survivor of a gun massacre — on Valentine’s Day 2018, a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and murdered 17 students — but as an actor in the “false flag” event that slaughters like Parkland, or Sandy Hook, must be, to her and others.

How can anyone believe this? That’s easy. Mass killings are used as an argument for sane gun policy, and guns hold such a central place in the broken psyches of some that such events become unacceptable threats, and must be hallucinated away. No massacres, no gun control. Easy as pie.

These conspiracy theories return again and again, and an epic failure of the media is how easily we fall into the quicksand bog of the details and thrash around, rather than pull back and take the long view. We just saw this with the election. All Trump’s claims of voter fraud were lies. The truth is: He lost. Yet each claim got picked over as if it might be valid.

There is something in humanity — a basic respect, I guess — that makes us give credence to others, no matter how delusional. When we hear these theories, we need not sift the pathetic shoebox of evidence, but ask: Why do they need to believe this? People deny the Holocaust, not because it isn’t the best-documented crime of all time — those Germans, sticklers for record-keeping — but because they’re anti-Semites and it makes them squirm to see precisely where anti-Semitism leads, to emaciated bodies being bulldozed into an open pit. Easier to pretend it didn’t happen. 

I would feel stupid even explaining the QAnon worldview, a gibberish about pedophiles and cannibalism. That’s why they pick it, because it’s rococo and complicated and funny, to them, funny to see ordinary folks embrace the idiocy they coined. It would be funny, too. If you didn’t have Alex Jones demonizing the parents of murdered children. Or this dimwit Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Hmmm. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. That can’t be a coincidence, right? Could she be the supposed “second shooter” who was never caught, because it would have been impossible for one gunman to ...

See how this happens? The opening bit about the birds is true. But the plain truth doesn’t flatter enough folks, so they cobble together what strikes them as something better.

Don’t get lost in specifics. Ask: Why do they embrace this nonsense?

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