Rochester political scientist Scott Tyson studies how conspiracies and radicalization entered the American mainstream and what to do about it.
If your idea of conspiracy theories involved aliens, UFOs, government cover-ups at Roswell Air Force Base, and the melody of X files– you weren’t alone. This was, indeed, the classic notion, says Scott tyson, assistant professor of political science at the University of Rochester.
But in the past five years he has noticed a turning point. For starters, the term “theory” no longer applies to the convoluted ideas put forth by today’s conspiratorial groups such as QAnon, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, all of which Tyson largely calls “no theory”. .
For example, Tyson, a game theorist whose research focuses on authoritarian politics, conspiracies and radicalization, points out that those who mistakenly believe that “former President Donald Trump’s victory was stolen,” generally do not believe. not that the votes cast on that same ballot for Republican candidates elected to Congress were tampered with.
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Scott Tyson and co-author Todd Lehmann argue radicalization has become more common and offer ideas on what to do about it in Political violence at a glance.
“There is no elaborate theory behind the claim that the last election was rigged. It’s just a bunch of statements that don’t really fit into a cohesive story, ”says Tyson.
Instead, he prefers the term “conspiracy” to describe what he sees as the current stream of disinformation.
According to Tyson, it is this growing belief in conspiratorial narratives that has led to the further radicalization of average Americans.
“For people to commit acts of violence, you have to make it sound like there’s a bigger cause,” Tyson explains. You have to convince people that the political opposition is “in cahoots with a mad cabal, and that the main cause is to overthrow this cabal,” which justifies extreme actions, including violence and crime. to the law.
In a recent study, “Sowing the seeds: radicalization as a political tool” published in the American Journal of Political Science, Tyson, with University of Michigan co-author Todd lehmann—Examine two common policy interventions — economic and psychological — designed to counter the growing radicalization among the American population. The duo find that improving economic conditions reduce both radicalization efforts and dissent. However, the duo also find that trying to make people psychologically less susceptible to radicalization can backfire and increase the efforts of radical leaders to influence and radicalize more followers.
While sweeping claims of a “deep state” and “stolen elections” have long boiled quietly under public discourse, Tyson says over the past five years, ideas have entered mainstream discourse. This shift – from the sidelines to the center stage – according to Tyson, happened during the Trump presidency.
The storming of the United States Capitol on January 6, according to Tyson, was prompted by such conspiratorial disinformation, as hundreds of American citizens attacked the seat of American democracy in order to overthrow what they had. been led to mistakenly believe it to be an “undemocratic election” – despite an overwhelming majority. proof to the contrary.
What is the rough definition of “radicalization”?
“Radicalization” is used interchangeably with “indoctrination”. Essentially, it creates a personal motivation in people to do certain things. You would label someone radicalized when those things that you would normally motivate someone to do – you don’t have to do anymore because they have become motivated. This is where the conspiracy comes in: it restructures the way people view the social world around them. Radicalization involves an element of extremism and is fundamentally political thinking with an ecosystem: there has to be a political group, or set of political leaders who are trying to restructure people’s beliefs or values in a way that helps their own goals. or political causes.
How to fight radicalization?
The way to fight it is not to hope for the easy way out. It’s a misconception that we can just take the leaders out and it’ll all go away, like we’re just chopping off the serpent’s head. It doesn’t actually work. You have to go from the bottom up to start trying to siphon off radicalized people and treat the organization more like a terrorist group, in terms of politics of heart and mind.
Does leadership “beheading” work against a radical group like QAnon?
In our research, we looked at what happens when you threaten to behead leaders and found that you are actually making leaders step up their efforts to radicalize others. The reason is very simple: if we think of radicalized people as having the personal motivation to do things against the government – be it protests, attacks or bombings – if more people radicalize, the actual rulers are less important. in this kind of anti-government action. Our theory suggests that the rulers are less important in the actual production of anti-government action, so the government is essentially forced to divert the attention of the rulers to these other threats. Leaders intentionally remove themselves from their own control.
Why have conspiracies been able to enter the American mainstream so pervasively?
Trump played an extremely important role in giving a megaphone to conspiracyists who were previously on the fringes until he became a political force and essentially militarized many of these ideas. When Trump unleashed all these conspiracies in the public, a lot of people didn’t realize that they were really fringe ideas. Another reason they were able to spread so quickly is our so-called “media ecosystem”. We have media outlets like Fox News, OAN, and Newsmax who are perfectly prepared to start conspiracies. When it all started in 2015, the mainstream media weren’t ready for this kind of militarization. This is why the conspirators were able to abuse the mainstream media to essentially whitewash their claims: The conspirators would make a bunch of unsubstantiated claims and accusations, which the mainstream media in turn would take up for reporting. Part of the debunking, however, was telling the wrong story. In this way, many of these conspiracy stories ended up reaching a much larger audience.
What role has the pandemic played in the spread of conspiracies and the radicalization of American citizens? Would this have happened without the pandemic?
QAnon existed before the pandemic and radicalization campaigns by far-right groups were already underway before. But it certainly accelerated those efforts and made them more effective. Due to the pandemic, people were more isolated, meaning they spoke to fewer people, and the echo chamber became narrower. This, in turn, made people more likely to radicalize. It is very similar to how cults recruit people: they isolate them from their family and friends who are not involved in the cult. They keep new recruits in this echo chamber long enough until they can radicalize them. The number of QAnon members and people radicalized through other far-right groups would be much, much lower today if the pandemic had not forced us all to isolate ourselves as it has.
Category: Society & Culture