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Parsing the tinfoil hat meme

If an idea is posited that resides at the darkest, most improbable edge of the envelope, it is often characterized using the tinfoil hat (TFH) meme, a shorthand way of referring to those who travel the byways of paranoia, delusions or conspiracies. The geography of TFH-dom is littered with bizarre theories of contemporary events, many surrounded by the dark web scaffolding of the bizarre, while rejecting scientific/evidentiary truths no matter their grounding.

An example of the TFH construct would be the unshakable convictions that the Kennedy assassination and 9/11 were “inside” jobs. Ditto the malignant insistence that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary was a “hoax” and those killed or injured were actors. Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Caravans from Central America are “infested” with MS 13-narco-human traffickers, preparing to invade our southern border.

And then there’s the most recent example of TFH-conspiracy theorizing, delivered by Donald Trump last week during an impromptu press gaggle just before boarding Marine One. When asked about the imminent release of the Mueller report, he launched into a levitating riff, one that denigrated a broad spectrum of investigators.

“There was an attempted coup,” Trump said. “This was an attempted take down of a president, and we beat them. The probe was started illegally and everything about it was crooked. There were many dirty cops; these were bad people ... . So the Mueller report, talk about obstruction, we fight back. And you know why we fight back? Because I knew how illegal this whole thing was. It was a scam.”

Trump added that he was most interested in Attorney General William Barr reviewing the conduct of the FBI’s probe during the summer of 2016. He suggested returning to “the origins of exactly where this all started because this was an illegal witch hunt and everybody knew it and they knew it too and they got caught.”

While the helicopter idled in the background, he said, “What they did was treason, what they did was terrible, what they did was against the Constitution.”

Words matter. Pause for a moment and consider his use of the word “treason” and then ponder the size of the coordinated “deep state” conspiracy required to perpetrate this imagined witch hunt.

Later, that same day Barr, testifying before Congress, echoed Trump’s delusion. “Spying” did occur, he said, and was carried out against the Trump campaign. Initially, Barr did not define what he meant by “spying,” though he did reframe it as “unauthorized surveillance” carried out, it’s assumed, by Mueller. Barr went on to say that he was in the process of forming a team to investigate the “origins” of the early days of the Russian investigation.

Key to the Barr testimony was his use of the word “spying,” a deliberate word choice by a man who has spent his life choosing his words carefully. “Spying did occur. Yes I think spying did occur,” he said, asking if it had been adequately “predicated.” In other words, was it legally justified? “I do have questions about it,” he said.

For Trump and his cohorts, this was gasoline on a conspiratorial fire, reinforcing their “deep state” belief that there is a nefarious government inside the government (“they” and “them”).

When Barr was asked in the hearing if he thought the Mueller probe had been a witch hunt, he paused, then said, “It depends on where you are sitting. If you’re falsely accused of something, you would tend to view the investigation as a witch hunt.”

During the two year investigation did Mueller ever “falsely accuse” Trump et al. of anything? Or did we hear from his team only the sound of silence? Were the Russians accused and indicted as a result of their sustained interference in our democracy? Indeed.

To now investigate the investigators is judicial malfeasance and calls for TFHs all around. Better to robustly protect the 2020 election against all trolls.

Chris Honoré is a Daily Tidings columnist.

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