I really enjoy the mountains and taking a train to get there, so I recently looked at the Amtrak train that runs from Washington to Vermont. A plan for this train line would extend service up to Montreal, supplementing Amtrak’s Montreal train. Even if that change never or rarely benefits me, expanded rail helps alleviate road congestion, reduce travel dangers, reduce pollution and emissions, and provide affordable service especially to those without cars or in under-served rural areas. It all sounds good until I realize a train running from our capital to Canada can only mean that America is in fact preparing to join the North American Union. Most people have never heard of the North American Union, and that’s for good reason too. To the unsuspecting person, the North American Union may sound like something normal when casually worked into conversation or debate, but it’s anything but because it’s really a fringe conspiracy theory. The scary thing is how these ideas creep into more mainstream rhetoric without anyone calling the ideas out as fringe.
Radio show host Alex Jones pushes the majority of the crazy conspiracy theories. He thinks Mexico, America, and Canada will form a North American Union, which serves as a precursor for the New World Order, as controlled by the global elitist international bankers and so on and so forth. Most people see these ideas as baseless nonsense when presented with the full arguments. When someone slips in a broad mention that alludes to the conspiracy theory and it goes unchallenged and/or it’s unclear what source the speaker uses, a conspiracy theory becomes part of mainstream rhetoric without most people realizing it.
Jones will claim that news about long distance freeway roads is evidence of a transnational superhighway that will put America one step closer to the North American Union, which is where I got the humorous idea that a train running from Washington to Canada must further be proof. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jones eventually make such a claim if the rail line ever extends to Canada. You could argue the number of valid reasons for the extension to Montreal, and Jones would ignore those points and go on about how a train could eventually run from Washington to Mexico to further prove his conspiracy theory. In this sort of context, with an ability to critically think and challenge, it’s obvious these theories stand on no evidence and fall apart quickly when exposed. Crazy leaps of logic, shoehorning, circular reasoning, and a number of other logical fallacies look like smoke-and-mirrors in this context, but these tactics and deceit may look a lot more convincing in other settings.
The Republican debates and corporate media talking heads provide the biggest platform for fringe ideas to work their way into the mainstream by slyly introducing the ideas and receiving no push back. Live coverage of the San Bernardino shootings on CNN had a former Navy SEAL already blaming gun-free zones as the event was still just unfolding. With almost no facts to work with yet, this commentator speculated and also happened to be wrong. Oh, and that actually happened during the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon, but nobody has time to remember such minor details, like what the victims, who died preventable deaths that will forever haunt their loved ones, were like and what their dreams were because gun violence happens so frequently.
The gun-free zones canard pops up quite often in mainstream media despite originally being contained to fringe right-wing online content. It sounds legitimate enough, and we usually see no real push back on those claims, the need to present both sides as equal, and filibustering of the segment’s time to prevent the other side from a proper rebuttal. A lot of people may follow the red herring, even though in this case for example, the theory has no basis in reality. A situation in which a bunch of civilians draw their own weapons makes matters more dangerous, and it makes it harder for law enforcement to determine who the bad guy is. Most mass shooters have personal connections to the places they target, and the majority of those shootings didn’t occur in gun-free zones. The argument’s already falling apart quickly, and that’s before getting into the roots of these fringe ideas.
The National Rifle Association pushes this claim and many others that have been refuted time and time again. The N.R.A.’s goal is to act as a trade organization for gun manufacturers, and like Big Tobacco, they use unscientific, nonfactual fringe ideas. Militia groups like the Gun Owners of America pull the N.R.A. further to the right when the rhetoric starts turning really extreme, paranoid, and violent. These far-right gun and white supremacist groups especially push these lies because they believe that their guns will save them from the government. They go beyond the silliness of thinking the Second Amendment will still protect the people against the government. They tend to not recognize the federal government, refuse to pay taxes, revise history. They oppose gun control fearing that the government will take their guns away, put the dissenters in FEMA concentration camps, and impose the New World Order while Obama declares Marshall and Sharia laws, or whatever the soup of the day is. A lot of these people believe the government stages false flag operations, in which they actually use crisis actors to fake events like Sandy Hook, and these theories of course all tie into Alex Jones. He’s the master Truther, especially when it comes to thinking Bush did 9/11. Now it’s a lot easier to see that a red herring like “gun-free zones” actually comes from some very fringe and wacky rhetoric and carries with it no evidence.
Even if bad information doesn’t lead to any bad policy changes, it still gives voice to the fringe. They have a chance to try and push their agendas that are filled with hate and extremism, whether it be anti-gay, anti-abortion, White Supremacy, Islamophobia, and so on. Some of the Republican presidential candidates this year attended events hosted by extreme groups, like the Family Research Council. Ted Cruz accepted the endorsement of Gun Owners of America, which has ties to white supremacist groups (much more thoughts on guns later following the president’s statements from earlier today). Trump just sent out a campaign email about how Phyllis Schlafly supports him. She runs the hate group, Eagle Forum, and pushes a number of far-right ideas and conspiracy theories, including the North American Union. Most people don’t even realize that politicians have ties to these groups.
Dog whistle politics can push fringe ideas right past the unsuspecting public, whether the coded words are something like racism or allusions to specific conspiracy theories. Campaign finance laws are already weak enough and get weaker each year, making it harder to figure out what powerful interests support which politicians. It’s silly to ignore how some politicians so openly embrace the fringe when the media could so easily point out these relationships and how faulty and extreme their arguments are. There are real consequences for these actions.