This website places at your disposal a free ebook entitled The Authoritarians. I wrote this book in 2006 when a great deal seemed to be going wrong in America, and I thought the research on authoritarian personalities could explain a lot of it. (The book is set in that era, but you will have no trouble finding present-day examples of what the experiments found back then.)

Since then, I have written articles updating matters according to events of the time.  The latest begins below, while others can be found in the right side-bar “Previous Observations”.

Understanding Anti-Vaxers

Bob Altemeyer, February, 2023

Do you believe in Santa Claus? Probably not. But suppose you were surrounded by people who did. Suppose in fact that you chose to surround yourself with Santa Believers, soaked up all their beliefs, and studiously ignored the overwhelming evidence that Santa Claus is just a myth. Wouldn’t your chances of becoming a “Santa-istjump way up?

Cognitive psychologists call selective exposure to what you want to believe “confirmation bias,” and Google will lead you to a ton of evidence that it affects people’s thinking. Most of us favor information that shows our beliefs are right and we avoid sources that scurrilously say we are wrong. Theists and atheists, Yankee fans and Red Sox fans, left-wingers and right-wingers. And confirmation bias positively pulses through the veins of “true believers.” Intensely believing in something can make your thinking one-part Correct and nine-parts Biased. This wallpapering of the world with distortion can then lead to yet stronger beliefs, and an idealogue can grow a gnarly, warped view of reality this way. It has probably always been thus, but today it seems this whipsaw back-and-forth combining of confirmation bias and strong believing is leading many people to embrace conspiracy theories that are eroding the foundations of democracy. ­­(See Endnote 1[i])

“Pizzagate” and QAnon

Take QAnon, for example. Its roots go back to a 2016 claim that officials of the Democratic Party were running a Satanic, human trafficking, child abuse operation in the Comet Ping Pong Pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. The evidence? Someone claimed the emails of a Hilary Clinton campaign official contained coded messages to this effect. But anyone can say anything contains coded messages, from winks and blinks to Winnie the Pooh and the Bible. In this case it looks like a couple of guys got drunk and Twittered out the wildest political accusation they could dream up in an election year. However, various anti-Clinton blogs and news sites repeated the charge, and “Pizzagate” was born. No one, from hungry investigative journalists to the D.C. police, found any evidence backing up the story. But many people believed it, right from the start, raising the question, “What wouldn’t they have trusted if it damaged Hillary Clinton?” When you believe something that has no evidence supporting it because you like it, that’s confirmation bias in 24pt print.

QAnon appeared a year later with anonymous postings on an obscure Internet message board by someone who claimed to have a Q clearance for secrets in the American government. This is the highest security clearance in the U.S. Department of Energy, equivalent to a “Top Secret” clearance in the Department of Defense. About 80,000 people had Q clearance in 2017 and nearly ten times that many had a Top Secret clearance.

“Q” claimed the Trump administration was fighting a cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles composed of high-ranking Democrats, government officials, Hollywood insiders, and financiers—many of them Jews—who ran a world-wide child-trafficking scheme.  Almost no one knows about them, Q said, because they are so powerful. They form an entrenched Deep State in the U.S. government that is fighting President Trump on all fronts. But Trump is going to arrest the lot and execute their leaders soon on the day of “The Storm.”  

There was every bit as much evidence supporting this conspiracy theory as there was in Pizzagate. Which is to say, as much pineapple as there is on a Hawaiian-pizza-hold-the- pineapple. Questions immediately come to mind. How would someone know about this simply from having a high secret clearance in the Department of Energy? That department looks after nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, so Q might have credible insight into, say, the arms race. But how was “he” party to the president’s plans for dealing with this life-and-death struggle pervading the government? Did any of the other 80,000 “Q’s” also know? Any of the hundreds of thousands of “Top Secrets”? Did this anonymous entity even exist? [1]

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