Case Study of the Psychology of Conspiracy Theorists?

  • First, a quote about progressives and conservatives, the future and the past;
  • Then more about the conspiracy thinking about the Baltimore bridge collapse, with examples from PolitiFact, CNN, and CFI (Center for Inquiry);
  • And how the construction workers who fell from the bridge were immigrants, whom many Americans demonize, yet like the ones who have built America.


Saw this quote on Facebook, and verified it (never trust any quote on Facebook) to the extent of finding it on one of those websites that collects quotes.

For progressive people the present is the beginning of the future. For conservative people the present is the end of the past.

Karl Mannheim

This is consistent with the MAGA crowd yearning to return to a (mythical) lost golden age, on the one hand, and on the other, that saying “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation” — long an epigraph on Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s Making Light blog — which it turns out (Google!) was said by Alasdair Gray, Scottish author of, among other things, Poor Things, basis for the recent film. Coincidence!

The current plan of the Republican party — see that Project 2025 plan — really is to undo all social progress since the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s. To return to the past.


This will burn out quickly so let me pursue this theme while it’s hot.

Surely there are entire academic studies — or at least a few specialists in the psychology of mass delusions, or that of conspiracy-mongers — for whom this is an ideal case study. Some tragic incident occurs, one perfectly explainable by ordinary terms (ship loses power, etc.), which a certain segment of the population jumps upon, asserting (they never have any evidence, indeed, as I’ve said, seem to have no notion that assertions require evidence) various conspiracy theories, generally involving and blaming people they don’t like. It’s partly about asserting that everything wrong with the world is because of those people they don’t like, and it’s partly that base human instinct to perceive cause and effect in everything, and make everything a story. (Again, been reading Harari, whose new book I’ll cover here in a day or two.) There has to be a *reason* that bad things happen, they think. They live in a demon-haunted world, to cite Carl Sagan’s title.

Politifact, 27 Mar 2024: Baltimore bridge collapse: A cyberattack, a movie and other false claims about the ship accident

As investigators tried to determine why a container ship crashed into Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, social media users shared baseless speculation about the cause. The collapse left six people presumed dead and closed one of the nation’s busiest ports.

Across social media platforms, people gave a variety of explanations for why the ship lost power and steered into the bridge.

Here are some of the claims PolitiFact has debunked so far:

I’ll bullet point them:

  • There’s no evidence of ‘false flags’ or a cyberattack
  • No, Wikipedia entry doesn’t prove Israel directed the bridge collapse
  • Andrea Chao, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.’s late sister-in-law, wasn’t CEO of the company that owned the ship
  • Video doesn’t show explosions on the Baltimore bridge. It’s from a 2022 Crimea explosion
  • Buttigieg didn’t blame the bridge collapse on racism
  • Netflix film didn’t predict Baltimore bridge accident
  • Captain of Dali ship wasn’t a Ukrainian national

I saw that Netflix film, Leave the World Behind, in which there is in fact a dramatic scene in which a huge cargo ship approaches and runs up on a beach, sending beach-goers scattering. But it didn’t hit a bridge. (There’s an almost more astonishing scene later in the movie in which a whole bunch of white Teslas drive along the same highway and, one after another, smash into each other. Did the producers really buy three dozen white Teslas and smash them up, or was it special effects?)


CNN, 28 Mar 2024: How the Baltimore bridge collapse spawned a torrent of instant conspiracy theories

Even before most Americans woke up Tuesday morning to news of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, wild conspiracy theories about what supposedly had “really” happened were running rampant online.

The claims ranged from a cyber-attack or a ship captain impaired by side effects from Covid-19 vaccines being responsible for the crash – to claims that Israel, or even the Obamas had something to do with the bridge’s collapse.

All of these claims are entirely baseless. Officials investigating the crash said early on that there was no indication it was a deliberate act.


CFI, Center for Inquiry, Benjamin Radford, 28 Mar 2024: Baltimore Bridge Collapse Spawns Conspiracies

With a thread about why there were “so many camera angles” on the bridge as this happened, suggesting an organized attack. (The answer: *everybody* has cameras on their phones these days, and security cameras are everywhere, especially watching places like that bridge…)


And this.

Washington Post, Petula Dvorak, 28 Mar 2024: The men who fell from that bridge are the people who build our nation, subtitled “You can’t pray for the workers in Baltimore and also be against their dream to come to America”

The conservatives who demonize immigrants claim, among other things, that they are taking jobs away from Americans. The truth more seems to be that immigrants are taking jobs that Americans don’t want to accept. As they have always done, and did the dangerous work that built America’s infrastructure. And they expand the economy by being here.

Does America need a more searing visual image than eight men working for their piece of the America dream — filling potholes on a terrifying bridge in 1 a.m. darkness — to understand that our nation was built by immigrants, runs on immigrant labor and needs immigrants?

Six of those men, migrants from Mexico and Central America, pierced our consciousness this week because they plunged into the Patapsco River when a Singapore-flagged cargo ship razed Baltimore’s mighty Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Many examples.

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