It turns out that by branding themselves as members of a party that has returned to its mainstream, center-right roots after successfully stamping out a Tea Party rebellion, even “establishment” Republican candidates are able to hold all sorts of extreme views without any consequences.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that a party that regularly endorses candidates who deny climate science and denounce evolution has moved the political center so far to the right that even candidates with radical views can still be treated as moderates. These days, Republicans win kudos simply for stating that they don’t want to ban birth control or destroy the economy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.
This dynamic has allowed any number of conspiracy theories to flourish in the GOP. Here are five conspiracy theories that newly elected members of the United States Congress will be bringing with them to Washington next year:
1) Agenda 21 is Coming!
Agenda 21, a two-decade-old non-binding treaty on sustainable development methods, recently emerged as the latest source of right-wing anxiety.
Ted Cruz predicted that Agenda 21 will bring an end to paved roads and golf courses and Glenn Beck wrote a dystopian thriller about its dire consequences.
Senator-elect Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa, shares their fears. Last year, Ernst predicted that Agenda 21 agents may start “moving people off of their agricultural land and consolidating them into city centers and then telling them that you don’t have property rights anymore. These are all things that the UN is behind and it’s bad for the United States, bad for families here in the state of Iowa.”
She later warned that Agenda 21 will compel people to move into designated “urban centers” and “take away our individual liberties, our freedoms as United States citizens.”
2) Just Making Stuff Up About ISIS
Never mind the fact that there have been exactly zero official reports of ISIS members coming to the U.S. via the southern border, “closing the border” has emerged as a leading Republican talking point when describing how they plan to fight the terrorist group.
Tom Cotton, the Arkansas congressman who won his race for U.S. Senate yesterday, said during his campaign that his opponent and President Obama are “refusing to secure our border” and as a result, ISIS is now at the gates: “Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism. They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas.”
The conspiracy theory about ISIS infiltrating the U.S. through the border with Mexico first emerged on the conspiracy theory outlet WorldNetDaily and, as these things typically go, was then picked up by pundits on Fox News. Eventually, the fallacious claim became a great way for Republican candidates like David Perdue and Thom Tillis to attack their opponents on both foreign policy and immigration reform in one talking point.
3) Beware Blood Moons
While conservative politicians have denounced the science behind climate change as a big lie, some are very interested in the “science” behind “blood moons,” with more Religious Right activists arguing that lunar eclipses are actually signs of God’s impending judgment against America for policies such as abortion rights and LGBT equality.
Jody Hice, a Georgia Republican who just won a seat in the U.S. House, for example, told listeners on his talk radio show that the appearance of blood moons “have preceded world-changing, shaking-type events.”
“I certainly am aware of the fact that every time there have been blood moons like this, there have been major events that have followed,” he said.
Perhaps Congress should move to study blood moons rather than climate change!
4) Gay Recruitment in the Classroom
Are sex-ed classes just a secret plot to turn kids gay? Yes, according to Wisconsin state senator and soon-to-be U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, who once warned that some school classes are the result of an “agenda which is left unsaid is that some of those who throw it out as an option would like it if more kids became homosexuals.”
Grothman instead proposed that schools enact their own “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies, lest growing support for gay rights in the U.S. lead to divine punishment.
Hice, as it happens, shares Grothman concerns about gay recruitment, once citing a satirical 1987 essay to claim that gay people want to “sodomize your sons” and “seduce them in your schools.”
5) Identity of the Antichrist Revealed!
At least one Republican candidate knows the true identity of the Antichrist, and it’s Hillary Clinton.
Ryan Zinke, the successful Montana GOP U.S. House candidate who helped launch the Super PAC Special Operations for America, told a Republican group that Clinton is Satan’s bride, and he knows this to be so because he speaks the truth:
“It’s time to stop the lies. Let’s talk about the truth,” Zinke said. “Who trusts the U.S. government?” he asked rhetorically. “No one in this room. I’ve served in 25 nations. I’ve seen where people don’t trust their government. We’re there. In the military, the last option is to send in the SEALs.”
Zinke said he wants to restore truth, grace, honor and decency, which he called “our moral compass. It’s always been Judeo-Christian,” he said. With the present administration, “It’s whatever you can get away with. I will never bow to pressure. I will do what’s right,” he said.
“We need to focus on the real enemy,” he said, referring to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he called the “anti-Christ.”
After getting called out for the remark, Zinke later said that the “anti-Christ” comment was a joke.
So there you have it, in an election where pundits raved about establishment Republicans “crushing” Tea Party insurgents, it seems that the GOP establishment has simply appropriated the Tea Party’s tarnished brand of paranoid politics and unmistakable extremism.