Sometimes the odd little news stories tell bigger stories, like this one:
Ticks are swarming, carrying myriad diseases such as Lyme and Rocky Mountain spotted fever and making people ill. And, as one congressman believes, these ticks came from secret Pentagon experiments to turn ticks into biological weapons.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) is so concerned about an alleged tick-bioweapon project that he led an effort to pass an amendment ordering the Defense Department to investigate it. Specifically, the amendment orders the department’s inspector general to determine whether government scientists experimented with bioweapons – specifically in ticks – and if those arachnids ended up making their way out of the labs and into the public between the 1950s and the 1970s…
Smith told the Washington Post he hopes the investigation will better inform what he called a “culture of denial” and that he wants more information about the disease to help those who are sick or may become sick.
And of course he wants the government to admit that Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever were weapons programs gone terribly wrong. He wants the government to end its conspiracy of silence and admit the truth – to help those who are sick or may become sick.
And he knows what is REALLY going on, or he doesn’t:
Smith cited a book, “Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons” by Kris Newby, to say government research weaponized ticks in Maryland and New York. The book includes interviews with Willy Burgdorfer, who is credited with discovering the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Smith calls Burgdorfer a biological weapon researcher. But Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at University of Minnesota, said “there’s just no credible evidence,” behind the stories about weaponizing ticks or Burgdorfer’s involvement with such a project.
Osterholm, who knew and worked with Burgdorfer, said the conspiracy theories surrounding the scientist have no basis in fact. The disease wasn’t even truly discovered and named until 1977, when two women in Old Lyme, Conn., reported symptoms of arthritis. Thus, the name of the disease emerged. It was Burgdorfer who was able to identify the bacteria that caused it.
Sam Telford, a professor of infectious diseases and global health at Tufts, who also knew and worked with Burgdorfer, points out a few problems here:
I teach a graduate course in biodefense. Biowarfare, the use of biological agents to cause harm, was once an interest of the U.S. military and that of many other countries. One of the most important characteristics of a biowarfare agent is its ability to quickly disable target soldiers. The bacteria that cause Lyme disease are not in this category…
Lyme disease does make some people very sick but many have just a flulike illness that their immune system fends off. Untreated cases may subsequently develop arthritis or neurological issues. The disease is rarely lethal. Lyme has a week-long incubation period – too slow for an effective bioweapon.
That’s one of the ten or twenty arguments Telford makes in this long and scientifically dense piece that also includes this:
Even though European physicians had described cases of Lyme disease in the first half of the 20th century, the cause had not been identified. There was no way the military could have manipulated it because they did not know what “it” was.
Yes, that is a problem, and then Telford drops this:
That Burgdorfer alluded to biowarfare or biodefense programs in interviews toward the end of his life should not be construed as an admission of participation in top-secret work. I met Burgdorfer several times and was struck by his wry sense of humor. It’s my guess that his hints, that there was a bigger story to what he did for the military, were a prankster’s way to toy with the interviewer.
And that’s what makes this story interesting, or emblematic – this elaborate conspiracy theory was based on a sly joke, to see what that fool of an interviewer would believe. That fool of an interviewer bought the whole thing, and then that hopeless rube wrote a book. And if it’s in an actual book it must be true. Someone, or many people, told that congressman about that book. He bought the whole thing too.
But this need not have happened. Burgdorfer should have known better. Don’t make jokes about anything. Irony is impossible now. No one “gets” irony. Few even understand the concept now.
And one thing leads to another, as Charlie Warzel notes here:
Even on an internet bursting at the seams with conspiracy theories and hyperpartisanship, Saturday marked a new chapter in our post-truth, “choose your own reality” crisis story.
It began early Saturday morning, when news broke that the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein had apparently hanged himself in a Manhattan jail. Mr. Epstein’s death, coming just one day after court documents from one of his alleged victims were unsealed, sparked immediate suspicion from journalists, politicians and the usual online fringes.
Within minutes, Trump appointees, Fox Business hosts and Twitter pundits revived a decades-old conspiracy theory, linking the Clinton family to supposedly suspicious deaths. So #ClintonBodyCount and #ClintonCrimeFamily trended on Twitter. Around the same time, an opposite hashtag – #TrumpBodyCount – emerged, focused on President Trump’s decades-old ties to Mr. Epstein. Each hashtag was accompanied by GIFs and memes picturing Mr. Epstein with the Clintons or with Mr. Trump to serve as a viral accusation of foul play.
But this had to happen:
Mr. Epstein’s apparent suicide is, in many ways, the post-truth nightmare scenario. The sordid story contains almost all the hallmarks of stereotypical conspiratorial fodder: child sex-trafficking, powerful global political leaders, shadowy private jet flights, billionaires whose wealth cannot be explained. As a tale of corruption, it is so deeply intertwined with our current cultural and political rot that it feels, at times, almost too on-the-nose. The Epstein saga provides ammunition for everyone, leading one researcher to refer to Saturday’s news as the “Disinformation World Cup.”
And that World Cup game was played on one field in particular:
At the heart of Saturday’s fiasco is Twitter, which has come to largely program the political conversation and much of the press. Twitter is magnetic during massive breaking stories; news junkies flock to it for up-to-the-second information. But early on, there’s often a vast discrepancy between the attention that is directed at the platform and the available information about the developing story. That gap is filled by speculation and, via its worst users, rumor-mongering and conspiracy theories. On Saturday, Twitter’s trending algorithms hoovered up the worst of this detritus, curating, ranking and then placing it in the trending module on the right side of its website…
There’s a decent chance that President Trump was using Twitter’s trending module when he retweeted a conspiratorial tweet tying the Clintons to Epstein’s death.
And of course that conspiratorial tweet was a retweet of a stand-up comic making jokes about the Clintons killing their enemies and Hillary Clinton murdering Vince Foster and all the rest – the child sex-slave ring Hillary ran out of a pizza shop in an obscure corner of Virginia with John Podesta. All the irony disappeared. Trump may have been kidding around. But the faithful said that since the president himself had formally charged Hillary and Bill Clinton with the murder of Jeffrey Epstein then that was good enough for them. It was true.
So cue the outrage:
CNN reporter Jake Tapper blasted President Donald Trump on Sunday after the President retweeted a baseless conspiracy theory about accused child molester Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide.
Tapper kicked off his morning program, “State of the Union,” with a contemptuous speech on Trump’s penchant for boosting conspiracy theories, including his retweet on Saturday night that linked Epstein’s death to Bill Clinton.
“We begin this morning with a retweet from the President of the United States,” Tapper said. “Not a message about healing or uniting the country, one week after two horrifying massacres, not about the victims of those tragedies.”
“Instead, President Trump, using his massive Twitter platform, 63 million followers, to spread a deranged conspiracy theory tying the death of pedophile Jeffrey Epstein in prison to the President’s former political rivals, the Clintons,” he continued.
Tapper was on a roll:
After listing off various other unfounded conspiracy theories Trump has floated in the past, including birtherism and billionaire George Soros funding an immigrant invasion at the border, Tapper hit Trump for misusing his powerful influence as the country’s leader.
“President Trump could use his megaphone for anything,” the reporter said. “But the President often uses it to amplify that which is the worst of us: personal attacks, bigotry, and insane conspiracy theories.”
Tapper wrapped it up with one final declaration: “This is no longer just irresponsibility and indecent. It is dangerous.”
But there was a defense of all this:
Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Sunday defended President Donald Trump retweeting an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory tying billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s death to Bill Clinton.
When interim “Fox News Sunday” host Bill Hemmer asked Conway about Trump’s retweet, the White House aide claimed Trump was just looking for answers.
“I think the President just wants everything to be investigated as your reporter just revealed just the day before,” Conway said. “There was some unsealed information implicating some people very high up.”
Trump didn’t say anything like that but Conway said that’s what he really meant all along, as everyone knows, and then she added this:
Without naming Clinton directly, Conway suggested there was a “public interest” in knowing more about people who were seen “flying around with this monster on his island.”
She said the matter was “not for me to go further than the FBI and DOJ are right now.”
“But you do hear different people asking questions and they want to know who else was involved in Epstein’s crimes, or even just activities, and I guess that will be revealed in time,” she added.
And THEN Bill and Hillary will be charged with murder? She seemed to be hinting that this was possible.
David Frum is not impressed:
President Donald Trump accused his predecessor Bill Clinton – or possibly his 2016 campaign opponent, the former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – of complicity in the death of the accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
Many seem to have responded with a startled shrug. What do you expect? It’s just Trump letting off steam on Twitter.
But that in itself is a problem:
Reactions to actions by Trump are always filtered through the prism of the ever more widely accepted view – within his administration, within Congress, within the United States, and around the world – that the 45th president is a reckless buffoon; a conspiratorial, racist moron, whose weird comments should be disregarded by sensible people.
By now, Trump’s party in Congress, the members of his Cabinet and even his White House entourage all tacitly agree that Trump’s occupancy of the office held by Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and Eisenhower must be a bizarre cosmic joke, not to be taken seriously. CNN’s Jake Tapper on August 2 quoted a “senior national security official” as saying: “Everyone at this point ignores what the president says and just does their job. The American people should take some measure of confidence in that.”
So he’s a conspiratorial racist moron in all these tweets, but everyone who is anyone simply ignores them, so don’t worry.
Cosmic joke or no cosmic joke, Donald Trump is the president of the United States. You may not like it. I don’t like it. Mike Pompeo doesn’t like it. Mitch McConnell doesn’t like it. Kevin McCarthy doesn’t like it. But it’s still a fact, and each succeeding outrage makes it no less a fact. Grinning and flashing a thumbs-up over an orphaned baby? Yes, still president. Tweeting that a third-tier dictator has threatened him with more missile tests unless he halts military exercises with a U.S. ally- and that he has surrendered to that blackmail? Shamefully, still president. Accusing a former U.S. president of murder? It’s incredible, it’s appalling, it’s humiliating… but, yes, he is the president all the same.
Trump’s circle probably expects the world to sputter for a while and then be distracted by some new despicable statement or act. That is how it has gone for nearly three years, and that is how it is likely still to go. Trump is steering the U.S. and the world into a trade war, and perhaps a financial crisis and recession along with it. He is wrecking the structure of U.S. alliances in Asia, and his rhetoric is inciting shooting rampages against minorities. Compared with that, mere slurs and insults perhaps weigh lighter in the crushing Dumpster-load of Trump’s output of unfitness for the office he holds.
Maybe the conspiratorial racist tweets don’t matter all that much, but Kellyanne Conway still has to defend Trump’s tweets. But that’s tricky, as the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker report here:
President Trump considers himself a branding wizard, but he is vexed by a branding crisis of his own: how to shed the label of “racist.”
As the campaign takes shape about 15 months before voters render a verdict on his presidency, Trump’s Democratic challengers are marking him a racist, and a few have gone so far as to designate him a white supremacist.
And he can’t seem to get out of his own way on this:
Throughout his career as a real estate magnate, a celebrity provocateur and a politician, Trump has recoiled from being called the r-word, even though some of his actions and words have been plainly racist.
Following a month in which he used racist remarks to attack four congresswomen of color, maligned a majority-black Baltimore district as a “rat and rodent infested mess” and saw his anti-immigrant rhetoric parroted in a statement that authorities believe was written by a mass shooter, the risk for Trump is that the pejorative that has long dogged him becomes defining.
Yes, when mass murderers quote your tweets you’re in trouble. And this man hates being in trouble. So he tweets even more:
Being called a racist has led Trump in recent days to lash out – in tweets and in public comments – behavior his advisers and allies explain as the natural reaction of anyone who does not consider himself a racist but is accused of being one.
“For them to throw out the race word again – racist, racist, racist,” Trump told reporters Friday as he departed the White House for a week-long vacation at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They call anybody a racist when they run out of cards.”
And of course the problem cannot be him:
The president views the chacterization largely through the lens of politics, said one close adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations, explaining that Trump feels the charges of racism are just another attempt to discredit him – not unlike, he believes, the more than a dozen women who have accused him of sexual misconduct or the investigation into Russian election interference.
It may be more than that, but the Democrats seem to know that they had better be careful here:
Democrats have engaged in semantic maneuvering over just how racist they say the president is. While former congressman Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said without hesitation that the president is a white supremacist, former vice president Joe Biden stopped short.
“Why are you so hooked on that?” Biden asked reporters last week in Iowa. “You just want me to say the words so I sound like everybody else. I’m not everybody else. I’m Joe Biden… He is encouraging white supremacists. You can determine what that means.”
He won’t use that word, for good reason:
At last month’s presidential debate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said, “There are people that voted for Donald Trump before that aren’t racist; they just wanted a better shake in the economy.”
Yet she, too, felt the need to rebuke Trump. “I don’t think anyone can justify what this president is doing,” Klobuchar concluded.
So don’t use that word, but there is the man’s history:
Trump recently called himself “the least racist person anywhere in the world,” but his history is littered with racist and racially charged comments and actions.
In 1989, Trump purchased newspaper advertisements demanding the reinstatement of the death penalty after the arrests of the “Central Park Five,” black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a white jogger in New York. They were exonerated in 2002, but Trump has repeatedly refused to acknowledge their innocence. In 2005, he pitched an idea for his reality television series, “The Apprentice,” that would have pitted white people against black people.
Trump then rose to political prominence partially by championing the racist “birtherism” myth that President Barack Obama was born outside the United States. As a presidential candidate, Trump attacked a judge overseeing a Trump University case for his Mexican heritage. And once in the White House, Trump equivocated in the aftermath of a deadly white supremacist rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, saying there were “very fine people on both sides.”
And this never stopped:
Last month, Trump tweeted that four minority congresswomen should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” even though all four are American and three were born in the United States. He later did not tell his supporters to stop chanting “Send her back!” at a campaign rally where he evoked the name of one of the four, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). The Somali-born refugee became a U.S. citizen in 2000.
Trump’s rhetoric came under fresh examination last week after the man accused of killing 22 people in El Paso echoed the president’s language about an “invasion” of Hispanic migrants in what authorities say they believe is the suspect’s missive explaining the reasons for the shooting.
And this was going on a long time ago too:
Trump’s sensitivity about the “racist” sobriquet dates back decades. The Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist who has known Trump and tangled with him for many years, said the president has long understood that being called “the r-word” would damage his casino and hotel businesses – and now his political standing.
“At one level, you’re super sensitive about the r-word, and on another level, you buy ads on the Central Park Five,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton recalled that, at the height of the birtherism debate, Trump sought to persuade him to stop calling him out for his false claims about Obama’s birthplace on his MSNBC show by inviting him to a meeting at Trump Tower.
“I’m not a racist,” Sharpton recalled Trump insisting. The two men argued, and Sharpton responded, “I’m not calling you a racist, but what you are doing is racist.”
Sharpton continued to attack Trump on air.
And now there’s this:
Some people who have worked for Trump say the president is less concerned about the moral significance of being called a racist than he is about the bottom-line implications.
“The guy sends out blatantly racist tweets,” former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said. “White supremacist. Racist. Those labels are bad for business. It means a reduction in the colors of people who want to vote for you. He’s upset about it because it’s bad for business.”
There’s morality – boring stuff for suckers – but there’s business. Conspiratorial racist tweets are bad for business, so perhaps Donald Trump is trying to kick the habit. But then he did like that comic joking about Bill and Hillary murdering Jeffery Epstein. He couldn’t resist retweeting that to the world. And that wasn’t racist. So that should have been fine.
Maybe so, but Kathleen Parker wonders about all this:
One of the most shameful things in these times is to be thought or labeled a racist. As it should be, if true.
Thus, some Democrats and others hoping to defeat President Trump have begun a campaign of shaming anyone who supports or contributes to his reelection. Appallingly, this new tactic is attached to the nation’s recent mass murders and is organized around a damning narrative: that Trump’s incendiary, hate-fueled rhetoric made him an accessory to these killings and, therefore, that those who support him are, likewise, accessories.
But of course that’s a conspiracy theory too:
If causation is missing – and it is – there’s plenty of documentable evidence to support a supposition that Trump’s singling out of minorities for ridicule and stereotyping has added to the fevers of the already inclined. As a moral imperative, at the very least, he should be condemned and voted out of office.
But shaming as a tactic works only if the thesis behind the accusation holds water and, of course, if the allegedly shameful can be shamed.
Put aside the question of whether Donald Trump is capable of feeling shame at all and think about this:
Trigger fingers, though associated of late with white supremacists, disgruntled former employees and emotionally disturbed young men with deranged agendas, come in a variety of shades and political stripes.
David Frum covered that:
As far as anybody can ascertain, the deadliest mass shooter in American history had no specific political motive. Stephen Paddock apparently opened fire from a Las Vegas hotel room in October 2017, murdering 58 and wounding hundreds more, out of purely personal rage at the world.
The second-deadliest mass shooter, Omar Mateen, espoused Islamist loyalties in his final messages before he attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, killing 49 and wounding 53.
The third- and fourth-deadliest – the Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho and the Sandy Hook school shooter Adam Lanza – were both antisocial, and battled different mental-health issues. The fifth-deadliest – the Sutherland Springs church shooter – was a loudmouthed atheist. The El Paso, Texas, gunman ranks eighth; authorities are investigating whether he wrote a white-supremacist manifesto. The Islamic fanatics who killed at Fort Hood, also in Texas, in 2011 and San Bernardino, California, in 2015 are tied for 14th place.
A paranoid defense contractor carried out the Washington Navy Yard shooting that killed 12 people in 2013. We don’t yet know what motivated the gunman in Dayton, Ohio, to kill nine and wound 27. But in 2014, a 24-year-old man named Elliot Rodger killed six and wounded 14 in California, to express his rage at women for perceived sexual rebuffs.
This menu of atrocities offers a wide range of political points to score, if that is your wish. You will find here immigrants and natives; whites and nonwhites; Muslims and Christians; right-wingers, left-wingers, and the nonpolitical.
So there’s only this:
Despite their diversity, all these killers had one thing in common: their uniquely American access to firearms. In turn, these killers unite the country in a uniquely American determination to ignore the obvious.
More guns, more killing. Fewer guns, less killing. Everybody else has figured that out. Americans – and only Americans – refuse to do so.
That may be the underlying problem here, so Parker urges caution:
While it’s despicable that we have a president who seems intent on stoking division by mocking migrants, immigrants and citizens he doesn’t like, leaping extrapolations get us all in trouble.
So don’t be like him! Bill and Hilary didn’t murder Jeffery Epstein. George Soros isn’t funding an immigrant invasion at the border. And there is no “invasion” anyway. Donald Trump is a conspiratorial racist moron who tweets, but don’t call him names.
What? This is getting confusing. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever aren’t military bioweapons programs that got out of hand? Who knew?
Who knows anything these days? Trump wins.