Fringe beliefs and conspiracy theories

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Thirteen people have been arrested on charges related to domestic terrorism in Michigan including a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer so she could be transported to Wisconsin and put on trial for “treason.” Six of those arrested face federal charges and the other seven face state charges.

Fringe beliefs have always been part of American life. Older Michiganders know that various “militias” have been part of the scene in the state for generations. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was carried out by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who had received some of their training at meetings of the Michigan Militia.

I recall having lengthy conversations with a fellow employee at a manufacturing company in Mount Pleasant who refused to put a license plate on his truck, wouldn’t accept paper checks or even currency for his pay (not sure how we actually paid him – gold doubloons or pieces-of-eight, perhaps?), and didn’t recognize the federal government’s ability to tax income for various reasons. He’d discuss his point of view with anyone who would listen, and most people would listen politely. Keep in mind that this was on a manufacturing floor in rural Michigan, hardly a hotbed for liberal politics, but frankly, most people considered him to be a harmless crank.

Unfortunately, the harmless cranks have moved out of the shadows and into positions of authority. Their increased visibility and power have attracted others who might not have taken these fringe positions seriously before. The promotion of these positions on major media outlets like Fox News has also given them additional legitimacy and attention.

Attitudes are trending away from Donald Trump yet again. The poll averages maintained by show disapproval of his performance rising sharply over the past week, and approval declining. A similar trend is visible in the poll about who people would vote for if the election were held today (which is kind of happening when you consider mail-in votes); Biden’s stock is rising while Trump’s is dropping.

But remember that even with those trends, Donald Trump’s job performance – such as it is – is approved by 42.2% of poll respondents as of today. Four out of ten Americans think his mismanagement of nearly everything, especially the coronavirus pandemic, is just fine. It will take actions like today’s arrests, that demonstrate that the rule of law continues to function in America, to push conspiracy theories and other antisocial activities back to the fringe where they belong.