Gowdy Debunks “Spygate”, Drawing Conspiracists’ Wrath

“I am…convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got,” Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) told Fox News concerning the FBI’s deploying an informant to obtain information from Trump Presidential campaign advisers. Those words had the effect of a matador’s waving his magenta capote at the opening of a bullfight.

It wasn’t long before conspiracy theorists came charging at the Congressman like a furious bull bursting out of its chiquero. Mark Levin attacked. Sean Hannity followed up.
They were enraged. The “Spygate” conspiracy theory had begun to crumble. Gowdy had rejected it. Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano had described it as “baseless.”

The conspiracists’ latest hope for an out-of-the-blue development that would undermine the legitimacy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation fell apart. That a leading Republican Congressman had smashed the conspiracy theory only served to exacerbate their rage.

Unlike Gowdy, neither Levin nor Hannity had attended the Department of Justice’s classified briefing of May 24. Neither Levin nor Hannity had reviewed the sensitive documents related to the FBI informant that had been made available at that briefing. Yet, they took immediate issue with the Congressman’s informed observation. They confidently passed on their judgment as if they had access to the same, if not superior, information.

How could they render a definitive verdict without having been exposed to any of the underlying evidence? How could they do so without possessing any of the relevant facts concerning what happened?

Conspiracy theory literature offers some explanation. In general, people embrace conspiracy theories, because such theories provide simple explanations for complex problems. They confirm deeply-held biases. They impose a sense of certainty on an uncertain world and bring a sense of order to a chaotic world. They fill a basic need. In sum, they provide a measure of security that makes the world seem a little less threatening.

Research by Robbie M. Sutton and Karen M. Douglas, readers in psychology at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, and Michael J. Wood, a PhD candidate at the University of Kent, that was published in the January 25, 2012 issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science provides insight. The article defines a conspiracy theory as “a proposed plot by powerful people or organizations working together in secret to accomplish some (usually sinister) goal.”

In this case, the “Spygate” conspiracy theory is being advanced as a plot hatched by the Obama Administration to throw the 2016 Presidential election to “Crooked Hillary,” as President Donald Trump labeled her during the campaign. Closely-related are the “Deep State” conspiracy theory purporting that a hostile civil service seeks to impair President Trump’s pursuit of his agenda and a “Silent Coup” conspiracy theory in which the nation’s Intelligence and law enforcement communities are colluding to topple the elected President. All three conspiracy theories converge on the Special Counsel’s investigation.

At the heart of a conspiracy theory is a powerful central belief system. Sutton, Douglas, and Wood explain,

“…the evidence we have gathered in the present study supports the idea that conspiracism constitutes a monological belief system, drawing its coherence from central beliefs such as the conviction that authorities and officials engage in massive deception of the public to achieve their malevolent goals.”

Authoritarian personalities–people who crave a strong leader to help them navigate the perils of change–are particularly prone to embrace conspiracy theories. Such personalities tend to be overconfident in their knowledge, fearful of being proved incorrect, and psychologically anxious in a changing world. This combination of traits makes their faith in conspiracy theories especially tenacious. Georgia State University Associate Professor in Political Science Sean Richey explained:

What makes conspiracy theories so robust and resistant to debunking for authoritarians, is that their dogmatism, overconfidence, and general insecurity makes them resistant to hear that they are wrong… But the group most resistant to changing their beliefs contains those that are psychologically insecure, such as authoritarians have been repeatedly shown to be. The combination of distrust in the system combined with a difficulty with cognitive problems and a general resistance to correct false beliefs would make authoritarians highly susceptible holding conspiracy beliefs.

Drawing upon this literature, one can reasonably expect that no level of evidence will overcome conspiracists’ deeply-held faith in the “Spygate,” “Deep State,” or “Silent Coup” conspiracy theories. Such beliefs are immune to the power of logic and reason. They are self-sustaining islands of alternate reality in which logic and reason are imprisoned and cut off from evidence and truth.

In speaking with Fox News, Congressman Gowdy effectively plunged his estoque into the “Spygate” conspiracy theory, slaying it for good. For the nation’s vast pool of reasonable and informed people, the “Spygate” conspiracy theory has been debunked.

Now, only the conspiracists who adopted it still maintain it. Rather than having been persuaded by the Congressman’s sharing what he learned from his classified briefing, “Spygate’s” proponents have turned on him in a fury. Such an outcome is consistent with the findings of conspiracy theory literature.

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About Don Sutherland 83 Articles
Husband. Dad. American. Believes in America on account of its Constitution, ideals, and people. Character, principle, truth, and empirical evidence matter greatly everywhere, including politics and public policy.