Conspiracy theories continue to be at the heart of the riot at the U.S. Capitol, more than a year after it occurred.

Experts analyzing actions that brought protestors into the Capitol while Congress was meeting to certify the results of the 2020 election, said the belief that election was stolen from former President Donald Trump continues to be the main driver of conspiracy theories, with theories constantly evolving into new beliefs.

“That’s one of the ugly parts of that,” said local Republican Ed Petersen about conspiracy theories. “Some will never believe Mr. Trump was not cheated. They are the people on the ultra, ultra far right.”

Cameron political science professor David Searcy there are reasons conspiracy theories tend to take root.

“Frankly, for some people, conspiracy can be a form of comfort,” Searcy said, citing the theories that continue to circulate about President John F. Kennedy, decades after he was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. “If the president can be murdered by one crazy guy by a rifle, what does that say about me? How do I feel safe?”

Searcy said another reason may be as simple as no one likes to think they did something wrong or made a bad decision.

“In his case, if you voted for him, what does that say about you?” Searcy said, explaining the tendency for some people is to try to explain away bad or unsavory things. “Conspiracy justifies that in our heads.”

Cameron history professor Lance Janda said there isn’t a simple answer to the question of why conspiracy theories continue to circulate.

“They are appealing because they offer explanations for events and phenomenon that people otherwise don’t always understand, and because they make people feel smart,” Janda said. “Those who are ‘in’ on the conspiracy, in other words, can tell themselves that they really know what’s going on while the rest of us are idiots.”

Janda said conspiracy theories aren’t new.

“And, they endure, particularly for those people who feel powerless and don’t understand. Conspiracies tie all the loose ends together,” he said.

But what has changed today is the internet and social media, because that allows believers to find each other, and that makes the conspiracies more dangerous, Janda said.

“They used to be spread out around the United States,” he said. “They didn’t coalesce. Now they can find each other on line, in rallies, connect virtually and go to web sites that tell them the same things over and over.”

Janda said its the same thing that happens when people join cults, or gangs or terrorist organizations: people get indoctrinated. He rejects the idea that those who believe in conspiracy theories are not well educated. He said there are many well educated people who believe in reason and evidence, but in this one area — religion, medicine, politics — “all their faith and reason and science goes out the window and they buy in.”

Janda said it’s not just an American phenomena. It’s global, and the more affluent and technically sophisticated societies become, the worst conspiracy theories become. But, it may be a problem in the United States because the county has few regulations regarding speech and the internet.

“And, conspiracy theories are resilient,” he said. “No matter how many times their predictions fail to come true, the believers often hang on.”

Cameron political science professor Jeffrey Metzger said he believes some of the strength of conspiracy theories can be traced to fundamental changes in the media.

Metzger said cable news is about making a profit, a fundamental change from traditional network news, and with that change, “political news needed to be presented profitably.” In addition, the internet allows people “to live in a bubble,” with algorithms ensuring a user hears/reads only certain beliefs. Metzger said that is coupled with a media environment that has become sensationalized: things that make people angry are more likely to be shared.

Metzger said those trends mean people can spent on day on the internet and with social media “and think you are well informed” while ensuring you don’t encounter those who disagree.

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