Matthew Rozsa

Obama ridiculed Trump in front of the DC press corps 10 years ago. He's been proven right over and over

As legendary quarterback Tom Brady celebrated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2021 Super Bowl victory with President Joe Biden, Brady cracked some jokes at the expense of a guy widely perceived his friend — at least until now. Along with ridiculing one of Donald Trump's disparaging nicknames for Biden, Brady also mocked Trump's claims that he didn't really lose the 2020 election by quipping, "Not a lot of people think that we could have won. In fact, I think about 40% of the people still don't think we won."

It's not likely that Trump enjoyed being mocked as a sore loser by one of America's most famous sports winners. Brady, who had not visited the White House to celebrate a Super Bowl victory since 2005, may have very well put the final nail in his controversial relationship with Trump. He also reminded us of one of the most underrated speeches in American political history — the one delivered 10 years ago by Barack Obama at Trump's expense.

There were many moments in Obama's historic presidency that could be described as his "finest hour," but my personal favorite has always been Obama's roasting of Trump during the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner. Not just because Obama was funny (although he was), but because he wound up foreshadowing Trump's ensuing presidency with uncanny accuracy. The history surrounding that speech also imbues it with deeper meaning. And since Obama got in his digs at Trump while retaining his dignity and basic courtesy, his words come across not so much as insults but wry meditations about the sensibilities that could catapult the unlikeliest of all presidents into the White House.

Before Obama's speech, Trump had been working the media to promote the debunked conspiracy theory that America's first black president had not actually been born in the United States. Then a mere reality TV star, Trump was testing the waters for a 2012 presidential campaign and thought "birtherism" might be a winning issue. Not only did it none-too-subtly play on racist fears of a nonwhite president, it also sent the message that Obama was somehow disloyal to American interests.

This was the backdrop to April 30, 2011, when Obama and Trump wound up in the same room for a night of unflinching comedy. The other was that as Obama skewered Trump in front of the world, he was also secretly working on the raid that would achieve what Republicans President George W. Bush had not — killing al-Qaida leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Obama couldn't say that to the audience, of course, but he did throw his American bona fides in Trump's face. He opened the evening by displaying a copy of his birth certificate against a montage of hyper-America iconography, all as the Hulk Hogan theme song "Real American" played in the background. After that, he showed the opening scene from "The Lion King" while joking that it was his own birth video. (The most prominent conspiracy theory held that Obama had been born in Kenya, as his father unquestionably had been.) All of this took on the birther issue directly, deflating what Trump hoped might be his signature talking point for the 2012 election cycle.

But Obama didn't stop there. He moved on to ribbing other public figures at the event, but eventually returned to Trump with an even sharper wit. Pivoting with a joke about how Trump could work to discredit Mitt Romney, then the future 2012 Republican presidential nominee (and later, coincidentally, Trump's most high profile Republican critic), Obama landed a devastating blow by mocking the six-times-bankrupt businessman for embracing ludicrous conspiracy theories:

Now, I know that he's taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter — like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?

This section of the speech is the most prescient because it anticipated Trump's greatest shortcoming as president. Despite his numerous scandals and policy failures, Trump was reasonably well positioned to be re-elected in 2020 because he had inherited Obama's booming economy. His downfall, from a strategic standpoint, was in failing to listen to scientists about the COVID-19 pandemic and embracing pseudoscience instead. If he had heeded early warnings and embraced bold policies to help Americans get through this traumatic period, he could have saved many thousands of lives, done less damage to the economy intact and quite likely cruised to a second term. Instead he played down the pandemic, ignored basic science and even got sick himself. Americans suffered far more than they had to, turning his policy failure into an inevitable political one. And all that could have been avoided had he not been exactly the type of person Obama described in 2011 — a fool.

Obama's lampooning of Trump continued:

But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example — no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of "Celebrity Apprentice" — at the steakhouse, the men's cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn't blame Lil' Jon or Meat Loaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir. Well handled.

There's a lot to unpack in those sentences. It is easy enough to see that in Obama's sarcastic praise for Trump's "credentials and breadth of experience," he was referring to the fact that Trump had no political or military experience. (He became the only president elected without at least one of the two.) Historical context, however, reminds us that Obama was himself accused of being too inexperienced to serve as president when he ran in 2008, even though he had served as an Illinois state senator and then a U.S. senator for nearly a dozen years. It seems almost certain that this double standard — which would become only more conspicuous after Trump was elected in 2016 — wasn't on Obama's mind.

Then there is Obama's quip about Trump's main job at the time, hosting the reality show "The Celebrity Apprentice." Once again, there was obvious commentary on Trump being held to a different standard than Obama, who was dismissively compared to a celebrity throughout his political career even though Trump literally was a celebrity, with no visible professional or political qualifications. There is also deeper meaning in the way Obama singled out Trump's fetish for firing people. The man had built his brand around the TV catch phrase, "You're fired!" As president, Trump got in trouble for the circumstances around his firing of FBI Director James Comey and his willingness to turn on or terminate even the most loyal aides if they wouldn't break the law for him (Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Vice President Mike Pence and Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr come to mind).

After his fear of losing to Joe Biden turned to reality, Trump became the first president to lose an election and refuse to accept the result, assaulting George Washington's legacy in the process. Indeed, he had telegraphed his willingness to be a historic sore loser before that election, making clear that he would never accept being fired by the American people. No other president has reacted as badly to electoral disappointment, with the possible exception of James Buchanan, who allowed the Civil War to break out after the 1860 election didn't go his way — but he wasn't even on the ballot that year.

Obama wrapped up that section of his speech with the one lame joke in his repertoire against Trump (a visual gag about Trump's tacky architectural aesthetic that simply didn't land). He moved on, but the world of comedy fondly remembers his performance.

"Every time a politician cracks a few easy jokes they didn't even write, headline writers will rush to call them a 'comedian' which diminishes what we do," comedian Steve Hofstetter told Salon via Twitter. "That's like calling someone the president because they voted once. But Obama had something I've never seen from another president: He had timing. When most politicians deliver a joke, they seem surprised when it gets a laugh. But Obama was familiar with the material and he knew how to deliver it. While I'm sure he had writers, he executed as if he'd written the jokes himself."

It was a speech reporters would later claim left Trump fuming — but that seems to be a legend invented after the fact. If you watch the actual video of the event, you see that Trump went along with Obama's jokes cheerfully enough, even waving at the crowd. Whether or not he was just putting on a polite show, he didn't act like a man whose ego had been severely stung. His reactions are, dare I say, even a little humanizing: He appears for all the world like he's having a good time, smiling and enjoying himself like he did during a Comedy Central roast a few weeks earlier. Indeed, he later directed his anger not at Obama but at comedian Seth Meyers (whose barbs were much more pointed). Trump said he'd had a "great time" listening to Obama, was "honored" to be singled out by him and thought he had delivered his jokes well. Meyers, by contrast, he described as "too nasty, out of order."

This matters because it showed that if Obama drew blood, the target didn't realize he had been pricked. Obama had deftly struck a balance, drawing attention to the ways Trump is ridiculous while also remaining respectful. It wasn't until after the dust had settled that Trump began to feel aggrieved, eventually refusing as president to attend the annual correspondents' dinners.

Obama certainly made other negative remarks concerning Trump, but his 2011 monologue stands out because it feels like a prologue to the history we've been living since 2016. In that sense, it can be placed next to the "Economic Bill of Rights" section of Franklin Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union address or Jimmy Carter's 1979 "Crisis of Confidence" address as a prophetic work of oratory. It's also the only historically significant presidential speech that was primarily meant to be funny (and largely was).

Arguably, that's the one sense in which it was misguided. Ten years ago it was easy to laugh at Donald Trump. Now that his Big Lie about the 2020 election is fueling a fascist insurgency, it is a lot harder to find him funny.

Why the mysterious philosophical theory of 'panpsychism' may help correct Galileo's 'error'

Dr. Martin Picard is an associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, specializing in both psychiatry and neurology. Together, expertise in these two fields suits one well to understanding the essence of what makes one human. Picard is particularly knowledgable about mitochondria, a structure found within nearly all cells that have a nucleus. They provide most of the chemical energy that cells use in their various biochemical tasks, and are sometimes likened to batteries.

Picard sees something else in mitochondria, too. Last year, he and a Swiss scientist named Dr. Carmen Sandi published a paper in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, which posited that mitochondria do not merely keep us alive, but in many ways, have lives of their own. And, perhaps, are even "social" creatures.

"Sociality has profound evolutionary roots and is observed from unicellular organisms to multicellular animals," Picard and Sandi write. "In line with the view that social principles apply across levels of biological complexity, a growing body of data highlights the remarkable social nature of mitochondria."

They continue: "Similar to individuals among social networks, mitochondria communicate with each other and with the cell nucleus, exhibit group formation and interdependence, synchronize their behaviors, and functionally specialize to accomplish specific functions within the organism. Mitochondria are social organelles."

Of course, if mitochondria are conscious beings, that would mean we have trillions and trillions of these brainless beings chilling out in literally every cell of our bodies. That idea may seem absurd until you consider a scientific concept which could explain it: Panpsychism, or the idea that consciousness is inextricably linked to all matter and simply grows stronger as a physical object become more complex.

This, emphatically, is not what Picard and Sandi had in mind when they wrote their article (Picard told Salon that "I do not know enough about panpsychism to make an informed comment.") At the same time, their discovery is just one more piece of fascinating scientific trivia that could be explained by this revolutionary theory.

Panpsychism's appeal may stem partly from the fact that scientists currently can not explain what consciousness – the thing that gives you a mind and makes you self-aware — actually is. During the 17th century Enlightenment, philosopher René Descartes famously argued for a so-called "dualist" approach to explaining how our mind interacts with our body. He argued the physical matter of our bodies and whatever substance creates a mind are separate entities (perhaps connected by the pineal gland), with our flesh essentially serving as a house for our souls. This argument holds that if science could explain everything, it should be able to quantify a mind/soul — visually describe it, hear it, feel it, measure and record it. None of that has happened; indeed, the very notion of it happening seems nonsensical.

This may be partly why, although most scientists and philosophers today are monists (meaning they believe our mind directly comes from our physical bodies), dualistic ideas are still quite prevalent in our culture.

"The problem is a lot of regular people, who are not philosophers, are dualists, because they believe in the mind or the soul as a separate entity from their physical being, their physical body," David Skrbina, a philosopher and author of the book "Panpsychism in the West," told Salon. "And so a lot of people for religious reasons, and just 'common sense' reasons, tend to think in dualist or Cartesian terms without really even understanding it. And so when we talk to the public at large, we are sort of stuck dealing with the Cartesian question, even though most philosophers, I think, do not give it much credibility at all."

That said, those who believe our minds come directly from our bodies are also facing some logical challenges.

"They have to accommodate mind and consciousness within a physicalist framework, which is arguably quite difficult," Skrbina explained. "And that's been sort of one of the central challenges today, is to figure out how to not be a dualist, but still explain the reality, the evident reality of mind and consciousness."

In other words, there is no equation, no theory that would account nor explain our conscious feelings, the everyday state of awareness and thought that constitute life and existence. There is nothing in physics or chemistry or biology that accounts what it is like to be.

That's not to say that scientists haven't tried to explain consciousness through science. The most obvious approach would be to find physical features that correspond to states of consciousness. For instance, if you could figure out which parts of the brain are associated with feeling happy, sad, inspired or bored, you could in theory follow that lead to ultimately learn about how the brain itself "produces" consciousness.

"It has not been successful," Skrbina pointed out. "This has been one of the major frustrations, I think, in the scientific community, is to actually find the physical correlate of the various states of consciousness. As far as I can tell, and the latest research I've seen, they have been unable to do this, which suggests that consciousness is either a deeper or a more complex phenomenon than most of our scientists have thought and maybe are willing to admit."

This is where panpsychism fills in the void. It offers an explanation for consciousness that doesn't try to do an end run around the known laws of the physical world, but assumes consciousness is an intrinsic part of it.

Besides — as Luke Roelofs, a philosopher of mind at NYU's Centre for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness, told Salon — the most popular framework for explaining consciousness does not hold up to scrutiny.

"The biggest motivation is dissatisfaction with the mainstream approach to explaining consciousness, which is to identify it with some sort of complex information processing structure," Roelofs explained by email. "Panpsychists generally think that structure alone can't do the job: taking completely non-conscious ingredients and arranging them in a complicated way seems compatible with the whole system remaining completely non-conscious." Because the human brain is made up of the same basic matter as everything else in existence, "the most natural view seems to be that [consciousness] is a general feature of matter."

Hence, panpsychism — and hence the idea that matter, in general, is conscious, regardless of whether it is an organism or not.

As for the opposition to panpsychism? One problem is that skeptics feel it is ludicrous at face value.

"I think that mostly comes from more basic differences in how people think about consciousness," Roelofs told Salon. "Panpsychists think that thought, reasoning, decision-making, vision and hearing and smell and all of our cognitive complexity: none of those are the same thing as consciousness. Consciousness is just subjectivity, just 'is there something it's like to exist right now?' And so they think it makes sense for consciousness to exist in simple forms without thought, without reasoning, without vision or hearing or smell. A lot of critics think that's just a mix-up: they think that once you take away thought, reasoning, etc. that's it, there's nothing left to talk about."

The obvious next question, then, is: what is conscious? And how does it separate itself? Would a rock or a table have a single unified conscious — or perhaps something bigger, like a planet, or even a solar system?

For those questions, too, panpsychists have ideas.

"Panpsychism typically does not take all things to be conscious as a whole, or to have their own unified consciousness," Hedda Hassel Mørch, a philosopher and associate professor at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, told Salon by email. "Fundamental particles would have simple, unified consciousness. Sometimes, this simple consciousness 'combines' or unifies into more complex forms. This happens in the human brain—we have unified consciousness as whole. But it probably doesn't happen in e.g. tables and chairs—these things are mere collections of independently conscious particles."

Another criticism, which Roelofs acknowledged at least addresses the idea on its own terms, is that panpsychism does not necessarily answer all of the questions that it poses.

"Panpsychists think you can't explain human consciousness by putting together lots of non-conscious things in the right structure; okay, but is it actually easier to explain it by putting lots of conscious things in the right structure?" Roelofs asked. "Does it even make sense for a group of minds to combine into one bigger mind?" He added that he has written extensively on this subject, "investigating why combining minds seems so puzzling, and whether we can make sense of it anyway. But it remains a genuinely difficult challenge to panpsychism as a view."

On the other hand, science is equally stuck when it comes to explaining the subjective experiences that we can embrace when we listen to music, enjoy delicious food, watch a movie or fall in love. There is something unquantifiable about the joys of life, a reality that is not encompassed when we try to reduce emotions to hormones.

This brings us to Philip Goff, associate professor of philosophy at Durham University, who told Salon that there is another philosopher whose ideas we must challenge, one who lived in the same period as Descartes — Galileo Galilei.

"What Descartes was making very rigorous was the philosophy of Galileo," Goff explained, citing his book "Galileo's Error." He argued that because consciousness could not be explained in the qualitative and mathematical terms that Galileo's deemed essential for something to be scientific, the great scientist concluded it had to be decoupled from the scientific process and explained through other intellectual disciplines.

"Consciousness involves quality — the redness of a red experience, the smell of coffee, the taste of mint," Goff said. "These qualities that can't be captured in a purely quantitative vocabulary of mathematics. So Galileo said that if we want mathematical science, we need to take consciousness out of the domain of science. In Galileo's worldview, there is this radical division in nature between the quantitative mathematical domain of science and the physical world, and the qualitative domain of consciousness with its colors, and sounds, and smells and tastes."

Panpsychism, by its very premise, would make it possible to merge the two disciplines.

Panpsychism also has radical implications for religions, since so many focus on questions of what happens after we die. It is likely that our brains still comprise the bulk of our identity (so when the neurons which store your memories die, the memories most likely die forever along with them), but panpsychism allows for the possibility that your conscious "self" lives on in some form. It does not even entirely preclude the possibility that we take some of our identity with us; to paraphrase Stanley Kubrick when he directed "The Shining," the seemingly horrifying prospect of ghosts existing at least means that death is not final.

If true, panpsychism would raise questions about other substances and the degree to which non-human things are self-aware. Does that mean inanimate objects are also self-aware? Do a chair, a pair of pants and a rock have the capacity to think as a human, a dog and a pig? What about more primitive organisms like bacteria and viruses?

"Panpsychism does suggest that there may well be some level of consciousness everywhere in nature," Roelofs explained. "Panpsychists all accept dog-consciousness, but some might not want to accept chair-consciousness: they might say that each particle making up the chair is conscious, but it's not constructed the right way for these to 'add up' to anything. Others might think that chairs have consciousness, but of an incredibly diffuse sort: because there's no brain or nervous system, there's no order or structure to the chair's experience, just an undifferentiated blur."

Ultimately, he added, "The impact of panpsychism isn't so much to answer these questions, but to suggest continuity: don't expect to find a discontinuous boundary somewhere between the simplest animal that is conscious and the most complex animal that isn't." Roelofs says there isn't a line that one could draw: "even if some sorts of consciousness are so simple that it's more useful for us, in practice, to treat them as 'mindless', nevertheless the differences are ultimately just matters of degree."

In the end, it may prove impossible to ever definitively ascertain whether panpsychism holds water. After all, without some way to visually or otherwise physically identify consciousness, we can't precisely say whether an inanimate object has any rudimentary "consciousness" in it. It's not like you can ask a virus or chair if they are self-aware.

"Scientifically speaking, we're in quite a bind with consciousness in particular and with the mind in general, just because of the nature of what it is," Skrbina told Salon. "It is not the kind of thing that is really, like I say, subject to scientific analysis."

'Fire-breathing dragon of clouds': An Oregon wildfire is so intense it's creating its own weather

Southern Oregon is currently being consumed by a conflagration known as the Bootleg Fire. It has already devoured more than 606 square miles at the time of this writing (an area larger than the city of Los Angeles) and has only been 30 percent contained. The behemoth blaze is accelerating its growth, and has been growing by 80 square miles per day or more.

It is also doing something that makes it much more difficult to manage: creating its own weather.

"The fire is so large and generating so much energy and extreme heat that it's changing the weather," Marcus Kauffman, a spokesman for the state forestry department, told The New York Times. "Normally the weather predicts what the fire will do. In this case, the fire is predicting what the weather will do."

What exactly is the Bootleg Fire doing?

For one thing, the wildfire is creating pyrocumulus clouds. These are dense clouds that form in a cumuliform manner (meaning they develop vertically) and are associated with volcanic eruptions or fires. When the extreme heat from a wildfire's flames cause the air to rise rapidly, the moisture on smoke particles produced by the fire condense and cool. This process ultimately causes the clouds to produce high winds and even lightning, in a sense becoming their own thunderstorms. USA Today described the tops of the clouds as looking like anvils. This is not only because of their shape but their color: they tend to be dark and gray because of the ash and other fire-related particles contained within them.

There is a feedback loop that can come into play here, as these tall clouds generated by the fire can then stoke the fire more, as history attests. The Tennant Fire in California, which began this month and is now fully contained, produced fire clouds so massive (also known as pyrocumulonimbus clouds) that strong winds caused them to rotate, producing a tornado (or fire whirl). Such clouds are also capable of shooting matter from the wildfire as high up as 10 miles above the Earth's surface. NASA refers to these as the "fire-breathing dragon of clouds" because of their dangerous and literally fiery properties.

If this wildfire seems scary, expect more similar ones in the future. Experts agree that extreme wildfires are going to become more common as climate change worsens. As the Earth's temperature warms, forests face an increased fire threat from what are known as fine fuels — meaning dead tree matter and other organic detritus that has a high surface-area-to-volume ratio and dries quickly. When these fine fuels are left in unusually parched and hot conditions, they are more susceptible than usual to combusting. As Professor Francis E. Putz, a botanist at the University of Florida, told Salon previously, approaches to this problem that do not address climate change (including former president Donald Trump's infamous suggestion that we rake the forests) will not be effective.

"If we do not address the climate change issue, no amount of forest management is going to avoid this sort of situation in the future — and note that the rate of change has increased, not decreased or stabilized," Putz explained.

This is not the only future extreme weather event that can be linked to climate change. Large areas of the planet are expected to become too hot and/or too dry to live in; there will be more thunderstorms, hurricanes, and droughts; and sea levels will rise, displacing millions of people who live along coasts.

Climate change and the Moon are teaming up to create record floods on Earth

At the time of this writing, at least 120 people have been confirmed dead because of severe flooding in Western Europe. It is tragically likely that, when this story is over, the number will be significantly higher. A German weather service (DWD) spokesman told CNN that in some areas there has not been this much rainfall in 100 years.

These extreme weather events are inextricably linked to climate change, politicians and experts have noted. But there is another culprit, one above, that is also affecting the weather: a "wobble" in the orbit of the Moon.

Indeed, only days before the flooding, a study in the journal Nature Climate Change by scientists from NASA and the University of Hawaii warned that the Earth may experience record flooding in the mid-2030s because of changes in the Moon's orbit.

"Climate change causes a rise in sea levels which in turn increases the rate of high-tide floods," Harvard professor and astronomer Avi Loeb told Salon by email. "The gravitational force of the Moon pulls water in the oceans in its direction. The strength of the Moon's pull changes from year to year, as the moon 'wobbles' in its orbit, slightly altering its position relative to Earth on a rhythmic 18.6-year cycle." In one half of the cycle, Loeb explained, the moon's force on the Earth causes low tides to grow and high tides to shrink; during the other half, high tides get bigger and low tides get lower.

"We are currently witnessing the tide-amplifying part of the cycle and the next tide-amplifying cycle begins in the mid-2030s," Loeb pointed out. "By then, global sea levels will have risen enough to make those higher-than-normal high tides particularly troublesome."

But while the Moon's orbit is not something that humans can readily control, man-made climate change is the other half of the equation.

"Only if we take up the fight against climate change decisively, we will be able to prevent extreme weather conditions such as those we are experiencing," German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier proclaimed. Environment Minister Svenja Schulze publicly stated that "Climate Change has arrived in Germany."

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"We will be faced with such events over and over," Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and a candidate to replace Merkel as German Chancellor, declared in a statement. "And that means we need to speed up climate protection measures, on European, federal and global levels, because climate change isn't confined to one state."

While the extent to which climate change contributed to the historic flooding remains unclear, Laschet's warning in particular is indisputable.

Indeed, climate scientists say perfect storm of variables is falling into place to imperil coastal cities.

"Climate change increases sea level relentlessly and that is what increases nuisance flooding as well as all storm surges and coastal erosion," Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, wrote to Salon. "But the biggest effects are when things are aligned: high tide, a major storm with storm onshore wind component that piles up water along the coast and then adds big waves on top. The process is highly nonlinear, and the biggest effects are with big waves on a very high tide."

Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Department of Global Ecology told Salon by email that the planet has natural variability when it comes to hot or cold spells, wet or dry periods. "It is the extremes that get us, not the change in average conditions. Coral bleachings happen when an ocean heat wave is exacerbated by global warming — turning an event that corals were adapted to into one that they are not prepared to confront," said Caldeira.

What the new study reminds us, he added, is the presence of a 18.6 year lunar cycle of waxing and waning tidal amplitudes. "This 18.6 year cycle, mapped on top of the daily monthly and other cycles, allow us to predict when the sea level rise caused by melting glaciers and thermally expanding seas will be most likely to impact human and natural systems," he noted.

Caldeira expressed hope that our knowledge about the impending coastal city disaster will compel policymakers to take the necessary steps to offset climate change. Unfortunately, he noted, "seas go up and down with the natural cycles, but human interference in the climate system causes the seas to move in one direction only — and that direction is up."

He added, "It is likely to be tens of thousands of years, at least, before nature can fully reverse human influence on sea level."

Trump's followers are trying to turn Ashli Babbitt into their movement's martyr: All she needs now is a hit song

Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old QAnon supporter and Trump superfan who was killed in the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, is already far more famous in death than she ever was in life. Her fate reminded me of a famous 1963 episode of "The Twilight Zone," "He's Alive," in which Adolf Hitler's ghost (Curt Conway) returns from the grave to teach a young neo-Nazi named Peter Vollmer (Dennis Hopper) how to manipulate a crowd. Hitler explains that exploiting the death of an obscure follower transforms that individual into a heroic martyr. "This is an act of friendship," says the spectral Führer. "We are allowing him to serve the cause."

Whether or not Donald Trump and his movement think they are doing Babbitt a favor by lionizing after her death, she has clearly become a sacrifice to the ex-president's ego and glory. Trump's supporters are eager to uncover the name of the police officer who shot Babbitt, but much less eager to remember that she died after Trump urged an angry right-wing mob to storm the Capitol. The video of her shooting, which makes clear that Babbitt and other members of the mob were literally trying to break into the House chamber and attack members of Congress, is likewise swept under the rug. That's without even mentioning the obvious fact that Babbitt died in service of the bogus cause of Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has sided with Vladimir Putin in questioning Babbitt's shooting. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, the leading insurrectionist in Congress, has staged a spectacular performance of outrage over her death. Her name has repeatedly been a trending topic on Twitter. Even those outside the Trump cult have been bowed: CNN, a frequent target of Republican abuse and outrage, published a piece about Babbitt last month that omitted many damaging facts and seemed infected with terminal both-sides-ism.

Trump recently told a crowd of his supporters in Florida that he wanted to know the identity of the police officer who had shot Babbitt, suggesting there was something sinister at work. "We all saw the hand, we saw the gun," Trump said. "You know, if that were on the other side, the person that did the shooting would be strung up and hung. OK? Now they don't want to give the name. ... It's a terrible thing, right? Shot. Boom. And it's a terrible thing."

There's a disturbing historical echo behind Trump and his supporters' effort to manipulate Babbitt's death this way, an echo also clearly referenced in Rod Serling's script for the "Twilight Zone" episode. That would be the case of Horst Wessel, who became for Hitler and the Nazi Party what Babbitt may now be for the Trump.

Born in the German city of Bielefeld in 1907, Wessel was a law school dropout who joined the SA or "brownshirts," the Nazi Party's paramilitary organization, during the waning days of the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s. He was perhaps more like a member of the contemporary Proud Boys or Oath Keepers; we still don't know how deeply Ashli Babbitt was involved with right-wing extremism. At any rate, Wessel impressed future Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, helped organize the Nazi youth movement in Vienna and staged or led numerous violent street clashes in Berlin with Communists — the antifa of their day, more or less. Wessel fancied himself as a tough guy and sought out situations where he could act out his macho impulses. Given that, his death almost had elements of farce. After a dispute with his Communist landlady — which was likely over unpaid rent, not politics — Wessel was shot on the street by two other Communists on Jan. 14, 1930. He died in a hospital a few weeks later, three years before the Nazis took power in Germany.

Wessel looks like a distinctly mediocre individual in the historical rear-view mirror, but the Nazis transformed his life and death into legend. In a campaign approved by Hitler and led by Goebbels, Nazi propaganda outlets depicted him as a hero. His funeral procession was viewed by 30,000 people who lined the streets of Berlin. He become the subject of a major motion picture and was honored by numerous monuments and books. A song Wessel had written for the SA the year before he died, later universally known as the "Horst Wessel Song," became an unofficial anthem of the Third Reich: According to a 1934 law, every German citizen had to give the "Hitler greeting" upon hearing it.

As far as we know, Ashli Babbitt didn't write a song and had no previous history of right-wing violence. But like Wessel, she cannot be described as a peaceful protester or even an overzealous advocate for a dubious cause. She died in a violent attack against democracy, as part of the first serious effort in American history to overturn an election by force. She died based on the lies of a would-be authoritarian dictator, the first American president to resist leaving office after losing an election. Her death was a personal tragedy, no doubt. But now the cynical movement that sent her to die in the Capitol wants to exploit that tragedy by turning her into a martyr for fascism. We've seen that before, and we've seen where that can lead — to a place even darker than the Twilight Zone.

A strange meteorite unlocks clues about the mysteries of our solar system

Most scientists dream of having a "Eureka!" moment — that precious instant when you realize you have discovered something new, wonderful and significant.

In movies, we imagine it occurring with a swell of epic music and perhaps some well-timed lightning strikes. As Professor Ryan C. Ogliore of Washington University in St. Louis tells it, however, the team of scientists he was on had a more anticlimactic build-up to their breakthrough.

"The first thing you think is, 'Oh, there's something we're doing wrong,'" Ogliore explained. "So we change things around and look at it again. If the weird thing is still there, then you think you have something good."

To be thorough, Ogliore and his team tested the anomalies they were studying in a number of different ways, but over and over again their research yielded the same hopeful conclusion.

"That when I was really confident that this was the right answer," Ogliore recalled.

Their finding? Ogliore — working alongside his colleagues Lionel G. Vacher (who led the team), Clive Jones, Nan Liu and David A. Fike — had studied an ancient meteorite and learned that a long-dead massive star played an instrumental role in the creation of our solar system. It's a discovery they say could be used to someday find the building blocks of life in other solar systems.

Some background: After NASA's 2011 Genesis mission brought back solar wind samples, scientists discovered that oxygen isotopes on the Sun differ from those found on Earth. The most likely explanation was that the cosmic material, which would later form into our planets, was pounded by a burst of ultraviolet light.

But where did that light come from? Scientists have been at a loss to explain their findings — until now.

Vacher, Ogliore and their team of researchers found the answer in Acfer 094, a piece of an ancient asteroid found as a meteorite in Algeria more than 30 years ago. In addition to being one of the oldest meteorites ever discovered, it is also the only meteorite that contains cosmic symplectite — or very heavy oxygen isotopes.

Ogliore then came up with the idea of measuring sulfur isotopes in the cosmic symplectite to study the ancient ultraviolet radiation that accompanied the birth of our universe.

Their breakthrough, as published in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, was the discovery that the light did not match the UV spectrum that would have come from our young sun — meaning the light had to have come from a nearby star.

"We conclude that the Sun's stellar neighbors, likely O and B stars in a massive-star-forming region, affected the composition of the Solar System's primordial building blocks," the authors wrote in the study. They concluded by pointing out that the isotope anomalies are not consistent with the type of ultraviolet irradiation of the gaseous hydrogen sulfide produced by the young Sun. It is, however, consistent with irradiation of hydrogen sulfide from nearby massive stars.

That is why they believe that "a plausible scenario for the Sun's birth environment" is that it happened in "a large stellar cluster with at least one massive star (type O or B) in its vicinity."

As Ogliore explained to Salon, this is a very big deal.

"I think the goal of what I do and what scientists like me do is to understand the formation of the solar system," Ogliore observed. "We know that formation of planetary systems like our own is not rare in the universe, or in the galaxy. I think understanding the formation of our solar system gives us an understanding of this general property. That's super important because there is probably life out there too, in those other planetary systems."

Here's what scientists really think about the coronavirus 'lab leak' theory

For a long time, the notion that the SARS-CoV-2 virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory was considered a fringe view. In recent weeks, however, mainstream news media outlets are reporting on this scenario as being at least a possibility. President Joe Biden himself has announced an intensified review in the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19, one that he ordered in part because of Chinese government stonewalling. Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci's emails are being scrutinized because of correspondence with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

In other words, what was once beyond the Overton Window is now fair game.

If the Wuhan lab leak scenario is true, the ramifications would be tremendous, and ripple across international affairs as well as the biology world. Yet few people possess the technical know-how that would allow a thorough debunking (or confirming) of such a shocking hypothesis. Indeed, when you're dealing with something as complex and technically specific as understanding the DNA of a virus, you have to turn to experts in immunology and virology.

So in the spirit of scientific inquiry, Salon reached out to researchers about the lab leak question; they, in turn, responded by stressing the importance of doing more science to unravel the mystery. One of the foremost rules of the scientific process is the imperative to balance an open mind with skepticism, while rigorously testing each plausible hypothesis.

With that in mind, how does the lab leak theory hold up?

"I think we can't rule out some kind of lab accident," Dr. Stephen Goldstein of the University of Utah told Salon.

Goldstein said the lab leak hypothesis implied multiple unique scenarios.

"I would split the lab leak hypothesis into two things," he added. "One possibility that's been raised within that hypothesis is that this is a natural virus that was brought into the lab and somebody was working with it and got infected, and that's how it got out. And the other one that I think is very heavily pushed in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists article is that this virus was somehow created in a lab. I think the likelihood of that latter possibility is close to zero."

Goldstein made it clear that he still thinks the lab leak hypothesis is unlikely. Still, he acknowledged it is within the realm of possibility that someone at the Wuhan Institute of Virology swabbed a bat for coronaviruses, brought those viruses back to the lab to be studied, and then got accidentally infected.

The same cannot be said for the idea that it was manufactured, as Dr. Susan Weiss — a University of Pennsylvania professor who has studied coronaviruses for decades — explained.

"I definitely believe it was not manmade," the microbiologist told Salon. "I can't prove that it didn't quote-unquote escape from the lab, but I'm sure it was not, and this is the reason. When you manufacture a virus, first of all, you always have to start with the backbone of another virus. You can't just say go make a virus of 30,000 nucleotides, because it wouldn't make any sense. You couldn't possibly design something, so you'd have to see what looks like remnants or resemblance to another known virus."

Weiss added that it is possible to manipulate an existing virus, making changes to its genes so that it will mutate. But she noted that this new virus would, ultimately, still resemble the other viruses from which it took its pieces.

Weiss was also skeptical that the virus could have leaked from the laboratory, saying that she has met Dr. Shi Zhengli (the so-called "Batwoman"). "I just don't think her lab would operate that way," she said.

She added, "I could be naive. I could be naive."

Also, Weiss was skeptical that such a secret could have been kept so well.

"I know that China keeps things under wraps, but still they're humans," Weiss observed. "There are a bunch of people in that lab. I haven't heard anything about that, anything through the coronavirus grapevine or anything like that, with any credibility."

Salon also previously spoke with Dr. Stanley Perlman of the University of Iowa; Perlman, who has also studied coronaviruses for decades, broke down the science behind the ongoing debate. Perlman noted that the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 emerged naturally has attracted skepticism — in part "because it's been very, very difficult to find these intermediate animals or that virus that is close to SARS-CoV-2." In other words, if SARS-CoV-2 jumped from animals to humans, as many viral epidemics do, there should be a close relative virus still living in an animal somewhere.

At the same time, Perlman observed that based on his anecdotal experiences, "I think what people are saying is that first of all, the two sets of ideas are converging because almost everyone believes it's a natural virus and that it ended up in Wuhan. I think we all agree on that, but whether it was a lab leak or occurred there by the natural route is certainly unknown."

Salon also previously spoke with Dr. Stanley Perlman of the University of Iowa; Perlman, who has also studied coronaviruses for decades, broke down the science behind the ongoing debate. Perlman noted that the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 emerged naturally has attracted skepticism — in part "because it's been very, very difficult to find these intermediate animals or that virus that is close to SARS-CoV-2." In other words, if SARS-CoV-2 jumped from animals to humans, as many viral epidemics do, there should be a close relative virus still living in an animal somewhere.

At the same time, Perlman observed that based on his anecdotal experiences, "I think what people are saying is that first of all, the two sets of ideas are converging because almost everyone believes it's a natural virus and that it ended up in Wuhan. I think we all agree on that, but whether it was a lab leak or occurred there by the natural route is certainly unknown."

Joe Biden, Donald Trump and the Weimar Republic: History's dark lessons

If Donald Trump's movement is destined to be America's answer to Nazism, then the Joe Biden administration is currently a rough equivalent of the Weimar Republic — the unstable constitutional democracy that governed Germany before the rise of Adolf Hitler. The comparison is imperfect, but the cautionary tale is still clear. There is an obvious risk that Biden and the narrow Democratic majorities in Congress will fail, and that Trump or a successor will take over and then cement themselves into power for at least the next generation. Every American who wants to avoid this — especially Biden and the leading Democrats in Congress — needs to learn the right lessons from Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

It would require a medium-length academic article to lay out all the similar and dissimilar qualities of these two nations in these two periods. But for the purposes of understanding the threat posed by Trumpism, there are five key similarities:

1. Both sagas began with an incompetent right-wing ruler. In Germany's case, they had the misfortune of being led by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who has been described as viewing "other people in instrumental terms," as a "compulsive liar" and possessing "a limited understanding of cause and effect." That sounds more than a little bit like Donald Trump, whose administration was plagued with scandal and who failed to effectively manage the COVID-19 pandemic. On both occasions, that ruler was eventually removed from power (through losing both World War I and the German Revolution in the case of the former and losing the 2020 election in the case of the latter).

2. Both stories continued because of a Big Lie. Hitler appealed to nationalist sentiments by claiming that Germany had actually won World War I but been betrayed behind the scenes by a conspiracy of socialists and Jews. Trump, who displays narcissistic traits and has spent years telling people that any election he loses is by definition stolen from him, has without evidence or any logical argument insisted that Biden cheated in 2020. Another defeated president might have been dismissed as a pathological sore loser, but Trump's cult of personality is so strong that his Trumper tantrum has now become a defining part of Republicanism.

3. Both used their Big Lies to break democratic norms. In Hitler's case, he became a de facto legal dictator shortly after rising to power. Because America has a much longer history of unbroken democratic government than Germany did in 1933, things will be trickier for the Trumpists. In Trump's case, he became the first president to lose an election and refuse to accept the result (there have been 10 previous defeated presidents, and all accepted the voters' verdict), as well as the first to incite an insurrection to stay in power. Trump is now reportedly fueling conspiracy theories that he could still overturn the election; just as significantly, Republicans are using his Big Lie to restrict voting for Democratic-leaning groups throughout the country. Through these methods, they will make it possible for Republicans to steal future elections — presidential and local — through means created to "fix" the problem they manufactured through their Big Lie. No doubt there will be many future Big Lies.

4. Both Hitler and Trump use fascist tactics to win over their supporters. These include appeals to nationalism, vilification of "out" groups and conditioning their followers to use self-expression as a substitute for authentic political self-agency. (It helps when they can create a cult of personality around the leader figure.)

5. Both may wind up using their legal troubles to create resurrection narratives. Hitler famously served nine months in prison for participating in a failed coup d'état known as the Beer Hall Putsch. Trump may go to prison for anything and everything from his own coup attempt to the numerous financial crimes alleged against him. If he's convicted, he will likely be held up as a martyr; if he doesn't, that fact will be cited as vindication.

Because of these similarities, it is unfortunately conceivable that Trump will complete his takeover of the Republican Party (generously assuming he has not already done so) and the Trumpists will win every future election because of their various voter suppression laws and Orwellian propaganda. We face a future in which Trump's brand of right-wing politics is not only empowered, but virtually impossible to dislodge. My guess is the process will start gaining steam soon, win some important victories in the 2022 midterm elections and then climax when either Trump or a Trumpist is elected in 2024.

How can Biden make sure this does not happen?

He must recognize the gravity of the crisis and prioritize neutralizing it. That means making sure Republicans can't cover up the truth about Trumpism's anti-democratic agenda, and that voting rights are protected.

None of that will be possible as long as Republicans in the Senate can filibuster legislation to death. Even though Democrats have a theoretical majority in a 50-50 Senate because of Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote, two Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — have infamously refused to support ending the filibuster. Their rationale is that of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who notoriously gave part of Czechoslovakia to Germany and thereby emboldened Hitler: Like Chamberlain, they want to appease the far right extremists in their midst. Today this means legislation that would protect voting rights, investigate the Trumpist coup effort and help America's economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic is being unnecessarily thwarted or watered down by Republicans bent on reclaiming power.

While Biden has expressed frustration with Manchin and Sinema, that is nowhere near enough. Biden and other leading Democrats need to make it clear that if Manchin and Sinema do not support ending the filibuster, they will suffer serious political consequences. The Trumpists understood this principle when they stripped Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming of her position in the House Republican leadership because she wouldn't back the Big Lie. In their quest to Make America Forever Trumpist, they will tolerate no dissent. When it comes to what Democrats must do to stop Manchin and Sinema, however, the goal is not to suppress dissent but to make sure that those who do suppress dissent can't rise to power. If Manchin and Sinema refuse to do something reasonable to stop them, the Democratic Party must make them suffer politically for it. To quote John F. Kennedy's final speech (which he never got to deliver because he was assassinated: "This is a time for courage and a time of challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed."

Consider this nightmare scenario: Sinema and Manchin switch parties and Democrats lose control of the Senate. As bad as that might be, it would also force Republicans to shoulder some of the blame for political gridlock, and might be preferable to Democrats being seen as impotent because two bad senators are blocking their entire agenda. If Biden can't get Manchin and Sinema to stop supporting the filibuster and back his agenda, then they deserve to be effectively treated as Republicans even if they remain nominal Democrats. Biden can still creatively use executive power to at least somewhat follow this next step. (I elaborate on that here.)

That step is to make sure that he adequately addresses the people's legitimate needs. The Weimar Republic fell, in part, because of widespread economic hardships that the government simply could not fix. Biden needs to make sure that the vast majority of Americans feel economically secure, safe from threats foreign and domestic (like terrorists and pandemics), and protected from long-term existential crises like global warming, plastic pollution and income inequality. Any legislation passed anywhere in the nation that limits citizens' access to voting must be stricken from the books. Lies spread in bad faith to discourage voting, from Trump claiming he won in 2020 to myths about mail-in ballots, have to be proactively rebutted.

It is unrealistic to expect Biden to be a revolutionary even if Manchin and Sinema do stop playing God, but he is capable of doing a lot entirely on his own. Whenever possible, he must be bold.

Finally, Biden must make sure that we never forget Jan. 6. Just as George W. Bush's presidency was defined by his response to the 9/11 terrorist attack, so too will Joe Biden's be defined by whether he can make 1/6 into a cornerstone of our political consciousness. If he can do that, he will be able to make sure that Trumpism's anti-democratic philosophy — which poses a far more dangerous threat to America than Islamist terrorism — is known by all but its followers for what it is.

This won't be easy, but we don't have a choice. A century ago one of the world's great powers collapsed into authoritarian evil with astonishing rapidity: While monarchists and major capitalists believed Adolf Hitler was a clown they could control, the opponents were divided, confused and ineffective. Aspects of that history are repeating themselves, the question now is whether we have learned from the mistakes of the past to alter the outcome.

The next major extinction event is here

Roughly 66 million years ago, an asteroid or comet struck the planet and wiped out three-quarters of every animal and plant species alive. Known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event (K–Pg), it has been immortalized in popular culture because of its association with the end of the dinosaurs' reign on Earth.

That is why scientists are hopeful that a new study regarding the rate of extinction nowadays may hammer home the urgency of our pollution problems. In an international study led by the Justus Liebig University Giessen that included geologists, paleontologists, evolutionary biologists and many others, researchers found that in some cases, man-made factors are causing an extinction rate that surpasses that of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.

The study, which was published last month in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, closely analyzed past extinction rates for freshwater animals and plants, then used that information to extrapolate likely future extinction rates. They discovered that the average predicated rate for freshwater animals and plants today is three orders of magnitude higher than it was during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. If current trends continue unabated, one-third of all freshwater species alive today may be forever gone by 2120.

If that happens, we can expect that the damage to our freshwater ecosystem — which, inevitably, has an impact on ecosystems everywhere else on the planet — will be effectively permanent.

"Our results indicate that, unless substantial conservation effort is directed to freshwater ecosystems, the present extinction crisis will have a severe impact to freshwater biota for millions of years to come," the authors write.

Even after the extinction event itself abated, the extinction rate remained high for 5.4 million years; the ecological recovery period required another 6.9 million years. Hence, the authors believe that our current situation might be comparable. Even if the man-made impact on life on Earth "ceases immediately, the already triggered phase of extinction might still involve several million years," they write.

Speaking to the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the study's lead author Dr. Thomas A. Neubauer explained that "losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects entire ecosystems. We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and fresh water supply." He added that "despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years."

In the study itself, the authors explained that the extinction crisis "has consequences on many levels," noting that smaller changes compound into larger ones that eventually have devastating consequences.

"Radical changes in ecosystem functioning, in turn, may have severe implications on ecosystem services for humanity, such as food provision, disease resistance or economic benefits," the authors write. "Thus, if we continue to lose species at the fast pace our analysis suggests, we will continue to impair ecosystem services to our own disadvantage."

The new study is one of many red flags being thrown up by the planet about a number of pollution issues that threaten our survival. A February report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Global Wildlife Conservation revealed that roughly one-third of the world's 18,075 freshwater fish species face possible extinction. The reasons for this include climate change, the introduction of invasive species, habitat destructions, pollution, and overly aggressive draining and damming.

In September a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) found that overall population sizes of "mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish" have dropped by 68 percent since 1970, indicating that the planet "is being destroyed by us at a rate unprecedented in history." Some scholars have already coined a term, Anthropocene, to describe the geological epoch brought about by climate change and marked by the proliferation of mass extinctions. We are already in the midst of what scientists refer to as the Holocene extinction, or the sixth known mass extinction event in the Earth's history, this one due to human activity.

Religion, right-wing news consumption are strong predictors of QAnon beliefs

People who believe in QAnon often self-describe as independent thinkers, not beholden to any media, corporate, or government propaganda. Yet a new study finds that the easiest way to predict whether someone will support the conspiratorial far right movement is if they consume the same far right media sources.

A new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that nearly half of Americans who believe far-right news outlets like Newsmax and OANN, as well as one-third who trust Fox News, subscribe to the QAnon belief that a "storm" will sweep politicians they dislike out of power and install beloved far right figures like Trump.

Religion, too, is a major factor in predicting whether someone is a QAnon adherent; specifically, white evangelical Protestants, Hispanic Protestants and Mormons are most likely to believe in QAnon. Americans without college degrees are three times more likely than those with them to believe in QAnon.

Overall, nearly one out of seven Americans, as well as fully one out of four Republicans, is a QAnon believer.

Perhaps most notable among the polling statistics, however, is the revelation that media news consumption is "by far the strongest independent predictor of QAnon beliefs."

Robert P. Jones, Ph.D., the CEO and founder of PRRI, told Salon in an email that "as the country is becoming less white and Christian," Americans who are attracted to the politics of grievance subscribe to a mutually reinforcing right-wing ecosystem of ideas. Republican partisanship and right-wing media outlets all play a role in this, and they in turn fuel the conspiracy theory movement known as QAnon.

Salon inquired whether QAnon adherents and people who subscribe to Donald Trump's 2020 election Big Lie seem to be motivated by white supremacist or Christian supremacist ideals.

"We unfortunately don't have variables in this dataset to demonstrate that directly, but the demographic characteristics of those who are most likely to believe in QAnon are consistent with those attracted to the politics of grievance and displacement that was key to Trump's 'Make American Great Again' messaging, something I noted in my book 'The End of White Christian America,'" Jones wrote to Salon. "Believing that the country is becoming unrecognizable because of demographic change or that non-European immigrants are replacing white Anglo-Saxon Protestants also runs high among these demographic groups."

This raises a chicken-and-egg question: Are these people being figuratively brainwashed by propaganda, or are those media companies simply giving their customers what they want?

"It is likely that the connection is a two-way street: people who hold QAnon beliefs have migrated to these far right media outlets and those who watch these outlets have become more susceptible to believing these conspiracy theories as they are exposed to them on these outlets," Jones told Salon. He observed that conspiracy theories have throughout history seemed most attractive to people who feel threatened when a perceived social order is being disrupted.

"As the country is changing, these are also people who are generally less trusting of institutions and society, who feel threatened by these cultural and economic changes, and who are attracted to theories that promise that the familiar order of the world will soon be set right," Jones pointed out.

In addition to their support for Trump, QAnon adherents believe that they are privy to an underground truth that the mainstream media refuses to cover. They argue that a secret cabal of elite, Satanic pedophiles secretly runs the world, and that far right-wingers like Trump are engaged in a titanic struggle against them. There is also considerable overlap between QAnon adherence and susceptibility to Trump's pre-election propaganda that if he lost the election was stolen. This ultimately culminated in an unsuccessful insurrection attempt after Trump became the first president to lose an election and refuse to accept the result.


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