Editor’s Note: Story contains explicit language.
It’s an understatement to say that odd things happen on Speedway. From fistfights to conspiracy-laden rants, and just a few months ago, sledding. As I walked to the Gates Dell Complex (GDC) this morning, I encountered another peculiar sight. Across from the long queue of Austinites waiting to receive the vaccine in Gregory Gym stood four men, each holding a different sign above his head:
“ASK ME WHY YOU ARE GOING TO HELL.”
“ABORTION IS MURDER.”
“ATHEISTS ARE NOT REAL.”
“JESUS LOVES YOU.”
Ah, yes. The four horsemen of the political apocalypse. Despite the signs’ absurdity, the Speedway loiterers’ presence provokes very dangerous behavior, and unfortunately, these signs were not the strangest thing I witnessed that morning. I was later joined by a friend currently in the Radio-Television-Film program announcing the release of the most absurd film of the decade: “Absolute Proof.” Turns out he was absolutely correct. The film more closely resembled a fever dream than a movie, and was in fact a two hour dis-infomercial manufactured by Mike Lindell, founder and CEO of the Minnesota-based company MyPillow. Right as the film began, I knew I recognized this man’s face from somewhere, and you probably have too. From late-night commercials advertising his pillows to appearances with former President Donald Trump at press conferences, Mike Lindell’s TV presence far predates February 5th, the release date of “Actual Proof.” Lindell has been a staunch supporter of Donald Trump since the 2016 election, and following Biden’s win in November, Lindell joined the brigade of far-right media claiming the election had been stolen, robbed or rigged — claims that seemed relatively harmless until we saw what happened on January 6th. Real words turned into very real action. Actions that resulted in five deaths.
Mike Lindell’s “Absolute Proof” is a ramble about baseless election fraud claims from the 2020 election and could practically be the fifth horseman of the Speedway political apocalypse. However, a major factor differentiates Lindell and the men on Speedway: he can afford to buy a platform. The men who stand on Speedway and yell at UT students do not have a large platform. The loudest weapon they have against reason is their voice. Men such as Lindell have tools much louder than their vocal cords to spread their lies and misinformation. For example, Lindell was able to buy out two hours of air time on One American News Network (OANN), allowing him to appeal directly to its conspiracy theorist base.
It is men like Mike Lindell who rally the men on Speedway.
It is men like Mike Lindell who legitimize the voices of ignorance.
Let it not be forgotten that networks such as OANN, NewsMax, and InfoWars, among others, have consciously spread lies and misinformation in an attempt to create chaos.
While Mike Lindell may be a recognizable face of a ludicrous–but dangerous– movement, he is hardly the main problem. He is not in Congress creating the laws that govern us, but individuals like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert are. While their opinions are similar to Lindell’s, they hold the privilege of actual political power. Just as it is an understatement to say Speedway attracts some interesting people, it is also an understatement to say witnessing individuals such as Greene and Boebert in Congress is terrifying.
How do you reason with the unreasonable? How does my best friend convince his well-educated parents that the earth isn’t flat? I wish I was joking on that last one. In a recent conversation with a hard-line Christian conservative who slid up on my Snapchat story about the rigged election, I asked for one– just one– news outlet that could back up his claims about widespread election fraud. He responded,
I trust fucking no one.”
So who is there left to place our trust in? This fleeting trust falls to representatives that make the ‘left behind’ white minority feel included. Representatives who affirm their beliefs, even when false. A while back, an old article about Trump resurfaced on Twitter claiming the former president ran Republican because he believed Republicans to be “the dumbest group of voters.” Although quickly debunked, the article indicates a serious problem with the media and in the Republican party. The news networks that spew misinformation know they are publishing lies for the sake of better ratings, and the senators and representatives who unreservedly follow a racist, misogynistic leader are not in the dark. Conspiracy-believing individuals are being duped by the echo chamber news they watch, the leaders they elect and the few institutions they trust.
It is essential we fight ignorance with facts and persistence. Our neighbors who are blind to reason cannot simply be ignored. If they were a small population of rogue conspiracy theorists, perhaps it could be brushed aside. However, when they actually number close to half the nation, it is paramount that we learn how to reason with the unreasonable. There is a fine line between genuine discourse and hostile debates, and although it can be difficult to find this balance, it does exist and must be found to combat ignorance.
Categories: Domestic Affairs