It was hard not to notice that Tucker Carlson and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) had an oddly similar reaction to the conviction of Derek Chauvin. Both responded with extraordinarily unhinged hyperbole about the violence they imagine is gripping urban America right now — or pretend to imagine, anyway.

What shared instinct would cause them both to gravitate to precisely this same imaginary place?

Carlson’s reaction came amid a spectacular meltdown in response to a former law enforcement official who argued that Chauvin’s use of force was excessive. Carlson dismissed the point, saying: “I’m kind of more worried about the rest of the country, which, thanks to police inaction, in case you hadn’t noticed, is, like, boarded up.”

The implication was that, because of protests against police brutality, police are too closely scrutinized to sufficiently keep order, tipping the country into civil collapse.

Of course, you probably haven’t noticed that the “rest of the country” is “boarded up,” because, well, it isn’t.

Carlson hammered away at the wildly exaggerated idea that police under scrutiny were allowing the country to succumb to chaos throughout the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. His new innovation is that a jury holding a police officer accountable for the brutal murder of someone already in his captivity is what’s causing this.

Now keep that in mind as you ponder Greene’s reaction:

Greene and Carlson agree that Armageddon is gripping U.S. cities and that protests against police brutality are causing it.

Yet Greene’s depiction, too, is false. As Philip Bump demonstrates, Tuesday in D.C. was generally normal despite people feeling tense over the coming verdict, and any police presence in D.C. is a holdover from the threat of right-wing violence after Jan. 6.

We talk constantly about the radicalization of figures such as Carlson and Greene and of the GOP. But we don’t talk much about how uniformly this radicalization derives its justification from a kind of shared original wellspring, which is a violently hyperbolic depiction of the left.

Political theorist Laura K. Field has a new essay that helps us make sense of this. Field’s key distinction is between conspiracy theories, which make purportedly grounded claims of some kind, and conspiracism, which is more a habit of mind, a tendency to unshackle oneself in a way that permits a kind of open-ended indulgence in fabulism.

The latter is common among QAnon sympathizers, but Field argues that a conspiracist tendency is becoming distressingly common even among some right-leaning intellectuals, particularly ones who saw President Donald Trump as a necessary disruption of our politics, and his defeat as a cause for political anguish. But their through line concerns their depiction of the left.

In too many cases, Field argues, empiricism is entirely absent. This tendency sometimes attacks the political legitimacy of the entire left by conflating liberals and Marxists into one monolithically tyrannical political force. Or it attacks the legitimacy of institutions which have fallen under the left’s cultural spell (such as the media or “woke” corporations, never mind the latter’s pursuit of a distributive agenda the left hates). Or it attacks the political system itself (which the left has manipulated, rendering elections illegitimate).

This isn’t to be confused with the relatively balanced argument from some conservatives that they have legitimate reason to fear liberal cultural hegemony that’s ascendant through our institutions.

Instead, this conspiracism is increasingly detaching itself from any obligation to justify its connection to reality in any way. This freeing of the mind is itself the crucial ingredient.

After all, if widespread voter fraud can simply be asserted, then overturning an election result can magically be made legitimate. If antifa’s role in storming the Capitol can simply be asserted, then the violent Trumpist mob can be transformed into virtuous exercisers of their First Amendment rights who were smeared by association with the Real Rioters, i.e., antifa.

Or, as John Ganz suggests, if the social degradations of cultural liberal hegemony can be exaggerated into something heinously irredeemable through conventional politics, then anything goes. The very “giving up” on our institutions itself becomes the justification for engaging in the prosecution of right-wing politics by any disruptive means necessary.

That leads to the tacit flirtation with political violence as a regrettable but vaguely acceptable option that must be kept open as a possibility, if the left forces the issue and things get bad enough.

Field’s preoccupation is with intellectuals, but this framework can be usefully applied to the likes of Greene and Carlson.

Greene’s now-infamous flirtations with political violence have been explicitly about beating back various leftist tyrannies that were simply asserted. Or take Carlson’s other recent controversies. When Carlson and a guest agreed that the left just might push virtuous conservatives into fascism, they simply asserted that the leftist threat is already approaching this point, reverse-justifying the original notion.

And Carlson justified his recent depiction of immigrants as a threat to native voters by simply asserting that Democrats support immigration only to rig future elections, which is pure crackpottery. Now, it’s simply being asserted that our cities are in total collapse due to protesters of police brutality, which is all that is needed to cast those protests and their goals, and even the pursuit of accountability for the police, as illegitimate.

If these folks recognize no obligation of any kind to remain tethered to reality in depicting the leftist menace however they see fit, then it’s a short leap to justifying anything in response to it. Which is the whole point.

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