Conspiracy theories in American politics are nothing new. However, the manner in which the QAnon far-right and Tlaib-ist far-left make excuses for Vladimir Putin and fall for his conspiracy theories is truly disturbing.
Conspiracy theories are not unique to the American political psyche. Whether people claim the moon landing was faked, that 9/11 was done by the Bush Administration, or whether the War on Terror was executed in the name of natural resources, there has always been a segment of American skeptics who cling to conspiracy theories to explain what is often seen as the utter incompetence or dishonesty of the U.S. Government.
However, around the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign and certainly ever since, conspiracy theories have become more widely accepted in the United States—including among leftists who loathe the 45th president. The Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, has spread lies and conspiracies that were then parroted by President Donald Trump and other GOP figures to their political base. And it wasn’t just Trump—Green Party leader Jill Stein, who frequented RT, the Russian state-controlled TV network, was another source of free advertising for the Kremlin’s spin campaign. Similarly, Tulsi Gabbard assisted in legitimizing Putin and his worldview on the national stage. While Trump has recently condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, his past is checkered with statements that seem to sympathize with Putin’s views on Kiev.
It seems that Putin and his reprehensible invasion has put on display the Horseshoe Theory for all to see. The Horseshoe Theory posits that the two political extremes (far-right and far-left) are much closer in ideology to each other than they are to their mainstream moderate political wings (center-right and center-left). The centrist moderates create The Bend (as Dr. Brandy Shufutinsky loves to call it) in the horseshoe, the largest piece and most physically distant from the two poles, which are barely far apart. We have long seen the similarities in views of each side. The far-left and far-right are both responsible for horrific anti-Semitic incitement, often featuring a religious element (Islamism or Christian extremism) or an admiration for anti-Semitic dictators (Stalin and Hitler). Both sides, for example, blame Israel for 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror, and accuse Israel of “stealing” American taxpayer dollars. While Rand Paul advocates a cut on military aid to Israel (and, to be fair, most other countries too), the far-left promotes Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) for the Jewish state. This, however, is not where the similarities end. In the 2016 campaign, for example, both the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns made a big deal over Hillary Clinton’s “warmongering ways,” claimed she was an “establishment moderate,” and held her responsible for the failures of the Obama Administration she once was a part of. Bernie was often quoted by Trump in the general election when it came to attacks and attack ads on the Clinton Campaign. Meanwhile, some of the Bernie Bros (such as HA Goodman of The Huffington Post) even backed up many of Trump’s anti-Hillary tirades, despite not caring for him either. Pointing this out isn’t to endorse any of these candidates—it is to display how often they cooperate for the sake of achieving a common goal.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both the extremist, alt-right wing and the far-left of Squad fandom have blamed the United States and NATO for “aggression” and the war, while being very soft on the Russian dictatorship. The Democratic Socialists of America—seemingly a rising star within the Democratic Party’s base—has stated that it is American and Western imperialism that led Russia to war. Similarly, Tucker Carlson of the right-wing Fox News sounds just like the leftists he claims to despise. Like The Squad, Carlson ignores Putin’s neo-imperialist ambitions (which have extended to Moldova, Georgia, Libya, and Syria) and blames everything on the United States. Lara Logan, a conservative news commentator, claims that Charles Dawin’s Theory of Evolution is a Jewish-funded hoax. The QAnon Movement—bizarre and disturbing in its own right—has now bought into the Kremlin’s propaganda regarding American bio-weapon labs in Ukraine. (QAnon is the conspiracy-theory-turned-cult that alleges Trump has been targeted by a Satanic, global cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles.) They blame the Jews and hint that these labs could be where the coronavirus originated. Jewish Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is now being called a “globalist” threat to Ukraine, who should “surrender to Russia for the sake of his own people.” This extremist right-wing sentiment sounds awfully similar to leftist arguments that if the West doesn’t arm Ukraine, Putin will be appeased and violence will stop. Furthermore, Putin and his alt-right fans in the West insist that Ukraine must be “denazified,” despite the president’s Jewish background and the Jewish background of many in his government. This echoes the leftist, pro-BDS trope that Israel is a “successor state to the Nazis” and is “White Supremacist.” The minimalizing of the Holocaust and how white supremacy—whether KKK or Nazis—always target Jews fails to register with both the far-left and the far-right. Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that these two conspiracies converge: these leftists are merely relying on old Soviet anti-Zionist rhetoric, which Putin has weaponized for modern purposes of his own. The origins of both racist theories come from the same source.
Another disturbing trend employed by the far-left and far-right is the pushing of Western-centric labels (or problems specific to American society) on foreign conflicts. For example, extreme leftists claim that Israel is a European settler-colony engaging in apartheid. They say that Israel is engaged in “global white supremacy.” This totally ignores, of course, that Jews are native to Israel, that most of Israel’s Jewish population immigrated from non-European countries, and that Jews are the foremost victims of white supremacy. But furthermore, it ignores the fact that terms like “white” or “people of color” are not used widely in Israel, or the Near East more generally. Identities here are much older than the American (or Western) concept of race and are much more affiliated with tribes or religion.
On the other side of the spectrum, the alt-right views Putin’s Russia as a “Great White Savior” of Christendom. This is despite the fact that Western European powers historically saw Slavic peoples as inferior and almost non-white; the fact that most Russians are still overwhelmingly secular as a result of Soviet communism; and that the country’s birth rate is incredibly low while its abortion rate is astronomical. Putin has also aligned himself with Muslim strongmen, such as Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and the Iranian mullahs. The strange idea of Russia being almost “Nordic” in modern White Supremacist, evangelical mythology simply doesn’t apply, as Russia is outside of the Western racial-religious psyche.
With QAnon rising in prominence among the GOP as well as the “woke” ideology of the far-left (which invokes several conspiracies) spreading to the education system, now is the time to cut off and isolate the two ends of the horseshoe. Traditional liberal mores and modern Western values cannot survive if our political systems are allowed to be so easily infiltrated and hijacked by foreign and false ideologies. The Russo-Ukrainian War is providing just such an opportunity to end the madness—and for people to see it for what it is. Some elements of the far-right and far-left have been isolated and shamed into silence for parroting Putin—or at the very least, making excuses for his undemocratic and illegal behavior. The moderate center seems to have woken up (at least in this case) to the fact that appeasement will not work, and that freedom must be defended. The Democratic Party must speak out louder against the woke Squad and the DSA as long as they continue to parrot falsehoods and the Kremlin’s tropes. Similarly, the Republican Party must marginalize Marjorie Taylor Greene and the QAnon “movement” if it wishes to return to the bygone era of great GOP leaders, such as Teddy Roosevelt or Dwight D. Eisenhower. American trust in the government might be restored if its moderate majority has leadership it can believe in again—not weak leadership that cedes ground to thoroughly un-American ideology and behavior. We must seize the moment in reminding ourselves as a society what we believe in and stand for, while defunding and delegitimizing organizations that work to divide us on behalf of paranoid tyrants.