America's wing-nut derangement syndrome: The death of Antonin Scalia & the mainstreaming of far-right paranoia

You'd expect Alex Jones to have a conspiracy theory about Scalia's death. The scary thing is he's not alone

By Bob Cesca
February 17, 2016 3:59PM (UTC)
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Alex Jones, Antonin Scalia, Donald Trump (AP/Reuters/Jim Bourg/Evan Vucci/Joshua Roberts/Photo montage by Salon)

Antonin Scalia wasn't the healthiest man in the world, especially given his 79 years. Unhealthy people tend to die, and it was clearly Scalia's time. Despite the reality of Scalia's death from natural causes, it didn't take long for professional grifters like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to suggest that Scalia was murdered. Jones, in particular, wonders if perhaps President Obama ordered Scalia's death, which was allegedly carried out by smothering the Supreme Court justice with a pillow. The culprit left the pillow on Scalia's head, just to be sure everyone knows Scalia was murdered with a pillow -- you know, because covert operatives theoretically working on behalf of the White House would totally leave the murder weapon behind.

Jones also suggested that Donald Trump and other GOP leaders were next. Said Jones,


"Are they going to kill Clarence Thomas? Maybe they’ll kill Ron Paul. Maybe they’ll kill Donald Trump next. They all had heart attacks. How many more of these are we going to sit here and put up with? Or maybe their airplane blows up."

This is par for the course in the world of Alex Jones, who also believes Obama used "weather weapons" to control the super-tornadoes that ravaged the Midwest several years ago. But he's not alone in wondering if Scalia was murdered. Also partaking in the lunacy? Why, Donald Trump, of course.

The Republican presidential front-runner and likely nominee appeared on the Michael Savage radio show the other day. Which, in and of itself, should disqualify Trump from being taken seriously. Savage might be crazier than Alex Jones, and that's saying a lot. You might recall how he once wished AIDS on a gay caller whom Savage referred to as a "sodomite." Savage is good people. This is the company Trump keeps.

Regardless, Trump wondered out loud whether there was foul play involved in Scalia's death.


SAVAGE: Donald, I need to come back to the topic we've been all screaming about here, which is Scalia, was he murdered? I know it's pretty brutal to say that and I'm not wanting to drag you into this but this is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. I went on the air and said we need the equivalent of a Warren Commission, we need an immediate autopsy before the body is disposed of. What do you think of that?

TRUMP: Well, I just heard today and that just a little while ago actually -- you know I just landed and I'm hearing it's a big topic -- that's the question. And it's a horrible topic, but they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow. I can't tell you what -- I can't give you an answer. You know usually I like to give you answers but I literally just heard it a little while ago. It's just starting to come out now, as you know, Michael. [emphasis added]

Not a shocker coming from a reality show hack who dispatched private investigators to Honolulu to determine whether Obama was really born there. But in terms of Scalia's death, it doesn't matter that the family waived the right to an autopsy, and it doesn't matter that Scalia's death was due to natural causes. (Again, he didn't exactly treat his body like a temple.)

What matters is that the conservative entertainment complex, as well as the broader Republican Party, is suddenly realizing that elections matter. It's just now dawning upon them that presidents get to nominate Supreme Court justices, and the current president will likely nominate a left-leaning replacement for Scalia, tipping the balance on the bench to, at least, five-to-four in favor of liberal decisions, or, with Justice Kennedy's support on certain issues, six-to-three.

Thus, cue the right-wing freak out.


There's another key aspect to all of this that can't be overlooked. Too many Republicans are wired to be suckered by theories backed with almost zero evidence, while disbelieving facts proved by overwhelming evidence. (See: Donald Trump.) Put another way: A not insignificant cross section of Republicans believe in unprovable nonsense, while vocally denying objective reality.

To wit: There's no evidence whatsoever that Scalia was murdered but, as long as there might be a one-in-a-million chance, they'll believe it. Conversely, 97 percent of scientists agree that the climate crisis is real and caused by human activity, which clearly means it's a hoax, according to the GOP. For conservatives, everything that's real is fake and everything that's fake is real.


Along those lines, Republicans believe the Bible forbids same-sex marriage even though same-sex marriage didn't exist in biblical times. Similarly, they believe in all of the magical storybook aspects of the Bible, including a virgin birth, the parting of the Red Sea and the notion that a man was crucified and rose from the dead three days later. But racism doesn't exist anymore, they say. They believe Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered the U.S. military to stand down during the attack on the consulate in Benghazi even though Republican investigations have repeatedly failed to prove it. They believe easy access to military-style assault weapons prevents mass shootings and other gun-related deaths even though evidence proves exactly the opposite. They believe tax cuts stimulate economic growth even though trickle-down only succeeds in ballooning the deficit while leaving the middle class behind. They believe in the writings of Ayn Rand, whose libertarian theories have never been successfully implemented anywhere. Ever. They believe a series of sting videos indicting Planned Parenthood are totally real, and, indeed, the GOP is legislating based upon those videos despite the reality that 12 state investigations and a spate of nonpartisan fact-checkers have exonerated the healthcare provider of any wrongdoing.

We could do this all day.

As long as enough Republicans believe it, it must be true. Facts be damned.


The question remains: How do we debate a political faction that's so entirely disconnected from verifiable truth? How do we move forward debating a White House nominee for the bench when too many Republicans believe it conceivable that Scalia was murdered by the president? How do we debate the best means of ameliorating the climate crisis? It's practically a nonstarter when one half of the debaters are willing to support theories without evidence while rejecting math, science, history and reality in general. I suppose that's the point. If you can't win, and if you don't have any answers, make stuff up. If the fantasy is marketed well enough, people will believe it. This is the business model of the modern Republican Party.

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Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.