It's always been possible to whip up a crowd and move them to do the bidding of a charismatic leader. It's always been possible to turn that crowd to acts of violence, or convince them that the truth isn't actually true. We just lived through four years of it, listening to a President lie to us, while telling us that everyone else is lying and that only he can be trusted. This concept was preposterous to me, and continues to be so, but even with his fall from true political power there are still people who would rather listen to him and do what he says than actually try to govern.
Today is the anniversary of the death of Bridget Bishop. Is there any reason you should know who she is? Bridget Bishop was hanged on 10 JUN, 1692, the first of 19 people hanged during the Salem Witch Trials (a 20th died by pressing, and none died by burning). The Salem Witch Trials are an American example of mass hysteria leading to mass murder, but colonial America had other witch trials take place that resulted in the death of innocent (mostly) women. These witch trials aren't the only cases we see of mass hysteria resulting in death in this country though; we also have to consider the influence of charismatic cult leaders like Jim Jones of the People's Temple, whose followers drank cyanide-laced Flavor Aid at their compound. The KKK is a racist, heretical, terrorist, cult. The people who fell into these cults, or these instances of mass hysteria, all have something in common - they were convinced to somehow not believe in reality. At the Salem Witch Trials the court allowed "spectral" evidence. Years later there was a collective "whoops" and they went back to the same standards of evidence that any other trial requires. Jim Jones admitted he infiltrated the church only to spread Marxist teachings within it, then pretended to clairvoyant in order to raise money...
During the 1950s the term 'witch-hunt' joins the political lexicon, but as Cold War communism fears grip America. The 1947 Federal Employee Loyalty Program results in about 8,000 employees resigning from their job, and at least seven suicides. At the same time, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) begins investigating Hollywood for communist activities. Senator Joseph McCartney claims that he has a list of communists working in the State Department, and that there are more than 200 of them. The HUAC blacklisted more than 300 Hollywood artists, ruined thousands of lives, and very rarely actually found anyone who was supporting communist Russia. This was mass hysteria and anger ruining American lives.
Yet, with all these historical reminders of our past mistakes, we're right back at it again, and while the techniques are the same, the delivery tools are vastly improved. When Elizabeth Hubbard threw accusations of witchcraft at Bridget Bishop she had only her own voice and local officials to talk to. When Senator McCarthy screamed "communist" at people he had mass media; newspapers, radio, and TV. Today, when Donald Trump tells us the election was stolen he has (well, had) huge followings on social media in which to preach his own truth, and he spent a lot of time trying to convince us that only he knew the truth - everything else was a lie. This ability to disseminate crazy theories online to huge groups of people makes it much easier to find someone who agrees with you, and much more likely that someone may, individually or in a group, take action. The online cult world is using the same tactics as cult leaders, like Jim Jones, used before the internet; recruit and isolate. Once we have someone isolated we can then work on giving them new friends without our cult, and then we can make sure they're only surrounded by the belief system we want them to have. This is what we're up against in this country today. Mass hysteria fed by the Big Lie has led millions of Americans to believe that a man with three marriages and six bankruptcies is the only arbiter of truth. Cult-like recruitment has taken in numerous servants in both of the legislative branches, convincing them that only their leader Donald understands the truth, and if they want to keep their jobs they have to do what he says, and say the things he wants said. In this way, the cult can grow. Dozens of elected officials spend their days online parroting the lies of a man who lost the most recent election. That man calls any investigation into his behavior a 'witch-hunt', and actually causes witch hunts against other groups, mostly members of the media who dared to do the research and find the truth. It's all a culture war to them. It's not about governing. It's not about you, or me, or any desire to improve the lives of Americans. It's about fealty to Donald Trump, their cult leader, and who gives a damn what happens to anyone who won't join their cult. We must be better than this. We must trust science, research the truth, understand our history, and not let this depraved cult continue to infect our government, because if they have their way, we're not too far off from hanging witches in town square again.