Lizard People

The latest nut fringe thing and why it's worse than weird

I have to admit I did not see this coming, from Will Sommer’s Right Richter:

Right-wing figures, including Sean Hannity, are claiming that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not a congresswoman, but an “actress.” The implication is that Ocasio-Cortez is a dupe for shadowy, powerful interests — including, of course, George Soros.

The conspiracy theory originates in a video posted earlier this month by an actual actor, YouTube personality “Mr. Reagan,” the stage name of Chris Kohls. In the video, Kohls claims that Ocasio-Cortez is an “actress” because she received campaign help from a progressive group and because her staffers sometimes cite the same statistics that she does.

“She’s not a real congresswoman,” Kohls says in the video. “She’s an actress.”

If you doubt his word, check out all the nutjobs flashing the #aocfraud hashtag. Or read this report by Stacey Lennox of The Resurgent, the propaganda outlet of ham-faced wingnut Erick Erickson. Lennox seems to have heard these rumors from her own followers — “When I tweet about the freshman or comment on her policies, I am told that she is a paid actress” — but assures these followers that Ocasio-Cortez “didn’t ‘audition’ in the traditional sense,” at least — though “she is but one outcome of a coordinated strategic game plan,” so she’s still into something shady so please don’t stop following and tweeting her, nutjobs, mama needs a new pair of shoes.

Or take in the Kohls video to which Sommer refers. I pulled some high points for you:

  • In 2017 a group called the Justice Democrats “auditioned” actresses for the “role” of U.S. Congresswoman for the 14th District of New York. Kohls claims to have “auditioned for many acting roles in my day,” particularly when the breakdown calls for a young Jon Lovitz type, so he knows what he’s talking about.

  • Kohls says he didn’t have to go “digging for evidence” that AOC is not a Congresswoman because the Justice Democrats “brag about it”: See, a member of the group says “back in 2016, we put out a call for nominations,” and Kohls, Broadway baby that he is, knows that’s exactly how they do it in Backstage.

  • As if sensing that you’re already growing bored, Kohls asserts AOC “did not actually run for Congress.” I leaned in waiting for the Inception/Black Mirror/St. Elsewhere explanation but, alas, the payoff is that AOC “did not run, she was run... she was used by this group as a figurehead.” Like Reagan, in other words.

  • Kohls also thinks AOC is from Brooklyn rather than the Bronx, but that may not be conspiracy theorizing so much as sloppiness.

Kohls adds that AOC “is a puppet Congresswoman” — huh, so now she is a Congresswoman — because “she does not make her own policy decisions, she does not decide which way she votes on legislation — she defers completely to her team. This is a serious accusation, I know —” Oh, Chris, it’s not at all serious, that’s the kind of thing every politician’s supporters say about every opponent.

I expect Kohls follows up with a charge that AOC is In The Pocket Of The Fat Cats but I can’t say because I gotta be honest, this is from the first three minutes of the 23-minute video — I checked out for good when Kohls talked about a “Saul Alinsky-styled strategy expert” who looked like a college poli sci student. I couldn’t take any more.

YouTube says the video has been viewed more than two million times.

I will add that the style of the thing exactly mirrors that of other wingnut oafs like Ben Shapiro — it’s just a guy at a desk and some clips. But throw in a little picture-in-picture, some rack focus and odd shakycam angles, and have your pitchman deliver his ridiculous stories in the arch Old Time Radio style these boys all learned from Matt Drudge, and you’ve got the guff that launched two million incel bagboys and junior executives, some of whom may try these theories on select acquaintances, hastily adding (when the inevitable incredulous stares come out) that they’re only kidding. But most of them will keep it close to the vest and simply comfort themselves with the knowledge that whatever stupid blue-pill thing the normies believe, Mr. Reagan and they know the truth.

The thing that’s most disturbing to me about this is not that fans of this stuff have an alternate reality — everybody should have at least one, and it should be as rich and colorful and gratifying as they can make it. No, what’s disturbing is that their alternative reality is so flat and dull.

It’s all set in home podcast studios and offices, starring people reading scripts in stentorian voices (or weird imitations of the dumbest TV and movie tropes, like Tyler Perry epiphenomena Diamond and Silk). The emotional palette is surprisingly limited — the tone can be hot, like the roid rage of Alex Jones, or cool, like the glibness of Chris Wohls, but one thing it cannot be, it seems, is natural or earnest or at all like the way human beings actually talk to each other. (If anyone in real life started talking to you like these guys do, you’d get away from them fast.) (But then, maybe their fans don’t know how human beings actually talk to each other.)

Even the craziest of their ideas, like this one about AOC, aren’t the good kind of crazy — they don’t have the vividness of fever dreams, artistic creation, or sexual fantasy. (Conservatives do seem to have sexual fantasies about AOC, but they always come out pinched and garbled.) It’s like they have a computer that endlessly spews Mad Libs set with an anti-liberal algorithm, and every once in a while they grab whatever’s on top and shove it into the meme grinder.

The sad fact, I suspect, is that conservatives have gotten so vicious and crackbrained because modern life requires at least a little bit of imagination, and they are simply insufficiently equipped.