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Prominent conspiracy theorists are on a nationwide tour, speaking to crowds


The attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband Paul last week demonstrated how conspiracy theories can turn heated political language into violence. Online posts written by the suspect showed someone who was deep in the grip of conspiratorial thinking about 2020 election lies, COVID and other falsehoods. And some of the most prominent purveyors of those falsehoods are traveling the country, speaking to crowds of thousands. Our colleague Lisa Hagen has been reporting on those events. Hi, Lisa.


SUMMERS: So, Lisa, tell us about this tour. I know that it's called ReAwaken America.

HAGEN: Yeah, that's right. It's part-worship service, part-QAnon MAGA marketplace and part-political organizing - so lots of vendors trying to sell their wares and a stage show itself that is very fast-paced. People hear from more than 70 speakers in two days.

SUMMERS: OK, take us inside this tour. Who's on stage here?

HAGEN: Some big MAGA stars like former President Donald Trump's first national security adviser Michael Flynn, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. There are pastors, movement heroes who've lost jobs opposing COVID-19 mandates, QAnon influencers and people who believe they are prophets delivering fresh messages from God out of their own mouths on stage, like speaker Julie Green.


JULIE GREEN: You enemies of Almighty God can't defeat my church because you can't defeat me. Don't you just love how God talks sometimes?

SUMMERS: OK, so I can definitely hear the part-worship service vibes that you were talking about, but what is the religious vision that they're pushing?

HAGEN: The vision is that America is in trouble because people are rejecting God. And rejecting God really looks like taking a government vaccine rather than trusting your own body, or it's any deviation from traditional gender roles. The anti-trans messaging was really, really pronounced, and so is the rejection of abortion rights. Likewise, any political party that doesn't share these beliefs also rejects God or is evil. Here's presenter Tricia Lindsay.


TRICIA LINDSAY: When they have now made murder of children legal in our country, I think the war has begun and has gone to another level.

SUMMERS: And, Lisa, you mentioned former General Michael Flynn, who we should note is a prominent election denier. What else does he talk about at these events?

HAGEN: Michael Flynn's message is twofold. One is get involved politically. Vote, but also do more than vote. His other message is that the COVID vaccines somehow secretly contain nanotechnology designed as a global government surveillance tool.


MICHAEL FLYNN: I do not agree to be surveilled, and I definitely do not agree to be surveilled under the skin.

HAGEN: Which is not true. And, you know, all of his false rhetoric on this front sort of speaks to how the pandemic gave a lot of different parts of American society that are really suspicious of the government a reason to unite and organize.

SUMMERS: And, Lisa, you have done a lot of reporting on political extremism, but what is the political significance of all these conspiracy theories that you heard pouring out at this event being embraced by so many people?

HAGEN: The central narrative people unite around at events like this is that Donald Trump is going to save America, and divine punishment is coming for anyone who's an enemy. The part about Trump is the only part of that equation that's concrete, so the fact that Trump is not currently president and saving America or that a pandemic devastated the world while he was in office has to be explained. That's where the conspiracy theories come in, and when they're attached to an existing belief system about God, those stories and their ability to motivate action only get more powerful.

SUMMERS: That is NPR's Lisa Hagen. Lisa, thank you.

HAGEN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF TANK AND THE BANGAS SONG, "TSA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lisa Hagen
Lisa Hagen is a reporter at NPR, covering conspiracism and the mainstreaming of extreme or unconventional beliefs. She's interested in how people form and maintain deeply held worldviews, and decide who to trust.