From the Pizzagate Basement to the House Floor: Meet the Conspiracy Caucus
They have a loose grip on reality and a vote in the House of Representatives and their power is only increasing.
Many are members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, but they’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole, this group might as well be called the Conspiracy Caucus and they are starting to put their theories into actual legislative text.
These back bench bomb throwers have always been in Congress, but they were one, maybe two votes out of 435 and no one really took them seriously. But now as definition of fact has been increasingly bent by the Trump administration, paired with the use of social media to spread fringe theories, mixed with the 24-hour news cycle and the increasingly partisan media landscape has allowed those who used to be constrained to lobbing molotov cocktails from afar to have an audience of millions.
Just last week nearly 20 House Republicans unveiled a new bill calling for the appointment of a second special counsel. But they aren’t calling for this person to investigate Russia or potential conflicts of interests in the administration or even the president’s secret payments to one porn star or another.
Instead, the group is dead set on uncovering what they argue is the biggest scandal Washington’s ever witnessed: The Clintons. That’s right. The two private citizens who now live in a quiet wooded community in New York, one of whom lost the presidential contest to the man who is now the center of the first special counsel investigation that’s already produced close to 20 indictments.
As they unveiled their legislation, its author Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) began the press conference with a 15-minute meandering case that touched on everything from the Clinton’s secret deal to sell an American uranium company to a Russian company, Obama’s Department of Justice (Bill Clinton met former Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the tarmac after all) and Special Counsel Robert Mueller—a Republican—who they allege is creating a smokescreen to protect the former first family.
“While many in the media and American public have been trying to bring down the president without evidence that President Trump colluded with Russia to win the election, there is a ton of actual evidence of real misconduct that those same people have been attempting to completely sweep under the rug,” Zeldin concluded as the 10 lawmakers in back of him prepared to bolster his case with their own assertions of guilt.
The charges they presented include secret wiretaps, Clinton being cleared by the FBI for using a private server and that James Comey—a Republican who many Democrats blame for delivering the death blow to the Clinton campaign—and others were in the bag for the Clinton campaign that ended more than a year ago. The group of far-right wing lawmakers had a receptive audience on hand to witness them weave an expansive web of Clinton-collusion and misconduct.
Jack Posobiec, a vocal Trump supporter who helped propagate the Pizzagate conspiracy that lead to a shooting at a popular family-friendly restaurant in Washington, is now a credentialed member of the congressional press corps after he was hired as a correspondent by One America News Network—a low fi, cable outlet that prides itself on being to the right of Fox News.
Their TV camera is set up permanently off the House floor—next to the likes of CNN, MSNBC, ABC and even Fox. This is throughout the day where tea party-tinged members of Congress are given an unadulterated platform to peddle whatever crackpot theories they like. Usually when there’s a vote on the House floor these fringe lawmakers stop by early or come over after they cast their ‘aye’ or ‘nay’ and then get to step on an alt-right soap box that many viewers unwittingly think is now mainstream conservatism.
It isn’t. In private more moderate Republicans consider these folks ‘crazy.’ But Washington is crazy these days and seems to be acclimating to Trump’s chaos theory.
Posobiec’s presence in the midst of the once vaunted press corps and that of other formerly too-crazy-for-primetime individuals along side actual working reporters is another sign of the indelible imprint the Trump administration is leaving on Washington. Now many of the nation’s policy makers are getting their information from the alt-right—a group that was a fringe Internet movement just two years ago but that now seems to be playing an outsized role in influencing the president’s thoughts and his minions on Capitol Hill.
That new, conservative to alt-right media landscape—because who knows where Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson are on that continuum anymore—is in part why accusations of a “Deep State,” a politically motivated “witch hunt” and now even so-called Spygate are now a part of the national lexicon.
Some have even claimed that Mueller himself is complicit in a Clinton-Russia bribery scandal (there doesn’t seem to even be a bribery scandal, folks) and that Democrats carry out most mass shootings (they don’t). Still, many of these lawmakers are the new celebrities of the right-wing media machine that critics say has become the defacto mouthpiece, some even say propaganda machine, of the administration.
That’s impacting the national policy and the call for a second special counsel seems to be the case and point, because some of these lawmakers are fully prepared for Trump’s campaign rally chorus of “Lock her up!” to become the mantra of the Justice Department.
"The end game is to have anybody that participated and have their day in court so that a grand jury is formed and indictments if you're found guilty then you serve the punishment. And that's the key is that we need a criminal prosecution going forward,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) told The Daily Beast.
While some of the members pushing this new bill have said they don’t want to see the president’s former political opponent in shackles, others say they’re ready for her signature pant suits to be swapped out for an orange jumpsuit if a grand jury decides she should be indicted.
"Losing a political campaign should not function as a de facto immunity deal,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told The Daily Beast. “I mean if people committed crimes we got to know what those were and see if there's any lasting consequence from them.”
Gaetz is a prime example of the hybrid of conspiracy theorist-legislator. He notoriously even brought an alt-right troll as his guest to the State of the Union address this year. When asked whether this latest theory that’s the foundation for the call for a second special counsel had a conspiratorial tinge to it, the darling of the alt-right didn’t deny the impression.
"Well, we live in very strange times,” Gaetz said, without a hint of self-awareness. “I mean it's unbelievable that you had the intelligence community weaponized in this way. I think there's going to be even more information coming public soon about the intelligence collection on the Trump campaign. I never thought I'd see that. That is crazy."
Critics say the truly crazy thing is actually the symbiotic relationship between the now powerful alt-right media and some of the nation’s most powerful policy makers, including the president himself.
“They have an amazing echo chamber…so they just create this alternative reality,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), a leader at the Democratic National Convention, told The Daily Beast. “To literally promote a false narrative simply to distract—our First Amendment is imperiled when people do that.”
Other conservative voices outside and inside of the Capitol do brush these far right voices aside though without trying to alienate them or their shared base.
“People have different motivations for calling for special counsels. A vast majority of them are political," Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) told The Daily Beast about this new cabal.
But if you tune into what was once conservative media, you now have alt-right voices or backbenchers in Congress masquerading as the mainstream and pretending to speak for the entire party, so many everyday voters aren’t aware that they’re consuming the extreme voices when they’re merely just hungry for information they can trust.
Critics say Trump likes it that way and now they fear this could be a trend that’s here to stay.
“The way the Trump White House has legitimized “news sources” that are clearly not news is deeply disturbing, and that is something new,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) told The Daily Beast. “You did not see previous White Houses validate some of these extreme right wing organizations that are just putting out things that are flat out not true.”