“All these people who stormed the Capitol and later said, ‘What did I do wrong? I didn’t think it was illegal’ — they want what we all want: belonging, friendship, cultural meaning,” said Robert Futrell, a sociologist at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas who studies white-power movements. “We gloss over that too often, but in any movement, there’s a festival atmosphere. They gain a feeling of power from being surreptitiously connected through things they enjoy, like music. This is much more complex than just an ideological movement.”
Before conspiracy theories take root, before people decide to break the law because they think society is somehow rigged against them, there is first a bonding process, a creation of connection and camaraderie that encourages members to believe they will now be privy to answers that outsiders cannot know or understand.
“You have neo-Nazis, eco-fascists, conspiracy theorists, and what unites them is the culture, not the ideology — the videos, movies, posters, memes,” said Rita Katz, executive director of SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online extremism.
“How many of these people are really reading books about neo-Nazism? Hardly any,” she said. “The far right has its own culture. They have their own world, their own language, their own music. Many of them are completely ideologically incompatible, but they use conspiracy theories and culture to try to create cohesion where it doesn’t exist.”
What the various strands of the far right have in common is the ability to give some Americans a sense of community.
Never underestimate the lengths people will go to in order to feel like they are a part of something larger than themselves.
None of these ideologies need to be coherent or make any sense, and teaching people critical thinking skills or relying upon better education is not going to dissuade them from throwing in with crazy, eliminationist racists. They will figure out ways to rationalize whatever they need to in order to feel like they belong.