The House January 6th Insurrection committee hearings have revealed how a sustained and coordinated disinformation campaign radicalized a critical mass of people to commit violence in order to try to destabilize democracy and overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential election.
The January 6th Insurrection hearing on Monday, June 13, 2022, presented witnesses from former President Trump’s own family, administration, and even FOX News testifying about the irrational conspiracy theories advanced by former President Trump regarding the election.
As someone who spent 12-14 hours per day from May 2020 to January 5, 2021, mobilizing people to vote for inclusive and pro-science interests, I am insulted by the conspiracy theories regarding the 2020 general election advanced by former President Trump and the people propagating his disinformation. I am insulted because not only did I work relentlessly to mobilize people to vote in an election with the highest voter turnout in the 21st century, but millions of people worked very hard to vote and/or mobilized others to vote in order to ensure that an unstable conspiracy theorist got replaced by the more stable, pro-science President Biden. Simply put, Trump got out organized and voted out of the Presidency by people who value inclusivity and science.
Because the bigoted and anti-science conspiracy theories advanced by former President Trump increasingly made it unsafe for me in the United States due to my marginalized and vulnerable identities which I can’t always hide, I was determined to mobilize as many people as possible to vote. Because I knew that the people in the United States who are inclusive and pro-science outnumber the people who are bigoted and anti-science, I decided that I had to work as hard as possible to mobilize people to vote in order to advance the safety needs for marginalized people like myself.
As someone who had been previously employed as a Field Organizer, I knew that although the majority of the people in the United States are inclusive and pro-science, no solutions can be implemented unless people get organized. In order to leverage people power against a powerful, unstable conspiracy theorist, I decided to apply my organizing skills to mobilize people to vote.
Working for a fair election
From May 2020 to January 5, 2021, I was employed as a Field Representative remotely working from Arizona to mobilize the registered voters who don’t regularly vote in every election to vote in six battleground states (Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin). Registered voters who don’t vote in every election are known as inconsistent voters. In addition to my paid employment of mobilizing people to vote, I did relational organizing to ensure my family members, friends and community members voted in the 2020 general election. I also volunteered 4-6 hours additionally every day to mobilize people to vote in the battleground states of Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania through phone banking and text banking. The discomfort of working long hours to mobilize people to vote was nothing compared to the discomfort of worrying about being safe from emboldened bigoted, anti-science conspiracy theorists.
While I mobilized people to vote, I listened to hundreds of registered voters per day for months about issues that mattered to them. For months, hundreds of registered voters per day told me that they did not feel safe with former President Trump in the executive branch of the federal government. Similar to me, the majority of the registered voters were determined to help restore their sense of safety through voting in the 2020 general election. The historic turnout of registered voters voting in the 2020 general election secured a legitimate electoral win to change the power of the executive branch of the federal government from former President Trump.
People like you and me organized our families, friends, and communities to show up to vote in historic numbers in the 2020 general election to secure a legitimate win in removing Trump from the executive branch of the federal government.
When mobilizing people to vote, Get Out The Vote season (GOTV) is the most crucial time. The people who were serious about winning the 2020 election were doing the difficult work of being out in the extreme weather elements such as out in the hot sun in Arizona and other states by organizing family members, friends, and community members by relational organizing, knocking on doors, phone banking, and/or text banking to ensure that voter turnout was historic in the 2020 election. Meanwhile, the people propagating Trump’s conspiracy theories were doing protests such as sitting in truck caravans and doing nothing productive to turn out the vote for their candidate.
During GOTV for the 2020 election and for the U.S. Senate Runoff Election in Georgia, I often worked 14-hour days from 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. as a volunteer to call or text voters on the East Coast to help them with their voting plans. Then, I began my paid job of talking to inconsistent voters and worked until 9:00 p.m. AZ time. I found it insulting and continue to find it insulting that people refuse to acknowledge the hard work that Black, Native American, Latine, Asian, Middle Eastern, disabled, LGBTQ2S, and pro-union people like myself had done in order to mobilize people to vote in the historic numbers that we did.
Because I was a top performer as a Field Representative in securing commitments to vote among inconsistent voters in battleground states for the 2020 General Election, I got rehired to help turn out the vote among inconsistent registered voters in Georgia for the U.S. Senate runoff election. I was so exhausted from my work to turn out the vote, as election day there was January 5, 2021. Then the Insurrection on January 6, 2021 happened. The Insurrection led me to realize that I could not even take time to rest from my work in Georgia as the spreaders of disinformation regarding elections continued to radicalize people into violent action. I knew that this radicalization had to be neutralized.
How disinformation bred violence
At the opening of the prime-time January 6th Insurrection hearing on Thursday, June 9, 2022, a video of former Attorney General Bill Barr in deposition cited that: “I observed, I think on December 1, you can’t live in a world where the incumbent administration stays in power based on its view unsupported by specific evidence that there was fraud in the election.”
While the highest voter turnout in the 21st century happened in the 2020 general election to vote in President Joe Biden, the repeated conspiracy theories amplified by former President Donald Trump and his enablers up to and after the election day likely had an illusory truth effect (meaning, repeated information gets perceived as true regardless of whether it is true) on a significant amount of people. Their beliefs motivated them to travel to the United States Capitol Building in order to try to violently prevent the certification of the election for President and Vice President of the United States.
The role of disinformation in the erosion of U.S. democracy
Disinformation serves to intentionally oppress people by dividing, distracting, demoralizing, and/or delaying people from accomplishing solutions/accountability. Former President Trump has continued to advance his conspiracy theories in a sustained and coordinated disinformation campaign while both mainstream media and media that intentionally spreads disinformation have continued to contribute to the frequency of repetition of the disinformation. Unfortunately, when information is repeated, even if it is wrong, people tend to believe it due to a phenomenon known as the illusory truth effect. This sustained and coordinated disinformation campaign has compelled people to threaten and harass election workers such that 1 in 6 election officials have experienced threats.
Additionally, people who believe Trump’s conspiracy theory are seeking out positions of power where they can influence election results, including running for Secretary of State in at least 20 states. This is certain to create future Constitutional crises like the January 6, 2021, Insurrection.
Unfortunately, internet and social media algorithms reinforce and amplify the illusory truth effect because the frequency of repeated information with which people interact, regardless of truth, is so rapid. Couple these algorithms presenting repeated information with stressors such as social isolation, and most people interfacing with internet and social media algorithms can be vulnerable to believing and spreading disinformation. Unfortunately, there aren’t any regulations for information algorithms to repeatedly present factual information, although there is legislation to address regulations.
Your role to help stop the spread of election disinformation
Studies have shown that merely presenting the facts to people in order to correct disinformation actually increases belief in the incorrect information. Therefore, it is people like you and me who must counter disinformation through having structured organizing conversations with people in your own networks. Structured organizing conversations are empathetic conversations where you are listening 70-80% of the time instead of talking. Structured organizing conversations have the following steps to activate people to act in organized ways for building up community and/or people power:
1) initiate by stating why the relationship with the person influenced by disinformation is important to you;
2) relate by asking questions/listening to why the source of disinformation is concerning to the person influenced by it;
3) educate by giving factual information about the concerns raised by the person influenced by disinformation;
4) agitate by asking why some people intend to divide, distract, delay and/or demoralize people from organizing for solutions and how things will be better if people like the person being influenced by disinformation organize with others to implement solutions;
5) inoculate by providing clear expectations for the division, distraction, delay and demoralization strategies and tactics of the spreaders of disinformation and factual and evidence-based reasons for remaining united, focused, expedited in sustaining pressure on oppressors, and committed in building up community/organized people power; and
6) activate by asking the person influenced by disinformation if they can have structured organizing conversations with other people influenced by disinformation.
If you aren’t the most trusted person to do the structured organizing conversation with the person spreading disinformation, then connect the person influenced by disinformation to people they trust to have the structured organizing conversations. The most effective way to counter disinformation is to have compassion and empathy. Often people fall into disinformation spreading communities through no fault of their own. It is, therefore, crucial that you show compassion and empathy in valuing the person influenced by disinformation to have a community and support that is rooted in factual information.
Please refer to this UCS guide on how to counter disinformation. Additionally, if you want to do more to help counter disinformation to protect voting rights with UCS, sign up with us to get involved in protecting voting rights.
If there’s anything these hearings have shown, it’s how the democracy of the United States is fragile. People like you need to get involved to stop the lies and call for the integrity of the systems that count your vote and ensure that you, your family members, your friends, and the people of your community are represented fairly.