Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters drank the snake oil peddled by Mike Lindell

The day former President Donald Trump was supposed to be reinstated — August 13 — came and went with a whimper. Pillow company CEO Mike Lindell had predicted Trump would regain the White House on that less-than-fateful day.

Earlier that week, Lindell’s three-day symposium failed to produce the “irrefutable evidence” of election fraud that he promised. Therefore he moved the expected reinstatement date up to September 13. Like a nineteenth-century itinerant peddler of nostrums, he’ll be back around to hawk his ersatz wares. An elaborate conspiracy theory, like laudanum, keeps customers returning again and again.

It would be ever so amusing to watch this plump-faced mustache man work a gullible crowd if it didn’t have real consequences. The average mark is not the deranged QAnon freak who broke into the capitol bedecked in Viking attire; decent Americans have been duped.

Back in June, nearly three in 10 Republicans thought Trump would be reinstated according to a Politico-Morning Consult Poll. The few people I know who have drunk the stolen-election Kool-Aid are smart, generous, good people.

I can only conclude that under certain circumstances smart people can believe the unbelievable, in this case, that the FBI, Supreme Court and lower courts, Republican secretaries of state, and conservative-leaning media like the Wall Street Journal are all wrong; the election was stolen.

Sadly, a dangerous fiction can also make reputable people act disreputably.

Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who appeared on stage with Lindell at his non-event event, compromised her elected position and violated election security in an effort to find proof to back the stolen-election conspiracy theory.

During a scheduled upgrade of election equipment earlier this year, Peters and two others entered a secure Election Division area and made copies of the computer hard drive. Security cameras were turned off.  Images of the software and passwords were posted online. It would seem that Peters and accomplices thought they could prove Dominion Voting Systems election equipment could be compromised by compromising it themselves.

Because of the security breach, election equipment will have to be decommissioned and replaced at taxpayer expense. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold has rightly barred Peters and two staff members from overseeing the next election.

Meanwhile, Griswold’s office, Mesa County prosecutors, and the FBI are investigating. If found guilty of the allegations, Peters should be recalled.

Unfortunately, appropriate sanctions will be interpreted as proof of a cover-up by those who believe the election was stolen. That’s because it is human nature to interpret information in a way that affirms prior belief. When what we believe is correct, this tendency strengthens our perception of reality. When we are captive to a lie, confirmation bias keeps us prisoner.

Beliefs, right or wrong, are also influenced by the company we keep. Since we only directly know what we experience firsthand, most of what we know we’ve acquired by interacting with other people. When we trust the source, we are less critical of the content. Tribe, trust, and truth (and untruth) are intimately connected.

Thus, while those who buy into the 2020 stolen election conspiracy theory are primarily Republican, the 2016 stolen election conspiracy theory (via Russian collusion) captured more Democrats. Even after the $93 million Mueller investigation failed to turn up proof, some Democrats still believe Trump stole that election.

At least, though people lied and no one died because of that conspiracy theory. The same could not be said for the 2020 conspiracy theory that compelled people to storm the U.S. Capitol. In any case, conspiracy theories can be costly.

Finally, thanks to technology false information looks more convincing than ever. Conspiracy theories are nothing new but a broadcasted “symposium,” slickly produced podcasts and websites, and real video taken out of context are more convincing than say a typed newsletter alleging a second shooter on the grassy knoll or a grainy photo of a UFO.

Attempts to remove false information from platforms only reinforce its perceived value.

As trust erodes, tribalism increases and technology develops, conspiracy theories will likely gain more adherents on the right and left. Bad news. Yet, it’s certainly possible if it weren’t for that ridiculous mustache, Lindell’s long con might be more successful. In that small win, we can take comfort.

Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer.

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