OPINION: Conspiracy theories endanger lives and democracy. Believe it

Morehouse School of Medicine nurse Dawn-Marie Aime (left) gathers information for records before administering the first of two Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to baseball legend Henry Aaron (seated) and other people prominent in civil rights on January 5, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Morehouse School of Medicine nurse Dawn-Marie Aime (left) gathers information for records before administering the first of two Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to baseball legend Henry Aaron (seated) and other people prominent in civil rights on January 5, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

In the past few days, health officials have waged an information campaign to dispel loud whispers that Hank Aaron died because he got the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Jan. 5, Aaron and several civil rights icons were very publicly administered the new vaccine to help encourage older African Americans to do the same. Black people have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic and polls show they are among the most hesitant to get vaccinated.

When Aaron died 17 days later, there were those who quickly began to infer that his vaccination and death could be related. One of the country’s most high-profile anti-vaxxers, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., capitalized on this, arguing, “Aaron’s tragic death is part of a wave of suspicious deaths among elderly closely following administration of COVID vaccines.”

A day later, Cynthia McKinney, the former congresswoman twice ejected by DeKalb County voters for divisive and nutty antics, weighed in: “Hank Aaron Took the COVID Vaccine to Encourage Other Blacks to Take It and Then, He Died.”

Joe Beasley, an 84-year-old civil rights activist who got vaccinated along with Aaron, said conspiracy theories and distrust of the medical establishment in the Black community are rooted in facts. “We’ve been guinea pigs,” he told me. “If you’re going to try out a new medicine, try it on African Americans. They’re expendable.”

But he added, that is not the case with COVID-19. “With so many lives in the balance, we can’t have naysayers having a dangerous effect,” Beasley said. “This conspiracy that African Americans are somehow being targeted is ludicrous.”

Conspiracy has become currency in America, fed by fear and anger during a troubling time of pandemic and civil unrest. The past couple of months of post-election conspiracy have helped hone the art to perfection.

Cynthia McKinney prepares to hold a press conference on Sept. 30, 2006, in Decatur to say that voters are disenfranchised by Diebold voting machines that leave no paper trail. (FRANK NIEMEIR / AJC file photo)


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While checking McKinney’s Facebook account for her post, I discovered that the former darling of the Left has shown some very pro-Trump leanings. At first I was flabbergasted. Then realized I shouldn’t be — the Right just has better conspiracies these days.

McKinney posted frequently from the far-right periodical The Epoch Times, which seems to be a new fave. And she dug into topics such as Big Pharma, Israel, racism, George Soros, militarism, COVID-19 and election fraud. There’s lots of stuff on the last two — and why not? They’re the most popular these days.

She posts stuff about former President Donald Trump’s “Kraken” troika of Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Lin Wood.

On Jan. 11, the week after Joe Biden officially became President-elect Biden and the U.S. Capitol was raided, McKinney posted a link concerning Trump’s vociferous lawyer, writing, “Lin Wood’s Truths about Corruption and Treason.”

OK, she hooked me, I’m always interested in Lin’s “truths.” So I clicked the link that she posted and got a blank page bearing an explanation: “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.”

No matter. McKinney had also put on her tin-foil hat and posted a chart with the “Enemies of the People” ― Queen Elizabeth, the Pope, the Rockefellers and Rothschilds — as well as their billionaire minions, the usual suspects George Soros, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg.

At the root of it all was her own sense of loss. Twice she got tossed from office by the voters, first in 2002 when Denise Majette beat her. McKinney won back the seat in 2004. But she got bounced again in 2006 when Hank Johnson defeated her decisively.

Cynthia McKinney's world of conspiracy

Credit: Cynthia McKinney's Facebook

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Credit: Cynthia McKinney's Facebook

In November, McKinney articulated why she was buying into Trump’s stolen election conspiracy. Apparently, her mom was watching TV, saw Sidney Powell bloviating about rampant election fraud, and let her daughter know about it.

“When my mother saw this interview this morning, she JUMPED UP AND RAN to alert me and then sadly reminisced about how the election was stolen from me with these same machines and there was nothing we could do because we didn’t have the money to fight for justice,” McKinney wrote on Facebook. “I can only hope the culprits are served justice that I never had.”

So, Cynthia McKinney and Donald Trump are birds of a feather. Who’d of thunk it?

But as good as McKinney is at conspiracies — she was a featured speaker in October at a convention of conspiracy theorists on Jekyll Island — she doesn’t hold a candle to Q-congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a northwest Georgia Republican who might as well represent “Wackyville.”

Greene’s backing of QAnon, a bizarre and fantastic web of conspiracy theories, has been well-documented. She has long sunk her teeth into such blather. Does she believe this rabid nonsense? Who knows? But it certainly was a good way for a fledgling politician to gather a ton of social media followers so she could bellow her discontent, then transfer that to the campaign trail.

Now she’s in Washington, D.C., where, predictably, she’s in the thick of it as the national media has unearthed some of her Golden Oldies. There’s the video of her confronting a teenage survivor of the Parkland school shooting. And there are the times she “liked” posts on social media that called for the summary execution of national politicians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

CNN’s social media investigative team KFile looked at the gutter that is Greene’s Facebook page and found nuggets like this:

— In January 2019, Greene liked a social media comment that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove Pelosi.

— In April 2018, in reference to Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, a commenter asked Greene, “Now do we get to hang them??” Did Greene bat away the thought? Did she condemn it as crazy talk? No way. According to KFile, Greene replied, “Stage is being set. Players are being put in place. We must be patient. This must be done perfectly or liberal judges would let them off.”

There have been calls on both sides to do something about Greene, ranging from having the GOP leadership talk sense into her … to expelling her from Congress … to putting her on a terrorism watch list.

Greene has responded by saying this is what the “fake news” media does, pull random bits out of context to make her “look like a monster.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., yells at journalists as she passes through a newly installed metal detector outside the House Chamber on Jan 12, 2021. (Chris Kleponis/Sipa USA/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

In a couple of visits to her northwest Georgia district this week, Greene was alternately fiery and sometimes vaguely conciliatory. “The worst thing about (the raid on the Capitol),” she told a crowd in Dalton, “is that the people who ordinarily go to Trump rallies, the people who ordinarily peacefully protest, the people who have been upset by Antifa riots, shouldn’t have done what they did. They shouldn’t have. There’s no excuse for violence.”

Hmm, perhaps a newfound sense of rationality?

Not really. “It handed a narrative to the Democrats and the media, who are running away with it,” she said.