Sidney Powell and the anatomy of a conspiracy theory

If you want to know what a canonical conspiracy theorist looks like, check out former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell. All the elements are there. She “knows” certain things but can’t tell you (just yet) exactly what those things are. She makes blatant, factual errors but won’t acknowledge those errors, hinting that there’s more to it than all that. She accuses a lot of people of a lot of crimes, but can’t precisely name those people, she just “knows” something is up and a lot of people are behind it. She has a lot of evidence to back her up and that evidence will be revealed “very soon.” Very soon now the lid is going to blow off this thing.

This thing from which the lid is about to blow is what the rest of us in the land of the real world call the Big Lie. Sidney Powell maintains that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, that it was stolen in a bloodless coup. She hints around at the mountains of evidence she has that will prove that the election was stolen, she just can’t tell us when that evidence will come out, or even what that evidence is.

I predict that the evidence that the election was stolen from Donald Trump will come out in two weeks, but I’m not using the ordinary definition of two weeks. I’m using the Donald Trump definition. You know, the two weeks when his “beautiful” healthcare plan was supposed to be revealed, or the two weeks when his infrastructure program was to take effect, or the two weeks when he was going to destroy Isis. That two weeks. In other words — never. In other words when hell freezes over.

Sidney Powell sat down with Sarah Ferguson and was expertly dismantled by the Australian journalist — and in very short order. For example, Ferguson said to Powell, “Let’s get a few simple facts straight, in how many states were Smartmatic machines and software used in the 2020 election?” Powell replied, “I don’t even know the exact numbers.” To which Ferguson replied, “But you were making some big statements, very dramatic, critical statements about Smartmatic, you must have known what their involvement was in the election.”

To make a long, cringeworthy story short, the answer is that Smartmatic was used in exactly one county of one state for the entire 2020 election. As Ferguson said to Powell, “A Google search would have shown you that Smartmatic was operating in one single county in California.”

For those of you, brothers and sisters, who have more than just a casual acquaintance with my articles, you know that many times I have written how easy it is sometimes to refute the claims of a conspiracy theorist, that the refutation sometimes is nothing more than a simple 15 second Google search away. But most conspiracy theorists won’t bother, or aren’t interested in data that contradicts what they “know” to be true. Just as the person you may be debating on Quora won’t bother googling their irresponsible claims, neither will a nationally known conspiracy theorist like Sidney Powell bother. The laziness and dishonesty of the conspiracy theorist is universal.

Powell’s smug answer to Ferguson’s point is, “I think their [Smartmatic’s] involvement is probably a lot bigger than that.” Her “refutation,” given without a shred of evidence, is an example of why conspiracy theorists are bulletproof. They are going to believe what they want to believe, and all the refuting evidence in the world isn’t going to change it.

The truth of the matter is Sidney Powell has no idea how much or how little Smartmatic was involved in the 2020 election, she simply needs a villain. Virtually all conspiracy theorists have villains, and they will happily destroy the reputations of companies or the lives of innocent people in the creation of that villain. This is one of the most important reasons why conspiracy theories are evil. Another reason is because conspiracy theories add to the world’s already considerable sum of ignorance.

When Ferguson asked her, “What research or fact-checking did you do at the time to find out what Smartmatic’s actual involvement in the election was?” Powell replied, “Do you work for Smartmatic?” That is a laughably common accusation conspiracy theorists make, that the debunker must work for NASA, the Air Force, the former Bush Administration, the CIA, the Military Industrial Complex or the Illuminati. (I have been accused multiple times over the years of taking paychecks from various organizations involved in mysterious conspiracies. It never seems to occur to the accuser that those paychecks would be far more valuable uncashed. After all, they would blow the lid off a major conspiracy and make me famous, would they not? I could write books and do paid lectures. “Follow the money,” indeed.)

In point of fact Ms. Ferguson doesn’t work for Smartmatic, she’s an Australian journalist. She’s just asking a very good question. That’s what some journalists do, to the infinite annoyance of people like Ms. Powell. How did Smartmatic, working in one lone county in one lone state manage to steal a national election? Powell has no answer to that, of course, so she does what all conspiracy theorists do when backed into a corner, she attacks the questioner personally.

Ferguson goes on to ask Powell, “You say that Smartmatic owns Dominion, how do you justify such a basic factual error?” At that point Powell did what a lot of conspiracy theorists do when confronted with a lie they told that even they cannot explain away. She exited. “I’m gonna stop this interview,” Powell said, “it’s wholly inappropriate in the litigation that we’re in.” Actually it isn’t inappropriate at all for the litigation she is in. Smartmatic doesn’t own Dominion. That’s a mistake, pure and simple. That mistake has no bearing on her lawsuit. Ferguson was asking about a simple factual error about who owns whom. There is nothing at all inappropriate about the question. What is inappropriate is Powell’s dishonesty, and there’s no excuse for that.

   

The producers of the interview did manage to get Powell to agree to return, but nothing useful came of it. Powell, like so many conspiracy theorists, is so blinded by her bias and so dishonest in her methods that no real light was shed, she had only the usual darkness and obscurity and ignorance to offer, the soil from which all conspiracy theories grow. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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