It will get worse

A flood of disinformation and conspiracy theories provokes troubled minds to turn to violence

A view of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's house following an attack on her husband.
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The go-to tactic for downplaying political terrorism and mass shootings is to blame the attackers' violence on "mental illness." A person who would crack an 82-year-old man's skull with a hammer, or shoot up a supermarket, synagogue, or school, is no doubt mentally unwell. But what triggers troubled people to lash out violently? What determines their choice of targets? Those questions become more urgent when you consider that David DePape, the man accused of trying to kill Nancy Pelosi's husband, shares a belief system with literally tens of millions of Americans: The 2020 election was stolen, COVID vaccination was tyranny, a Jewish cabal controls the world, legions of pedophiles are grooming children, and white men are now our society's most persecuted victims. "He really believed in the whole MAGA, 'Pizzagate,' stolen election — you know, all of it, all the way down the line," said Frank Ciccarelli, a carpenter who employed DePape for six years. "He went down the rabbit hole."

The rabbit hole of disinformation doesn't lead everyone to political violence. But there is simply no way to know which of the millions now marinating in lies and hate will confine their provoked rage to obnoxious ranting, and which will be tipped over the edge. And so it is that in our Land of the Free, schools and synagogues now post armed guards at their doors. School, town, and election board meetings are dominated by screaming citizens threatening to "destroy" public officials. Militia members had detailed plans to kidnap and likely kill Michigan's governor. Death threats fill the inboxes of public figures and journalists. Armed men in tactical gear have tried to intimidate voters depositing ballots at drop boxes. This is madness, but not just of lone individuals. It is a mass derangement, rooted in the willful destruction of any standard for decency and truth, and it is likely to get much worse before it gets better.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.