How to Disengage with Radicalized Trump Supporters

Joscelyn Kate

Are you struggling to talk to family or friends and neighbors? Are you paralyzed by disbelief because there are still people who believe Donald Trump when he says the election was rigged or stolen and he is the true winner?

It’s hard to watch people believe these lies. To try and understand why and to think of how to explain or counter or show them the truth… it feels impossible.

Every time we try to offer perspective, his supporters reject it with the fierceness of a child whose toy is being tugged away. They are "entitled to their beliefs." The more we try to debate with them about their beliefs, the further it cements their belief that we're denying them the right to hold beliefs at all.

Why do they believe him? When he says the election was rigged, he has not shown the evidence, and yet it seems as if they do not need it. He has not won any lawsuits, none of the states have overturned results, all of the audits and recounts have been accurate. The laws have been exhausted to their very last letter.

After the lack of evidence, the continued rejection from every level of court, the proof that ballots were legal and legally counted, and debunking of alleged conspiracies, why do they still believe him? What the hell is going on?

Trump supporters have been radicalized.

Trump supporters have been radicalized the way cult members are radicalized. Using a form of mystical manipulation, Trump is always telling his supporters that he has information superior to theirs or anyone else's. He gets it from “they.” “They” tell him he had the biggest electoral win, the largest inauguration crowd, the Russia investigation was fraud, the election has been stolen. "They" is and are completely unidentifiable. We cannot ask Trump or his supporters who “they” is because it does not matter. The point has been stated and the source is irrelevant.

How could this have happened? Why would regular people believe someone who gives them non-credible information?

He began by connecting with his supporters on shamelessness. He wears shamelessness like a badge and empowers others to do so. In a time where people are being called out for beliefs that further white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, or other forms of othering and oppression, shame is used to keep people from voicing their beliefs. Shame has been used by the left for so long it’s become attached to their identity. Republicans did not empower conservatives to reject shame.

Republican politicians have been entirely disconnected from their base and they knew that they know their party is losing power.

Trump reconnected Republicans with their conservative base by empowering them to reject the shame of the left. He told them it's ok to use coal, it doesn’t matter if it’s harmful to the environment. He told them it’s ok to dislike gay people, it doesn’t matter if it’s harmful to society. He told them it’s ok to reject other people’s feelings—especially if those feelings impose on the furtherance of white purity, white supremacy, and white privilege. He also allowed those who are not white to reject shame but for their own reasons. The rejection of shame has joined them all together.

Trump then convinced his supporters that in addition to shaming them needlessly, their political adversaries were trying furiously to disempower them, to take something away from them. Trump convinced his supporters that they should be afraid of power. He convinced his supporters that those who are in power are there for selfish, harmful reasons.

He believes this because it’s the only reason he seeks power.

His supporters have been feeling disenfranchised and abandoned and they want someone to blame. Trump told them to blame those in power. Those in power are villains and he is the hero who can get into their power chamber and represent them—the disenfranchised people whose country is being stolen right before their eyes.

Anything he was not able to accomplish, anything that made him look bad, he would say “look, the people in power—who hold you back—are trying to hold me back too.” His supporters need to believe it, so they believe it.

When he told them the election was going to be stolen even before it happened, he was continuing on with the same message he’s been giving them since the beginning of his campaign, politicians currently in office [power] are selfish villains and only he [Trump] can save them. He convinced them that those in power are going to try to keep him from saving them, they don’t want the disenfranchised people to be saved. And his supporters need to believe it, so they believe it.

Trump told them the election was going to be stolen, he was close to saving them and the people in power held him back from doing so—now those villains were going to rob him of a second term to try again to make their country great.

Trump's supporters have been told, by President Trump, there’s a bogeyman out to get them.

They’re ferociously looking for it but they’re not asking Trump to prove its existence. Trump told them there is a bogeyman but their political adversaries are hiding it and they won’t let Trump show the evidence, but he tells his supporters, "They know what I’m talking about" and his supporters need to believe it, so they do.

Asking Trump’s supporters where they or Trump got the information about voter fraud is dangerous, it is not productive. They’ve been radicalized and we are the enemy. They don’t feel safe trying to prove to us where the bogeyman is because they have been told by Trump that we will try to convince them it's not true. They believe we will use manipulation. Trump told his supporters that they shouldn't believe their eyes or ears, because tricks are being played on them.

Anything we say is going to be taken as manipulation, as proof that we are trying to hide from them the bogeyman that Trump told them exists.

It doesn't matter what intelligence communities, judicial systems, or election officials say about the bogeyman, Trump supporters believe that's all part of the lie, the coverup. Trump has said, "There is a bogeyman and your enemies know it’s there but they won’t let me show you, and they will try to convince you it’s not there, but I have information that it’s there and you can trust my information." They believe him because he holds the highest office in the world. They think his information must be credible. He’s the most powerful man in the world, they're under the impression that his information about this bogeyman is more credible than the conspiracy websites where he actually got the information.

According to Trump’s supporters, everyone, the entire government, other countries, intelligence officials, multiple media channels, and multiple private business organizations are in cahoots to hide the bogeyman Trump has told them exists...the bogeyman that is harming them and tricking them and trying to make them look stupid and take advantage of them.

They dare us to prove that the bogeyman does not exist but we’re not allowed to use evidence or proof or the laws that have been written because all of those things are just coverups to hide the truth Trump has given them.

They’ve been radicalized. Allowing them to continue explaining their belief in the bogeyman, dignifying their belief with attention and questions and debate only further cements their beliefs. Trump’s supporters need to be de-radicalized. Their grievances of the bogeyman have to fall on deaf ears. They will eventually beat a dead horse amongst themselves and it will fizzle out the way cult groups do. Isolation and shame is one way to reject factless objections.

We cannot engage with radicalized people because arguing their beliefs gives them credence.

We would not ask foreign terrorists why they believe what they do about us or our country. We would not ask them to explain why or how they came to the conclusion that we are either evil or harmful. We cannot ask that of domestic terrorists either. It does not matter why they don’t believe our intelligence officials, it does not matter if they believe that our judicial system is corrupt, it is inconsequential how they came to the conclusions they did. We cannot ask them why; we cannot ask them how.

We have rules of engagement, for law, for voting, for basic civil conduct.

American’s do not allow baseless accusations to dictate investigations in private lives or anywhere else. We cannot entertain this kind of thinking that undermines our judicial system and the fundamental idea that evidence is necessary to make accusations. We cannot decide evidence is not necessary to investigate because the evidence is being "hidden away". If it cannot be found, allegations must be considered baseless. That is a fundamental position we take as American’s. It’s a chosen position that we need all American’s to support in order to continue operating in a stable democracy.

Trump supporters cannot be given any further voice to explain their conspiracies and foundationless beliefs.

Their platforms are being taken, donors have been withdrawing, governmental power is transitioning. There’s no need to engage with Trump supporters any further about election fraud or socialism or communism. People who make allegations without evidence cannot be taken seriously; they cannot be treated like people who do make serious allegations with supportive evidence.

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Lover of lattes, champagne, avocados, sleep, and my perfect family. The epitome of a liberal millennial snowflake.

Boston, MA

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