Some 30 people in the back room of Piecora's are heckling a man for claiming that the World Trade Center collapsed because planes piloted by Al Qaeda crashed into them. A ponytailed man shouts, "Are you telling us that you believe the government's story of 9/11?" Someone else interjects, "You believe these 'experts'? Who are your 'experts'? Who's paying them?" Then a vest-wearing older woman who identifies herself as "a scientist" stands up and bellows, "What are your credentials? What are your credentials? You! You! What are your credentials? I want to know!"
It's the day after the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and this is the monthly Seattle meeting of Campaign for Liberty (C4L), a Virginia-based 501(c)(4) lobbying organization that "neither supports nor opposes candidates for public office." Immediately following the C4L meeting, the King County Ron Paul 2012 organization—a group with the same organizers and 24 of the same members—will meet to discuss their plans for getting Ron Paul elected president of the United States. For now, they are barely giving their attention to a rumpled man who keeps digging through the dense forest of files on his laptop in a futile effort to dissuade them from conspiracy theories. Images of the Twin Towers falling over and over again are projected onto a large screen while people munch on their pizza and grumble.
After the rumpled man finishes receiving his abuse, a woman stands up and gives a rambling speech about mind control and using sleight of hand to distract the masses. "This is new information," she says three or four times in rapid succession. She talks about Hurricane Erin, a "category 5 hurricane" that was "set for New York" in the days before 9/11. Immediately following the attacks, Erin "dissipated off the coast of Cape Cod. Nobody ever says anything about this." The room is abuzz with the possibilities this presents. Raucous applause fills the space.
I don't quite follow her—is she really suggesting that 9/11 was a massive distraction for some sort of beta test for a government-created weather-control device?—but rather than elaborating, the meeting moves on to official business. We receive an update on a Mercer Island–based anti-fluoridation campaign (a woman audibly gasps when the project head says, "We were not allowed to speak against fluoridation" at a city council meeting), and then someone announces that a local anarchist group wanted to engage the C4L in a debate, which elicits derisive laughter from the assembly. "We don't have time for this," someone sneers.
Then a man in the back of the room stands up and talks about Ron Paul's performance earlier that night in the Republican presidential debates. Paul said, "This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is... attacking us because we're free and prosperous is just not true," and got booed for it by the teabaggers in the audience. "That booing will give Ron Paul more traction with Democrats," the man explains. He's interrupted by event organizers who tell him that because C4L needs to stay "nonpartisan," he has to hold his Paul-centric comments for five minutes, when the C4L officially becomes the King County Ron Paul organization.
Five minutes later, the same people sit in the same room and talk about Ron Paul. They decide that what they need to win is "shoe leather." They need to talk with Democrats and Republicans alike, to convince both sides of the aisle that the Texas representative is their man. Democrats shouldn't be a problem, an older man says with a grimace: "They voted a Marxist Democrat into office, so why not a Libertarian Republican?"
An earnest young man says he voted for Paul in 2008, and he's distressed to see that the poll numbers are roughly the same as they were four years ago. Is there hope, he asks, for Paul as a serious contender? One organizer says everyone in the room should become a Republican precinct captain, and when someone asks if they should identify as Paul supporters when the captains are being chosen, he's told, cagily, "I don't want to say be a weasel, but you don't have to be completely honest." A man in a suit offers a brief field guide to the two kinds of Republicans they'll encounter while undercover at Republican meetings: "sheeple" and "thinking Reagan conservatives." The former will "go with whoever" the crowd selects, he says, but the latter will be easy converts once they're presented with Paul's theories and ideas.
And oh, what theories and ideas Ron Paul has! Whenever progressives hear Paul speak, they experience a momentary shudder of recognition. This happens whenever Paul talks about how the government shouldn't care about what people do in the bedroom, or his pro-drug-legalization policies, or when he discusses our entanglements in the Middle East and bringing our troops home. "He actually makes sense," the progressive will think, just before Paul turns a rhetorical corner and starts talking—his arms flying about like a Muppet—about privatizing the education system as well as national parks and also Social Security, or when he explains how business can police itself without government intrusion on environmental issues. (And if that isn't enough, a quick Google search for Paul's long history of association with white supremacists is enough to send most reasonable people running away from him at top speed.)
So what kind of person becomes an avid Ron Paul follower? The kind of person who is a 9/11 Truther. (In fact, the first time I ever heard Ron Paul discussed as a serious candidate was while reporting a story about 9/11 Truthers for The Stranger in 2007.)
Truther thought tends to resemble Zeno's arrow paradox: There is no idea so simple that you can't complicate it by breaking it in half. We all saw planes smash into those buildings. Therefore, the planes must not have caused the collapse. Clearly, the collapse must have been caused by explosives implanted in the buildings by black ops teams beforehand. And Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks, so the attacks were obviously caused by the US government, which claimed that Al Qaeda was responsible as part of a labyrinthine plot to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.
Keep cutting motivations and facts in half, and you wind up claiming that the planes we saw on 9/11 were sophisticated holograms and the collapses were caused by focused laser beams or, say, that the whole thing was a cover-up for a weather-control satellite test run. You can just keep chopping that arrow down to subatomic particles and you never run out of ideas to parse into something crazier and even more dramatic.
Ron Paul appeals to Truthers precisely because he makes a pitch for one seemingly unbreakable idea: the Constitution. If you reject the idea of the Constitution, you reject the idea of the United States of America; it's the one idea you can't split in half. Therefore, Truthers cling to it—and to Ron Paul's fundamentalist interpretation of it—like a life raft. It's religious dogma for skeptics: How do you feel about traffic light cameras? Are they in the Constitution? No? Then fuck 'em. Did the founding fathers have Social Security in mind? Hell, no. Fuck it, then—let the olds rot in hell.
This philosophy fits with all the various One World Government conspiracy theorists, an antidote to the creeping global information control plots that Paulites see themselves rebelling against.
Based on what I saw at King County's Ron Paul meetup, their candidate doesn't have a chance in hell—they're not organized, and they're not interested in learning anything about the corrupt system they're trying to change in order to change it. It's for the best, anyway: They're so comfortable on the outside of the machine that their brains would automatically liquidate if they found themselves on the inside. They're meatspace internet trolls, arguing violently—valiantly in their own minds—against the world outside their windows in the defense of the single indestructible idea that their jittery, delusional minds can cling to: In a world under assault by shadowy cabinets of scary foreigners seeking to enslave the masses in concentration camps, Truthers will remain the heroes of their own story, as long as they remain faithful to the Constitution as their God, and Ron Paul as their liberator, their One True Prophet.