Here’s a textbook example of how disinformation from the top on the myth of widespread illegal voting can filter down to infect ordinary people’s views.
Last month, President Trump told fellow Republicans that he lost New Hampshire because thousands of Massachusetts residents were bussed in to vote against him. That followed tweets from Trump that he’d have won the popular vote if it weren’t for millions in California who voted illegally.
It’s not merely that Trump produced no evidence to support these claims, as most media accounts noted. It’s that by any standard definition, they were lies.
Fast forward to this week, when, clearly feeling we haven’t heard enough from Trump supporters, CNN convened a roundtable of them. One man, William Baer, repeated Trump’s claim, telling CNN’s Alisyn Camerota he saw “busloads of people” coming into New Hampshire to vote illegally.
Pressed by Camerota, Baer eventually admitted: “I guess I can’t cite the busloads that I’ve seen and where I’ve seen them and stuff. But on television i’ve seen it.” (In fact, I feel comfortable saying no such footage has ever aired on TV, or we’d all be familiar with it.)
Another man, Josh Youssef, a county chair of Trump’s campaign in New Hampshire, said he saw cars with out-of-state license plates full of people coming to vote, though he couldn’t offer additional details and acknowledged that the voters could have been legitimate.
What’s notable in the clip is how genuine both men appear — they both clearly believe that these busloads exist. That’s how this type of top-down disinformation works. If you know you’ve heard it from the president, from Fox News, and from other sources you trust, and it conveniently supports your worldview, it becomes established in your mind as a fact.
We’re all susceptible to a version of this. But unlike conservatives, we don’t have a massive propaganda apparatus, backed by the president himself, devoted to making it happen.