The New York Times recently did a profile of the Tea Party movement, and after reading the article I came away with the sense that what we’re seeing is more akin to a religious cult than a political movement. Here, for example, is how the New York Times describes the conversion of Idaho resident Pam Stout to Tea Party activism:
Worried about hyperinflation, social unrest or even martial law, she and her Tea Party members joined a coalition, Friends for Liberty, that includes representatives from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, the John Birch Society, and Oath Keepers, a new player in a resurgent militia movement. When Friends for Liberty held its first public event, Mrs. Stout listened as Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff, brought 1,400 people to their feet with a speech about confronting a despotic federal government. Mrs. Stout said she felt as if she had been handed a road map to rebellion. Members of her family, she said, think she has disappeared down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories.
Isn’t this akin to what family tend to say about loved ones who get sucked into cults?:
So-and-so just disappeared down a rabbit hole of religious certitude, and we never could get the person that we knew back!
And it’s interesting that, later in the article, the New York Times uses the language of revival in relation to the movement:
The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny.
I think that the black hole quality of the movement has to do with the circular reasoning that conspiratorial thinking is so masterful at: once you think your way into a conspiratorial paradigm, every new piece of data can be made to fit it, and you need never think your way back out again. Like fundamentalist and cultic religions, the Tea Party movement is an intellectual Black Flag “roach motel”—a truly sad thing for a person’s imagination to find itself caught in.