The extreme weather that struck Texas this month presented US president Joe Biden with the first fresh crisis of his tenure, Winter Storm Uri striking just weeks after his inauguration and leaving 4.3 million homes without electricity, heating and secure drinking water and at least 58 people dead.
President Biden will visit the Lone Star State on Friday to survey the infrastructure damage caused by the bitter sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow and to commiserate with locals, having issued a major disaster declaration and dispatched emergency federal funding to assist with the recovery effort.
Already beset by the inherited problem of a coronavirus pandemic that has killed half a million Americans and preoccupied with rolling back the toxic policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, the Democrat acted decisively in sending federal support to the state while one of its own senators, Republican Ted Cruz, decided it was the right moment to join his family on a Mexican beach holiday in Cancun.
But that has not stopped a number of anti-Biden conspiracy theories spreading online, making wild accusations against the new president and his supposedly sinister agenda.
The piece alleges that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) had received an emergency order from the US Department of Energy instructing it to “to stay within green energy standards by purchasing energy from outside the state at a higher cost, throttling power output throughout the state ahead of a catastrophic polar vortex”.
The claim was easily debunked by PolitFact, which found that the reverse was true: Mr Biden’s acting energy secretary David Huizenga had quickly approved a request from ERCOT president Bill Magness that Texas power plants be allowed to temporarily exceed emissions limits so that they could operate at maximum capacity, having lost an estimated 34 gigawatts of electricity due to frozen instruments at local natural gas and coal plants.
“Given the emergency nature of the expected load stress … I have determined that additional dispatch of the Specified Resources is necessary to best meet the emergency and serve the public interest,” Mr Huizenga wrote to Mr Magnesson on 14 February.
“Because the additional generation may result in a conflict with environmental standards and requirements, I am authorising only the necessary additional generation.”
PolitiFact approached InfoWars for a response but did not receive one.
An even more bizarre anti-government theory that arose because of the snowstorm saw Texas TikTok users filming themselves holding snowballs under cigarette lighters or hairdryers in an attempt to prove that — because they did not melt into water droplets — they must be “government-generated” and the atypical weather the result of a state-sponsored plot.
Even a passing acquaintance with basic chemistry might have put their minds at ease but, instead, influential Facebook conspiracy theorist Scott Biddle suggested the “artificial” weather front was really an attack by President Biden against deep-red Texas to punish it for considering seceding from the United States, which, he wrote, would happen anyway “in the next several years”.
Tellingly, one of the TikTokers remarked in her video: “Thank you Bill Gates for trying to f***ing trick us that this is real snow.”
Her reference to the billionaire Microsoft founder and philanthropist ties her thinking to that of people around the world who have protested the erection of 5G masts — or even torn them down — or objected to Covid-19 vaccines on the basis that either might be used by vaguely-defined “elites”, embodied by the likes of Mr Gates or Hungarian financier George Soros, to control or brainwash the public.
In turn, these fears relate to the same old paranoid suspicion that secretive cabals are running the world from the shadows, a fundamental distrust of establishment authority that has given rise to everything from David Icke’s lizardmen to Mr Jones picketing Bilderberg Group meetings in the Alps and the ascent of QAnon, a movement that assumes a Satanic deep state paedophile cult is pulling the strings in Washington.
The Texas conspiracy theories are in part just the latest offshoots of these ancient narratives — the Illuminati dates back to Enlightenment Bavaria — but they also reveal American conservatism in the process of recalibrating itself towards attacking the government, finding itself in opposition for the first time since Barack Obama after four years of pandering to President Trump.
It was the latter, incidentally, who legitimised attacks on meteorological fact when he tweeted in September 2019 that Hurricane Dorian was bearing down on Alabama and then refused to admit he was wrong, even stooping to doctor a weather map he presented in the Oval Office, the black felt marker pen he used still clearly visible in front of him on the Resolute Desk, a scandal that became known as “Sharpiegate”.
But right-wing pundits have so far struggled to lay a glove on Joe Biden — a competent, experienced 78-year-old who likes an early night was never going to be an easy target — with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson widely mocked for trying to claim the Democrats’ green agenda was to blame for the Texas power outages and the nadir already reached by Newsmax in its desperate attempt to smear the president’s aging German Shepherd dog Champ as “dirty” and “very unpresidential”.
While InfoWars has been banned from Facebook since 2019 and its story flagged as false on the site whenever it was shared, it was nevertheless seen by hundreds of users, an entertaining partisan lie once again proving more popular than prosaic truth and crowding out more legitimate concerns about the crisis, such as its impact on the water supply in a state that recently suffered contamination from a deadly waterborne parasite.
There is plenty for the people of Texas to be angry about, having suffered almost 43,000 deaths from Covid and seen its economy devastated by lockdowns, but the real political betrayal of its citizens came from the vacationing Senator Cruz, not President Biden, nor the Democratic Party at large, with activist Beto O’Rourke supporting relief efforts on the ground and New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leading fundraising online and securing over $4m (£2.8m) in donations.
There are positive signs, however, as the nation continues to heal from Mr Trump’s divisive reign.
Disaffection with QAnon has grown since Mr Biden’s inauguration as one after another of its spurious deadlines for revolution failed to come to pass.
Even Alex Jones has ranted on air about its adherents changing their narrative and making excuses and he was joined in Tuesday night by Mr Carlson, who vented his frustration with the movement by saying: “We spent all day trying to locate the famous QAnon, which, in the end, we learned is not even a website.
“If it’s out there, we could not find it.”
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