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Hi and welcome back! Recently, I ran into a real treasure of a right-wing Christian conspiracy theorist: Patrice Lewis, a north Idaho wingnut who posts various delusions on WND, a right-wing nutjob site. Her latest post reveals so much about the toxic Christian mindset. As she herself puts it: It’s not about COVID. It’s about control. Today, let’s meet the toxic Christians who consider their loss of dominance to be literally a fate worse than death.

(Milan Ivanovic.) Credit: Milan Ivanovic / Unsplash

Everyone, Meet a Level 10 Wingnut: Patrice Lewis.

Patrice Lewis is a late-middle-aged white lady. (Yes, I know her Google Books bio includes a photo of a Black woman. That’s not her. This is. That’s another lady with the same name.)

And whoa nelly, Patrice Lewis is a gung-ho right-wing Christian.

Lewis and her family and menagerie apparently live in north Idaho, which really explained a lot for me when I saw it. The very worst Christians think of north Idaho the way that Mormons saw Utah once, though perhaps the metaphor works better as the way that aspiring star-struck performers see Los Angeles and Hollywood. It’s Shangri-La, the Promised Land, the Blessed Hope for All Wingnuts.

People mostly mind their business up there, and they’re self-sufficient to a degree that would startle those from gentler climes. Some towns are completely isolated from the world during wintertime, so residents pride themselves on being able to survive unaided. It’s fertile ground for wingnuttery already, but wingnuts themselves head there with alarming frequency.

Biff really wanted to live there one day. Another right-wing Christian nutjob already tried to create his very own fundagelical fortress-compound there. I’m sure that area’s near-total lack of racial diversity didn’t play any role in either man’s decision-making process, and they were purely thinking of how nice it’d be to live somewhere with really lax laws that favor people just like themselves. Lewis herself seems to greatly value those qualities, so who knows.

Between her self-described woodworking business, her authored book(s), and her duties at WND as an “editor and weekly columnist,” Patrice Lewis gets by.

The Mind of a Wingnut.

To a wingnut, Christianity represents a match made in Heaven.

Wingnuts tend to see the world in stark black-and-white. So authoritarian Christianity, with its rallying cry of with me or against me, appeals to them. All they need is someone to designate as them, and they are off to the races. And Christianity tends to be overwhelmingly tribalistic in thinking as well, so that works out.

It really doesn’t take much for a bad-faith authoritarian leader to make Christianity into a dystopian hell for members, and their followers might just go along with it until they find themselves in full 1984territory.

Without the tethering influence of reality, a wingnut can only spiral in one direction: up and out. Their throttle can’t pull back. It only opens more forward. They literally can’t assess new information the way regular non-wingnuts do, by comparing it to reality. Their leaders have indoctrinated them to distrust and disregard what reality says about their beliefs.

So the only way wingnuts can evaluate information is by comparing it to what they already believe. If it fits, it sits, so to speak. If it doesn’t fit, they cast it out.

Dominance and Submission: The Only Game That Matters to a Wingnut.

Every single thing a wingnut does, as a result, gets done with an eye toward gaining or holding power. I’m not kidding. If they or their tribe once held dominance but then lost it, then their goal becomes regaining it.

As the Orwellian authoritarians knew in 1984, the object of power is power itself. Our wingnuts don’t realize that’s their object, of course. They delude themselves by assigning their desires stated goals that aren’t true: they act as they do on behalf of the good of humankind itself, on the part of moral decency, to save babies, to usher in their god’s Heavenly Kingdom, or whatever else.

This dichotomy between stated and true goals is why Christian wingnuts’ behavior in particular seems so irrational. Their goal is actually to achieve power, nothing else. The other stuff is just rationalization.

I’m telling you all this because it’s very important to know, when dealing with a Christian wingnut, that they have this all-or-nothing, black-and-white, with-us-or-against-us, win-or-lose mindset.

If wingnuts get their way in a squabble, then they have gained or at least held their power and all is well in Wingnut Land that fine day. If they do not get their way, however, then they have lost power, and that is very bad.

A Wingnut Assesses the Tribe’s COVID Denialism.

Today’s story centers around a September 17 post by Patrice Lewis, our wingnut du jour. The title caught my eye for obvious reasons:

It’s not about COVID, it’s about control

My goodness. It’s so rare to see a wingnut actually unveil the tribe’s real motivation: not to lose more power to their tribal enemies. How could I not zero in on it?

Indeed, Lewis laments “all the reductions in freedoms we’ve undergone in the last few decades.” She does not name any particular offenses, but I’m guessing, based on her previous posts and her use of “we” here, that she means the undeserved privileges that have been slowly pared away from right-wing Christians like herself:

  • being racist, sexist, classist, bigoted, etc. in public and in business
  • trampling other people’s human rights and civil liberties
  • openly pursuing theocracy in the public sphere (which, along with the previous two items, the tribe calls religious liberty)
  • demanding culture-war wins without legal justification
  • teaching public schoolchildren religious indoctrination in lieu of real science
  • being granted constant, unwarranted obedience and deference (which the tribe calls respect)

The rest of us have certainly put up with a lot from Christian wingnuts over the years, and we’re finally (if slowly) correcting that problem.

And if that’s what Lewis means, then yes, her subtitle is correct: the tribe’s resistance to the COVID-19 vaccine really has become “‘the hill to die on’ for millions of Americans.”

Whoops, the Pretendy Game Has Gotten Real All of a Sudden.

Remember, Patrice Lewis herself faces no real repercussions besides sickness and death from her COVID denialism. I don’t know what her husband does, but she herself is a self-employed business owner.

Still, she’s got a lot of opinions about the President’s vaccine mandate. She lists a few links of her fellow wingnuts screeching about having to make a choice between their jobs and their Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game, then screeches this:

In short, millions of people are facing job losses in light of these mandates. For the vast majority, mandates haven’t made them more eager to get the vaccine. It’s done the exact opposite: It has become the hill they’re willing to die on.

Let’s ignore for now that she’s completely delusional. Very few wingnuts, as wingnutty as they might be, are actually willing to let the Pretendy Game interfere with their real lives. She suffers from the false consensus effect here.

(Case in point: When United Airlines rolled out its own vaccine mandate for its 84,000 employees, they said only “a handful” of employees, in “single digit numbers,” had actually taken the tribe’s vaccine denialism far enough to actually lose their jobs. In fact, since the mandate, one poll (from Axios-Ipsos) found that vaccine hesitancy may be dropping.)

Lewis thinks that she has that many fellow tribemates willing to take the Pretendy Game that far. She certainly imagines she’d be one of them.

And she thinks that “mandates are going to crash the American economy” — because she’s sure that America contains just that many hardcore wingnuts!

Control in the Current Fight.

It was very interesting to me that Patrice Lewis conceptualizes her COVID denialism as a fight for “control.” To her, that’s exactly correct. That’s exactly what this pandemic represents to her: a tool to gain power.

Just imagine this breathtaking idea for a moment. Thousands of Americans are dying and it’s largely thanks to wingnuts just like her, but her real concern is who calls the shots about handling it.

That’s why she specifically mentions a false claim about ivermectin helping India: she’s all for ending the pandemic, but she wants it to be her tribe’s solution that does it and nobody else’s.

(The Catholic Church’s non-solution to unwanted pregnancies, Natural Family Planning, operates along strikingly similar lines.)

Authoritarians see the whole world as a dominance and submission game between their tribe and its enemies — just without the consent of all players. Wingnuts take that to its ultimate extreme.

Submission equals loss of dominance, but it also signifies losing that fight. Dominance, of course, equals a gain or holding of dominance as well as winning that fight.

The pandemic is just another fight to culture warriors like her. At the end, she simply wants to know that her tribe called the shots in handling it — not her tribe’s worst enemies.

One Lord and One Master.

Over the past few decades, Christians have gradually lost their cultural power. Non-coincidentally, during this same time Christian wingnuts have built an obsession with winning all fights into their worldview. They perceive winning fights as a sign of divine blessing and approval — which makes losing fights a sign of divine disapproval and withdrawal of blessings.

That’s why, after they identified so strongly with Donald Trump, they regarded his election victory in 2016 as a sign that Jesus approved of their antics and would soon hand them total dominance of America.

That’s also why, when Trump lost in 2020, many of them have indulged in a ridiculous fantasy about him having actually won. They can’t bear the idea of not gaining that dominance at last. They think it was finally at the very tips of their fingers — only to be ripped away by their enemies, who now hold more control over their own lives.

Like petulant children, wingnuts have decided that the best course of action is to oppose literally anything and everything these tribal enemies want. This petulance maintains their power fantasies for just a little longer. It keeps the Pretendy Game going just a bit more.

In these moments of COVID denialism, wingnuts are, if just for those fleeting moments, winning again in their minds. That feeling is more than worth potentially dying — and losing becomes worse than dying in their minds.

How to Torment Christian Wingnuts, According to an Actual Wingnut.

At the end of her post, Patrice Lewis fantasizes that her tribe will respond in a way wingnuts will very easily understand:

A cornered animal fights viciously because it has nothing more to lose and everything to gain. Right now Americans are being pushed into a corner by their tormenters [sic]. As American history shows time and again, that is never a safe place to be – for the tormenters [sic].

“Torment[o]rs.” There’s another interesting word. (I’m spelling it correctly. She misspells it in the original.)

The people trying to keep them from dying are “torment[o]rs.” The people trying to stop them from getting their skin sloughed off with veterinary ivermectin (which she completely supports, because of course she does) are “torment[o]rs.”

Oh, such torment we inflict! How cruel and unusual it all is! What a delicious thrill of martyrbation, what a delicious tinge of faux-persecution for a wingnut to savor!

Always bear in mind that she’s a wingnut, with a wingnut mentality.

To a wingnut, “torment” can be defined specifically as not allowing Patrice Lewis be a racist, bigoted, theocratic Handmaid’s-Tale nightmare in human flesh.

The Endgame.

When push comes to shove, though, if wingnuts realize that the rest of us are done playing around with them, we’ve already discovered that most of them fall right into line.

The tribe tends to hold particular “hills to die on” stances. These are stances that will increase their social capital the most with their tribe while also not costing them anything much in real-world terms. 

Creationism makes a super-cheap tribal marker belief. And for a while, COVID denialism seemed like another ideal one. The tribe worked itself into a lather over that denialism. Unfortunately, their enemies pulled the rug out from under them there. Suddenly, their seemingly safe marker did a 180 and became expensive in real-world terms.

Wingnuts don’t want their Pretendy Game to affect their own lives too directly, after all. They’ve got bills to pay and social capital to guard, just like the rest of us do. So once COVID denialism threatened their livelihoods, almost all of them got vaccinated at United Airlines. (Don’t even try to tell me United only had a single-digit number of COVID denialists on their payroll). We see the same exact thing happen when it comes to overt shows of racism and bigotry that carry distinct legal penalties.

If wingnuttery starts to get real-world expensive, most wingnuts will fold.

In a year, Patrice Lewis will find her tribe of COVID-Denialism True Believers vastly reduced. Alas, their wingnuttery level will be spiraled into the stratosphere by then.

NEXT UP: Because it’s fun, we’ll examine the specific claims in Patrice Lewis’ post tomorrow. Maybe we’ll find out where she’s getting her marching orders. See you then!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...