Several years ago, a psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York noticed a trend among people seeking treatment: dozens thought their lives were constantly being filmed and broadcast, as if they were the stars of their own version of "The Truman Show". "This film, in fact, has become the name of this particular and particularly modern affliction.
The Truman Show Delusion.
Bellevue's psychiatrist, Joel Gold, published a research on the syndrome with her brother Ian Gold, seeking to determine how culture and mental illness overlapped. There was no suggestion that the film itself made people delusional, but rather that the movie explained the form of the illusion. It was, if you will, a framework on which the patient's mental illness could be suspended.
It is also unclear whether Cesar Sayoc, who allegedly sent explosive devices to several Democratic politicians and CNN last week, or Robert D. Bowers, who allegedly murdered 11 people in a synagogue on Saturday, is reported to be suffering from mental illness. . But it is certainly proven that the dominant political rhetoric – including the rhetoric promoted by President Trump – could have served as a similar framework for their dangerous and violent actions.
Bowers was apparently an active user of the social networking site Gab, a site created in part to provide housing for those who were excluded from other platforms because of their extreme views. A user identified as Robert Bowers posted a message shortly before the attack on the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue. In the post, the author was in conflict with a Jewish refugee organization called Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helps resettle refugees in the United States.
"HIAS likes to bring invaders to kill our people," reads the message. "I can not stand by and watch my people being slaughtered. Screw your optics, I go in. "
Anti-Semitic groups believe that there is a Jewish conspiracy to undermine white people with non-white immigrants. During the white nationalist torchlight procession in Charlottesville last year, the slogan chanted "The Jews will not replace us" seemed to understand this idea.
But in the current political dialogue, there is an undercurrent of the idea that Jewish personalities recognize the support of dangerous immigrants.
Trump has repeatedly sought to draw attention to a group of migrants traveling through Mexico, implying in a dark way that the so-called caravan is riddled with criminals and terrorists. This is part of his general rhetoric about certain groups of immigrants and refugees. This was explicit in his campaign: those who cross the US-Mexico border are criminals by default, and those who are Muslim should be totally excluded.
To denigrate the migrants, Trump retweeted a video of people believed to be members of the caravan receiving money, a video that had been previously tweeted by his ally, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Gaetz's tweet questioned the origin of the money, wondering if it came from American organizations – or billionaire George Soros, a frequent target of conservatives for his political spending and anti-Semitism for his religion.
Trump also inserted Soros into his own conspiracies. When the appointment of Brett J. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was under consideration, Trump suggested that those who protested against his appointment be paid by the billionaire.
Trump has never suggested that Soros or other reputed American Jews are funding refugees to come to the United States and replace white Americans. But the president's comments on migration help to elevate the skepticism and fear of immigrants and refugees in public opinion, particularly in the media and among his supporters.
Lou Dobbs, who has long been known for his anti-immigration speech, reportedly killed 11 people in the Pittsburgh Synagogue on the Fox Business Network. interviewed a guest who insisted that the caravan was receiving money indirectly from the "State Department occupied by Soros". One of the last tweets from Robert Bowers Gab's account included a caricature referring to "ZOG," a Zionist-occupied government.
Bowers' anti-Semitism does not come from Trump; in fact, he seems to be opposed to the president. The political anger of the so-called Sayoc mail thrower, however, overlapped much more sharply with Trump's rhetoric.
Consider this quote from Ronald Lowy, Sayoc's legal advisor.
"He had no interest in politics, was always in clubs, gyms, wherever he thought he could meet people, impress people," Lowy told Sayoc. "And Donald Trump's presidential campaign, which hosted all the extremists, all the aliens and all the distant observers, followed, and he had the feeling that someone was finally talking to him."
Joel Gold, the Bellevue psychiatrist, described the types of people who might be exposed to the Truman Show Delusion.
"People who choose to be the focus of attention, who are concerned about social status or who are afraid of being [the] public eye or looking, may be more tempted to identify with this illusion, "wrote Gold. "I do not think people invent or choose that."
Sayoc's van and its social media accounts were peppered with marginal and traditional political rhetoric. There have been reports of chemtrails (a conspiracy theory that planes are spreading mind – altering chemicals) and Republican candidates in Florida elections. Sayoc has adopted banal conspiracy theories about the administration of Barack Obama and other stranger ones, such as speculating that Soros had helped simulate mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, in February. At one point, he published Soros' personal address on Twitter; this house was one of the targets for receiving a bomb in the mail.
Above all, the recurring theme is Trump. Trump appears several times on the Sayoc van. Incorrect statements by Trump are among the phrases stuck on the windows of the vehicle. The people targeted by the bombings were those with whom Trump had taken a stand: CNN, former intelligence officials, leaders and political leaders Democrats, actor Robert DeNiro. Sayoc may have been unstable before Trump, but he has clearly offered him a political network from which to grow.
We saw last week that bombs sent to political leaders had drawn the attention of the media to this caravan – a change that frustrated Trump. (The only network that continued to discuss the caravan over the post bombs? Fox Business.)
Trump was explicit about the reason for his frustration.
"Republicans are doing so well at early voting and balloting, and now this kind of" bomb "is happening and the dynamics are slowing down dramatically – the news is not about politics," he complains on Twitter. He had previously said that the caravan should be a reason for people to vote against the Democrats: all of a sudden, people wanted to talk about something else, while the mid-term elections were looming.
This is the critical context for Trump. His rhetoric about immigration and refugees can be deeply felt, but he is now amplifying these concerns for the same reasons he did in 2015 and 2016: electoral politics. The caravan is far from the border and is gaining in size, but Trump wants to talk about it because he understands the deep fear that can engender the idea of people heading to the border.
Trump's rhetoric is not just about the danger of immigrants, of course. He also insisted that the choice between parties is "the job" or "the crowd" – the Democrats representing the latter in the form of angry protesters. (Some, remember, were paid by Soros.) In an audio clip obtained by CNN, Trump, without providing any evidence, warned that a Republican defeat in November could result in violence from the left.
A central question about the bombings and the shootings in the synagogue is: why now? Is it a coincidence that these two acts occurred at this time? Or would the bomber, supposedly Sayoc, have reacted in part to the assertion that the Democrats were violent? Would the shooter of the synagogue, allegedly Bowers, have reacted to the growing urgency caused by Trump and his allies facing the risk of migrant migration to the United States?
Let's say that attempts to bomb the mail and shootings against the synagogue were perpetrated by people who held the precise opinions expressed by Sayoc and by this account Gab. Let us say, moreover, that the perpetrators of these acts were in fact mentally ill. Again, in the Truman Show Delusion, it is not suggested that the film makes people delusional, but that it gives them a new conduit for their existing illusions. If we extend this idea, we can and should note that mental illness played a role in the attacks, but that the framework of existing political rhetoric may have indicated particular targets. But we do not need this superposition of mental illness. The predominance of this rhetoric means that it serves as a framework for many political discussions, not just extremes.
We must therefore note why this rhetoric exists: Because Trump and his allies believe that concerns about migrants and democratic violence will help them win elections, whether or not they think these concerns are valid.