In 1978, more than 900 members of the religious group and others were killed or committed suicide by drinking a grape-flavored drink laced with cyanide in Jonestown, Guyana, following Jones’ orders.
In the case of the Capitol riot, Donald Trump’s followers swallowed his “big lie” of a rigged presidential election before the violence at the Capitol.
Albert Watkins, the lawyer representing so-called “QAnon shaman” Jacob Chansley, told The Associated Press that his client “isn’t crazy” but that repeated exposure to lies and “incendiary” rhetoric eventually overwhelmed Chansley’s ability to discern reality.
“The people who fell in love with [cult leader] Jim Jones and went down to Guyana, they had husbands and wives and lives. And then they drank the Kool-Aid,” Watkins explained.
Watkins said in an interview earlier this month that the Capitol rioters were “short bus” people, not very bright, so particularly gullible and vulnerable to Trump’s lies. “They were subjected to four-plus years of goddamn propaganda the likes of which the world has not seen since Hitler,” he told Talking Points Memo.
Just over a week after the riot, Chansley demanded a pardon from Trump because he believed he stormed the Capitol at the invitation of the president.
At least three defense attorneys will blame election misinformation and conspiracy theories, much of it pushed by Trump, for leading their clients astray, according to the AP. Those who spread the lies are just as responsible for the violence, they said.
“I kind of sound like an idiot now saying it, but my faith was in him,” Capitol riot defendant Anthony Antonio told the AP, referring to Trump. Antonio said he wasn’t interested in politics before he got swept up in the election by Trump and the right-wing media. “I think they did a great job of convincing people.”
Christopher Slobogin, a psychiatry professor and director of Vanderbilt Law School’s Criminal Justice Program, doesn’t believe the defense argument will work in court. “Just because you have a fixed, false belief that the election was stolen doesn’t mean you can storm the Capitol,” he said.
But Ziv Cohen, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, noted that “conspiracy theories may lead people to commit unlawful behavior.”
That’s “one of the dangers,” he told the AP. “Conspiracy theories erode social capital. They erode trust in authority and institutions.”