How could it happen that a man who had voted for Barack Obama and had even traveled from his home in Alabama to Washington DC to witness his inauguration in 2009, became an ardent Trump supporter and ended up dying of a heart attack on the grounds of the Capitol on the day of the insurrection? ProPublica explains how the transformation occurred.
Greeson had undergone a stark political transformation in those intervening years. A longtime Democrat who once championed unions and supported progressive politicians, Greeson had become a staunch Trump supporter by the time he died outside the Capitol at the age of 55.
In the weeks leading up to his death, he gave up Fox News for less mainstream right-wing news sources and wrote a series of posts on the conservative-leaning social media site Parler advocating political violence in response to what he saw as Democrats’ efforts to “steal” the 2020 election from the president.
“He was a vice president at the union, and he was an Obama supporter,” said Mark McDaniel, the Huntsville attorney representing the Greeson family. “He got interested in Trump because he felt he was more business-minded, and as the economy kept getting better, he kept getting more interested in Trump.”
Nancy Stephenson, who worked with Greeson at the Goodyear plant, left Alabama in 2007 for Memphis, Tennessee, and then for Houston. She returned in 2016 to find a changed — and charged — political landscape. According to Stephenson, the steady elimination of good jobs had combined with concerns about immigration and the Affordable Care Act to drive many people she knew in the area to take a hard right turn.
“When I left, they were into golf clubs and fishing poles,” she said. “When I got back, it was automatic weapons.”
For most of his adult life, Greeson got the majority of his news from mainstream sources like CNN and AL.com, according to his wife, Kristi, who answered questions through the family attorney, McDaniel.
But over the past few years, Greeson gravitated toward Fox News and other conservative outlets as he became enamored with Trump and the good he believed the president was doing for the economy and for American industry.
In the days after Trump lost his reelection bid in November, Greeson posted on Parler that he, like many diehard Trump fans, no longer trusted Fox News, and that the cable channel had “jumped ship.” Instead, he declared that he would only consume news produced by the pro-Trump, far-right outlet Newsmax, and that he would use Parler instead of Facebook.
“I’m done with Facebook and Fox News!” he wrote in a November Parler post, called a Parley.
One must be cautious about generalizing from the experiences of one individual but Greeson’s story provides a cautionary tale on many fronts. One is that once people start getting sucked into a rabbit hole of false information, they spiral further and further into the depths. The other is that people like Greeson cannot be brought back into the world of reality easily.
People like Greeson are ordinary people who, because of events in their lives, have had a radical change in their outlook. Given the large numbers of people who voted for Trump, I strongly suspect that they are not alone nor are they few in number. The question is whether once people go into this kind of false information vortex they can ever come out of it. I do not ask this in terms of votes. The last election has shown that Democrats can compensate for the loss of people like Greeson by bringing in other voters who have previously been ignored or disenfranchised. I ask the question out of human concerns, for reasons similar to those facing the families of religious cult members, of how to break the power of cult thinking that leads people to see the world with severely blinkered eyes. This can do great harm to themselves and their loved ones. Some people do come out of cults but only as a result of great effort on the part of others and even then, as far as I am aware, not many can be rescued. It is only when the cult leader dies or is exposed or abandons their followers that the spell truly gets broken for most of them.
In the case of the Trump cult, much will depend on what he does and what is done to him after he leaves office. One factor is that he is old and thus has only a few years left to keep the movement going, assuming he can or wants to after he leaves office. Once he is out of the picture, will there be anyone to step in and inherit the mantle who can maintain his strong hold on the following? There are no obvious contenders. Within the family, it seems like Donald Jr. is making a play to be the heir apparent and the family tie does give him an edge. But he may face challengers from within the family (from favored daughter Ivanka) and from without from the likes of the various Republican politicians who have presidential ambitions of their own.