The 2016 presidential election has cultivated the perfect atmospheric conditions to bring forth a bountiful harvest of well-ripened and juicy conspiracy theories: candidates with baggage-heavy pasts and historic unfavorable ratings, extreme and vocal polarization in the electorate, a teetering media industry desperate for an audience, Russian freakin’ spies.

Aaron Sorkin wouldn’t be so bold…

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Still, with political Reddit ablaze like the Wyoming wildfire of 2001, I’ve yet to see a single tinfoiled theory address what I feel is the most plausible narratively compelling possibility currently out there.

Now I’m obviously not saying this will happen, but it’s been postulated the reason we have nightmares is to prepare our brains for having to deal with the most terrifying of situations. Therefore, I’d like to treat this Nightmare Scenario as an exercise in psychological preparation for whatever crazy twists and turns the 2016 Election has left in store for us.

I call it…

The “Putin is Priming DEMOCRATS for an ‘October Surprise’ Rigged Election” Theory

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For being as narratively whittled by Occam’s Razor as this theory is, though, it is admittedly a little hard to explain (as all good conspiracy theories are). So, let me try to break this puppy down for you more rationally minded folks bit by conspiratorial bit…

“Putin is…”

For those who only know Vladimir Putin as the bare-chested, bear-riding# President of the Russian Federation who inspired the shark House of Cards jumped over#, you’re missing out on one of those most fascinating figures in modern history.

Born 7 years after WWII ended in what was then called Leningrad, Vladimir Putin was the only surviving son of a factory worker mother and a wounded-in-action military father. By the age of 12 he had begun studying sambo and judo#, and by 23 he had joined the KGB, training at the 401st KGB school in his hometown of Leningrad. Upon graduation, Putin worked in counter and foreign intelligence, eventually making it all the way to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before his abrupt retirement in 1991 (he chose not to get mixed up in the pro-Communist KGB’s coup d’état attempt that was taking place at the time).

Less than a decade later, a swift climb up the ladder of national politics saw Vladimir Putin being named the chosen successor to a resigning-in-disgrace President Boris Yeltsin…

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Putin then:

  • served two 4-year terms as President (2000-2008)
  • was barred from seeking a third due to term limits (2008)
  • had his First Deputy Prime Minister run instead (2008)
  • had the victorious First Deputy Prime Minister appoint him Prime Minister for that term (2008-2012)
  • ran for a third term as President and won, despite rampant allegations of a “rigged election” (2012-Present)

And, believe it or not, Russians love him!

When international sanctions were thrown at Putin after he seized Crimea and invaded Ukraine, his approval ratings went up, reaching an all-time high of 89%. He’s seen by a statistical majority of Russians as the person who significantly improved the general standard of living in the country, and the man who singlehandedly helped reassert Russia’s place at the world’s table. Forbes has named him The World’s Most Powerful Person three years in a row, and, whether we Americans want to admit it or not, there’s just something about the guy that makes him unequally compelling.

Last year, Vladimir Putin won TIME’s 100 Reader’s Poll – with more than half of the votes cast from within the United States.

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Eight years prior, in 2007, that very same magazine had named him their “Person of the Year.”

Though not without a bit of explanation attached…

TIME’s Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse. It is ultimately about leadership —bold, earth-changing leadership.
 
Putin is not a boy scout. He is not a democrat in any way that the West would define it. He is not a paragon of free speech. He stands, above all, for stability — stability before freedom, stability before choice, stability in a country that has hardly seen it for a hundred years…
 
…At significant cost to the principles and ideas that free nations prize, he has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known it and brought Russia back to the table of world power. For that reason, Vladimir Putin is TIME’s 2007 Person of the Year.

Vladimir Putin, everybody.

 

“Priming…”

Priming is the technical term for the Jedi Mind Trick that Inception was based off of:

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In the 1970’s, two psychologists named David Meyer and Roger Schvaneveldt first began playing with how exposure to a certain stimulus could influence the response to another (e.g. how when you see the word “apple” your brain jumps to “red” when you’re asked to then pick a color). Since then, more studies than I have the space or time to list have shown how powerful and enduring the effects of priming, even unconscious priming, can be.

That’s why everywhere you go there are slogans and mottos, jingles and catchphrases, taglines and sign-offs.

It’s why politicians have talking points – like Donald Trump’s new favorite about a “rigged election”:

Human brains just weren’t meant to deal with this much non-constructive bullshit. Our filter isn’t set up to have to consistently block out tidal waves of useless or damaging messages. And, wouldn’t you know it, the effects of repetition priming are cumulative.

The effects of repetition priming are cumulative.

That means when Trump says to an Ohio rally, “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” and then turns around and tells The Washington Post, “If the election is rigged, I would not be surprised,” that word ‘rigged’ burrows itself just a little deeper in the skull.

“Ever since the 2000 presidential election, a percentage of Americans have believed the system was rigged,” GOP pollster Frank Luntz recently told Politico. “And that percentage has grown as politicians discovered the power of that phrase and used it more and more often.”

Priming, it’s not just a handy tip for getting lawnmowers started…

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“DEMOCRATS…”

Where most conspiracy theories involving a rigged election skew politically right, the “Putin is Priming DEMOCRATS for an ‘October Surprise’ Rigged Election” Theory takes a hard left turn. Because while Trump inciting a riot composed of a few thousand gun nuts is indeed a terrifying notion that deserves its due warning, the true Nightmare Scenario for the 2016 Election is if it’s Democrats, not Republicans, who are the ones igniting into a powder keg of civil unrest after the final results are announced.

We’ll get to the ‘why that would happen’ in a second, but remember that priming is a pretty indiscriminate form of mental manipulation (remember, priming is a pretty indiscriminate form of mental manipulation). Even the most liberal among us, even those most devoutly ‘with Her’ have been pummeled over and over with the phrase “rigged election,” forcing each and every one of us to have to at least consider this absurd idea we would have never even imagined had we not been prompted to do so.

It’s just like when Danny outwitted C.J. in the episode “The Lame Duck Congress.”

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During an official press briefing, ace reporter Danny Concannon asks Press Secretary C.J. Cregg if the President has considered ordering a lame duck session; she replies that he has not. But Danny, that sly fox, follows up by asking if C.J. can confirm that, and she absentmindedly agrees to – not realizing the rhetorical trap she’s stepped foot in.

Missed it?

To quote Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman’s explanation to his assistant Donna, “She can’t confirm that the President hasn’t considered it unless she asks the President if he’s considered it, at which point he’ll have considered it.”

Not to mention, a lot of Americans are already very willing to believe their opponents hijack elections, as demonstrated by this 2014 study that found ~50% of pre-2012 voters would believe fraud was very or somewhat likely if their preferred presidential candidate didn’t win – with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans responding that way. So, when Trump tells George Stephanopoulos “there’s questions” about whether Bernie Sanders actually lost to Hillary Clinton, those flippant accusations aren’t necessarily falling on deaf ears.

Trump’s sometime-advisor Roger Stone recently told Breitbart that “the government will be shut down if [the Democrats] attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in,” promising “civil disobedience; not violence, but it will be a bloodbath.” And that’s if Trump loses. Think of the chaos that would ensue if he actually won?

Which gets us to the ‘why that would happen’ part…

 

“For an ‘October Surprise'”

The cover of this morning’s New York Times was taken over by a large, colorful image of tourists taking selfies in front of the Olympic rings in Rio…

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If you look just to the right of the red ring, though, you’ll see an innocuously slim column sporting a more foreboding headline:

“Wider Damage Seen in Hack of Democrats – Fears of New Release of Embarassing Data”

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But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because October Surprises, as they’ve come to be called, have an historical legacy that deserves its due recognition…

Etymologically birthed during the 1972 election when President Nixon’s National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger told a divided and war-fatigued nation on October 26th that “peace is at hand,” the October Surprise has become a well-worn term to mean any last minute twist or strategic gamble – like the electoral version of “snowpocalypse.”

However, if you ask any political historian about them, there’s only one election year they will inevitably bring up: 1980, when incumbent President Jimmy Carter lost to the conservative superstar Ronald Reagan.

The 1980 October Surprise “Conspiracy Theory” goes as such:

  • one of the biggest issues during that year’s election was the fact that 52 Americans were being held hostage in Iran
  • Republicans were worried that if the hostages were released before the election, it would be too big a boom for Carter in the polls (since he was the President)
  • So, William Casey (Reagan’s campaign manager) and Donald Gregg (a National Security Council aide who later served under George H. W. Bush) arranged a secret meeting with Iranian contacts
  • Reagan’s team asked Iran to keep the hostages until after the election; in return, if Reagan won, the new administration would “give Iran its strength back”
  • The hostages weren’t released before the election, Reagan won in a landslide
  • 20 minutes after Reagan concluded his inaugural address, Iran released the hostages

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Now, the reason I put “Conspiracy Theory” in quotes up there is because not only did this end up being the subject of multiple congressional and journalistic investigations, but because roughly a decade later former Iranian President Abolhassan Banisadr told the following to Barbara Honneger, author of the book October Surprise:

“They made a deal with Reagan that the hostages should not be released until after Reagan became president. So, then in return, Reagan would give them arms.
 
We have published documents which show that US arms were shipped, via Israel, in March, about 2 months after Reagan became president.”

Sometimes, it seems, conspiracy theories aren’t just for the tin-foiled.

Which brings us back to the 2016 Election…

Is Donald Trump smart enough to pull off something like a backdoor deal with a major world power? Of course not. We all know his claims of a rigged election are just the knee-jerk reaction to his narcissistic psyche being unable to process that he is down in the polls.

Vladimir Putin though…

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In his official biography, Putin wrote that during the Fall of the Berlin Wall he burned KGB files to prevent demonstrators from obtaining them. He’s been implicated in the poisoning of a former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service who fled to the UK from court prosecution in Russia. The Dalai Lama once called him “self-centered.”

He is the kind of guy who will do whatever he can to do whatever it takes, using every weapon at his disposal.

Including ones that don’t even know they’re being used…

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Trump, the controversy-seeking carpet bomb, is the perfect tool for a strategic genius like Putin who thrives during times of chaos. “The idea that the person who won the presidency did so illegitimately is not new,” historian Jesse Walker recently told the Washington Post. “What’s new is the possibility of a possible loser in the presidential contest making an issue out of it. I can’t think of another example in the last century.”

With Trump creating such a surreal quality to this election, our typically formulaic democratic process is particularly vulnerable to things like random, well-timed WikiLeaks coming from data stolen by Russian intelligence agencies.

And that’s why I bring this far-fetched, ‘rigged election’ conspiracy theory up in the first place.

Because the current state of the world is so incredible, it’s almost unimaginable to think of where we go from here. Nevertheless, we have to make ourselves mentally prepare for all the various what-if’s, no matter how terrifying or statistically implausible so that we can make sure we’re not blindsided if they come to pass; it’s what separates the Batmans from the Britains.

For all we know, 72 hours before the election there’s going to be an email released in which Hillary recounts to a Saudi prince an MDMA-fueled Ugly Hollywood orgy that would make Kanye’s “Famous” video look like Boy Meets World.

To borrow from the same Roger Stone as above:

“You have to inoculate early on this. You have to educate people to the fact that this is a real possibility.”