Research

 

Published research

  • Identifying QAnon Conspiracy Theory Adherent Types (with Colton R. Westmark, forthcoming)

Since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, conspiracy theories have become more salient among Americans. Using the deep state conspiracy theory QAnon as a case study, we argue three types of conspiracy theory adherents exist due to cognitive dissonance experienced in the face of key theory milestone failures: Hardliners, who do not face cognitive dissonance in response to failed conspiracy theory predictions; Moderates, committed members who experience cognitive dissonance and must adapt in order to maintain belief in the conspiracy theory, and Bandwagoners, casual members with shallow beliefs who experience cognitive dissonance and abandon the conspiracy theory. From these types, we put forth the bandwagoner acceleration hypothesis: by emphasizing the disconnect between complex deep state conspiracy theory beliefs and reality that demonstrates the falsehoods perpetrated by the movement, relevant stakeholders exogenous to the conspiracy theory can activate Bandwagoners to stimulate conspiratorial belief abandonment. This is important as Bandwagoners represent the peril of latent power which can be coopted and used to threaten democratic legitimacy. 

  • To the Moon and Back: Reexamining Presidential Decision-Making and the Apollo Program (forthcoming)

Why did President John F. Kennedy call on the nation to send Americans to the moon? And why did his successors see the expensive and risky Apollo program to completion even after his death? Drawing from the literature on presidential decision-making, I argue Kennedy’s announcement was both ordinary and epiphenomenal. Using archival materials spanning the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations, this article augments existing research and argues the 35th president constrained his own options by criticizing the outgoing Eisenhower administration for allowing a “missile gap” during the 1960 presidential campaign. Learning upon entering the White House that it did not exist, JFK’s own crisis rhetoric set expectations and forced him to compete with the Soviets in a new arena at the height of the Cold War. His assassination made it politically risky for his successors to alter the lunar program, relegating both Johnson and Nixon to claim residual credit and avoid blame for diminishing the American space exploration program. Reevaluating the historical role of the president in achieving one of the most significant government-led endeavors in history reveals how Kennedy’s past actions inadvertently drove the development of space policy at midcentury.

The U.S. Congress established the foundation of today’s surveillance state nearly a half century ago as it sought to regulate and prevent criminal activity: the Banking Secrecy Act to target tax evasion by individuals and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to create oversight of wiretapping activities by law enforcement. Over time, additional functions were layered onto the existing institutional infrastructure, such as combating illicit drugs. September 11th, 2001 served as a critical juncture, reorienting the regime yet again to support the counter terror mission, despite persistent inefficiency and simultaneous risks to the civil liberties of Americans.

In the post-war United States, a permanent national security state has been created. It is expensive and complex, comprised of everything from the nation’s conventional military forces to expensive weapons programs and intelligence operations. At the end of wars, Congress has influence over the size of the national security state, but the president determines its trajectory. By analyzing federal spending for the Department of Defense, I argue that presidents prioritize certain types of cuts, such as a reduction of force structure, to meet their long-term goals. But to implement further reductions, a president must overcome opposition from subordinates, in the military as well as Congress. President Eisenhower did this in the 1950s by innovating; he implemented new policies, embraced new solutions to old policy problems, and adopted suggested alternatives by others in order to secure greater reductions in defense spending.

Modern Supreme Court nomination hearings are contentious political events, as evidenced by the four held during the 109th and 111th Congresses to confirm John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Senators appear to purposely raise suspicion of nominees through their questioning during Judiciary Committee hearings, connecting the label of “judicial restraint” with candidates who are men, white, straight, and prone to “reason.” This is contrasted by appointees thought to embody the feminine, non-white, queer, and emotional practices of “judicial activism.” This dichotomous construction has made debates during the nomination process destructively reductive. A paradox thus emerges: by ignoring the importance of descriptive representation, the identity of potential justices to the Supreme Court becomes one of the most salient issues during the hearings; subsequently, this has resulted in senators using cues to create a caricature or “straw man” of nominees belonging to one or more minority groups in order to weaken and discredit otherwise qualified jurists and achieve a party “win” against the White House.