Scene-Level Trope: Riot Bricks

The “riot bricks” trope is a good example of how scene-level tropes function on “trope-field fit”. The riot bricks trope is used in the service of a larger narrative-level trope around protest — that protests are actually being organized for violence by a secret elite. Like most narrative-level tropes, there are examples of less-than-organic protests (and protest violence) in past and present history, but the conspiracy theory version goes further, imagining a secret elite that provisions these riots day before in plain sight, often through some conspiracy with local officials.

With that as your narrative, what evidence can you bring to bear? Repeatedly since at least 2020, the “riot bricks” trope has been popular. The idea, of course, is some secret conspiracy is making sure bricks are ready-to-hand for some riot that will appear spontaneous but is really a coordinated operation. It’s a silly trope, of course. It’s not as if there aren’t a lack of heavy things around cities or that the professional rioters these people imagine wouldn’t be capable of bringing a brick or two to a protest. There’s not been, to my knowledge, any riot where dozens of rioters have been unloading brick after brick off pallets, at least in recent U.S. memory. There are many more compelling conspiracy theories you could build if you were starting from scratch.

But that’s the thing — you aren’t starting from scratch. When creating these “detail-driven rumors” the conspiracy theorist is stuck with the details at hand, and what the riot bricks trope lacks in believability it makes up for in availability. There’s always bricks around a city, somewhere, after all. So the recipe here is quite straightforward: find some bricks before an anticipated protest. Snap a picture, ask a question that will be clear to those who know the trope but opaque to moderators. Collect retweets. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Scene-Level Trope: Voting Location Cameras Covered Up

Polling locations are, by necessity, formed out of locations that do other things the rest of the year. Schools, churches, community centers, and the like. They sometimes have cameras installed.

Because voting is private, there are restrictions on filming in polling places. This applies not only to ballot selfies, but to video surveillance. In addition to potential violations of privacy, the use of surveillance cameras filming voters can also be seen as intimidation. For both these reasons, cameras in a polling location may be covered for the day.

This covering of cameras is distinct from use of cameras in counting locations, which often do have surveillance cameras, some of which are mandated by state laws.

The Conspiracy Theory

This is currently a very small conspiracy theory at the moment, with almost no uptake. But it’s worth explaining it beforehand in case there is uptake later. An example of the Obstruction of Oversight and Destruction of Evidence cluster of theories, the idea is that the cameras are covered so that devious poll-workers can execute Sharpiegate-like deceptions. What makes this potentially compelling as a conspiracy theory is that there is a participatory element to it. A variety of people can take pictures of the cameras with sincerely confused questions about what is going on, and that confusion can be leveraged. But as stated above, the cameras are not meant to be there in the first place. They are there because polling locations are repurposed, and, for example, letting the local church film people voting just because they lent the city a location for the day would be really creepy.

On the whole it’s a good example of the detail-generated conspiracy theories (see Kapferer) that dominate the election space.

Vulnerability of Texas to Gubernatorial Vote-Counting Dispute

From the book Ballot Battles:

In Texas the institution currently empowered to adjudicate a disputed election is its legislature, far from the ideal institution for the dispute. If Texas experiences a ballot-counting dispute in a close gubernatorial election it is hard enough to imagine the state’s legislature resolving that dispute fairly, according to the merits of the case, rather than purely as an exercise of power by whichever party happens to be dominant in the legislature at the time…

A future dispute over ballots in a Texas gubernatorial election is likely to end up in a federal court under some sort of claim based on the precedents of Bush v. Gore and Roe v. Alabama. Moreover, unlike in 1948, the federal judiciary now has jurisdiction over the merits of the claim. The federal court would demand that the state’s vote-counting meet federal constitutional standards for fairness…

Ballot Battles, p. 352-353

Beto O’Rourke is still trailing Texas Governor Gregg Abbot, by a lot. But if the race tightens further, this looming disaster is something to keep in mind.