THE two images that stick in my mind from last Wednesday night’s invasion of the Capitol are the grinning idiot carrying a looted lectern (whose self satisfied smile for the camera will be his passport to a lengthy prison sentence) and the bizarre bare chested, face painted individual who confronted the police wearing furs, horns and a pair of jogging pants.

The latter is apparently a well known purveyor and consumer of conspiracy theories including the dangerous extreme right-wing nonsense called QAnon which alleges that a Satan worshipping cabal of pedophiles is being opposed by a God-anointed Donald Trump.

Let me run that past you again. This week a man in furs who believes in a Satanist conspiracy was part of an invasion of the very heart of US democracy which was broadcast live on tv. Moreover those involved were incited to violently overturn an election result by the President of the United States .

That self same President has of course regularly spread many entirely false conspiracy theories such as the “birther” one about his predecessor. He also continues to assert that he won the recent presidential election by a landslide, even though the legally cast ballots prove he lost it decisively.

We have a tendency as a society to politely shy away from confronting those who promote obvious nonsense.

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Sometimes we do so because we know that the individual who says – to take just one example – that aircraft contrails are being spiked with chemicals in order to manipulate not just the weather but the behaviour of society will not be quickly argued out of their obsession.

On other occasions we simply cannot believe that anyone would accept as true accounts of the influence of the Illuminati, the allegation that the moon landings were faked in a studio in Holywood or that the the earth is flat.

But we were seeing even before last Wednesday the very destructive effect of allowing such rubbish to disseminate without vigorous logical and scientific challenge. Nurses and doctors have been tweeting about the morale sapping effect of leaving the most difficult of shifts in their hospital to find people with placards outside proclaiming that Covid-19 is a hoax.

Elected representatives are also now very fed up with the emails that proclaim – as one did to me this week – that those of us in Government are committing genocide against our fellow citizens as the virus is no more harmful than the common cold. The alleged reasons why we would do that range from suppression of dissent to serving a supposed desire for world domination by Bill Gates.

The National:

Last week presented an object lesson about what can happen when unscrupulous people who peddle such theories are able to influence credulous others who have a craving for certainty and therefore want to believe them.

Trump is feeding his followers with this poisonous junk because of his narcissism and to prolong the period in which he cannot be legally held to account for his wrongdoing. It is his media savvy as well as the global bully pulpit he occupies, which has allowed him to wreak such damage. For that he must be called to account.

Yet we need to stand not just against the spreader, but also against what is spread. We must challenge firmly and effectively those who repeat things that are demonstrably and provably not true. We must demand the highest standards of veracity in public life and we must judge ourselves by those standards too, being clear what is fact and what is opinion. And we must act decisively when we conclude that what is being said is dangerous to the sayer, the listener and the world they share.

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So 5G telephone masts are not for thought control, the Clintons did not assassinate some of their own most prominent supporters and – most importantly of all – there is a real pandemic in the real world that is killing real people and presenting a real threat to the ability of our health service to function to full efficiency.

That is what necessitates the type of restrictions none of us like but all of us need to accept for a while yet. We should of course argue about, and be accountable regarding, their detail and their effect but to pretend that nothing is needed is to follow a road which, as we saw last week, leads to free and fair democratic election results being violently contested after the event by deluded, manipulated crazies in wolf skins.