The authors describe “chaos incitement” as a “strategy of last resort by marginalized status-seekers,” willing to adopt disruptive tactics. Trump, in turn, has consistently sought to strengthen the perception that America is in chaos, a perception that has enhanced his support while seeming to reinforce his claim that his predecessors, especially President Barack Obama, were failures.

Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux find that those who meet their definition of having a “need for chaos” express that need by willingly spreading disinformation. Their goal is not to advance their own ideology but to undermine political elites, left and right, and to “mobilize others against politicians in general.” These disrupters do not “share rumors because they believe them to be true. For the core group, hostile political rumors are simply a tool to create havoc.”

In the past, chaos-seekers were on outer edges of politics, unable to exercise influence. Contemporary social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and so on — has empowered this constituency, providing a bullhorn to disseminate false news, conspiracy theories and allegations of scandal to a broad audience. Examples include the lunacy of the Comet Pizza story (a.k.a. Pizzagate), the various anti-Obama birther conspiracies and Alex Jones’s claim that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children dead was a “complete fake” staged by the government to promote gun control.