But this, of course, is not the point. In releasing the 26,000 emails, Tyrmand and his collaborator, the Breitbart News contributor Peter Schweizer, are not bringing forth any evidence of actual lawbreaking, or an actual security threat, by either Hunter or Joe Biden. They are instead creating a miasma, an atmosphere, a foggy world in which misdeeds might have taken place, and in which corruption might have happened. They are also providing the raw material from which more elaborate stories can be constructed. The otherwise incomprehensible reference in last night’s debate to “the mayor of Moscow’s wife,” from whom Joe Biden somehow got rich, was an excellent example of how this works. A name surfaces in a large collection of data; it is detached from its context; it is then used to make an insinuation or accusation that cannot be proved; it is then forgotten, unless it gains some traction, in which case it is repeated again…

They will continue to serve a function after the election as well. If Biden wins, Foxworld will need some way to keep its audience focused on something other than the Cabinet he appoints, the new legislation he passes, and all the other events, decisions, and changes that used to constitute “news.” Instead of all that real-life stuff—laws and regulations, statistics and investigations, debates about the economy and health care—the leading figures of the right-wing conspiracy bubble will, over the next months and years, dip into the email caches to keep their followers focused on an alternate reality in which Joe Biden is a secret oligarch, his son is an important figure in the Chinese mafia, and LOL nothing matters. Just as you need to know the backstories of the stars in the DC Comics universe in order to understand the nuances of a Batman movie, six months from now you might also need to know all about Cooney and Archer and the wife of the mayor of Moscow if you want to understand Ingraham’s monologues. The extraordinary and completely unsupported insinuation, made by Wisconsin’s Republican senator, Ron Johnson, that child pornography was found on Hunter Biden’s alleged laptop also looks like an unsubtle attempt to persuade the followers of the QAnon cult to fold this story into their dreamworld as well.