By Paul V. DeMarco
In the early fall of 2012, I was part of group organizing free community health screenings. Out of the blue, a physician who was a stranger to me called and asked if he could volunteer for our weekly outings. I was glad for the help, and over the next year or so, he and I supervised several screenings together.
After a screening in the months before the 2012 general election, he came into my office looking concerned. He asked if I had seen a YouTube video made by a man claiming to have had cocaine-fueled sex in a limousine with President Obama. He knew that I was planning on voting for Obama and asked plaintively, “What are we going to do? This is going to ruin his chances for re-election.”
When I watched the video (which is still online and currently has fewer than 7,000 views) I was unmoved. Despite my reassurances, my colleague was convinced that the video would derail Obama’s campaign. This was my first brush with the conspiracy mindset. Here was a man both intelligent enough to practice medicine and generous enough to give away his time who lacked a needed skepticism. I found out later that he was a loner who was estranged from his family. He died of a preventable cancer, perhaps another manifestation of his inability to properly weigh information.
I’ve also had a younger co-worker who was a true conspiracy theorist. He sported a bumper sticker that said “9/11 was an inside job” and published multiple books, the titles of which I will not list to spare him the embarrassment – he has taken another job and has grown out of his conspiracy phase. He was socially adept, polite but formal with me and an enjoyable conversationalist for the staff in his generation. He kept his banter light; I never once heard him voice any of the ideas about which he wrote so fluently.
Which brings me to QAnon, the absurd theory that (and this next phrase pains me to write) Hilary Clinton is the leader of a Satan-worshipping cabal of pedophiles that has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, including government, Hollywood, and the media. QAnon has gotten more press than it deserves, in part due to Jake Angeli, the “QAnon shaman,” who became the face of the January 6th attack. He was one of the handful of rioters who penetrated the Senate chamber and left a note on Vice-President Pence’s desk that read “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”
The most current polling on QAnon from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) produced this eye-popping New York Times headline: “41 million Americans are QAnon believers, survey finds.” I am going to venture that this is a vast overestimate of the true sway of QAnon. The PRRI polls of approximately 20,000 Americans showed that 16% “completely agree” or “mostly agree” with QAnon’s pedophilia claim (16% of the US adult population (258 million) equals 41 million).
However, looking at the numbers more closely, only 5% completely agree (about 13 million). Many fewer participate actively in QAnon activities and fewer still participated in the January 6th attack. My guess is that if most of the 5% who “completely agree” were asked on penalty of perjury if they truly believe the conspiracy theory they would say “no.” And if the answer was “yes,” when asked to produce any credible evidence, they would fail.
QAnon’s success can be attributed to its being allowed to fester for several years without much public notice on a racist and misogynistic website called 8-chan. Now that January 6th has subjected it to scrutiny, it will shrivel. All of Q’s major predictions have failed to come to pass and the shaman and his fellow rioters are in jail.
About the only people in power who are courting QAnon are folks like Marjorie Taylor Greene and, of course, Donald Trump, who recently introduced a Q-associated anthem as background music for one his rallies and posted an image of himself wearing a Q lapel pin. The fact that he must overtly court Q supporters can only be interpreted as a sign of Trump’s waning popularity.
The best approach to Q is not to engage. Don’t bicker with Q followers on social media and please don’t lose any sleep over the movement. Yes, a very few supporters have been violent. But most adherents are harmless. Based on my limited experience with conspiracy theorists, it is possible for them to harbor fantastic beliefs while being good at their jobs, funny, and kind.
It is undeniably taxing to engage a conspiracy theorist who is trying to prove he is right. I would recommend listening carefully and asking curious questions for as long as you can stand. You will probably walk away shaking your head. But what a conspiracy theorist most needs is to get out of his echo chamber. If you provide an alternative perspective offered in a respectful way that can be heard, you may help him back toward reality.
A version of this column appeared in the Oct. 5 edition of the Florence Morning News.
Sorry to take so long to post that, Paul.
Am I worried about QAnon? Not particularly. What I AM worried about is that we live in a country in which they could become part of the mainstream conversation — that they would even be brought up as something to worry about.
I grew up, and spent several decades of adult life, in a country in which that would not have happened. Something like, say, the Symbionese Liberation Army would crop up, and immediately be seen as something so outside the norm that no significant number of people would worry about it in any way speaking for a significant voting bloc in the country. It would matter only for the few people who were unfortunate enough to encounter the small, violent group in person, such as my 5th cousin once removed, Patty Hearst.
It was also a country in which someone like Donald Trump would never, ever have come within light years of being nominated, much less elected, president of the United States.
But all that changed recently. And it makes serious people unsure about what’s causing it, so we look nervously about us for other evidence of the insanity that has taken control of one of our two formerly mainstream political parties. So QAnon gets built up — partly by the fact that way, way more than 41 million do not read newspapers, but believe they are “informed” by other sources, and partly that even reasonable folks look at something like QAnon and think, “Maybe THIS explains the insanity we’re witnessing”…
Before you go, “Talk about whack jobs — how about a guy who thinks Patty Hearst, whom he’s never met, is his cousin?”… here’s a screenshot from my family tree.
Of course, it’s true I’ve never met her, and have no plans to do so. But I knew we were related decades before I took up genealogy, even back when she was in the news in the 70s. The Hearsts lived in South Carolina for awhile before moving out West, and I knew they were part of my maternal grandmother’s quarter of the tree.
So when I did build the tree, and got back to my 5th-great grandfather John Hearst III, I took the time to trace that line back down to her. It was pretty easy, since her father, grandfather and great-grandfather were so famous…
There’s something else very interesting in the Hearst branch of the family tree, in addition to Patty’s ordeal with the SLA. Although it may not have been all that unusual at the time and place when it happened.
Patty’s great-great-great grandfather had a brother, and that brother had three daughters (actually, he had five, but I’m just talking about three of them). Those three sisters married three men who were brothers. Nothing unusual about that, of course, in Abbeville County in the first half of the 19th century.
But those three brothers happened to be the first cousins of the three sisters, their wives. Therefore you had six people, three married couples, who all shared one set of grandparents.
Let me quickly add that neither Patty nor I happens to be directly descended from any of these folks. Although I will add that in addition to being related to the three Hearst women, I am separately related to their Pressly husbands. Of course, I suppose in this situation, I would have to be, right? Or maybe not. Trying to work this out can make your head spin.
But I will also add that these were not folks on the ragged edges of society. They were respectable folk. One of the three men was a doctor, and another was a clergyman — and judging by the photo taken of him in later life, quite a starchy, fire-and-brimstone sort of preacher.
People today would likely find these relationships somewhat shocking nevertheless. Even though to this day, it’s still legal in South Carolina for first cousins to marry. And South Carolina isn’t unusual in that regard. About half of states allow it…
Actually, my characterization of Rev. Pressly as “fire-and-brimstone” could be theologically incorrect. I was just going by his photograph.
He was A.R.P. — Associate Reformed Presbyterian. If I remember correctly, a lot of the Presslys were ARP. That’s the same denomination (I think) as First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, and Erskine College. It’s generally characterized as “conservative Presbyterian.” Do conservative Presbyterians deliver fire-and-brimstone sermons? I don’t know…
Whether they do or not, he looks quite respectable…
Why is it that a lot of conspiracy theory believers tend to be sort of loners? Paul mentioned one in his article.
My aunt peddles in conspiracy theories heavily. Yes, she watched Fox News a lot. But her stuff is a lot worse. I mean some nutty stuff- like all Democrats are aliens from another planet. She seems to believe Joe BIden died years ago and aliens brought him back to life and that’s what we have as President. Yes- seriously. Apparently this is a fairly common belief with a segment of the population.
When I respectfully ask her if I am an alien because I support Democrats 99% more than I do Republicans, she can’t answer and just sort of trails off- like hearing someone pushback on her belief is something she’s totally unprepared for so she just can’t respond. It’s like she’s robotic or something and an answer is not programmed into her memory bank. It’s a weird thing.
She’s retired. Her husband passed away 5 or so years ago. She proceeded to start spending tons of time on the internet and at our Christmas Eve family gathering about 3 years ago I overheard her telling my wife some of the craziest stuff ever. I would not call her Qanon – but very close to it- maybe something even worse. Yes, she is a Trump supporter. (She went from being a pretty liberal Democrat when my uncle was alive to a Trumper after he passed away when she spent all her time on the internet).
My dad feels sorry for his sister but also loves her deeply – as she does him. They really don’t talk about this stuff as he just lets her say what she’s going to say and he ignores it. We all do because she’s a lovely, caring person. She’s good as GOLD.
But again- she went from an outgoing personality to a bit of a loner and the conspiracy stuff stepped in.
My experience with folks that peddle this stuff and believe it is that they have a personality glitch that borders on a personality disorder. They can be very nice, rational people, but when it comes to politics or such issues, the easy explanation can’t be true. It has to be something supernatural if someone doesn’t see eye to eye with them.
I also believe there a lot more people out there than believe some nutty stuff like this but never tell anyone.
Not that Tucker Carlson doesn’t have egg all over his face all the time….. but…….. did you notice all the video edits he made of his interview of West?
He cut out a lot o anti-Semitic stuff and didn’t air it- and promoted West to his right wing audience. Good thing someone on his staff leaked the anti Semitic stuff that Tucker was trying to cover up.
Pretty interesting story
A former General Counsel to the EEOC under Trump has been sending letters to corporations warning them they could face a lawsuit for “pregnancy discrimination” if they include coverage in their health plans to help women travel and seek abortion services/counseling.
She argues that providing that benefit discriminates against workers who choose to carry out their pregnancies. Of course this is ludicrously silly – even for a Republican – which is saying a lot.
The corporations aren’t forcing women to do anything or even suggesting they should do anything. They simply have company provided benefits if they choose to utilize them for travel for abortion services.
She has used threatening language in her letters to numerous large corporations suggesting she has enforcement power at the EEOC. She clearly doesn’t.
obviously the “FORMER” General Counsel has no authority in such matters. She was fired by President Biden when she refused his request to quit soon after Biden took office.
Numerous large companies have announced benefits to women that they will including travel and medical coverage for them to travel to seek out abortion services or at least discuss their options. This has quickly become a very popular benefit for large companies.
The EEOC has been asked by The Littler Workplace Policy Institute to open an investigation into their former General Counsel for her threats and intimidation.
Even a Republican member of the EEOC (the woman who chaired the agency under trump) has weighed in saying that only current EEOC members set enforcement policies, and “not a former General Counsel.”
Now the current General Counsel at the EEOC will likely investigate her. Two other Republican EEOC members have been asked for comment and have not had the guts to offer one yet. I suspect even they realize how dumb this former General Counsel is here.