Trump for many reasons. The political status quo wasn’t working for them. Mr. Trump was an antidote to Washington and was beholden to neither party. And Q offered not just a political orientation but also a way to place themselves in a bigger narrative that explains life’s shortcomings.
Many believers have paid a price for their views
Some were shunned by friends and family. Apps and social networks, like this audio chat room, stepped in, offering a welcoming community with shared beliefs.
Beneath the anger in their voices is often pain or confusion. When the chat dies down to just a few members, they’ll share stories about their struggles with affording health insurance or the shame of going on government assistance. Hearing them talk with one another, I could start understanding the pull of conspiracy communities – how they exploit the vulnerable and create a worldview out of shared enemies. Then you can watch those views harden.
And while none of it excuses participation in a dangerous collective delusion, it takes the complex process of radicalization and gives it a human dimension. What seemed like a preposterous descent into a kind of madness made slightly more sense.
“Not every politician is bad. Not every Democrat is bad. But we’re going to automatically assume that they’re deep state. So, I mean, you have people, a small few, that makes the majority look bad.”
As I spent more time in the group, I understood why the conspiracy has such gravitational pull. And while I didn’t lose my way, I was taken aback by the experience. It turned my brain to mush. I was left rattled and deeply concerned. About what would become of this group when I left. And more important, how one can lessen the appeal of a conspiracy that gives so much purpose to people’s lives.
Listening in, I came to realize what extremism researchers and cult experts have long known to be true: You cannot just destroy a community and expect it to disappear when it is load bearing. If we are to deradicalize Q believers in a Biden era, how will we do it? What can we offer them in its place?
One woman had an idea for how to solve some of these problems. They could try hearing from their opponents directly. Maybe they could understand their point of view, learn what motivates them. But then she paused. “I’d love to get into their heads, but it scares the [expletive] out of me,” she said. “So I keep my distance and stay with you patriots.”
We cannot have that
The Q delusion requires fitting unexpected events into a bigger narrative. The riot in Washington was one such opportunity. The day before, many in the chat room were worried about antifa attacking their friends. Yet it was also clear they wanted a confrontation.
“We know not to watch CNN. We know not to watch these people. But when we have people that we trust on the right, and we’re pushing that information out – because we don’t have many media sources, so the ones that come out, they need to be pretty damn good. And for them to take advantage of people’s hope? ”
“I don’t think they understand that we’re not all evil,” one member said about how the left views them. “Like you said, we’re not evil. We’re not bad people.”