Suddenly, a loved one becomes a stranger. A father, mom or friend lost in a parallel world of dangerous conspiracy theories and fantasies destroying couples and families.
Some call conspiracy theories the evil of the century. Others say they are a reflection of a meaningless world. Either way, they are spreading fast across the internet, with very real consequences offline.
A forum on the US Reddit website offers insight into the plight of the plot.
QAnon Casualties, launched in 2019, has more than 150,000 members whose relatives believe in QAnon, an extremist movement that claims former US President Donald Trump is waging a secret war on Satan-worshiping pedophiles.
The visibility of QAnon – which has never produced evidence for its claims – was boosted when some members of the movement found themselves in the crowd that attacked the U.S. Capitol in January.
Members of the Reddit forum are offering each other support in dealing with loved ones who subscribe to far-fetched claims, with hostility to Covid-19 vaccinations now at the top of the list of topics.
– ‘Torn up’ –
“My mother went to full QAnon. I got around the problem, but it got out of hand, ”one user said.
“My family has been torn apart by Q insanity,” posted another. “I can’t talk to my two younger brothers at all because they’re literally obsessed with Q and the adjacent nonsense about vaccines, elections, etc. “
The movement takes its name from “Q”, seen as a former senior US official close to Trump who posted cryptic messages hinting at conspiracies on social media.
People who believe in their life in a plot are often reluctant to come forward, ashamed of an uncle who believes the Earth is flat (a “flat ear”) or a husband who threatens to deny his children if they wear masks to protect against Covid-19.
A retired French teacher, who only identified himself as Yves, said he was stunned when an old friend posted “the pandemic is bogus” to a WhatsApp group.
Yves told AFP that he had known the man for 50 years “and we often had heated debates, but never, never have our visions of reality been so distant”.
Conspiracy theories usually spread when people feel like they are being lied to, said Marie Peltier, author and expert in the field.
She said the September 11, 2001 attacks played a pivotal role in contemporary conspiracy theories, amplified by social media, while more recently Covid-19 has become a focal point.
– ‘Heroes and Villains’ –
“Conspiracy theories offer explanatory software that identifies heroes and villains,” she said. “It’s a big part of their success. “
French bookseller Paul – not his real name – still struggles to understand how his mother, fearing a second coronavirus lockdown, left her home at the end of last summer to join a man who had bought an entire village in Bulgaria to accommodate a community of French people wishing to escape the restrictions at home.
“My mother has become totally inaccessible. She went through the mirror on the other side, ”the 48-year-old told AFP.
Even before she left, she lived as a recluse and “spent an incredible amount of time online, searching for answers to her rage against the injustices of the world,” said Paul.
After supporting the far left in the 1970s, including the terrorist attacks by the Red Brigades group, Paul’s mother has moved to the far right – “with Putin as a screensaver on her PC – and joined a group denouncing alleged Zionist plots.
“The lockdown was the last straw and Covid has confirmed all of its doomsday theories,” he said.
– Few people come back –
Pascale Duval, spokesperson for the French anti-sect association Unadfi, said supporters of conspiracy theories generally go through a triple break with society.
“First, a person will completely change their values and identity to mark their loyalty to a community. Then, it will cut itself off from its central environment making dialogue impossible, and finally it will break with society, ”she declared.
Duval said that behind every sectarian movement, there is a “political, or at least societal project,” claiming that the extreme forms of New Age beliefs found in certain circles of personal development, yoga or vegan could serve as gateways. entry to conspiracy theories.
QAnon’s approach is marked by “the hyper-aggressive way of sharing these beliefs and the disconnect that occurs when a loved one doesn’t want to descend into the Q rabbit hole,” said Mike Rothschild, a writer whose book “The Storm is Ours: How QAnon Became a Theory of Movement, Worship, and Conspiracy of Everything” is due out next month.
Sometimes people return to the world they left behind, perhaps after suddenly noticing that something in their new theories doesn’t quite gel, Rothschild said.
“This opens the door to new questions, which are usually the start of a long and painful process of realizing how wrong they are,” he said. “But it’s rare so far. “
© 2021 AFP