Whether we care to admit it or not, we all love conspiracy theories. When we hear bogus stories like aliens built the pyramids, the Queen of England is a lizard and Trump is the new world saviour, we can’t help but be drawn in.
Many conspiracies find an audience online. This makes the internet a dangerous place for gullible people. The reality is, everything we read online is an opinion. We each have our own version of the truth. For some, the truth is very simple, and they believe what they see. For others, they distrust what they see. They would rather believe in a world run by a cult of lizard people, which according to a 2016 Guardian article, about 12 million Americans do.
So why should we care about conspiracy theories? What power do they really hold? Answering this question, I suggest we look at the most recent craze taking America and the UK by storm: QAnon.
In a nutshell, QAnon is a far-right theory from 2017 which alleges that a group of paedophilic Satanists are behind every major decision in American politics. They run a global sex-trafficking ring, and Donald Trump is the only person who can stop them.
The conspiracy has evolved to include spurious claims that many high-profile politicians and actors are part of the group. While this already seems excessive, it gets stranger. Supposedly, President Trump is planning a crusade of sorts against the cabal, ending with the mass arrest of all the members referred to as ‘The Storm’.
Of course, none of this is based on facts. However, the lack of evidence hasn’t stopped QAnon supporters from taking the law into their own hands. In 2019 the FBI identified QAnon as a dangerous belief that encourages domestic extremism, which may sound a little excessive, until you hear what QAnon supporters have been arrested for. The list of offences committed in the name of QAnon ranges from breaking and entering, to kidnappings, to armed standoffs with police, and even murders.
With this in mind, I think we really should care about conspiracy theories as, even though they are usually fictitious, there are people who believe in them and take serious actions to harm or expose those who they think are involved.
Often, us Brits can sit and laugh as Americans get wrapped up in one conspiracy theory after another. But, this time, we are part of the problem.
Along with the anti-vaccine and 5G theories, QAnon is the latest addition to the UK’s conspiracy theory roster. People have been taking to the streets to protest against vaccines, 5G mobile technology, child abuse and lockdown. Unfortunately, it seems rather than joining in with the daily global PE class, people have taken their time off during lockdown to explore the dark rabbit holes of the internet. They have become indoctrinated by Facebook groups and Twitter posts. Though I feel I must add, regarding QAnon, Facebook have actually banned any groups associating with the outlandish conspiracy theory.
Alongside social media, online and broadcast news also play a role in the spread of conspiracy theories. By drawing public attention to these lunatics, news stories unwittingly publicise and validate their beliefs and actions.
To exemplify this, we look no further than Charles Manson, one of the most notorious cult leaders in history. Deranged and determined to take revenge on the industry which rejected him, Manson indoctrinated many young men and women in mid-1967 to commit heinous crimes against the Hollywood elite. The crimes and incestuous nature of the ‘Manson Family’ inspired shock and intrigue across America, leading to the production of numerous popular books and films about the cult. Thanks to this, Manson enjoyed global publicity and his conspiracy theory ‘Helter Skelter’ grew in popularity.
Considering I’m a journalist, it’s probably counter-intuitive to tell you not to read the media. Although that message seems to underlie this article, I implore you to still read the news and watch the telly. After all, it’s the best way to learn about the world around us. But do err on the side of caution. Just because one person said it in front of a camera or in an article, doesn’t make it truth. We are all entitled to our opinion, but we are not entitled to force that opinion on anyone else.