Have You Hugged a Cultist Today?

Brian Klaas, Why is it so hard to deprogram Trumpian conspiracy theorists?

Anne Applebaum, Coexistence Is the Only Option: Millions of Americans sympathize with the Capitol insurrection. Everyone else must figure out how to live alongside them.

Stuart A. Thompson, Three Weeks Inside a Pro-Trump QAnon Chat Room

These three folks start from the same premise I have adopted: you cannot begin to solve a problem—indeed, you cannot know whether a problem is solvable at all—until you understand the problem. And, by the way, “understanding” a problem is not the same as finding the one best noun that names the problem or the one best adjective that describes the problem.

I lack the energy today to try to comment on the three pundits’ analyses, but simply present them for your consideration and your reading pleasure.

I particularly like the multimedia presentation by Mr. Thompson. He writes,

When Mr. Biden’s inauguration played out as normal, participants were frustrated. By rejecting mainstream news, they embraced liars who fed them exactly what they wanted to hear.

“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? We cannot have that.”

If the Q movement had a slogan, it would be “Do your research.”The conspiracy is designed like a game. Discovering clues that clarify Q’s cryptic missives produces a eureka effect, which offers a hit of dopamine and improves memory retention. It’s the same satisfaction that comes from solving a puzzle or finding the answer to a riddle.

Believers apply the same approach to everyday news: Find information that confirms any existing beliefs, then use it to augment their understanding of the conspiracy. Reject facts or information that counter the existing beliefs. It’s one of the reasons they struggle to recruit their family members, unless they’re persuaded to do research themselves.

I wondered what would happen in the days after Mr. Biden’s inauguration. Rather than re-evaluate their approach in the wake of Q’s failures, many doubled down. The problem wasn’t that the whole worldview was false, just that they had been led astray by inaccurate reports and misinterpretations. Their response was to improve their process. They would develop a list of sources, vet credentials, link to original material, and view unconfirmed information skeptically. They were, in a sense, inventing journalism.

Others made excuses. Theories spread that Q was actually part of a deep state plot to keep Mr. Trump’s supporters complacent. A few members tied Q’s strategy to a C.I.A. psychological operation. And if that was true, their prophets, like Q and Mr. Trump and major personalities in the community, weren’t everything they hoped they would be.