Yesterday CNN published this really moving story and video about a woman from South Carolina who was talking about her journey out of the QAnon conspiracy theory. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should take a minute to check out her story. And if you want a deep dive on Q, you can read this amazing reporting from The Atlantic.) One of the things it illustrates, is the power of conspiracy theories to ruin peoples real lives.
Since I first started hearing about Q, I’ve mostly heard from folks saying that the whole thing was media hype. They told me they didn’t actually know anyone who believed any of that stuff. I thought they had a point then, and I still do. In my own life, I don’t know many (if I know even two) people who were sucked into it. Even so, I’m now fully convinced that conspiracy theories like Q pose a real danger and that they should be taken seriously.
Most people aren’t like the woman CNN identified. Of those who hear about Q–or whatever the next crazy conspiracy coming down the pike will be–only a small percentage will fully embrace it. But the danger doesn’t end with the men and women who abandon their normal lives in service to some faux prophetic movement. Obviously it is terrible for those who do so, but the effects reach even further. If anything, the Q conspiracy is a great example of how poisonous such things actually are.
We are living in a time of deep distrust. And a lot of that distrust centers on America’s institutions. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of that is earned. I’m not sure how far back to trace this crisis: Watergate? Vietnam? The Lewinsky Scandal? The Iraq War? But regardless of its origins, the #MeToo movement exposed the very worst of human sin manifested in nearly every sector of society: Hollywood, major media, government, business, and the church.
#MeToo not only a brought a reckoning but a revelation. It exposed abuses and failures within every kind of institution. It destroyed public trust. And in a time of distrust, Q was poised to grow like wildfire. I’ve often wondered how people take these ideas seriously. But if I’m honest, it isn’t really that hard to understand how someone would embrace the idea of a Deep State or a “rigged election” when they’ve seen the worst kinds of corruption revealed at the highest levels of the various institutions that ask for their trust. Not just once. But over and over again. For decades, institutions have failed to maintain credibility and integrity.
And the fallout is massive.
No institution is perfect. Institutions are controlled by people. People are sinful and are prone to err. But one of the unfortunate consequences of these failures is that they’ve given cover to conspiracists to sow distrust and fabricate lies. And here is the important part: you don’t have to buy them wholesale to be affected by them.
I don’t know how many people I’ve talked to who, while not Q adherents themselves, have questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election–suspicious as to whether the result was, in fact, rigged. They hold these views despite zero credible evidence or proven allegations of conspiracy or widespread fraud being presented anywhere. To drive the point further: they hold such views despite more than 60 lawsuits and millions of dollars being offered or spent to demonstrate even the smallest amount of coordinated malfeasance.
But despite this staggering lack of evidence, the narrative that the election was stolen was amplified online via social media until it grew completely out of control. And it was all based on a lie. Even after the tragic events of January 6, where multiple Americans lost their lives, followers of Q were waiting for a dramatic reversal–some unprecedented event whereby the results of the election were undone and President Trump remained in office to serve another four years.
QAnon was based upon a lie. President Biden being sworn in on January 20th was, at least for most people, the end of Q. But it leaves more than heartbroken followers in its wake. Repeat a lie enough times and even the most reasonable people will begin to lend it credence: They wouldn’t keep saying it if it was total fiction, right? Wrong.
Because of Q, Americans by the thousands no longer believe in the fundamental instrument of our democracy–free and fair elections. Because of a conspiracy theory, countless Americans no longer believe that their vote matters, that our Constitution has any meaning, or that they have any ability to influence the future of our country. That is a travesty and it tears at the social fabric that undergirds our society.
Conspiracy theories are dangerous. They ruin lives. But if we’re not careful, they may ruin much more than that. Lies are dangerous things. Christians know that there is a reason that Satan traffics in deception. It is critical for those who love the truth to stand against falsehood and error. And it past time for those know Christ not only to reject but to repudiate the corrosive lies promulgated by conspiracy theorists.