Your neighbours are going mad

One of my friends has been watching with horror as a former school friend has plummeted down the rabbit hole of online radicalisation. The former friend is a university educated middle class woman; think stereotypical Waitrose shopper.

Six months ago, the friend started posting on Facebook about her doubts over the official COVID death tolls.

Three months later:

She has gone from questioning official death tolls to hollering about 5G to spreading QAnon conspiracies on Facebook: “I’ve done my research!”

And now we’re at the six months mark:

This weekend she was out at the QAnon protests with her husband and kids. Maskless, no social distancing. Wearing a T-shirt that said “NO TO: pedophiles, Bill Gates, Covid Lies, Plandemic, MSM”…. out on the street giving speeches about Pizzagate and how it’s linked to the ‘fake virus’ through a megaphone.

As my friend pointed out, note the American spelling of “paedophile”. QAnon is a US conspiracy movement that’s being imported wholesale, American spellings and all.

If you’re not familiar with QAnon, it’s a far-right conspiracy theory endorsed by clueless celebrities, Donald Trump and other Republican politicians and, increasingly, the people next door. It’s grown significantly during lockdown and social networks have been too slow to crack down on it.

The BBC puts it very well.

At its heart, QAnon is a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy theory that says that President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.

Let’s just read that again.

President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.

It’s a kind of meta-conspiracy theory that happily pulls in other conspiracy theories – 5G phone masts spreading coronavirus, Bill Gates supposedly putting microchips in Coronavirus vaccines, Hilary Clinton carrying out child sacrifices – and makes them its own. Remember the recent claims that the online furniture shop Wayfair was trafficking stolen children? QAnon.

The FBI considers “conspiracy-driven domestic extremists” a growing threat:

The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts.

The Guardian featured a piece about US women who are falling for and amplifying these conspiracy theories.

This is not solely a fringe group of uninformed people blindly forwarding cat videos. These are college-educated women who (correctly or incorrectly) believe they have done their research. They look out for their families, the health of their children, and they share information on their Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Adherent literature abounds, providing a rabbit hole of media links to seemingly real evidence from experts.

There are obvious parallels with UK anti-trans activism, which I’ve seen described as “QAnon for British women”: it too rejects science and facts because “I’ve done my research.”

“From Rockefeller to Gates, it’s all related,” Alice told me. “This has been in the works for a long time, and it’s all part of a new world order of control and surveillance.” She attends Zoom meetings with doctors who explain the “misuse of ventilators in NYC hospitals” and how “wearing a mask will kill you”. She felt privy to a labyrinth of interconnected world-altering plots. My questioning the credibility of these sources was taken as a sure sign that I had been brainwashed by the mainstream media.

My friend:

The speed of these conversions is frightening.

We are living in terrifying times.