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On QAnon and closed-minded adherence to falsehoods

Changing minds is hard. But at least listening occasionally to someone with opposing views is vital.

QAnon activists rallying to show their support for Fox News outside their headquarters in New York City on November 2, 2020.
QAnon activists rallying to show their support for Fox News outside their headquarters in New York City on November 2, 2020.
REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

“I’ve stopped talking to every single person that isn’t on board with this,” said one of those participating in a chat among a group of believers in the QAnon view of the world.

That alarms me about as much as the fact that an unknowable but apparently substantial number of Americans subscribe to QAnon’s beliefs. The beliefs are scary – when I say “beliefs” I don’t refer to a political ideology but to actual falsehoods that are treated as actual facts. So the idea of those who believe in those falsehoods refusing to talk to anyone who “isn’t on board” with those falsehoods adds to the alarm.

Just about everything I know about QAnon, which isn’t all that much, makes me want to have nothing to do with it, and to feel both sorry for and frightened of its adherents.

The group’s most famous belief, I gather, and borrow this summary from the Wikipedia article on QAnon, “is that that a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and is (or was) plotting against former U.S. president Donald Trump, who had been fighting the cabal. According to U.S. prosecutors, QAnon is commonly referred to as a cult.”

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Wikipedia adds that:

“QAnon commonly asserts that Trump has been planning a day of reckoning known as the ‘Storm’, when thousands of members of the [anti-QAnon] cabal will be arrested.”

“QAnon supporters have accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking government officials of being members of the cabal,” and somehow implicated in the pedophilia.

The list of those are accused of favoring the Satan-worshipping pedophilia ring includes Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and billionaire George Soros. Wikipedia also states that “the QAnon conspiracy theories have been amplified by Russian state-backed troll accounts on social media, as well as Russian state-backed traditional media.” The article includes footnotes indicating the sources for those assertions.

Stuart A. Thompson, a writer and editor for the New York Times opinion pages, gained access to a chat room of QAnon followers, including actual audio chat, as they approached the last days of the Trump presidency.

Thompson’s piece is accessible here. It includes no identities of those participating in the chat. Their actual voices expressing their views can be heard on various audio links embedded in the piece. If you go through that exercise, I suspect you will have no doubt about the sincerity of those speaking.

But, to me, my concern for those holding such beliefs, and perhaps planning to act on them, is substantially aggravated by the one person, quoted above, who has “stopped talking to every single person that isn’t on board with this.”

I’m not particularly naïve. I know that lots of people believe things that I think are false, wrong, even crazy. But it’s very important to me and, I think, to the healthy survival of our society, to believe that people will in ways small and occasionally large, change their minds about some of their beliefs when they are confronted, by journalism, by neighbors, by trusted friends, by clergy, by whomever, with evidence and analysis that some of their beliefs are contradicted by factual reality.

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Even putting it that way overstates the likelihood of a moment of enlightenment or even of open-minded rethinking of a long-held belief. But hope of such a moment is all but lost when someone says, as the QAnon follower quoted above says:

“I’ve stopped talking to every single person that isn’t on board with this.”

I value friendships with people who don’t share my views on everything. I don’t change my mind all that often about beliefs I’ve held for a long time, although it does happen. But I hope I never get so dug in on any of my convictions that I decide to stop talking to anyone who doesn’t agree with me about something.

Changing minds is hard. But at least listening occasionally to someone with opposing views is vital.

***

After I had drafted the piece above, I saw news that RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel (she’s Mitt Romney’s niece) had described QAnon as “dangerous” and “beyond fringe.” Donald Trump has never said a negative word about QAnon.

Pressed to say whether the party organization would welcome a comeback attempt by Trump in 2024, she said that while Trump and his loyal supporters remained a “a huge, huge presence” in the party, Republican primary voters will decide whom the party will nominate in 2024. She also expressed her belief that if Trump were to make good on his recent threat to start his own new party, “it would be basically a rubber stamp on Democrats getting elected.”