Conspiracy Theories and Conservatism: A Love Affair (Part 2)

Daniel Collen
Daniel Collen

Dan Collen is a freelance writer who covers fringe political movements and conspiracy theorists. Lately, he’s been writing about Canada’s growing anti-mask movement.
Find Dan on Medium and Twitter

Read part one here.

Suspending Your Beliefs is Partisan

The way that I see it with popular conspiracy theories among mainstream conservatives, such as the QAnon movement, is that they are relying on empathy for recruitment. After all, if you don’t care about other people, you won’t care about child sex slaves. The fact that QAnon followers do means that the base of them mean well. The problem is those good intentions don’t always lead to good results, and in the case of actionable conspiracies, the results tend to be horrifying.

Photo by Joel Muniz

To me, as an outsider, one glaringly obvious parallel to the conspiracies and conservatism is something that will undoubtedly invoke some animosity for even comparing in the first place: religious fundamentalism. In broad strokes, both strict religious lifestyles and deep-dive conspiracies require followers to follow without solid evidence. When it comes to the deepest levels of organized conspiracy theories — conspiracy ‘cults’ — they often require an all-or-nothing approach to members’ lifestyles just as fundamentalist religious groups do. Both require lifestyle changes associated with their belief systems. Both have a following that overwhelmingly leans to the right side of the political spectrum.

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At the risk of being too personally invested: I am sorry for potentially offending religious readers. I’m no expert in faith or spirituality, but I will say this: The G-d I want to believe in is moral. To me, a belief system that encourages others to live a life where they’re kind to other people is immeasurably and profoundly good.

The Church of Scientology is a major world religion and one with official tax-exempt status in the United States. But, if you told me that you believed an alien named Xenu brought humans to earth 75 million years ago on a space ship and I had never heard of Scientology, I’d call you a conspiracy theorist.

I know I’m grabbing low hanging fruit by using what might be the worst of human spirituality to draw comparisons from, but you have to admit they do have an especially fun origin story.


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Evidently, appealing to Evangelicals, in particular, is a popular recruitment strategy for the world’s largest conspiracy movement. The dean of Wheaton College, Illinois — a major Christian college — actually described QAnon as being  “on the fringes of Evangelicalism”. To really hit the nail on the head, Evangelicalism and conspiracy theories have a proven, glaring overlap of followers, with 48% of Evangelicals surveyed at Wheton College believing in some of its key components.

However, that part of me that wishes for that divine intervention? Sometimes I think it’s the same part of me that hopes The Loch Ness Monster exists. It’s a sense of wonder that I hope I hold on to for the rest of my life. It’s the same part of me that treats anything new and unfamiliar with skepticism. I don’t believe that things that are good in the world need to be proven real to be wonderful, and that’s why even the most robotic people can have a soft spot for fiction like Tolkien or Star Wars.

Oh, and it’s also no coincidence that very few of the conspiracy targets are conservative.

Yet the harsh reality is that there are definitely parallels between conspiracy theories and religious belief systems. You can chalk it up to a coincidence, but I think it boils down to more than that. In order to fall down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theory networks like QAnon and flat earth groups, you need to be the type of person who is open-minded to believing in something without tangible proof. That’s one of two inconvenient (and arguably offensive) truths that I see when I look at conservatives who believe in far-reaching conspiracies. There’s a much larger “religious right” movement than there is a “religious left” equivalent.

The ‘I Got Mine’ Vote

Another parallel between conservatism and conspiracies is individualism.

Fair warning, this is also sort of a taboo subject in politics, but it’s one I think needs to be addressed far more. To be clear: Conservatism, when it’s authoritarian and especially when it’s libertarian, is at its core a belief that values individualism in government. Despite the principles of the origins of modern Conservatism, individualism is often a disputed topic to many that frequent the right side of the aisle because many aren’t really in it for themselves — they’re in it for their family.

Sure, traditional western conservatives root their platforms in ‘family values’, but I’d argue that voting to preserve or improve your own family’s quality of life is actually still a form of individualism. Your family members are an extension of your own world and bettering their lives doesn’t mean you value collectivism, necessarily.

In contrast, a broad example of supporting collectivism might be voting to protect the rights of strangers you’ll never meet at your own expense. That’s something that’s overwhelmingly more common as part of left-leaning platforms.

None of this is to say that conservatives are inherently selfish just because they’re individualists. In fact, many argue that giving to charity is the ultimate act of conservatism. But, individualism can often be sold very well to people who are selfish by nature. Subconsciously adding the word ‘my’ to the idea of ‘individual rights should be valued over the rights of a population’ changes the meaning quite drastically. Selfish people seek individualism because it often allows them to value themselves over others.

Historically, far-right ideology involves different sections of a population obtaining more rights than others. Of course, the hierarchy can be sold much easier when the person they are selling it to believes they are the ones who deserve those rights. We don’t see fascist governments making propaganda targeted at the people they’re planning on treating poorly, the whole appeal is to get people to think their lives will be improved at other’s expense. Selfishness can (and does) draw people to the right.

Scapegoating

Want to hear a specific example of someone doing something seemingly against the idea of individualism?

Bill Gates giving most of his personal wealth and a great deal of his time to fight AIDS.

If you’re not familiar with Bill Gates conspiracy theories, know that the vast majority of them do not paint him in a good light, to say the least. The general story circulating in anti-mask and anti-vaccine groups is that Bill Gates’ humanitarian efforts were only a charade to secure world domination. He didn’t actually want to just give most of his money to life-saving causes, it’s all part of a plan to control the world. His methods, depending on which network you’re part of usually include secretly microchipping vaccines that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation distributes, and/or funding the creation of man-made viruses, including Covid-19.

Sure, it’s far-fetched and it might be easy to just dismiss that narrative as comedic relief. But, when you look at the radical conspiracies surrounding Bill Gates and those that follow some other rich conspiracy darlings — including George Soros, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and even Steven Spielberg — it’s not just that a disproportionate amount of them are black and Jewish (well, that is definitely part of it but it’s not what I’m getting at today). It’s that the majority of them have a history of humanitarian efforts, contributions to the art world, and have spent either some of their personal wealth or their livelihoods on something other than just themselves.

Photo by Michael Carruth

Oh, and it’s also no coincidence that very few of the conspiracy targets are conservative.

Even though Jeff Bezos has approached 200 billion dollars in net worth, conspiracy theory networks are suspiciously quiet about him. His mentions in QAnon forums are far less frequent than that of Tom Hanks or Hillary Clinton. They’re notoriously easy on Donald Trump, who is quite famously not a charitable person, to say the least. Trump’s namesake non-profit was caught stealing from a children’s cancer fund and he is one of Forbes least charitable Billionaires. In fact, very few conservative icons, billionaires included, are the target of any mainstream conspiracy theories. Even Elon Musk, for all of the admiration that young conservative men in commerce give him, remains somewhat absent (although his name will occasionally pop up).

The message that conspiracy theorists send to philanthropists is clear: How dare you pretend to care about other people?

But, why is that partisan?

What links the right-wing to conspiracy theories at its core is the belief that other people can be selfless. I’m not saying that what Oprah does isn’t necessarily for herself (I certainly don’t know her personally, maybe she’s really an awful person). I’m saying that it’s hard to say with certainty that she, or any other major QAnon target, didn’t at least do something for other people. Soros might have a personal agenda for influencing American politics, but at least he’s not quite so narcissistic as to buy a painting of himself with funds designated for charity (that we know of, at least).

Selfishness can (and does) draw people to the right.

So, if you’re like me and you believe that Bill Gates spent his time and money fighting AIDS because he had the time and the money to do so, you’re among those who believe that other people can choose selflessness over their own wealth and power. And if you don’t, you’re assuming he’s too individualistic to not have an ulterior motive. Like any possible way that we as humans can try to rationalize other people’s behaviour, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to us when it’s something that we would do. Bill Gates’ philanthropy seems far less irrational if we don’t assume other people are selfish.

What Does This Mean for Conspiracy Theorists?

I’ve seen far too many conspiracy theories that seemed harmless at first become extremely partisan over the last few years. And with far-right ideology on the rise, I don’t think it’s any coincidence. Russian hackers and troll accounts famously used misinformation in the form of conspiracy theories to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They knew that (specifically) right-wing voters were prone to voting based on conspiracies and they weaponized it. It’s impossible to measure exactly how much of an impact conspiracy theories had and is still having on people’s votes.

To be honest, at this point I’m starting to think the exact level of influence is almost irrelevant. Trump might have been the first, but the reality is that more conspiracy theorists are getting into office solely because of their roles as arbiters of (pardon my French) baseless horse shit. And the fact that most or all of them are also conservative politicians running in conservative districts means that the problem needs to be addressed as a problem with specifically conservative politics today.

In 2021, two new members of the United States Congress will be sworn in while one president may be sworn out who started their political careers as conspiracy theorists. In Canada, members of Maxime Bernier’s Peoples Party of Canada, independents, and Progressive Conservative exiles such as Randy Hillier are already staking their political careers on far-out ideas about Covid-19 and racist, baseless claims that their critics are terrorists.

With Covid-19 deaths reaching historic levels and rising, a long winter ahead of us. Thousands of Canadians are doubting the intentions of medical professionals in favour of whack jobs like Hillier. Conspiracy theories are going to continue being a problem until we all take the problem seriously.

Conspiracy Theories and Conservatism: A Love Affair (Part 1)

Daniel Collen
Daniel Collen

Dan Collen is a freelance writer who covers fringe political movements and conspiracy theorists. Lately, he’s been writing about Canada’s growing anti-mask movement.
Find Dan on Medium and Twitter

From my childhood to today, I have always enjoyed a good conspiracy theory. Alternative theories about the moon landing, UFO sightings, and discussions about cryptids were and are — to this day — fascinating to me.

So, if you’re rage reading this, know that I’m not trying to shame you. I don’t even think believing in unproven theories is necessarily unhealthy. We all need something to believe in. I, for one, have believed some pretty crazy shit in the past.

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In fact, I don’t have any difficulty believing that there are a lot of rich assholes, including Hollywood elites and politicians, involved in unproven sex trafficking rings. Powerful people can get away with doing horrible things, no question.

Now, does that mean that I believe every popular conspiracy theory about those elitist sex trafficking rings, including that The Queen and Hilary Clinton are using it to murder infants so they can consume their blood and live forever? Definitely not, but hey, I’m trying to meet those of you who do believe in them halfway.


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The Big Amalgamation

The conspiracy about celebrities drinking the blood of youth is no joke. Although it’s inception is most often credited to a recurring joke by Hunter S. Thompson that started 1971, it wasn’t until the mid 2000s — the age of internet access and Photoshop — that it reached large circles.

The theory revolves around a gross misunderstanding of the compound adrenochrome, with some believing that drinking large amounts of it can actually make people age slower. The most popular modern interpretation of the theory is that children and infants produce the most amounts of adrenochrome when they’re scared, and that people implicated in the theory such as Tom Hanks will rape children to extract the greatest volume of drinkable adrenochrome. Some believers also maintain that infants and/or children are often killed immediately after being raped.

The fantasy gained (and is still gaining) some traction following certain movies like Monsters Inc., as conspiracy theorists maintained that the plot of that movie — and others — were a way for whistleblowers in Hollywood to bring attention to adrenochrome harvesting from children. Ie. the fuel used in Monsters Inc. was really being used to cheat death, and that the real monsters were Hollywood actors and high profile politicians.

If that ruins a timeless Pixar movie for you, I’m really, really sorry.

Since 2016, we’ve all been hearing about it a hell of a lot more because of the popularity of Qanon. If you hear the name often but you’re unfamiliar with the specifics, Qanon is the label sometimes used for the conspiracy theories touted by an anonymous 4Chan user and his/her/their followers. I can’t possibly summarize the movement in one article but there are two key points about the theories themselves that are crucial to the movement:

1. There is a large ring of celebrities and politicians that are part of a cult-like child sex-slave trafficking ring.

2. Donald Trump is leading a secret battle to stop them.

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By extension, most or all of Trump’s associations with sex traffickers like Epstein and Maxwell, his history of sexual misconduct, and even his sexual comments about teenagers are believed to have been “undercover” work to gain the trust of sex traffickers. Basically, Trump only pretended to be into teenage girls and may have committed some sexual assaults in order to get other perverts to think he’s one of them. One Qanon theory out there even goes as far to allege that Trump did rape that 13 year old girl from the 2015 lawsuit filed against him, but he only went through with it to gain Jeffrey Epstein’s trust.

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A screenshot of a viral thread on a Q Anon Facebook group. Retrieved from a Fascism watchdog group.

To anyone thinking through the key points in Qanon’s belief system for five to ten seconds, an obvious problem with posting these theories on social media (as they’re often spread) is that if Trump is waging a secret war, working undercover to expose child sex traffickers, talking about it on 8Chan, YouTube, and Facebook would probably blow his cover.

Unless, perhaps, you’re a Qanon follower and you subscribe to a belief system that means all of the world’s most powerful heads of government have the means to run international pedophile rings, but not the means to watch your public YouTube video about it.

There are millions of Qanon followers, and while they might seem somewhat funny to follow at first, there are very serious, real world consequences to the movement’s actions. In the mid-2000s when my friends and I read adrenochrome conspiracy theory threads, they were something we treated as a sick joke from internet trolls. Now, people are shooting up pizza parlors over them.

Cults Are Mainstream Now, Deal With It

Last week the United States Republican Party made less headlines than they should have as news broke that they donated to the campaign of avid Qanon follower and Republican nominee for congress, Marjory Taylor-Greene. The endorsement proved that whether or not Republican party officials believe in the movement, they can no longer deny supporting it. Prominent followers also include the head of New York City’s second largest police union (known for proudly displaying his Qanon merch in news interviews), 24 other Republican candidates for Congress, and several Fox news personalities.

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Still capture from a Fox News interview. Retrieved from CNN.

Qanon followers have organized all over social media and in towns across the United States and recently made headlines for being labelled as a “domestic terror threat” by the FBI. Which shouldn’t have been a surprise, really. After all, if you believed that there were hundreds of children being kept as slaves underneath a pizza parlor, wouldn’t you feel obligated to free them?

According to one recent study of over 1500 United States voters, only 16% of Trump voters would dismiss the movement entirely, with even fewer — 12% — saying that they did not believe in Qanon’s core belief*. Any way it’s measured, a large fraction of Republicans believe in some part of the ideology.

*Worded in the form of the question: “Do you believe that President Trump is working to dismantle an elite child sex-trafficking ring involving top Democrats?”

What This Means For Canadians

In Canada, roughly 40% of Progressive Conservative party voters identify close enough with United States Republicanism to support Trump from abroad. Support is growing every day for Maxime Bernier’s PPC, a further right party with views on immigration that more closely mirror U.S. Republicanism. But, right wing voting blocks aren’t necessarily the entirety of Canadian susceptible to fall in to right-wing conspiracy rabbit holes.

There’s a growing anti-truth, anti-journalism sentiment in every spectrum of Canada’s political landscape. Lockdowns and layoffs have left Canadians in vulnerable positions to be targeted for recruitment. Being out of work and having ample time to browse social media channels that breed conspiracy theories, while also suffering from unmatched anxiety, is the perfect storm to fall in to a conspiracy cult.

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Before being kicked off of Facebook for spreading dangerous misinformation about Covid-19, Canada’s largest anti-lockdown group, which had loose connections to some prolific Neo Nazis, recruited more than 20,000 members. From spending a great deal of time there, I can say with confidence that the vast majority of those I’ve spoken with and have observed from a distance don’t consider themselves alt-right. Anti-lockdown rallies in Vancouver featuring antisemitic speakers and dense alt-right presence have went from gathering dozens to gathering thousands in only a few months.

Read Part 2 >>>