The number of Americans in thrall to a sectarian cult is a heck of a lot less than the 74 million who voted for former President Donald Trump in November. Still, devotees of alt-right Trump supporters were organized and numerous enough to storm the U.S. Capitol.
Although believers are drawn to conspiracies by the need to belong, they can break free – but timing is crucial.
A Reddit support forum for families who have lost loved ones to QAnon had nearly 30,000 members in November. Children have seen parents disappear into the dream world of conspiracies and become incapable of communicating about anything but fantasy. Reports show military veterans are particularly at risk for being radicalized online.
Although believers are drawn to conspiracies by the need to belong, they can break free – but timing is crucial. Right now, for instance, we’re seeing reports of disillusioned QAnon followers who have been robbed of the promises of mass arrests of Democrats, exposure of the deep state and another term of Trump in office. This window of doubt could be a rare opportunity to break the spell.
QAnon followers were expecting mass arrests of Democrats, exposure of the ‘deep state,’ President Trump enacting martial law and staying in power. So how are Q followers reacting to all of this? A mixture of disappointment, anger and denial says @marcambinder pic.twitter.com/2wb5TshI0d
– Kim Brunhuber (@kimbrunhuber) January 22, 2021
But the line between obnoxious (but protected) speech on the one hand and small groups of people who are one step away from harming others on the other is difficult to envision and even harder to codify into law. Plus, the overwhelming surveillance powers of the U.S. national security state are substantial, so we should be careful and deliberate before we expand them.
Bringing people back to reality is a bottom-up effort, according to experts who have worked directly with adherents to conspiracy ideologies. One is Brandon Blackburn, a former CIA targeting officer who spent a decade working on counterterrorism operations to disrupt terrorist threats against the United States in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Since he left government, Blackburn has consulted extensively with law enforcement and nonprofit organizations to rehabilitate people who have succumbed to extremist ideologies. “There is an opportunity to tailor approaches based on what you know about a person’s socio-economic background,” he said, as well as using clues like what someone was exposed to in