Conspiracy theories, explained Reply

Instead, everyone should simply believe in the unending benevolence of the ruling class.

, Vox

Eleanor’s dad loved science — or so she thought. Eleanor grew up listening to stories of the Apollo missions and audio clips from space expeditions. Every weekend, the two of them hopped on a train to downtown Philadelphia to visit the Franklin Institute, where they would explore the planetarium, flight simulators, and technology exhibits.

“It was our special thing,” Eleanor, now an elementary school teacher who requested that Vox not use her real name to protect her privacy, told me.

That was several years ago. In 2020, Eleanor began to glimpse a much different version of her father.

“I’m going to a protest,” he told her in April. At first, she assumed he was attending a Black Lives Matter march or a similar event. But no — her father was protesting to reopen the state of Pennsylvania, then under lockdown due to Covid-19, because he thought the governor was exaggerating the threat of the virus.

Other dissonant moments followed. Eleanor’s father didn’t just disagree with Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf — suddenly, Wolf was “a dictator.” Her father started following fringe communities and groups online, arguing that masks were “a muzzle and a control device,” a way for the government to somehow manipulate the populace.

Then he began enthusiastically repeating the false claims of Stella Immanuel, a Houston pediatrician who went viral earlier this year for claiming hydroxychloroquine could “cure” Covid-19. (Immanuel has also declared, among other things, that ovarian cysts are caused by sex with demons, that scientists are experimenting with alien DNA, and that reptilian humanoids are running the government.) Once, when Immanuel appeared on a TV news segment, Eleanor’s father and stepmother began cheering, as though they were at a political rally instead of at home watching a far-right conspiracy theorist.

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