Special guest Mike Rothschild tells us how the road to wellness can be an on-ramp to a conspiracy theory. Along the way we debunk oil pulling, explore Instagram aesthetics and bemoan anti-vaxx argumentation tactics . Mike gets the date of the January 6th insurrection wrong and he is sorry.
Mike Rothschild is on Twitter and you can pre-order his book here!
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Mike: Hello and welcome to Maintenance Phase, the podcast where we go one and we go all.
Aubrey: Oh, no. [laughs]
Mike: I'm Michael Hobbes.
Aubrey: And I'm Aubrey Gordon. And you can find us on Patreon at patreon.com/maintenancephase and on TeePublic, we've got merchandise for you. Both of those links are set out nicely for you in the show notes and at maintenancephase.com, and I am so jazzed about our conversation today, I can't even tell you.
Mike: Yes, our guest is one of our favorite reporters, Mike Rothschild.
Mike Rothschild: Hello, how are you? Thanks for having me on the show.
Mike: Mike is one of our favorite QAnon reporters, and he's also working on a book called The Storm Is Upon Us, that comes out in October or September?
Mike Rothschild: September 21st.
Mike: Mike, do you know how I found you on Twitter?
Mike Rothschild: No.
Mike: You were fighting with somebody about your last name.
Mike: Somebody was like typical Rothschild. Of course, he would say this, he's a Rothschild.
Mike Rothschild: Oh, yes.
Mike: And you were like, “Give me a fucking break, dude.” [laughs]
Aubrey: I did when Michael started talking about like, “Let's do this guest episode.” I was like, “Boy, oh, boy, rough beat writing about QAnon with the last name Rothschild.” Woof.
Mike Rothschild: In the one hand, it's a pain in the ass, but it's also a constant talking point. It always gives me something to talk about with people, and to talk about how I got into all this. Part of it was my name and a part of it isn't. You don't have to poke very hard to find anti-Semitism in a conspiracy theory. And their reaction to my last name is almost always the thing that I see.
Mike: Importantly, for this show, Mike also used to cover wellness scams.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. I talked a lot about pseudoscience and wellness and woo-woo stuff. Anything that comes in a bottle and purports to do a bunch of different things, or cure a vast array of diseases, was my jam, before I really got hardcore into conspiracy theories.
Mike: This is our jam, too. This is our mutual jam.
Aubrey: Extreme jam.
Mike Rothschild: [chuckles]
Aubrey: I'm curious about, did you have any particular favorite stories that you covered when you were doing wellness reporting?
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. I think it was beginning of 2014, I wrote a piece for the blog of the critical thinking podcast, Skeptoid, on the oil pulling phenomenon. I don't know if you guys are familiar with this.
Aubrey: Sure, I am.
Mike Rothschild: Oil pulling just for those of you who are mercifully unfamiliar with this, is the idea that if you swish a small amount of oil, whether it's coconut oil or olive oil or palm oil in your mouth and pull it through your teeth, and then spit it out, you will be ridding your body of toxins.
Aubrey: This was a huge thing, maybe 5 to 10 years ago.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. It was mentioned, not the piece, but oil pulling itself was mentioned on the Dr. Oz Show.
Mike: Oh, no.
Mike Rothschild: One of the interesting things I figured out was that you have these pseudo-science, cure-all things that purport to treat everything and things that have nothing to do with each other. People thought oil pulling, it would cure your asthma, and it would cure your acne, and it would cure your AIDS. None of those things have anything to do with each other. And run into this stuff, certainly with COVID, and with QAnon with the MMS, the bleach solution, where it claims to treat everything under the sun, if you survive taking it.
Mike: Also, this thing of there's no actual scientific mechanism behind any of these things. It's just like, it's a thing that cures stuff, but there's no reason why something would cure a skin condition, and also an immune suppressing virus.
Mike Rothschild: Right. By briefly being in your mouth.
Mike: We wanted to have Mike on to talk about the wellness woo-woo to QAnon pipeline. This is something we've noticed over the last 18 months that there is a weird entry point into QAnon conspiracy theories through yoga and toxins and cleanses and stuff. It's not the biggest or the only on ramp, but it's one of the on ramps.
Aubrey: And it's a surprising one.
Aubrey: I think it's one that folks don't necessarily expect that getting into sort of X, Y or Z newest wellness fad can for some folks kind of put them on this track, filter them or funnel them closer and closer to anti-vax stuff, closer and closer to QAnon stuff. And QAnon itself is like closer and closer to organized white supremacy.
Mike: Yes. Mike, can you just walk us through before we get started, like what is QAnon?
Mike Rothschild: Sure. What QAnon really was for the vast majority of its life was a cult like conspiracy theory that holds that a team of military intelligence officers are using the image board 8chan to leak cryptic clues to an upcoming purge of the deep state, that Donald Trump will carry out with a clutch of hundreds of thousands of sealed indictments. And then once these indictments are unsealed, the entire Democratic Party, the entire finance apparatus, big business, Hollywood, celebrity will all be taken down in a giant storm of arrests, that has been called The Storm or the Great Awakening. And then after all of these horrible people are taken down and charged with treason and pedophilia, we will enter into a great utopia of peace and freedom and prosperity.
Mike: What's amazing to me is that a lot of people who are kind of QAnon supporters don't necessarily identify as such, but they're often getting these posts that are like #savethechildren or #whywon'ttheycomehome or something like that. These things that seemed very innocent online. Of course, who wants to kidnap children? Nobody. You're like, “I'm going to raise awareness of this child safety thing.” But then that ends up being an entry point for a lot of people into weird, racist, anti-science, it just seems like it's a really difficult thing to track because it seems to mean something different for everybody.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah, that's a big part of it. The polling on QAnon is all over the place, and the percentages are fairly low. But when you get into asking people, whether they believe that the election was stolen, or whether they believe that there are vast pedophile rings at the top of Hollywood in the Democratic Party, the numbers shoot way up. You get a lot of people who believe in the tenets of QAnon, believe in the mythology of QAnon, but either still don't really know anything about it or actively claim that they aren't part of it. They'll say, I know one of those crazy QAnon people.” “I don't think JFK Jr. is alive.” “I just think that there are child trafficking tunnels underneath Central Park.”
Mike: It's like Obamacare.
Mike: You would ask people, like, “Do you like Medicaid expansion?” “Do you like kids being able to stay on their parent's insurance?” They're like, “Yeah, I love all that stuff.” “That's great. Do you like Obamacare?” “No, fuck Obamacare.” That's what Obamacare is. You actually like Obamacare.
Aubrey: This is a very classic political polling thing too. Anytime you ask people like, “Do you like new taxes?” They're like, “No, get out of here.” And then you're like, “Do you like new services for children and seniors?” They're like, “Yes, that sounds lovely. Thanks.” You're like, “Well.”
Mike: Right. What do you think are the main misconceptions about QAnon, as a-- Do you say movement, what even is the noun that we're using?
Mike Rothschild: Well, that's another tricky one. What you run into with QAnon, very quickly, is that it's not any one thing. It is a political movement, but it's a political party. It has a lot of new religion aspect, but it's not really a religion. It's very evangelical Christian in its tenets. It's very cult like, but it's also not entirely a cult, because it's missing some of those critical ingredients. A lot of people tend to cover QAnon through one angle. They'll cover it through the cybersecurity angle, or the conspiracy angle or the cult angle, and they miss a lot of other aspects of it. QAnon is so successful. I hate to use that word, but I think you really have to, because it caters to so many different people in so many different ways. And that's what makes it so virulent and so difficult to get people out of.
Aubrey: I'm curious about what the wellness pipeline part looks like. Where does it start for folks?
Mike Rothschild: Sure. It really starts in terms of psychology, it starts with the distrust of authority. It starts with the distrust of what we're being told by experts, by the media, by Big Pharma, by popular doctors. We think that we are being lied to all the time by everybody. That's a big part of gap is that the media is not telling you the truth, Democrats aren't telling you the truth, even a lot of Republicans aren't telling you the truth. But Q tells you the truth, and Trump tells you the truth. It is one of those culty aspects. “You trust us, don't trust the outside world.” But where so many wellness conspiracy theories and Big Pharma conspiracy theories and anti-vax conspiracy theories come from, it's just this basic distrust of what we're told. We feel constantly, everybody is trying to get one over on us, everybody's trying to screw us, trying to hurt us, trying to take our money. So, that's really where a lot of it comes from. It's just this basic idea that the outside world is out to get you and so much of that is wrapped up in corporations and in medicine.
Mike: Speaking of Dr. Oz, that's also almost word for word, what you hear from a lot of these wellness influencers. I saw a magazine called “What doctors don't want you to know” at Whole Foods. This is a very mainstream message of these kind of cleanse type things that they're keeping something from you and it's a pretty short leap, from that to they're also keeping like trucks full of children from you.
Aubrey: Part of what makes this all tricky is, like, without getting too far down the tinfoil hat road. There are ways in which many people are being exploited, but they're much more banal than that. Uber comes up with a business model or Lyft, or Amazon or whoever, where they treat their employees like contractors, so they don't have to pay them health insurance. It's stuff that's happening out in public in front of all of us, but it doesn't have the same sort of intrigue or punch. [laughs]
Mike Rothschild: It's not secret. And that's so much of what drives conspiracy movements like QAnon and wellness conspiracy theories also, is this idea of secret knowledge that there is a clutch of secrets, that the powerful people have access to, the powerless people i.e., us do not have access to. And somehow by believing in QAnon or reading these holistic healers, and all these other people who have sort of built themselves up as experts in this fringe world, you have access to the secret knowledge, you are let in to the darkest things that they, whoever they is, don't want you to know about, and now you can prepare yourself, you can fight back. And that's very compelling, and it's very powerful, especially during a pandemic.
Mike: What is your sense, Mike, of what percentage of QAnon people do come in through the wellness woo-woo track?
Mike Rothschild: It's very hard to pin any kind of numbers on any of this. But I would say that probably during the pandemic, quite a few people did. You have the explosive growth of these Facebook groups devoted to anti-5G and anti-vaccine and anti-Bill Gates, and conspiracy theories about where the virus came from, and whether it was a bio weapon and whether it was the deep state. Of course, it's so easy to jump from those groups to other groups because of Facebook's algorithms. You join an anti-5G group, because you have some concerns about 5G internet, and then it recommends an anti-Bill Gates group, and you go, “Oh, well, I've heard some bad things about Bill Gates, maybe I should join that and do more research.” Then it recommends a group about anti-vaccine stuff. And that recommends you a group about the Great Awakening, which is QAnon. So, you very quickly and efficiently radicalize yourself into a violent, anti-Semitic, far-right conspiracy called without having any intention of doing so. So, these groups had huge membership. They have had hundreds of thousands of members in some cases.
Mike: There's also a way in which you can get sucked into these things and not necessarily see its fundamental political nature. It's always seemed to me like the majority of QAnon is people that are Trump supporters, and trying to process the fact that they thought this guy was going to be a great savior, and they voted for him, and he's not doing anything. And everything that he says in public is deranged. And it's like, “Ah, it's not deranged. It's a secret code. Yeah, that's the ticket.” But if you're someone who comes in through the wellness track, or the anti-vax track, you might not necessarily see that part of it. It might not necessarily lead you to 8Chan.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. And in fact, one of the things with QAnon that the promoters are such a big part of it is that they don't want you going to 8Chan. They don't want you going to these image boards because these image boards are horrible places. They are racist or anti-Semitic. I'm fairly well versed at navigating a place like 8Chan, it's called 8kun now. But even I'm sort of taken aback once in a while by just how awful these places can get. People don't embrace things like that. You don't want to be linked to that. They don't want boomers and yoga moms going to the anti-Semitic meme part of 8Chan, because that's going to turn them off, because those people don't think of themselves that way. They don't think of themselves as racists or anti-Semites. They just have questions. They want answers. They need to understand why things are the way they are. And sometimes that will eventually lead to anti-Semitism, but it's done in a very kind of soft, gentle, justifiable way. It's not a Holocaust denial. It's just like, “Oh, maybe these banks don't have our best interests in mind.” “Oh, and who controls these banks?” It's very gentle and soft. And that's where so much of this wellness stuff is.
Aubrey: It's gentle and soft unless you're Jewish. [chuckles] And then you're like, “No, I got it. Message received.”
Mike: Mike, are there any prominent examples of wellness influencers who have gone down this track?
Mike Rothschild: Yeah, there's some lifestyle influencers and mommy bloggers and holistic people who have hundreds of thousands of followers who got really into this stuff, right during the Wayfair thing and the big [crosstalk] children explosion, like you would have-- I saw a couple and I can't remember her name. I mentioned her in the book. But pandemic parenting has turned my brain into pudding so I can't remember anything. But there's some Instagram influencer has like a million and a half followers who just started talking about trafficking children and Wayfair and what they're doing to these kids, and you can tell that the engagement was bringing in people who had no idea what QAnon was, no idea about the deep state, but they're really concerned about kids. So, they get mixed up into all of this and then they start to go down these rabbit holes because these rabbit holes lead them to what they believe are answers.
Mike: And is it mostly through Facebook, this is happening in your experience?
Mike Rothschild: It's Facebook and Instagram. It is also YouTube. All of this stuff has changed now because there've been so many crackdowns finally. But for a long time, it was Facebook groups where you would meet and congregate with other people. And it would be Instagram where some influencer that you followed, started to talk about this stuff, and it would start to pique your own interest.
Mike: Why do you think Facebook and Instagram are so central to it? Why is it Facebook and Instagram, and not Twitter, do you think?
Mike Rothschild: Facebook and Instagram really have that kind of visual aspirational culture. You can aspire to look as good in a bikini as I do, I think I look great in a bikini by the way.
Mike Rothschild: Facebook and Instagram are also tools that we just use to tell people what's going on in our world.
Mike: Right. Also, it's so easy to make sort of unsourced claims on Instagram. These visual posts, like the infamous one that, “Children were 66,667 times more likely to be kidnapped by traffickers than to get COVID.”
Aubrey: [chuckles] What?
Mike: Which is completely absurd. It was one of those image memes and it had the Instagram aesthetic. It was like pink lettering on a cute background, and it got shared to infinity over the summer. And it's just completely nuts and nobody ever even proposed a source for it. But it's just an easy thing to share. I mean, like, “I'm helping kids,” bloop.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. A lot of the Qproofs and memes are very ugly looking. They're the Pepe the Frog stuff or they're these red boxes of lines leading from one thing to another, and some big block letter word, “coincidence?”
Mike Rothschild: It's not easy share that in a way that will be meaningful for other people. But if it's light blue cursive lettering on a nice frosty pink background, about like, “What are they doing to our children? Just curious.” People are going to share that like gangbusters because it looks nice. It's not really doing anything other than just asking a question that most people ask themselves. At some point, like, “Oh, are children going to be okay during all of this?”
Mike: Right. Especially Facebook groups, you have these private communities where there isn't a lot of pushback, kind of by definition. It is really easy to feel in those groups. It's a place for inquiry and debate, and it's easy to forget that those are walled gardens. The only people in there are, they're already all anti-vaxxers in there.
Mike Rothschild: You will never be challenged on anything that you believe.
Mike: Yeah, it's just an intensification engine of whatever your existing beliefs are. But it looks like you're having debates with people.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah, it looks like a discussion. But what it really is, is a bunch of people just nodding their heads.
Mike: Yeah, exactly. I've interviewed various people in various stages of like Q-hypnosis over the years. One of the big things that I found anyway is, there's a thing of like, “Why can't I ask the question?” It seems like, that's an entry point for a lot of people too, that you see people saying, like, “The vaccines, after people got the vaccines, half of them died? Why aren't I able to ask this question?” And it's like, “Well, because that's not true. That's a fake fact that you made up sAnd the reason you're not allowed to ask that question is because it's fake.” But then it becomes like, “I'm against censorship, I'm for free speech.”
Aubrey: Well, it's also very linked to anti-vax logic. Like, “I'm not against vaccinations, I just think that parents should be able to choose for their own children.”
Mike: Exactly. Yeah.
Aubrey: Which has become sort of this like, often feels incredibly transparent, bad faith argument and arguing tactic that shows up in both places for sure.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. It really feeds into the persecution complex that a lot of these people have and the grievances that have become so much a part of the right-wing culture war. This idea that, “If I'm not allowed to share my truth, I'm being censored personally. Big companies have it out for me, they want to destroy me because I'm a threat.” And Q is great about doing that. It's about making people feel like they are a threat to the deep state. And that this little movement that the media writes off, it's just a role-playing game, just some cookie internet stuff, “Oh, but they keep shutting us down. Why is that?”
Mike: Yeah, how much Qness was there in the January 5th insurrection?
Mike Rothschild: There were lot of Q people there, but I think even more than that, the vast majority of people there probably bought into Q’s mythology without actually knowing it. The idea that the election was going to be stolen. The idea that Joe Biden was this decrepit husk on a puppet candidate and that the only way he could win was if the election was fraudulent. That was a huge part of QAnon.
Mike: Also, we had the Q Shaman guy The guy, the shirtless dude with the beaver hat, who then gets put in jail and he demands an organic diet.
Mike Rothschild: A lot of Q promoters are talking about, “Oh, that guy doesn't represent us. I've seen him at Black Lives Matter protests. He's a false flag. He's thrown out there to make us look like we're crazy. He's a fake. We decide who the real ones are. A real Q believer wouldn't be violent because Q is a nonviolent movement.” It's logical fallacy taken to the point of delusion.
Mike: It's also funny the idea that like this guy's making QAnon look bad.
Mike Rothschild: Right. [laughs] Yes.
Mike: We're talking about Hillary Clinton ripping the faces off of kids and sucking up their adrenochrome but like, “This guy, he's really giving us a bad rap.”
Aubrey: Yeah, we draw the line at shirtlessness.
Mike: What do you make of the guys like organicness? What do you see is like the intersection there?
Mike Rothschild: It's totally enmeshed with that idea of we're being lied to big business, big agriculture, Big Pharma, they're all liars, they're all part of this conspiracy. And you get a lot of that idea of like supplements and yoga in QAnon and keeping your body healthy and stay away from those deep state additives and toxins. So, it's all enmesh with each other. When people were talking about the guy's organic diet, people like, “But he doesn't live on beer and onion rings.” I'm like, “That's not what these people are.” These Q believers are much more complicated than people want to believe they are.
Mike: There's a lot of this sort of like purity health stuff in the actual Q text.
Mike Rothschild: There's clearly some distrust of Big Pharma. There's some tiptoeing into the dead doctors conspiracy theory. I don't know if you guys are familiar with that one.
Aubrey: No, not at all.
Mike Rothschild: This started going around actually quite a while ago. This was maybe 2013 or 2014, that the pharmaceutical industry was killing holistic doctors and chiropractors, and renegade [crosstalk] autism researchers. And it was like a chiropractor who died of cancer, and a dentist who died at age 85, this is all tied together with QAnon because it's all this idea that there's a powerful entity that will kill anybody who gets in their way and only research can stop them. And Q and wellness fit together perfectly there.
Mike: Do you find the same tactics, Mike, between wellness scammers, like selling people fake supplements, and QAnon people, are they using the same, I guess, rhetorical tactics to suck people in?
Mike Rothschild: Yeah, they really do. They use the same basic marketing tactics of, “They don't want you to know about this.” A lot of it is about hope, is about this idea that, “If you do these things, and if you read these people, your life will be better than the deep state wants for you. The deep state wants you enslave, Big Pharma wants you sick and stupid, and we care about you, we're going to get you the supplements. We're going to get you this information, you're going to be armed with the truth and then you can shape your life to be better and to fight back.” So much of it is about aspiration.
Mike: How is QAnon doing that? It's like, “We're going to take care of you,” or something? What's the promise at the end of the rainbow for QAnon?
Mike Rothschild: The promise at the end of the rainbow for QAnon is not so much a financial one or a health one. It's the bad people will be gotten rid of. This ancient war that's been going on for thousands of years between the white hats and the good people and the godly people who are over here, and then the Babylonian cult that's over here that's been controlling you since the Egyptian pyramids, that war is finally going to be won. And it's going to bring peace and freedom and you're going to be able to live your life the way you want to. So, it's a less tangible motivation. But it's also almost a more powerful one, because it promises, the people who have hurt you and kept you down, will be paraded in front of you broken and in chains and be sent to the gallows. And that's very powerful in that community.
Aubrey: I'm curious about within the wellness pipeline, are there any known factors that put people at risk?
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. There's a couple of things that put you at risk for falling down the Q rabbit hole. One is extent susceptibility to conspiracy theories. So many of these people who fall into Q were already believers in something else. They were already believers in wellness conspiracies, or they were believers-- they were 9/11 truthers, or they were Barack Obama birth certificate truthers or Trump Spygate truthers. The vast majority of the time a person who finds themselves in meshed in QAnon, didn't spend their whole life watching CNN and reading the New York Times and voting democratic and then just one day waking up and deciding that Trump's military intelligence team was leaking clues to Hillary Clinton being sent to the gallows. A person who falls into QAnon almost always already believed something else that was unevidenced, and QAnon is just the next natural step for them.
Mike: That indicates that some of this wellness stuff is a gateway drug.
Mike Rothschild: Totally.
Mike: We always say on the show that we don't want to take anything away from anybody. We try to show a lot of grace to people who are, like, “They're doing a cleanse,” and I have no interest in lecturing somebody about whether or not they do that. But then you could say at the societal level, the more of these kind of wellness conspiracy-ish products are out there, the more susceptibility that's giving people to falling into other forms of conspiracy thinking. It seems the cleanse, to anti-vax to QAnon pipeline seems, each one of those is like a slight escalation of the previous one.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah, and that's exactly what it is. You're escalating. You're probably not going to get somebody who has a really robust yoga practice and does their stupid cleanse every couple of months. They're not necessarily going to fall into, “Well, the deep state stole the election from Donald Trump.” But where they might go is, “Oh, I don't really trust the science and the vaccine.” It's very hard to interdict in that pipeline if that person is not doing anything that's hurting somebody else or [crosstalk] hurting themself.
Mike: It's like 10% of them are going to go to the next step. And the more people you have believing these early steps, the more you're just going to have people that end up at the final place, which is like, “The Jews did it.” [chuckles] Which seems to be where all of these things lead.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah.
Aubrey: I'm also curious about if you've come across any stories about folks leaving QAnon. What does that look like for folks? How often is it happening? Do we have any sense of that, like, just anything about folks sort of breaking away? Part of what feels so troubling and intense about QAnon at least to me, is how intractable and impermeable it is to think about how to dismantle all of this, right?
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. There are people who have gotten out of QAnon. I've talked to some for the book. But it's a very difficult process to get somebody out of QAnon because they ultimately have to want to stop believing it. They have to see something in it that feels false or that seems like a contradiction or a mistake. They have to see some kind of defect in it. I liken it to a tapestry. And if QAnon is a big tapestry and somebody sees that there's one thread that's dangling, whether that's something that Q got wrong or Joe Biden making sure they got a stimulus check or whatever. Something that interdicts that believe, that dangling thread, so that becomes more inviting to pull on. When you pull on that thread, the whole thing unravels. And you eventually realize, “Oh, I've been hacked. This was all fake, this was all for nothing.” But the person who believes in it has to see the thread, and they have to want to pull on it.
And for so many people, they just don't. They find ways to justify and to reconcile the mistakes and the failed predictions and the errors that just gets consumed into QAnon. So, there are people who have gotten out, but there're very few. There're very few who are willing to talk about it because they feel embarrassed, and they're ashamed. They haven't gotten their life together post QAnon. It's not something like scientology where you have a very robust group of people who've gotten out of it, who are very vocal and very fearless about talking about what it did to them, what they got out of it, and why they eventually left it. You just don't have that with Q yet, because it's all so new.
Mike: For the people that you interviewed. Mike, what were some of the little threads that they started pulling on, like, what started the process?
Mike Rothschild: There is one woman I talked to who is still a very active conspiracy theory believer. She's still very active Trumpist. But she was very, very big into QAnon. What shattered QAnon for her was when QAnon started quoting Bible verses. She said something like, “A real military intelligence leaker would never quote the Bible. That completely shattered it for me.” The Jitarth, the Australian guy who's done a ton of media in the last few months or so. I'm actually really proud of this. One of the things that helped to get him out was reading something that I wrote about the sealed indictments aspect of QAnon. And that was all based on just a misreading of public records. And like, that's not how the justice system works. But the thing that got him originally, that first pulling on the dangling thread, was when somebody asked Trump through Q to use the phrase “tiptop.” And then three months later, Trump used the phrase “tippy top” in talking about the White House Easter Egg Roll, and people are like, “Oh, he did it. He's listening to us. It's Qproof.” “Well, no, he did it three months later, but also he's used that phrase many other times.” For Jitarth, it was looking up the phrase tippy top, it was like, “Oh, it was such a unique phrase, and only Trump would use that if Q was telling him to.” And Jitarth realized that Trump had used it many other times.
There was a speech, in the run up to the election where Trump was talking about, “How we're going to make the nuclear arsenal tippy top,” and for Jitarth it was just that one instance of, “Wait a minute, Q didn't catch anything here. Trump just uses this phrase. And it was only a matter of time before he was going to do it again. If Q was wrong about that, what else was he wrong about?”
Mike: Yeah, I guess, it's the replacement of the community too, that there aren't as many, I suppose, Facebook groups for ex-Q or Q questioning or the tractor beam that pulls you into Q is much stronger than the tractor beam that pulls you out.
Mike Rothschild: Totally, there are any number of ways to get into Q. And once you're in Q, there's any number of people who will comfort you and play up the delusions that you're having, as they're probably having the same ones. But for getting out, it's a very, very lonely process because most of these people just pushed away their support systems. One of the things I talked about in the book is, what to do and what not to do to help a person that you care about who is a Q believer.
Mike: What are the do's and don'ts, Mike?
Mike Rothschild: Sure. Well, the basic do's are to maintain communication with that person. It can be very tempting to just cut that person out of your life entirely. But what you want to do is to maintain a line of communication. Something that's very apolitical, something that has nothing to do with QAnon. Every so often just check in, just see how they're doing, what do they need. If it's somebody who is in your immediate pod or your immediate family, “Okay, I'm going to the grocery store. Do you need anything?” Don't talk about QAnon, keep things very general about shared experiences, shared likes and dislikes. The kinds of things that make you a very safe conversation companion. Don't try to debate them out of it, don't try to debunk them, or fact check them or insult them out of it, because all of those things are things that are just going to drive somebody deeper into the belief and feed that persecution complex. But if you can cast yourself as a safe person and as a lifeline, and if that person does start questioning QAnon, they're going to look at you as a person who they can talk to about this because you've already proven that you are a person who is not going to judge or mock them. And that's all going to be a very individual journey. But it is very personal and it's very one on one. There's no real large-scale way to deradicalize people of conspiracy theories, because each person gets something different out of it.
Mike: Yeah, it's basically just extremely labor intensive to do this.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah.
Mike: And not guaranteed to succeed.
Mike Rothschild: No, it's very labor intensive, very difficult, very frustrating. And you may not want to do it. It is not requirements that you try to deradicalize your QAnon loved one. If you feel unsafe with that person or talking to that person, you have every right to cut them out of your life.
Mike: Yeah. Also, I've interviewed experts, like misinformation experts about this as well. And it seems like the real cure for this, the only scalable solution to this is prevention. And that raises some genuine concerns about what should be allowed to be posted on these platforms? What kind of regulation of these platforms should we have? But it's like the options are, take some of those really difficult decisions, or continue to have a country where like, 30% of the population just have completely deranged beliefs. Either option is bad.
Mike Rothschild: Right. If 50 or 70 million or whatever people genuinely and wholeheartedly believe that Joe Biden is a fraudulent president, that's a problem.
Mike: That's a problem.
Mike Rothschild: And that's a problem that that really demands very serious solutions and at the same time, serious solutions can be very troubling.
Mike: That's the thing. There's this idea that all conspiracy theories are the same, or like, there's the moon landing was faked, and there's Bigfoot and then there's QAnon. It seems like QAnon is genuinely much more pernicious, because there's violence at the end of it. If 20% of the population believes Bigfoot was real that doesn't imply any like action that you have to take. You're not storming the Capitol.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah, nobody gets killed overthinking the moon landing was faked. You might get punched up by Buzz Aldrin.
Mike Rothschild: But that's about it. And that's where with a lot of people who are like, “Oh, it shouldn't be legal to believe in conspiracy theories,” like everybody needs help. I think for the vast majority of people who believe in these unevidenced notions, it's probably fine. Yeah, you can live a very productive and happy and healthy life and still believe that JFK was murdered by a conspiracy. That doesn't necessarily turn you into a violent antigovernment militia member. But with QAnon, it's a heck of a lot more likely because it's an intrinsically violent conspiracy movement.
Mike: And it has a body count. There have been people who've been killed by QAnon supporters.
Mike Rothschild: Oh, yeah. 100%. Murders, vandalism, arsons, kidnapping. Nobody should have been surprised by the violence committed by Q believers around the Capitol insurrection. They'd been doing it for two years already.
Aubrey: And in a lot of ways, it has its roots. The rhetoric of the Deep State and the New World Order. All of that stuff has its roots in the Oklahoma City Bombings and to Ruby Ridge and to bigger faceoffs that my fellow older millennials may recall from our childhoods. That like, this is all also an extension of some original recipe anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. QAnon is, this idea of the deep state or the cabal, it's the New World Order, it's the Illuminati, it's the Trilateral Commission, it's Bohemian Grove, it's the Council on Foreign Relations, it's the Freemasons, it's the Catholics, it's the Jews. I mean, there's always been this need for a powerful organized group of shadowy stirring pullers. And Q is just the next version of that, but Q is really the first one that allows you to take the fight back to them.
Mike: Yeah, the Bigfoot people don't do that.
Mike Rothschild: No, they don't. Even a lot of wellness people don't do that.
Aubrey: Ugh. The other thing that is sort of coming to mind as we're talking about all of this is, I'm just thinking about, there is no part of my worldview that really aligns in a meaningful way with any part of the worldviews of many of the folks who are involved in QAnon. At the same time, I am also thinking about how profoundly lonely a lot of this must be, to lose family relationships, to lose friendships, in some cases, to lose jobs or to go to prison or what have you. That all of this seems profoundly lonely and isolating. If the community that you have is this like internet community of other people who believe the same things that you do, it's really easy to see just on a personal emotional level, how folks continue to gravitate away from folks who are rejecting them or laughing at them, or poking holes in this like you can see how our collective responses for folks who are not part of QAnon to QAnon, also accelerate some of those dynamics.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. You have a real sense of isolation and of loneliness, and of not taking pleasure in the things that used to give you pleasure, because all you see in them now is the evil--
Mike Rothschild: There was one thread of this a couple years ago on Vote, the now defunct, absolutely horrible Reddit knockoff, of people just like talking about stuff they couldn't enjoy anymore. I don't know why this one sticks in my mind. But it's this guy talking about how he's like, “I used to love the band Tool. But now I can't imagine they're not CIA funded. So, I-
Mike: Oh, my God.
Mike Rothschild: -can't listen to them anymore.” First of all, they're [laughs] band.
Mike: I know. Tool is good. Leave Tool out of this you guys.
Mike Rothschild: Yeah. Tool should be on your side here-
Mike: Yeah. Tool is dope.
Mike Rothschild: -theoretically but absolute specificity of his misery really stuck with me.
Aubrey: I feel the further that I get into QAnon world, the more I'm just overcome by this deep sense of sadness. From the folks who are there, from the cultural impacts of it, all of that kind of stuff. And also earlier, Mike, when you were talking about, “people don't take pleasure in the things that they used to take pleasure in and they feel really sad.” I was like, “Are we ticking down the list of DSM symptoms of major depressive disorder?” It's really striking.
Mike: I also think okay maybe we should end on a slightly more optimistic note of, what would all of us recommend for, I guess, wellness spaces or alternative medicine spaces because you can imagine those communities being really positive for people. Or you can imagine those communities thinking down this nihilistic abyss with the QAnon people. How can we make sure that the wellness stuff we talk about, is it becoming a gateway drug to this?
Mike Rothschild: Yeah, that's a really good question, because it's so individualized, how everybody takes that journey through the pipeline, from just gentle conspiracy theorizing and wanting answers, to storming the Capitol. But I think what we have to do is kind of monitor the people in our lives and just make sure they're okay. Make sure they're not falling down these rabbit holes. And if you do start to get those signs, step in early and let them know, “Hey, I still care about you. Hey, let's talk about this together.” And if you step in really early and let that person know, they're not alone, they're not being persecuted. I think if we have a way of stopping this before it gets really bad that's probably it.
Aubrey: I would also say for folks who are in any kind of leadership role or active role in wellness spaces particularly online wellness spaces, I would say, really stripping out that “what doctors don't want you to know” kind of logic. Just getting that rhetoric out of your life feels really important. The other thing that I would say is, and this is like a big ask of folks, and I recognize that, is actually fact checking stuff that you share. If you are hearing from folks about oil pulling or anti-vax stuff, or whatever the realm is like, citing things that look like facts without knowing whether or not they're facts, is a passive but still very harmful thing to do.
Mike: It's also difficult for people like us who talk about like institutionalized fatphobia or institutionalized racism or something, to say that this entire system is against you. In some cases, that's true.
Mike: There really are blind spots in institutions and that's what a lot of good journalism does is point out those blind spots. But I think it's really important to realize the limits of that “us versus them” kind of framing of every single issue and making it seem like there's some sort of deliberate conspiracy of, “Doctors don't want you to know this.” “And there's a meeting once a year in Switzerland.” It's like, “No.”
Mike Rothschild: The knowledge is being suppressed.
Mike: The deliberateness is usually when I start to get nervous, because oftentimes it's an institutional blind spot, because like schools don't teach it, and it's not part of sort of residency training requirements. And so people who are doctors have these institutional blind spots, but they're not necessarily sitting around, “Let's destroy fat people’s health.” It's much more inchoate than that. And that's what we know about real conspiracies, as opposed to conspiracy theories, is that it's just a lot of like cluelessness and not thinking things through and not people who are members of those groups being in the room. It's not like people totaling their mustaches.
Mike Rothschild: No. It's so much more of just people not being good at their jobs, just not thinking things through or not taking that extra step. And understanding not just that these things are happening, but why these things are happening. I think you have to understand that it does provide something to people and it does fill holes, it does answer questions. And if you are able to get your head around that as nuts as it seems that somebody could find meaning in this insanity, you're going to go a lot farther to be able to combat it.
Aubrey: This feels like a good sort of clarion call for all of us to get better at separating out responses that are personally satisfying or cathartic to us versus responses that will actually help reach someone and help them sort of escape the path that they're on. In some cases, your goals might be to pull a family member back from QAnon. In some cases, your goals might be to protect your own boundaries and your own sense of self and whatever. And go, “I can't actually do it anymore. I'm so sorry.” Both of those are valid decisions, but just getting better at, “Okay, here's the situation I'm in. Do I want to take care of me? Do I want to take care of this person? What's the balance that I'm going to strike in doing those things? And what are my strategies for doing it?” It seemed like that could help all of us quite a bit, not only in reaching more folks, but also in terms of like protecting our own peace of mind.
Mike: Aubrey just wants to keep tweeting abuse at people who are on cleanses.
Mike: That’s the main thing.
Aubrey: -if I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. Your celery juice does not--" that's not true.
Mike: Yeah. She's just searching for anybody tweeting about celery juice, and be like, “First of all, Susan.”
Aubrey: I am itching for a fight, man.
Mike: Thanks so much for doing this, Mike.
Mike Rothschild: Oh, I'm happy too. This is great. I can babble about this stuff all day and to be able to babble to two people who have some understanding of what we're up against with this is just terrific.
Mike: Where can people find your work and your book, Mike?
Mike Rothschild: Sure. The book is available for preorder at anywhere you preorder books. You can find me on Twitter @rothschildmd, it's just my last name MD.
Mike: Dr. Rothschild.
Mike Rothschild: Not a doctor.
Mike Rothschild: Please do not consult me for medical advice.
Mike: I have a photo of a rash, I'm going to send you now, Mike.
Mike Rothschild: You do some oil pulling and then it will just go away.
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