I’m sure many of us look slightly askance at the Covid protesters stirred up by musician Billy TK and his slimy opportunist mate, Jamie-Lee Ross, says Mandy Hager.
‘To those of us on the outside, it seems incomprehensible that people would fall for such far-fetched conspiracy theories.
How Billy TK slipped
For a really interesting dive into how this kind of radicalisation is possible, I recommend reading David Farrier’s excellent article How Billy TK plunged down the Covid conspiracy rabbit hole.
I’ve been watching this same descent first-hand, as a family friend sinks deeper and deeper into the world of conspiracies, to such an extent that he’s alienating everyone around him.
There’s a certain kind of arrogance that goes with believing these claims — thinking the rest of the world are fools and ‘sheeple’; that only they are smart enough to see through the veil to the evil beyond. It’s easy to see why: many of those who get drawn into this type of campaign feel isolated or hard done by, lacking a sense of agency and power.
And, when one feels like this, the knee-jerk reaction is to revert to blaming certain other groups for what they see as preferential treatment that’s excluding them.
‘Especially true of older Pākehā men’
I think this is especially true of older Pākehā men, who have traditionally held all the power. As soon as others try to level the playing field, they hold onto their privilege with both fists.
Of course, this hasn’t been helped by politicians like Winston Peters, Don Brash and David Seymour stirring the race debate and spouting anti-immigrant rhetoric for decades.
Nor is it helped by the likes of Judith Collins and Gerry Brownlee, feeding the paranoia for their own ends, or by a clever manipulation of quite reasonable concerns about the power and wealth held by the 1%.
An example of reality leading to delusion
A few years ago, I experienced a very interesting example of how real ‘truths’ are used as leverage into much more delusional thinking.
A student of mine insisted I watched a lecture by English conspiracy theorist David Icke.
At that stage I knew nothing about him, so started to watch with an open mind.
The truly scary part was that he started off sounding reasonable, voicing concern at the excessive power of the global elite, banking and corporate sectors, and talking about the inequality such behaviours created.
So far, so true. And he spoke passionately, setting himself up as a brave foot soldier in the pursuit of truth.
For 45 minutes he critically dissected the world’s great problems — and, though he oozed a kind of unctuousness that set my internal alarm off, he didn’t sound altogether bat-shit crazy either.
The inter-dimensonal Archons
Well, that was until he claimed that ‘an inter-dimensional race of reptilian beings called the Archons (or Anunnaki) have hijacked the earth, and that a genetically modified human–Archon hybrid race of shape-shifting reptilians known as the Babylonian Brotherhood, the Illuminati, or the “elite”, manipulate global events to help keep humans in constant fear.’
Most scary of all was the fact that Icke had filled the whole of Albert Hall with doting fans, who gave him numerous standing ovations for uncovering this ‘truth.’
What’s ultimately very clever (and therefore too concerning to dismiss) is that this conspiracy (and the current one circulating here) does indeed touch on real issues — but it’s the rabid joining of imaginary dots that takes it over the edge from commentary to conspiracy.
What is true
Yes, it’s true that certain corrupt types use fear to manipulate people’s behaviour — the hyperbole behind Donald Trump’s claims of marching hordes descending on the Mexican border is a classic example, or his misrepresentation of those currently saying ‘no more’ to racist police attacks as fascists and terrorists.
George Bush’s claims that Saddam Hussain was going to nuke the US if not stopped also peddled fear to get his way.
Scratch the surface further, however, and you’ll find all the groups who have, in the past, been victimised, are once again the targets of this propaganda: the Jews, the Blacks, the Arabs, the audacity of women who think they can lead a country.
The people who feel left behind
A dissection of the people who buy into these theories shows us they are already feeling isolated and left behind — and therein lies the dilemma.
If we ridicule them or ignore them, we play into their narrative and, if we argue, we’re simply seen as ignorant of the ‘truth.’
The way to counter this thinking
The only real way to counter such destructive thinking is to actually address the issues that have left them feeling this way.
If we analysed the types of people who have fallen down this rabbit hole, and worked to address any inequities that have made them feel marginalised, we not only improve conditions for everyone but we effectively dismantle their platform.
It’s hard to rail against a government that clearly has your best interests at heart and is working to lift you up.
Martin Luther King’s remedy
The great Martin Luther King, Jnr, said, ‘In times of crisis, ask what’s the most loving thing to do.’
In the instance of our home-grown conspiracy theorists, the loving thing to do is work towards making them feel valued and ‘seen.’
And to show them empathy; their cognitive dissonance is the result of some perceived pain.
Demonising them, no matter how tempting, will only entrench the problem.For more interesting reading on this,
I also recommend How to talk to whānau about conspiracies by Laura O’Connell Rapira, The rise of Māori MAGA by Tina Ngata, and When a relative falls down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole by Susan Strongman.