Cult deprogrammers inundated with requests to help people lost in Trump election, QAnon conspiracy theories

Social media has become rife with disinformation and rabbit holes leading to conspiracy theories

Graig Graziosi
Wednesday 03 March 2021 20:55 GMT
Former QAnon believers explain how they were radicalised
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Cult deprogrammers are flush with work as the family members of Trump-conspiracy believers and QAnon supporters seek professional help for their loved ones.

According to an NPR report, professional counselors specializing in cult deprogramming are facing a mountain of requests from people hoping to break their loved ones free of Trump-related conspiracy theories.

Diane Benscoter, an exit counselor who was involved in the Unification Church cult for years before breaking free, said he has "probably got almost a hundred requests in my inbox," she claimed.

According to the cult experts, social media plays a significant role in exposing vulnerable people to conspiracy theories.

Joan Donovan, a leading research of online disinformation at the Shorenstein Centre on Media, Politics and Public Policy called today's social media environment a "free for all" inundated with "unfathomable" amounts of disinformation.

An Ipsos poll asking Americans to review a number of factual statements and false conspiracy theories found that 40 per cent of respondents believed in some of the most outlandish and far-right ideas on the test, including Donald Trump's election fraud lies, the QAnon foundational worldview that a cannibalistic Satanic pedophile ring secretly controls the US, and that Antifa members were actually the ones to storm the US Capitol.

According to the poll, the people most likely to buy into the conspiracy theories are those who primarily get their news from social media, friends and family, or through primarily conservative communication platforms like Telegram and Parler.

Ms Benscoter said that anyone can be susceptible to conspiracy theories, and said they especially appealed to individuals looking for purpose or a sense of community. She said they provide "easy answers to life's tough questions."

"It establishes this camaraderie and this feeling of righteousness and this cause for your life, and that feels very invigorating and almost addictive," she said. "You feel like you are fighting the battle for goodness, and all of a sudden you are the hero."

QAnon has proven especially engaging due to its interactivity. Q - the fictional rogue deep state agent at the centre of the conspiracy movement - leaves cryptic messages for believers to unravel, making them part of the action.

"That feeling of 'I did my own research, and I didn't just believe what I read in the newspapers' makes believers more emotionally invested," Arieh Kovler, who researches online extremism and disinformation, said. "They believe it much stronger."

One exit counselor, Pat Ryan, told NPR that he advised family members of those consumed by conspiracy theories not to take especially adversarial stances with them, as it tends to drive people deeper into their disinformation communities.

Another counselor said they used the same tactics that conspiracy theorists use to draw people in to help break people out.

Steven Hassan, a former Moonie who helps people break away from cults, uses "gentle questions" and tries to use a breadcrumb approach - leaving little bits of information leading to specific conclusions - to help those tied into cults and conspiracy theories find their way back to reality.

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