The eight minutes of Sean Donnelly’s short film confronting his mother are uncomfortable to watch.
In the aftermath of the US Capitol riots, epithets against QAnon believers in the cultural zeitgeist graduated from the basic basket of deplorables to insurrectionists tearing down America’s democracy.
Against that backdrop, the California director turned the camera onto efforts to pull his mum, Tammy (surname withheld), from the spiralling rabbit hole of plandemics and paedophile cannibals.
The result is an uneasy contrast between a son’s compassionate attempt at deprogramming his mother’s sincere belief in the “truth”, and the unspoken image of Q-supporters burned into the psyche of non-believers by the country’s media apparatus; Racists, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.
“I don’t think my mum is a bad person. I think she’s actually one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, I think she means very well, and I don’t think that she’s full of hate or something,” Mr Donnelly said.
“It’s a thing a lot of people struggle with. I have a lot of friends whose parents have gotten into this stuff, and I think it’s difficult for a lot of relationships.”
Discussing the short, QAmom - Confronting my mom’s conspiracy theories, with Mr Donnelly and Tammy is as uncomfortable as watching the film itself.
In an interview with The Independent, the mother and son pair grappled with their relationship from opposite ends of an ideological spectrum in an earnest, if awkward, attempt to reach some seemingly impossible understanding.
Tammy, she suddenly revealed, didn’t know her son was making a movie. Yes, she did, Mr Donnelly insisted. She did know he was going to make a video, but not this documentary, she said. He said she obviously knew she was being interviewed on camera and he told her a movie was being made. It wasn’t some sneak attack or trick.
Those videos were just to help with their memory on the bets, Tammy said. She didn’t know he was filming a documentary until he came to collect the money.
That money is the $700 Mr Donnelly won from seven $100 bets that seven QAnon predictions would not come true, which formed the basis of the film documenting his attempt to dislodge his mum from the spell of conspiracies.
The film ended on the hopeful note that Tammy may be at least be less confident in the so-called “truth”, if not convinced they’re simply conspiracies theories.
Two months later, did it work?
“To me, they’re not conspiracies, they’re all truth,” Tammy said. “You might be interested to know, do you know where the word conspiracy theory came from and why it started?”
Well, sure. Or as the story goes, at least. It was supposedly created by the CIA to demonize anyone looking too closely at the assassination of John F Kennedy in the 1960s.
But that, as Mr Donnelly interjects, “is a conspiracy theory in and of itself. There’s evidence going back to the 1800s of conspiracy theories”. As far back as the War of 1812, the Federalist and Jeffersonian Republican Parties engaged in conspiracy theories by rhetoric, if not by that name, as traced out by Smithsonian.
Here’s a quick rewind to the seven conspiracy theories featured in the film that Tammy bet would be proven true by 1 April.
1) Joe Biden will not be in office. 2) Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, James Comey “and the rest of them” will be arrested. 3) A Hollywood star like Tom Hanks or Oprah Winfrey will be arrested for paedophilia, satanic worship and sacrifices. 4) Huge election fraud with the Dominion machines will be 100 per cent proven, with no dispute. 5) The Capitol Hill riot on 6 January was definitely Antifa and Black Lives Matter and it was 100 per cent arranged. 6) FEMA and the military are in control. 7) The Pope will be arrested for being a paedophile and molesting children.
It took about four years, or roughly a single presidential term of Donald J Trump, for Tammy to go from a New Agey and health-focused suburban mum who never watched the news and rarely followed politics to fall down the spiritual yoga pathway into her click of “freedom friends”.
Her first exposure to QAnon were giant Q signs, Q hats and Q shirts in an Instagram video of a Trump rally. To this day, she doesn’t believe she follows QAnon or its “Q drops”.
“I found it very patriotic, it looked like it was a way for patriots and freedom fighters and people who were fighting for the Constitution and their liberties to kind of unite,” Tammy said.
“So I don’t follow Q per se, but some of the people I listen to probably follow Q… my beliefs aren’t really related to QAnon.”
The people she listens to are podcasters and content creators that often pivoted from previous careers in government, health, science, biology or another profession of expertise to disseminate alternate perspectives to an audience thirsty for views outside the mainstream orthodoxy.
But as Mr Donnelly points out, one of the first videos his mother shared four years ago was an explicit Q-drop repeating the greatest hits of the world’s conspiracy theories, like the 9/11 terror attack being an inside job.
“I was like, where are they going with this, what is this building towards, then at the eight or nine-minute mark it went, ‘and the person that’s going to fix it all is Donald Trump’. And I was like, whoa what is this? Then it said, QAnon. That was my introduction, I thought that was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. What was that?” Mr Donnelly said.
At some point, Tammy added drinking what is effectively bleach to her health regime of yoga and spirituality.
The US Food and Drug Administration warns consumers of the life-threatening danger of Miracle Mineral Solution, or sodium chlorite, in distilled water. When “activated” by the citric acid in lemon or lime juice per directions, it becomes chlorine dioxide – a powerful bleaching agent.
It scares her son.
“It’s illegal in this country, it’s basically bleach, and they tell people to drink it to cure Covid and Autism and all this stuff,” Mr Donnelly said. “This stuff is pretty serious. People have died from it. And my mum says, ‘I take it all the time, whenever I feel bad’.”
It’s not bleach, it’s one step away from bleach, Tammy said, and it’s actually cured a lot of people.
“I’ve been drinking it off and on for 30 years, I have it in the house all the time. Two to three times a year if I feel like I’m really getting sick, because it kills everything. I take two or three drops at the most,” she added.
There’s no nudging Tammy from the firmly held beliefs, and her insistence she would have won those seven bets if not for the corruption of mainstream media news, like The Independent, supposedly protecting criminals and making Joe Biden look like a saint.
"Can you imagine if our borders looked like this when Trump was president? Every media station would be up one side and then the other. I believe they’re all true, the problem is, is that Hollywood is run by satanic paedophiles,” Tammy said.
And the film wasn’t a cathartic exercise in bridging the familial divide.
“I don’t think there’s anything about it that would bring you closer. I feel like I lost money, I was made out to look a bizarre conspiracy theorist. So I don’t think that it portrays me very good,” she added.
But Mr Donnelly’s point wasn’t to bring them closer together, or make fun of his mum, or make her look crazy. He hopes to help families grappling with internal division caused by a sophisticated movement that targets different demographics through different pathways, whether it’s the 8chan computer nerds or suburban housewives.
"I see it more like a drug addiction. Its kind of like, my mum is really addicted to this stuff. She really likes it, she’s got to know the truth, and she watches it all the time,” he said.
“They kind of get these people hooked on this thing, and in the same way you shouldn’t blame a drug addict too much, I think it’s sort of like a disease or something. So I guess I think of it that way. She’s put under a spell, and she’s fallen under this stuff and I think it’s scary and sad.”
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