I’m mad, I’m mad, I’m angry…
If you didn’t already know, there’s a subReddit called “QAnon Casualties.” It chronicles the struggles of people whose friends and family members have gone down the Q rabbit hole. Like most tales of cults sucking people in and separating them from loved ones (and from reality), it makes for some gut-wrenching reading.
QAnon in just a few short years has become the Big Tent, the umbrella and bazaar for a wide variety of both ancient and novel conspiracy theories. Blood-drinking Elders of Zion? Check. The Great Replacement? Check. 5G and chemtrails? Check. Lizard people from space pretending to be celebrities and politicians? Check. Captive children held in caves underneath pizza parlours owned by Hillary Clinton? Check. Trump really won the 2020 election? Check. Moon landing a fake? Check. School shootings a hired enactment? Check.
And among this Heinz-57-varieties of paranoid mythopoeia, there’s one in particular that’s wreaking profound damage to families, relationships, health care systems, human bodies and bodies politic. Anti-vaccine propaganda.
People are dying of Covid-19 in ICUs because they believed conspiracy-theory peddlers rather than doctors — people who would not have died if they had been vaccinated. (Some of them protest with their last conscious breaths that Covid is a hoax.) The data are not sketchy on this, they are quite consistent across USA and Canada, and from one health care district to another. One hospital after another publishes infographics, and they all look more or less like this:
The takeaway: not being vaccinated substantially increases the risk of hospitalisation, and even more substantially increases the risk of serious ICU time and/or ventilation. Not by a percentage point or two, but by whole integer factors.
Those of us who still dwell in the “reality-based community” may well scratch our heads and wonder how anyone could risk their life, or the lives of family members, for something as intangible (and outré) as a tired old re-run of historical vaccine conspiracy theories. They must be crazy, we say to each other, shaking our heads. Who knew there were so many crazy people out there? Wow.
But there weren’t so many outright crazy people out there, until some “clever” people started making money by inducing craziness in others.
Back to Reddit, and some random folks sharing some stories. Who are they? Just random anonymous people on Reddit. Why do I even believe in them? Because of the huge body of similar reports, and my own lived experiences in a small community, where I’ve interviewed people whose friends have gone down those same rabbit holes… people who saw their friends change out of all recognition.
Person A: Long story short I was threatened with divorce if I got vaccinated, but had to anyway (societal responsibility and the fact she’s particularly vulnerable mean it’s a no-brainer) and boy have I been made to suffer.
I’m respectful of her opinions but cannot agree with them. I won’t go into the grim details but the screaming and abuse have really taken their toll on me, It’s been relentless. Every day for going on 2 years.
(Trigger Warning) We’ve had to deal with mental health problems in the past, including a few times in which she’s tried to end her own life. But this is the most prolonged period of mania that we’ve faced, mainly because it’s being sustained by Internet grifters on a daily basis.
Despite the loneliness and challenge of this all, I love her with all my heart. I hope that one day we’ll be able to look back together on how we managed to get through this. But it’s hard going through all of this on my own, you know?
Person B: We’ve been dealing with my partner’s mother who fell down the anti-vaxx/Q rabbit hole and it’s wild seeing another person describing exactly what we’re going through with her. She brings stuff up and before you know it she’s screaming at her own son, threatening him. It’s like they’ve gone insane, they’re so angry, and you just feel so helpless because facts and reason straight up mean nothing to them.
Person C: I had to dump my anti-vax girlfriend of a year and a half as the vaccines were coming out in early 2021. We had a lot in common and made a good match but she had a crazy notion that I would “shed” on her and said she wouldn’t touch me if I got vaccinated.
These are love and family relationships being shredded, bonds stretched to breaking. I pulled these three off just one (not even Q-related) reddit discussion, but anyone who wanted to take the time could compile hundreds, thousands of pages of equally — or even more — pitiful tales of loved ones turning rabid after drinking the antivaxx koolaid. Truly this signature tragedy of our times is TLDR. No one can encompass the whole of it. But here’s the nub, for me:
Some people can handle alcohol OK, but others are hooked after their first drink. And cult experts consistently say that similarly, some people are more vulnerable to recruitment into a cult than others. Some people are more vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking than others. If cray-cray were a virus, some people would be at higher risk than the rest of us. They have less immunity to BS. More susceptibility to con-men. A less firm grasp on what is and isn’t realistic or reasonable. Less education? Less self-esteem? More loneliness? More anxiety? Whatever you want to call it, they’re vulnerable to liars, scammers, and snake-oil salesmen.
That is what makes me seethe.
It’s so shamelessly, despicably predatory — preying on the hard-of-thinking and the fragile-of-soul, the wounded ones, the lonely ones, the unbalanced ones, the ones already struggling to stay afloat. They are such easy targets. The con men identify the easy targets, and oh boy do they target them. The literature is extensive on this. The disinformation factory is organised — they’re a business — and they know all about targeted marketing. We know how it works.
We don’t know how to stop them. While these folks study demographics and algorithms and how to monetise clicks, the tragedies keep grinding on, one family at a time.
It’s hard enough when you lose a loved one to a remorseless disease like Alzheimers. That’s just rotten bad luck, but at least it’s not personal. It’s so much harder when there’s human agency, human wickedness, involved in their descent into madness. When there are real people — not conspiracy fantasy reptiloids, aliens, or MK-ULTRA — who helped to push that poor soul off the edge… and those people have names and addresses and big, fat, ever-growing bank accounts. When they’re deliberately stoking paranoid schizophrenia in vulnerable demographics, and monetising that, and laughing all the way to the bank. Probably a bank in the Caymans at that.
I’ve been writing most of my life, and very seldom does the phrase “words fail me” come to mind. But I just can’t find words vitriolic enough to express my opinion of these antivaxx Internet Influenzas — the gurus, the grifters, the snake oil salesmen, the youtuvangelists, the Q gang, the whole rotten stinking monetised-disinformation industrial complex.
Every day another victim, another broken relationship, another wilted life, more years lost that might have been good years if it weren’t for those unspeakable s**ts.
The unvaxxed dying a horrible protracted death in ICUs are only a fraction of their victims. These wrecked marriages, broken friendships, estranged siblings, disowned children or parents — all these people whose mental health was marginal to start with, now pushed off the edge into full-on cray-cray and dysfunction, and the grief and despair of those who loved them… that’s the rest of the iceberg.
There are very few times when I envy religious believers; but when I read stories like these I sometimes wish I could truly believe that there’s a special circle of Hell waiting for grifters who shove drowning people under, for profit.
[“I’m mad, I’m mad,” is a quote from “Gima”, a song by Bobby McFerrin.]