An information war is being waged.
- Fans of the conspiracy video, "Plandemic," are exhibiting patterns similar to cult worshippers.
- Conspiracy theories increase during times of social uncertainty and trauma.
- One researcher says conspiracists are more likely to assess nonsensical statements as "profound."
How skepticism can fight radicalism, conspiracy theorists, and Holocaust deniers | Michael Shermer<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b3e5baeb61e3efbd5b2bc98fc3b29e56"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/houCSgBZoMg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>To better understand this mindset we should consider cult worship. My first regular writing beat was as the religion columnist for The Daily Targum. While studying for a degree in religion in the nineties, I interviewed clergy, professors, and students from various faith organizations on the Rutgers campuses. I was struck by how adamantly many believed their position to be <em>right</em>. On rare occasions some expressed humility. Certainty is more likely to gain followers.</p><p>These interviews led to my fascination with cults. As with conspiracists, cult worshippers suspend disbelief even when not in their best interest. Their buy-in depends upon a counter-narrative promulgated by a leader: <em>Out there the powers that be are trying to hurt you. You're safe here. <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/trump-rnc-speech-alone-fix-it/492557/" target="_blank">Only I can fix this</a>.</em></p><p>Cult leaders exploit anxiety around a shadowy "other" out to get you. While not required, sometimes this other has a form. Ambiguity is a key feature of indoctrination. Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer break this down in their 1993 book, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007WL0JHE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1" target="_blank">The Guru Papers: Makes of Authoritarian Power</a></em>. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What really matters is not so much the specific content of a religion, but how sure one is of its worldview. That is, it's not nearly as important how true or false a belief is as how certain one is of it. All religious certainty is similar in that the beliefs one is certain of coat and comfort fear." </p><p>Replace "religion" with "anti-vaccination agenda." </p><p>While "Plandemic" seemed to explode out of nowhere, a <a href="https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/k7qqyn/an-ex-google-employee-turned-whistleblower-and-qanon-fan-made-plandemic-go-viral?fbclid=IwAR1DMFRa_RlzYK3JaerNGHvXWX4rnf44ja3Gv9mINrOIa7lHPOY3Ko9Xjok" target="_blank">sophisticated social media campaign</a> created by a QAnon promoter elevated the video. Ambiguity also played a key role, as an <a href="https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2020-05-13/plandemic-coronavirus-documentary-director-mikki-willis-mikovits" target="_blank"><em>LA Times</em> interview</a> with filmmaker Mikki Willis suggests. </p>
Faithful prays for their religious leader Naason Joaquin Garcia, arrested in California, US, facing charges for 26 suspected felonies including human trafficking, rape of minor and child pornography, at the international headquarters of the Church 'La Luz Del Mundo' (Light of the World) in Guadalajara, Jalisco State, Mexico on June 9, 2019.
Photo by Ulises Ruiz / AFP via Getty Images<p><span style="background-color: initial;">After Willis admits "Plandemic" is intentionally "conspirational and shocking," the reporter presses him to validate Judy Mikovits's claims. Willis admits leaving in unsubstantiated claims "that could be true, but science hasn't proven it yet"—an effectively </span><span style="background-color: initial;">meaningless statement. Anything <em>could</em> be true. Science is the process of discovering whether or not a claim holds up.</span></p><p>Truth was never the point. The reporter goes on, "as [Willis] sees it, he is simply offering a necessary alternative to what he calls 'the mainstream narrative.'" Willis himself <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/im-an-investigative-journalist-these-are-the-questions-i-asked-about-the-viral-plandemic-video" target="_blank">admitted to another reporter</a> that "Plandemic" is propaganda. </p><p>Which narrative? Irrelevant. Suspicion has been expressed. Ambiguity is power. </p><p>Matthew Remski specializes in cult dynamics and trauma, predominantly in yoga and Buddhist communities. In his <a href="http://matthewremski.com/wordpress/the-plandemic-spectacle-a-viral-loop-of-emotional-control/" target="_blank">excellent summation</a> of Willis's response, which the filmmaker recorded after "Plandemic" went viral, Remski points out that Willis failed to address his video's content. Instead, he used time-tested cult techniques to sway the observer to his "side." </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"In my research on charismatic leadership, many interview subjects report the paradoxical phenomena of the speaker speaking to countless people, while seeming to forge a private connection. Some of this is amplified by the webcam medium, but it's also played up with direct 2nd-person address. As the sermon finds its ultimate/totalistic theme, the diction shifts to first-person plural. The viewer is invited to merge with the speaker. The sermon is about something ultimately important, communicated in close intimacy."</p><p>This is Willis's first public message after his video (marketed <em>during the interview </em>as scientific fact) was viewed over eight million times. Mikovits's claims are not presented as speculation. She repeatedly contradicts herself. She <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/fact-checking-judy-mikovits-controversial-virologist-attacking-anthony-fauci-viral?fbclid=IwAR09b3OIwqkkRukSbRQ1aLNKD8ngW7RpKmcRFScVxKBu_Pnezcdk8KZTwZs" target="_blank">probably makes false statements</a>. Doesn't matter. This technique has precedent, having been perfected by our current president over the course of decades: State an absurd or inflammatory idea as possible, let it escalate in the public imagination, then step back and claim no responsibility. Birtherism was a litmus test. </p><p>While Mikovits has been <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6B96XoBboc&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">doubling</a> and <a href="https://londonreal.tv/is-coronavirus-a-plandemic-exposing-the-truth-behind-americas-covid-19-strategy-dr-judy-mikovits/" target="_blank">tripling down</a> on her false claims, Willis <a href="https://www.facebook.com/mikki.willis/posts/2677500375694237" target="_blank">calls himself an investigative journalist</a>. Releasing an interview with an unvetted subject without researching her claims is the opposite of journalism. "Plandemic" is propaganda masquerading as investigation. The film is perfect fodder for the conspiracist ethos.</p>