By BEN R. WILLIAMS
There was a time when I enjoyed conspiracy theories.
I didn’t BELIEVE in conspiracy theories, to be clear. I just thought they were fun. I never really liked the whole “the moon landing was faked” conspiracy theory; I tended to be drawn to the wacky ones. Paul McCartney died in the 1960s and the surviving Beatles left clues hidden in their albums! A flying saucer crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947! My personal favorite conspiracy theory is that Stevie Wonder is not actually blind, based solely on a video where someone knocks over a mic stand and Wonder appears to catch it before it falls.
Those conspiracy theories are entertaining. There’s nothing really at stake. If your uncle believes that Bigfoot stalks the swamps of Arkansas, the chances are low that he’s going to ruin Thanksgiving dinner by talking about it all night long.
Conspiracy theories aren’t fun anymore, though. I think it started with 9/11, when hucksters, charlatans, and various idiots came up with bizarre theories to explain why the Twin Towers ACTUALLY fell, as though getting hit by two planes wasn’t enough. The 9/11 Truther garbage felt distasteful to me, as though it cheapened the tragedy of the day.
Of course, even the 9/11 Truther stuff feels quaint compared to the conspiracy theories of today. Thanks to QAnon, the most insane theories in history have become mainstream. If your dear sweet grandma spends any time on Facebook, there’s a halfway decent chance that she believes most of Hollywood is run by Satan-worshipping cannibal pedophiles, and she’ll cut you out of the will if you even float the idea that she’s mistaken.
Just how bad has it gotten?
Well, have you heard the name Michael Brian Protzman?
Protzman isn’t a household name, unless your household is full of QAnon cultists. Also known as the “Gematria General” by his followers, Protzman is a guy from Washington state who owns a demolition firm. He rose to fame amongst the QAnon cult by using ersatz numerology to make various insane predictions, many of them wildly antisemitic in nature. So persuasive is Protzman that he convinced hundreds of his followers to do what might be the literal stupidest thing I have ever heard in my life:
Back in late November and early December, Protzman’s followers gathered in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas to await the triumphant return of John F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr., who Protzman predicted would appear in order to reinstate Donald Trump as President.
Now, I’m not exactly a history buff, but it’s my understanding that JFK died in 1963 when he was shot in Dealey Plaza, and his son died in a plane crash in 1999. Both of these events are pretty well documented. It also seems to me that if I were JFK and I was planning on returning from the dead, Dealey Plaza is just about the last place I would visit. It also seems to me that both JFK and JFK Jr. were pretty famous for being Democrats, so I’m not sure why they would be inclined to support Trump. I guess being dead for decades really changes a person.
It seems almost impossible that any rational human being could actually believe this nonsense, and yet QAnon cult members traveled from around the country to visit Dealey Plaza. Some of them are still there today, milling around aimlessly in MAGA hats and waiting for a 104 year old man who’s been dead for 58 years to miraculously appear and somehow make Trump the President again.
Oh, and did I mention that they’re also drinking poison?
Yes, that’s right. Apparently a bunch of Protzman’s followers at Dealey Plaza are drinking chlorine dioxide from a “communal bowl.” Chlorine dioxide is an industrial bleach used in small quantities for disinfecting drinking water, but it’s toxic when taken in large amounts. Con artists have marketed it as a cure for everything from cancer to autism, and it’s injured plenty of people and even killed a few over the years. Apparently the QAnoners in Dealey Plaza are drinking it to ward off COVID-19. That was the most shocking part to me, since I assumed these people didn’t believe COVID was real.
It’s tempting to dismiss this sort of madness as the actions of a small lunatic fringe. We all want to believe that the vast majority of Americans still have a firm grip on reality.
Of course, just a couple of days ago, I overheard a conversation between a group of people at a convenience store I frequent. They were discussing how they recently used Ivermectin, America’s favorite animal-grade anti-parasitic paste, to treat their recent bouts with COVID.
The lunatics are on the fringe no longer. Now they walk among us.