Spiraling down the conspiratorial rabbit hole

Spiraling down the conspiratorial rabbit hole

One of my favorite shows was “In Search Of.” From 1977-82, Leonard Nimoy would take me on a wild adventure through Bigfoot sightings, unexplained phenomena and conspiracy theories. I would lay on the floor with a pillow, totally rapt at the delicious chill each segment took me through. I am a big aficionado of the weird and strange, the unexplainable and mysterious.

Sometimes, I shuffle through the pages of the past and sift out certain moments to reflect on. I remember learning about the shooting of JFK and the conspiracies that still trail the event today. How many movies have we sat through explaining what happened and what “might” be true? Elvis may well still be alive too, is what I’m told. Everyone knows he faked his death so he could live quietly away from the spotlight in peace.

I have a poster framed in my writing room that says, “I WANT TO BELIEVE,” and if anyone loved “X-Files” as much as I did, you know which poster I’m talking about. Mulder always believed but needed pulled back from the rabbit hole by Scully before he went too far. In present times I’m thinking the Lone Gunmen (of “X-Files” fame) would be relegated to the far corners of Reddit and 4Chan. When “X-Files” debuted in ’93, they were quirky and fun. The actions of hackers and conspiracy theorists were a delicious diversionary realm to dip your toes in.

But suddenly conspiracy theories aren’t fun anymore.

It was some years ago I first heard about several theories that were being circulated. Whether they were confirmed by facts or not, a large segment believed. The key to luring people down the rabbit hole is one small step at a time, one factoid combined with a sliver of truth. The next step is to introduce one more tantalizing outrage into the mix, add a dash of political flair — maybe something that outrages certain sectors of society — and twist it into something palatable in small, digestible portions. Add water, repetition, social media and mix well.

When we took our daughter to college 11 years ago, dropping her off in West Palm Beach, Florida, I remember worrying for her safety. She would be living in an area with high human trafficking rates, and as a parent, those are things you think about. I also knew Ohio had high numbers, but thinking about home in that way feels different because you know the area well. It also doesn’t make it less true.

If you followed the Epstein case at all, you’ll remember he had a house on Palm Beach Island — right across the bridge from her college. She rode her bike and worked on the island, babysat on the island, and went to the beach on the island. She graduated and moved on from West Palm with nary an incident.

When conspiracy theories become mixed with political agendas and the furthering of people’s terrible proclivities, it becomes a sodden mix of untruth. It becomes the herding by mass confusion of sections of our population to think one way as a means to an end. The political divide has unfortunately made subjects like trafficking, well, political. It has made racism and the fact that we care about it political. Racism and human trafficking and all manner of atrocities are something that have gone on for many, many years. We should tackle them all at once, working from many angles and with many peoples to solve them. There is no either/or.

The truth is that we can care about many things at once. You can work on things in your corner, and I can work on things in mine. We can see each other and nod as we go about our day working to undo the horrible, the unspeakable. And we also can stick out a hand to pull each other out of the dark rabbit hole we might be descending into. We all need a Scully in our lives.

Conspiracy theories exist to cause doubt, to make us stop in our tracks and wonder. They aren’t meant for a great awakening with double meanings to cloud our judgement. I don’t need someone hiding behind a letter of the alphabet to tell me that.

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