With his face paint, furry, horned headgear and bare, tattooed chest, Jacob Chansley, aka the “QAnon Shaman,” might be today’s most recognizable cult member. Since being locked up for his role in the deadly Jan. 6 insurrectionist riot at the U.S. Capitol, Chansley has steadily worked to distance himself from both the QAnon conspiracy cult and that of twice-impeached former president Donald Trump.
Just last week, in a pleading asking to be released pending trial, he essentially claimed he had been duped. “For years during the Trump administration, the President honed and routinely utilized his mass communication means to effectively groom millions of Americans with respect to his policies, protocols, beliefs and overwhelming fixation on all matters conspiratorial,” his attorney wrote in the motion.
NPR reports that cult deprogrammers who help people like Chansley re-integrate back into society currently are overwhelmed with requests for their services now that Trump is out of office. One of them is Diane Benscoter. “I’ve probably got almost a hundred requests in my inbox,” she said. Benscoter has been helping people untangle from cultish, extremist ideologies since she herself was extricated from the Unification Church – the Moonies – in the 1980s.
Delusional conspiracy theories aren’t new, but experts say today that right-wing disinformation fueled by the internet now has it spinning way out of control. According to an Ipsos poll, more than 40 percent of Americans believed some of the most virulent and far-fetched disinformation, including the baseless claim that the election was rigged, that a Satan-worshiping child sex ring is trying to control our politics and media, or that Antifa activists were responsible for the Capitol riots.
The poll found that those buying into fallacies are far more likely to get most of their news from social media, friends and family, or conservative news outlets. Or they were likely to have recently used social media platforms like Parler and Telegram, which experts say have become disinformation super-spreaders.
Joan Donovan of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, says, “It’s like a free-for-all. It’s almost unfathomable.”