AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In the online QAnon universe, former President Trump is seen as the savior of humanity, someone who is destined to rescue not just the country but the entire world from darkness. That's according to our next guest, Travis View. He monitors the spread of online conspiracies. But with Trump out of office, what happens to this movement? View says it's not going anywhere.
TRAVIS VIEW: Without L. Ron Hubbard, does Scientology fizzle? I mean, once a movement like this grows to a certain size and once the believers in it become dedicated enough, it becomes self-sustaining. And it doesn't need its founder or leader anymore.
CORNISH: View is also the co-host of a podcast that follows the conspiracy movement. It's called "QAnon Anonymous." Yes, he says, the theories are elaborate, self-contradictory and illogical. And for some adherents, that's part of the draw.
VIEW: This is, I think, a big part of, like, what gets people locked in - is that it might seem impenetrable to you, but when you're inside, it feels like you're, you know, privy to some sort of secret inside information that only you and your other fellow QAnon followers are sharp enough to understand.
CORNISH: What makes you think, in this case, it is self-sustaining? I mean, you - because of your - some of your branding, I understand people actually gravitate towards the podcast before they realize that you're actually not supportive of the movement.
VIEW: That's true.
CORNISH: And you get a lot of, like, you know, interactions and mail. So what are you hearing that, for you, says, oh, this ain't over?
VIEW: Well, one thing that makes me convinced that this is not something that's just going to go away is, you know, the fact that even though sort of Q itself, the entity, has not posted whatsoever since December 8. And despite that, you know, the community itself is still very active because they sort of - the belief systems and the sort of conspiracy theories that sort of sustain the movement don't come from Trump or Q or any specific leader. It's sort of crowdsourced and self-generated. I mean, it really is about the community and sort of the feeling that they have some sort of inside information about what's going to happen. So there's really no head of the snake. There's not one sort of thing you can sort of take out to make the entire movement sort of fizzle.
CORNISH: Right. I think every once in a while, you will kind of post screencaps - right? - of conversations people are having. And I notice, of course, they're very undeterred by real-world events. Like, all of a sudden, the comments - people will sort of work it out amongst themselves and say, oh, well, hey; maybe it's this. Hey; maybe it's that. It's, like, a communal experience.
VIEW: Well, yeah. It's really kind of like an improvisational reality building, you know? They don't look to the outside world to try and figure out, you know, what is true and what is not and then, as a consequence, sometimes have to face harsh truths such as the, you know, electoral victory of Joe Biden. They come to their conclusion first. They decide what makes them feel best, and then they construct conspiracy theories that help them convince themselves why that's true.
CORNISH: How much sympathy do you have for people who have gotten involved in this? And the reason why I ask is because it's probably not going to be unusual to hear people here and there say, oh, I was sucked in, and maybe not take personal responsibility for their actions during that time.
VIEW: I actually have, I mean, a great deal of sympathy for people who fall into this, and the reason is because QAnon satisfies needs that we all have. We all need to have a feeling of significance. We all need to have a feeling of community. And we all need to have some sense of optimism for the future. And if you're not getting that in any other way, then QAnon can sort of fulfill that role for you. Now, I think in the end, it's very, very toxic. But I realize why people who are very vulnerable fall into this.
CORNISH: In the end, what do you want people to understand about this movement that they don't and that the media misses - right? - because it's just so sensational in talking about it?
CORNISH: That's a deep sigh, man.
VIEW: Yeah. See; one thing that I do want to say that people often get wrong about QAnon is this idea that everyone who believes in it is stupid or uneducated or even, like, you know, poor or something like that. And, obviously, these beliefs are delusional. But over and over again, we've seen people who are actually pretty well-educated or fairly successful get drawn into it. For example, one of the people who ran a sort of a QAnon aggregator website which kind of, like, organized Q drops for people wound up being sort of a tech executive for a major bank because, you know, again, the things that QAnon fulfilled for people is existential. Anyone can sort of fall into QAnon.
CORNISH: That's interesting. Is there a kind of consequence to people dismissing it in that way or who think that this is about education or income?
VIEW: Yeah. I mean, the consequence is that they wind up thinking that QAnon is sort of easily quarantined or easily fixable. That's simply not the case.
CORNISH: Travis View, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us and for, I guess, showing us around the rabbit hole.
VIEW: It's been my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF L'ECLAIR'S "DALLAS")
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