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Cletus on the Upper East Side


This is a sad little profile of an upmarket QAnon freak:

Every morning, Valerie Gilbert, a Harvard-educated writer and actress, wakes up in her Upper East Side apartment; feeds her dog, Milo, and her cats, Marlena and Celeste; brews a cup of coffee; and sits down at her oval dining room table.

Then, she opens her laptop and begins fighting the global cabal.

Ms. Gilbert, 57, is a believer in QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory. Like all QAnon faithful, she is convinced that the world is run by a Satanic group of pedophiles that includes top Democrats and Hollywood elites, and that President Trump has spent years leading a top-secret mission to bring these evildoers to justice.

She unspools this web of falsehoods on her Facebook page, where she posts dozens of times a day, often sharing links from right-wing sites like Breitbart and The Epoch Times or QAnon memes she has pulled off Twitter. On a recent day, her feed included a rant against Covid-19 lockdowns, a grainy meme accusing Congress of “high treason,” a post calling Lady Gaga a Satanist and a claim that “covfefe,” a typo that Mr. Trump accidentally tweeted three years ago, was a coded intelligence message.

“I’m the meme queen,” Ms. Gilbert told me. “I won’t produce them, but I share a mean meme, and I’m kind of raw.”

The profile goes on to share the familiar story of a lonely, isolated person going down various Internet rabbit holes and ending up in a community of sorts: a community of crazy people and those who grift them, true, but still a kind of cyber-place to belong:

“This is not just young, male incels who live in their parents’ basements and can’t get a real job,” said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher who is writing a book about QAnon. “QAnon gives you a target to point your anger at, and it gives you something to do about it. That’s something that can appeal to anyone who is disaffected in any way.”

What attracts Ms. Gilbert and many other people to QAnon isn’t just the content of the conspiracy theory itself. It’s the community and sense of mission it provides. New QAnon believers are invited to chat rooms and group texts, and their posts are showered with likes and retweets. They make friends, and are told that they are not lonely Facebook addicts squinting at zoomed-in paparazzi photos, but patriots gathering “intel” for a righteous revolution.

This social element also means that QAnon followers aren’t likely to be persuaded out of their beliefs with logic and reason alone.

“These people aren’t drooling, mind-controlled cultists,” Mr. Rothschild said. “People who are in Q like it. They like being part of it. You can’t debunk and fact-check your way out of this, because these people don’t want to leave.”

The story doesn’t reference it, but there’s an interesting split taking place on the insurrectionist wing of American right wing politics at the moment, between the QAnon denizens, who “trust the plan” and therefore tend not to want to actually do anything beyond post on crazy cat lady Facebook pages, and the Proud Boy types who more than suspect that, if something drastic isn’t done, Joe Biden actually is going to become president three days from now after all.

As for QAnon, the movement will splinter this week, when the Great Disappointment happens: some adherents will naturally claim that Biden’s inauguration is all still somehow part of the plan, others will move on to other Internet conspiratorial rabbit holes (Flat Earthers are always accepting new members), and a few will be jolted back into something resembling reality, although I’m pretty sure Gilbert won’t be among them.

End note: Here are a few sociological detail from the piece I found particularly piquant:

Over a series of conversations, I learned that she had a longstanding suspicion of elites dating back to her Harvard days, when she felt out of place among people she considered snobby rich kids. As an adult, she joined the anti-establishment left, advocating animal rights and supporting the Standing Rock oil pipeline protests. She admired the hacktivist group Anonymous, and looked up to whistle-blowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. She was a registered Democrat for most of her life, but she voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, in the 2016 presidential election after deciding that both major parties were corrupt.

Ms. Gilbert’s path to QAnon began in 2016 when WikiLeaks posted a trove of hacked emails from the Clinton campaign. Shortly after, she started seeing posts on social media about something called #Pizzagate. She had dabbled in conspiracy theories before, but Pizzagate — which falsely posited that powerful Democrats were running a child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington pizza parlor, and that all of this was detailed in code in the Clinton emails — blew her mind. If it was true, she thought, it would connect all of her suspicions about elites, and explain the horrible truths they had been covering up.

That Gilbert went to the Dalton School and now lives on the Upper East Side with no visible means of support makes her complaints about the snobby rich kids at Harvard College seem just a bit discordant. And of course her subsequent political hegira is a common enough one on the coupon-clipping putative left.

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