Updated: Feb 10, 2022
In mid-January, a volcanic eruption in Tonga rocked the world. The sound of the explosion was so loud that it was heard as far away as the Pacific Northwest. Shockwaves from the eruption circled the world at least four times in the next few days. Tsunamis fanned out from the caldera, causing massive damage in Tonga, wreaking havoc on the California coastline, and claiming lives as far away as Peru. An enormous ash cloud was seen from space, where it was photographed by orbiting satellites. The surprising event left scientists reeling as they still try to understand the mechanism behind this disaster.
Among the many videos circulating on social media was a recording of the actual explosion, which featured several startled spectators on a beach. Normally the page that posted the video is frequented by science nerds and volcano enthusiasts. I went to the comment section to see the interesting discussions going on, only to be disappointed.
The post had been taken over by conspiracy theorists. Most of them swore that the explosion was actually a weapon, posing their own theories on what really went on and who was responsible. Many denied there had been an explosion at all, claiming that the event was staged as some sort of distraction. Some more industrious members of the group made sure to put laughing faces on any comment that talked about the science or the volcano instead of the conspiracy theories. A quick look at their profiles showed consistency. All venerated Donald Trump as some sort of messiah. They spoke of the “Biden crime cabal,” denied the existence of Covid-19, and every other conservative conspiracy theory and radical claim you can think of.
For the last year we’ve heard a lot about Q-Anon believers. Adherents deny science and any voice of expertise or authority, yet they are willing to subscribe to a pure political fantasy introduced by some random, mostly nameless internet posters. Despite the fact that none of their claims and predictions ever come to pass, these people continue to believe every word the authors of this conspiracy cult utter. Trump is their savior and they hang on everything he says like gospel. They are all out to save the world from whatever “evil forces” they concoct next.
Every time I see these fanatics dancing in their trance of political religion, I am reminded of an experience in my own life, one that still haunts me to this day. Though the victim in this case was a left-leaner, the results were the same. He found himself in the midst of a dark conspiracy that he couldn’t pull out of, and it eventually consumed him.
I’ve spoken of my father in a previous blog post, where I gave him advice on writing after several years of him trying to pursue and failing. He never did write that successful book or movie script. His stories dwindled and disappeared into a mental abyss from when they never returned. It’s why that is the topic of today’s entry.
I first noticed something was wrong shortly after 9/11. Dad got involved with community television and wanted to produce a talk show where he interviewed subjects on local issues and news events. It seemed interesting to me, so I volunteered to help out in the studio. As production continued, however, it became clear that this was more than a regular community access show.
Halfway through the season he began to write closing speeches where he criticized the Bush Administration and the GOP in general. They were fairly mild affairs at first, just the usual “I dislike this” and “I disagree with that.” As time went on, however, they became extremist diatribes bordering on paranoia and rubbing shoulders with downright conspiracy theories. Soon he began taping hour-long specials unrelated to his regular program. He bashed Republicans, conservatives, the Bush Administration, and especially the religious right. Most of his material was poorly researched information, paranoid assumption, or downright fiction. One day he accused pastors of telling their congregations to commit political killings.
I really noticed the corrosion of his sanity just after we moved. The family spent an exhausting day unpacking at the new house, so we decided on a late dinner at Denny’s. Dad immediately launched into one of his political tirades that had become so common lately, but this one was different than the usual talk about the military industrial complex or Bush and Cheney making money off war and oil. He began talking about the “Republican agenda” to take away our civil rights and turn us into an authoritarian regime where the Christian right ruled us all. Dad pointed to our house glowing across the river and talked about the CIA sending spies to raid our house, peek at our computers, and plant bugs while we were out. I felt a chill, but not because I feared the federal boogie men. This was the first time he’d ever put on his tin foil hat, as it were, and it just got worse from there.
Everything became some sort of conspiracy. A glitch on a network TV station that made a biography movie about Hitler unwatchable was obviously done on purpose so we couldn’t see the parallels between the Nazis and the Bush Administration. Someone from Dulles, Virginia looked at his website and it was obviously government authorities spying on him. George W. cracked a joke about only wanting a dictatorship if he could be the dictator and it was somehow a hidden confession. Dad talked about moving to Canada so he could fight “the neo-cons” from a safe location, as if somehow he was going to be a target for his supposedly important work.
He started a political blog that he used to spout his paranoid delusions, where he found others of a like mind who only encouraged his vitriol. Suddenly Dad’s whole world became politics and he abandoned any other interest. There was no more train watching, he gave up on community television, and he stopped writing anything but his blog.
Every morning he woke up the same way. He closed all the curtains so the whole house was dark, switched on CNN and blared the news for several hours, or else he listened to Air America and hung on every word the hosts uttered as if it were scripture. All day he typed away, barely stopping to go to the bathroom or eat.
When he did eat, he inhaled his meal like a deranged vacuum cleaner. Crumbs and blobs of food fell on his enormous stomach and stayed there all day. Huge strings of spit bridged the gap between his mouth and his food. He grunted, snorted, and chewed with his mouth open. All the while he typed away at that computer, desperately jotted down notes, read internet news articles, or stared blindly at the TV as he trawled for more material.
About the only thing that took him away from his blog were the Democratic Party events he attended like church services. He started plotting to run for political office. They were grand, enormous plans that would eventually put him in Washington. Once he claimed he was doing this all for me, as if I were some oppressed minority that needed him to be my savior.
Politics became such on obsession that he began to break promises to family members if they got in the way of his activities. Probably the worst incident occurred when the whole family was planning to attend an educational event. At first he said he was interested and we talked about it with enthusiasm, but then he got buried in his blog again. When it came time for him to pick his lectures, he was irritated that he’d been pulled away from the computer and lashed out, saying he was never interested in the event in the first place and didn’t know why everyone was so excited. He begrudgingly picked his classes and pouted all the way over to the event.
It was around this time that his moral compass began to erode. The worst incident involved a video of the beheading of a journalist in the Middle East. The fact that Dad watched it in the first place was questionable enough, but it was what he said that told me that he was lost for good. I will not repeat it here because it’s disrespectful to the victim and because I found it so disgusting that I can taste the stomach bile backing up as I type. It was so disturbing that I lost my appetite and had nightmares that night. I actually hung up on him because I didn’t know how to respond to such a statement.
His obsession was eating away at him in both mind and body. One day we were watching a news special on soldiers in Iraq and a journalist interviewed an eighteen-year-old Marine. Dad turned to Mom and I and said, “Look at that! He’s eighteen years old, he’s fighting in this useless war, and he can’t even vote!” It took Mom several minutes to remind him that eighteen-year-olds had been voting since the Seventies. He got a confused look on his face, then sudden familiarity returned to his eyes. All he said was, “sorry, senior moment” and laughed as if this were amusing.
He started having a lot of those “senior moments” and he was only 55. It became a frustrating situation for him as he kept misplacing his wallet and keys. It seemed like he spent hours looking for them sometimes. Usually this was because he was so excited to get back to his computer that he just put them down any old place and never had any consistency.
He began to smell terrible. I can’t even pinpoint the exact odor. It was like a combination of pickles, fruit juice, and rotten fish. I always knew when he used the toilet because he left some kind of brown jelly smeared all over the seat. His weight ballooned, mostly due to overeating. We were spending upwards of $500 a week on his food, all of which he devoured while typing away, the great keyboard warrior fighting the evil Republicans.
It all paid off in the end, or so it appeared. He won his election for some random county position that was supposed to be his first stepping stone to Washington. Not that it mattered anymore. You see, he was already gone by then, cut down by a massive heart attack. That’s right, Captain Ahab went down with his ship and Moby Dick (aka George W. Bush) still swam the ocean, never even knowing he’d been hunted in the first place.
Why did my father rot away in the midst of some political fantasy? The same reason it’s happening to the conservative conspiracy theorists of today. He felt out of control, insignificant, helpless in a frightening and unstable world. Likely 9/11 was the spark point, the moment that tipped the balance too far and forced him to react in this self-destructive manner.
I don’t know the spark point for the Q-Anoners and Trump fanatics, but there has to have been one. Perhaps it was just the general uncertainty in the world today. Notice that most of their denial centers on disturbing headlines like climate change, Covid-19, mass shootings, or anything alarming or frightening. They are in desperate need of a way to gain control of their lives and feel like they matter, just like my father wanted.
And just like Dad, will their political fantasy kill them? It’s already started. A conspiracy theorist blew himself up in an RV in Nashville on Christmas morning, 2020. A woman was trampled to death during the January 6th, 2021, U.S. Capitol raid. Right here in my hometown, a known Covid-19 denier was killed by the disease she claimed was fake news. Her husband barely mourned her passing. Within twenty-four hours of her death he was back to posting more political drivel on social media as if his spouse never existed in the first place. The minute I saw it I heard the echo of my father’s commentary on that beheading, the ghost of a man reminding me that this one is also lost forever.
So this is my warning to all you Q-Anoners and Trump worshipers out there. You are living in your self-important fantasy today. How long before it consumes you? Will you eventually wake up and crawl out from under that tree or will you stay down in the rabbit hole and die the same way my father did? A sickly, bitter man, old before his years, covered in food and filth, his back turned to everyone around him as his mind and morals rotted away. It’s not a pretty sight, is it?