Falling down the rabbit hole of ‘conspiracy theory’ – a conversation with survivors

‘Hine’ stood under a bridge in Wellington on a cold, rainy day and confessed that she once believed her best friend was a reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson and Mahatma Gandhi. Maori Video / Television

By Hikurangi Jackson, Te Ao with Moana

‘Hine’ stood under a bridge in Wellington on a cold, rainy day and confessed that she once believed her best friend was a reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson and Mahatma Gandhi.

“I think they call them starseeds, where people born now have been important people in the past. And they’re all originally aliens. Aliens.”

This young mom was one of three viewers who bravely chose to share their experiences during a special Te Ao with Moana on conspiracy theories. Each shared how they were first drawn to, then obsessed with, stories that helped them make sense of the world. And how these stories not only upset their heads, but also their relationship with whānau.

“Probably about eight years ago, I started following some ideas and information that my friends sent me, like ‘Read this.’ The first few times, I was just taking a quick glance, not really understanding. in it.

“And then when I saw them in real life, we were discussing the things that were in those emails. They believe there’s this secret society that kidnaps children, abuses them, and turns them into super spies. “

“Hine” confessed that she once believed her best friend was a reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson and Mahatma Gandhi. Maori Photo/TV

down the rabbit hole

Ever since Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the world, it feels like the virus had itself caught a nasty little bug, an ugly little shapeshifter whose head pops out from time to time – just to make matters worse at middle of a global pandemic. Conspiracy theories are raging on social media. Who can’t name at least two or three?

So when we asked on our Facebook page Te Ao with Moana if anyone had gone down the rabbit hole and come out, the messages started pouring in. Questions too.

What exactly is “the rabbit hole?” one person asked. Fair enough. People were sending us messages about dealing with their addictions to drugs and alcohol. All the power to them too, but we were talking about a different kind of addiction.

According to one dictionary, the phrase can mean a “heather-covered hill full of rabbit burrows”. It is also a metaphor for a “weird, confusing, or absurd situation or environment, usually one that is difficult to get out of.” This is apparently an allusion to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), which describes how Alice enters a land of strange magic and logic by falling down a rabbit hole.

Malicious Secrets

“What is a conspiracy theory? asked another viewer.

University professor and psychologist Dr Matt Williams explained to journalist Cameron Bennett that although people use the term conspiracy theory in different ways, it usually implies that many actors are plotting something malicious – in secret. .

Many on our Facebook page have suggested we’ve “sold out to the government”, while others have asked if we want to find out the truth about “everything” – from what really happened on 9/11 to what what’s really in vaccines.

But then there were half a dozen private messages from people who confessed that their obsessions had torn their relationships apart and ruined their lives. Their stories were tragic but insightful. And, given their recovery – hopeful.

When Hine told me she absolutely believed her friend was a reincarnation of Gandhi and Jefferson, I was shocked. And believe me, it’s pretty hard to be shocked considering some of the messages that come through our inbox.

Hine also has a theory as to why.

Isolated

“I was isolated. I was a stay-at-home mom, I lived on a farm, I didn’t have access to my friends and the few people I talked to online are all into it and they’re all sharing this. And that contributed to loneliness and isolation.”

Hine suggests that many of those drawn to these stories are genuinely vulnerable in some way – “they’ve lost their jobs. They’ve been through a separation. They’re a bit isolated, maybe the loss of ‘loved one ?”

Izzy has always been drawn to marginal things. She had a huge platter of kai ready for us. Her dock in Nelson was full of books and she was happy to be filmed.

Izzy told me she didn’t have the best upbringing and was away from most of her whānau. She described how her obsession with conspiracies really affected her relationship with her friends and family.

“It was an alternate theory of how civilization was created and had a bit to do with pyramids and different levels of consciousness and Freemasonry was a big theory that I followed at that time.

Izzy says her obsession with conspiracies has really affected her relationship with her friends and family.  Maori Photo/TV
Izzy says her obsession with conspiracies has really affected her relationship with her friends and family. Maori Photo/TV

“Everyone Was Wrong”

“Also, it really became the focus of all my attention to the point where the people I had around me ended up saying after a few months ‘it has to stop’. And they actually took my computer laptop and everything I had and said, “You can’t get them back until you realize there are questions you may never answer and it can’t consume you.”

Izzy admits she was obsessed and it took a toll on her mental health as well.

“I wouldn’t talk about anything else. I stopped doing business with someone who didn’t talk to me about it and drove everyone around me crazy. My mental state at the time n wasn’t good. And I remember there was a time when I thought everyone was wrong, not me.”

While angry with them at the time, Izzy thanks her friends for saving her life by pulling her out of the rabbit hole two years ago. Another lifeline was when she started a degree.

Strange

“I realized how the world actually works. I had no idea. I dropped out of school at 15. I was quite estranged from most of my family, I had no real role models around me who taught me the basics of life, how government works. And I’m grateful every day for that understanding and how it helped me, especially when Covid hit and it all went on to go around in circles. It helped me stay on top of everything and know what’s worth believing in, and what’s also out of my reach.”

Sakaio is a self-proclaimed “reformed” conspiracy theorist. Sakaio admitted he had been into conspiracy theories for a long time, even before the internet came along. And this Samoan-Maori has his own theory as to why some of our people might be going down the rabbit hole.

“When you grow up, you’re on the marae, aren’t you? You’re maybe 11 or 12, and you have your Maori cousins ​​who are like teenagers and they tell you things like, ‘ Oh, you can’t go down the urupa at night.’ And we’re like, ‘Oh well, why is that?’ And they say, ‘Oh because there’s a headless horseman going up there, you know? And he likes to chase people who hang around the urupa.’ So right off the bat at that age you buy into it. You believe in it. And so I guess as Maori we kind of take the stories and things like conspiracies as the truth – mostly if it’s an anti-colonization thing.

When asked how far he went down the rabbit hole, Sakaio admitted that it was really bad.

Sakaio is a self-proclaimed "reform" conspiracy theorist.  Maori Photo/TV
Sakaio is a self-proclaimed “reformed” conspiracy theorist. Maori Photo/TV

“I was gullible”

“Actually at one point I thought some of these Illuminati were lizards, you know? his eyes, bro? They blink like a reptilian, bro – and I kind of believed it and was like, ‘Yeah, I did it.’ But as I started to walk away from that scene years later, I thought, ‘Man, I was gullible’.”

Sakaio learned that he was susceptible to conspiracies, which Izzy also admits.

“There’s no hard work for people to fall into the hole, it’s easy,” says Izzy. “Well, recovery is not easy. I fight every day not to fall back into this hole.”

*’Hine’ is not his real name

Sharon D. Cole