I have always been a deep sleeper, and rest has been my constant escape. But in the wee hours of March 31, 2021, sleep refused to come. I had actively avoided conversation with my parents for fear of learning how deeply conspiracy theories had infected them. That night, I had decided to face the truth, and had paid the price for it.
Now everyone would believe their family special, to some extent. I believe my family more special than most, particularly in comparison with other Singaporean families. Until last year, neither any of my nine siblings or I were permitted to attend a public school, apart from university. Socialising with outsiders was frowned upon and prevented with tactics such as guilt tripping and threats of punishment. Any form of entertainment was forbidden, which is why I was 18 years old the first time I set foot in a cinema. Neither of my parents have held any stable form of employment for almost 12 years. My supposedly Christian family last attended church more than 15 years ago. And yet it was the discovery of how deeply my parents had fallen into conspiracy theories that gifted me my insomnia.
Conspiracy theory believers in Singapore are not as high profile as they are in the US. Unfortunately, a combination of unfortunate events caused my parents to lose confidence in public institutions and large churches. They turned to foreign Christian leaders who were less mainstream, holding views that are far-right conservative and disturbingly radical. I didn’t think much of it, because after all, how extreme could Christian teachers get?
I was shocked to wake up on the morning of 19 April 2020, to find a long post, sent by my mother to my family’s WhatsApp group chat, detailing how the pandemic numbers are fake, and that Gates and Fauci were behind it. It was the first many similar posts she shared with our group chat, covering a wide range of topics from Bill Gates bringing the mark of the beast through ID2020, to climate change being a hoax.
Reading the posts, I could see they were filled with serious logical leaps, with gaping holes left by lack of evidence to support the grand claims being made. So, on March 30, 2021, I finally mustered the courage to face my parents and ask them the hard questions that no one else would.
My father told me he doesn’t think his beliefs fit any mainstream conspiracy theories, and his primary concerns were about COVID-19. He simply asked, how serious is the pandemic? If you compare its ranking among the top 10 most deadly diseases in Singapore, he asked, do you truly believe that the measures taken – the nationwide lockdown, temporary business closures, and taking billions from the government reserves for relief funds – are justified? In his words:
Is it worth it to go through all these measures for something that is not so deadly, compared to the top 10 killers (illnesses) in SG… and what if something worse, something bigger comes along. How much longer can we afford to do this?
He pointed out that COVID-19 has a low fatality rate, and that 2020’s fatality numbers are not much higher than previous years’ fatalities. However, he did also claim that it is easy to blame other disease fatalities on Covid, which was the first window into the conspiracies he believes. He quoted two organisations beloved of Covid-deniers – the World Doctors Alliance and America’s Frontline Doctors – to say that COVID-19 is not that deadly, and that ivermectin with zinc tablets can cure it, if done in the early stages of the disease. The WHO has stated that there has not been enough testing done to declare ivermectin, which is generally used to treat parasitic worms in animals, a suitable cure for Covid.
Interestingly, my father also voiced concerns over the recently developed Covid vaccines. He told me: “given the rather mild effects of Covid, is it worth taking the risk with an experimental vaccine?” Citing the lack of animal testing and lack of understanding of the mRNA technology that is used in them, he believed the Covid vaccines were not sufficiently tested to warrant the trust that governments are putting in them.
Much of my father’s information about Covid and the vaccine were taken from principia scientific international (PSI), a site that supposedly is run by professionals, who claim to investigate using Karl Popper’s scientific method to provide unbiased facts. However, in their About page, PSI describes how their method works: First they publish a draft proposal of a submitted science paper onto their website, done after an internal review. Next, the submitted paper is open to comments from the public for no less than a month. Finally, PSI reviews the comments, takes on board the ones they find relevant, and alters the paper before posting it formally on their website. In essence, it is a crowdsourcing platform disguising itself as a scientific community, which can print anything its panel decides is relevant, with facts determined according to “peer reviewed comments” from the general public. Platforms like PSI make it very easy to spread opinion and misinformation disguised as factual, scientific truth.
Other sources my father cited as credible information include the Epoch Times and Lin Wood, a Christian pro-Trump lawyer who is convinced that the 2020 US Election was plagued by mass voter fraud. Their common positioning, that the mainstream media and Big Tech are being manipulated by the government to only say what it wants you to hear, resonated with my parents’ anti-institutional views.
My father has always been a rational person, and has always tried to be logical in his thinking and reasoning. He tried, for the most part, to state clearly what he felt the impending threats and risks associated with specific movements could be, and what we should do to guard against them. He expressed his views calmly and rationally, without the emotional outbursts and strong feelings that often accompany conspiracy theories. His choice of sources is clearly often questionable, however, when provided with evidence that proves the information he believes false, he is willing to change his stand. Interestingly, he never once posted his views on the family WhatsApp group chat, so I do think he understands the dangers of spreading claims he cannot prove to be true.
I only wish the same could be said about my mother. She has never been shy to express her opinion, and when the line between fact and opinion began to blur, I truly began to fear. It wasn’t for myself that I was worried, but for my 8 younger siblings, many of whom are too young to understand what’s true and what isn’t. Before my conversation with her, I had thought that there was no one who was beyond reach; when I left that day, I wasn’t so sure.
The conversation started harmlessly enough. I had seen my younger sister post an Instagram story about how there were two Joe Bidens, and decided that that was a safe opener. It was a topic so distant and irrelevant to us that any opinion should have been idle speculation. My mother shocked me – not just by believing the ‘two Bidens’ myth, but with the conviction and certainty with which she made her argument. She may as well have been describing the stripes on the neighborhood stray cat.
She began by citing the “pictures she’s seen on the internet that show Joe Biden over 10 years” which can be found in this YouTube video, before describing how she saw his speeches in the past compared to now. “10 years ago, he had this killer sharp look, and was so eloquent and spoke well, and now he’s just a different person,” she told me. When I probed into the specifics of why she thought so, she replied: “I don’t really care about the specifics of it. All I know is that something is strange, and I think you should find out more.” This ambiguous stance that refuses to take a firm position on an issue would continue to plague the rest of our five-hour long discussion.
Just like my father, my mother began her foray into conspiracies during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We noticed that what is happening and what is reported in the media doesn’t match up,” she said. Her search for the truth led her to the YouTube channel “It’s Supernatural” by Sid Roth, in which he interviewed a prophet named Tracy Cooke. Cooke claimed to have been brought by God to China and shown the Wuhan lab where the virus was developed. He claimed that he was shown the people who were behind that lab, who were (as my mother put it) “of course, Pelosi and all those other people,” in reference to Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Cooke claimed that the people behind the lab created the virus so that the Democrats would win the 2020 Election.
It went on from there. My mother would detail so many conspiracies that it would be both impractical to fully list them in this article, and physically painful for me to recount. Among the major ones she mentioned were a conspiracy to turn the US into a communist state, the evils of vaccines, the Illuminati, that Bill Gates is bringing the mark of the beast, that 5G radiation is mind control, that aliens are visiting us, that 9/11 was staged, that the JFK assassination was an inside job, the moon landings were faked, the great reset, transhumanism, antisemitic propaganda, and eugenics.
Absolutely central to my mother’s beliefs is the QAnon conspiracy: that a satanic cult known as the cabal is controlling the world. Despite this, and the fact that she gets most of her information from QAnon telegram, Facebook, and YouTube channels, my mother claims that she does not subscribe to Q’s theories, and that she couldn’t care less about him.
Initially I found this hard to believe. All the evidence was pointing to my mother identifying a QAnon supporter. She made uncountable references to the “Patriots,” claiming many of their beliefs as her own. She even called Mike Pence a “traitor” for “not doing what was in his power to prevent the election fraud.” In fact, when probed, she admitted that her nationality was the only thing preventing her from identifying herself as one of them.
This dramatic escalation shocked me, but what shocked me even more was how willingly she accepted that narrative. All it seemed to have taken was for someone who appeared on a “Christian” talk show to claim that something was so, and to her it was Holy Scripture. This blind belief became a recurring observation as the conversation progressed, as she unlocked the intricate web of conspiracy she came to regard as truth.
My mother’s faith is very dear to her. She takes pride in being a Christian, and on her relationship with God. That is why every time I challenged the validity of her sources, she simply gave me a scoff and said, “the Holy Spirit is the one that led me to search for this truth.”
To demonstrate her point, my mother told me that all the sources she found most credible claimed to be of the Christian faith. “They make prophecies,” she said, “and those prophecies come true. That’s one reason why I believe them.” I asked her for a few examples of the prophecies that were made and came true:
There will be snow in all states of the US (prophet Hank Kunneman)There will be winds of change (prophet Hank Kunneman)There will be lightning (prophet Hank Kunneman)Something unusual will happen with a ship (prophet Robin Bullock)I tripped over three times walking up steps and the last time I fell lower (prophet Robin Bullock)During the election period, a blackout will be coming (unknown)
“Prophets” like Hank Kunneman used these prophecies to “prove” that Donald Trump is still the President of the United States – yet, even if all these ‘prophecies’ came true, they clearly say nothing about why we should believe Donald Trump won the election. My mom disagreed – perhaps because, on the other side of the central beliefs my mom had, on the side of good and opposing the satanic cabal, was none other than the righteous Donald Trump. I was disturbed to find out the amount of faith my mother had in the ex-President of the United States.
It was at this point that I officially lost all hope of bringing my mother back to the truth. If she could believe a person who told 30,573 lies is a credible source of information, nothing short of an act of god could even attempt to convince her to change her position. From our conversation, she implied a belief that government officials were barely short of all-knowing individuals, and that everything they said was either the truth, or deliberate misinformation meant to mislead the public. And since the narrative my mother had chosen to follow had already set clear sides, there is no uncertainty as to who the liars were always going to be.
My mother shut down any further attempts at reasoning. It became clear to me that the conspiracies my mother believes were no simple case of gross misinformation. She had picked her grains of truth – the satanic cabal and their evil plan to take over the world – and had spun her own religion from it. It was no longer a matter of proving or disproving facts; it was a belief system that she held, and information was accepted or rejected based on how it fit into her model. Accepted information was to be spread like the gospel, and she truly did spread it vigorously. Any valid challenge could at best hope to her discard one small piece of the puzzle, with the gap to be filled with the most versatile puzzle piece of all: “There’s something strange happening there,” she would say.
I had heard of conspiracy theorists before, but I would never have guessed that such theories would take root in my own family. I ignored it for months, allowing it to fester and grow. Perhaps I was hoping it would go away by itself. This is a dangerous notion, a notion that I strongly discourage in the event that any reader happens to find themselves in a similar situation.
Everyone would believe that their family is special, to some extent. I believe my family more special than most. Not everyone can relate to living in a household where conspiracy theory is preached as truth. I hope that after reading this article, you have found some insight into the dangers of the conspiracy spiral. As my professional writing lecturer, Professor Olby, said, “Conspiracy theories are not unlike a gateway drug.” Letting one in sets the precedent for how to deal with non-mainstream information, and each time you accept one mistruth, it becomes that much harder to reject the next one.
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Jadon Teo ponders how his normal Singaporean family become passionate supporters of Donald Trump, and loyal followers of Qanon
The post How American conspiracy theories invaded my family home in Singapore appeared first on The Skeptic.