Wissot: Riding with a QAnon enthusiast
I wasn’t expecting anything unusual to happen when my Lyft driver, Frank, picked me up at the Audi dealership in Littleton. I needed a ride back to my downtown Denver condo after dropping off my wife’s car for a routine service.
Frank seemed personable enough, asking me how my day was going when I got into the car. He appeared to be in his early 30s, although it was hard to tell because of the mask he was wearing, a Lyft mandate for all drivers and passengers.
In the course of exchanging pleasantries, I learned that he had moved to Colorado four years ago and was the father of a 6-year-old son. The conversation took a detour when I asked if any of his passengers had balked about the mask mandate. I was curious to learn if he had encountered any resistance. The answer he gave me set the tone for the remainder of our 10-mile and 30-minute drive in Denver traffic.
In Frank’s own words, he wasn’t a “big fan“ of being told to wear a mask by Lyft or anyone else. He thought the COVID-19 pandemic was exaggerated by the media in order to boost ratings. When I asked if he had been vaccinated, I was given an emphatic “no“ for an answer. He said he believed that the vaccines didn’t prevent the disease, but caused it.
At that point, I stopped asking Frank questions but that proved unimportant because he began sharing his opinions on a wide variety of topics. In short order, I learned that a cabal of liberal pedophiles were out to destroy the country and only Donald Trump could stop them; the 2020 election was stolen; Joe Biden wasn’t president, Donald Trump still was; Bill Gates’ purpose in promoting vaccinations for various diseases around the world was to depopulate the planet. How? You guessed it. By transmitting the diseases the vaccinations were falsely intended to cure.
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I was about to ask him where he got all this sensational information when he beat me to the punch by pulling out his phone and showing me an app called Telegram. It was all there for me to see: video after video of bizarre stories that I would have thought could only be found in the annals of Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not!”
When he pulled up in front of my condo, he had one last juicy tidbit to offer me.“You know,” he said, “JFK Jr. is still alive and about to make a triumphant return to public life.”
I replied I definitely didn’t know that while thanking him for the ride and the scoop. Little did I know that only a few weeks later, thousands of Frank’s conspiracy cohorts would assemble at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, site of JFK’s assassination, to witness his son’s reappearance for the purpose of announcing he planned to be Donald Trump’s running mate in 2024.
It would be easy to poke fun of Frank and the many million more like him. But what good would that do? My telling him he’s crazy would not cause him to change his beliefs. He would write me off as just another pedophile-loving liberal who hates this country and people like him.
The most disturbing part of my ride with Frank was his nonchalant demeanor. He was as matter of fact about the sensational information he was sharing with me on his Telegram app as he might have been in revealing his shopping list for City Market.
I asked myself in analyzing the experience if I would have had a different opinion of Frank had he spent the ride telling me about the haunted house he shared with ghosts and goblins. I probably would been just as shocked, but with one important exception: his incredulous story would have seemed fantasy-driven to me but not harmful to himself or anyone else.
There is real world harm that accompanies the acceptance of conspiracy craziness by QAnon followers. The disinformation spread on social media concerning the pandemic, the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection has blurred the boundaries between fact and fiction.
If we were fighting the Civil War in today’s truth-mangled society, almost half the country would believe that slavery never existed, Abraham Lincoln was a pervert, and the South won the war.
As it stands now, hundreds of thousands of Americans needlessly lost their lives to COVID because the deadliness of the virus was denied, mask wearing ridiculed, social distancing rules ignored, superspreader events held, getting vaccinated treated with contempt, and quack cures advanced.
The “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was tainted by fraud led us to the brink of a constitutional crisis in which the will of the voters was almost nullified by a band of rogue Republicans who refused to certify Joe Biden’s victory.
The Jan. 6 attempted coup was instigated by an amoral president who told his followers that he won the election and that they had a right to employ violence to secure his second term in office. The rioters who acted as common criminals were convinced that they were doing their patriotic duty in carrying out his commands.
Frank wouldn’t agree with my repudiation of his beliefs. He trusts what he reads on his Telegram app. How many Franks are there out there? How many more will be joining him in the future? I worry that the numbers may be far greater than I believed possible.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.