Last July, The Young Turks ran a story about a young man who had survived the Parkland school shooting in 2018. The survivor’s father, it appears, had since come to believe that his son was, of all things, a crisis actor. The young man, “Bill”, said that his father has succumbed to QAnon, that agglomeration of conspiracy theories.
Bill, who said his father picked up this idea from Marjorie Taylor Greene, shared this window into his current life:
He’ll say stuff like this straight to my face whenever he’s drinking: “You’re a real piece of work to be able to sit here and act like nothing ever happened if it wasn’t a hoax. Shame on you for being part of it and for putting your family through it too.”
What Cenk Uygur, TYT’s host, exclaimed was something I believe we all would thunder:
It’s your son! You know he’s not an actor! What is wrong with you?
This month, just two weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article about a different young man, one affected by the war in Ukraine. He and his wife and two very small children were caught up in the very first days of the war, trying to get out to safer ground. But the man was concerned, because why hadn’t his father back in Russia called to check on him? Surely he would be worried and want to know that his son was safe. So he called his father instead.
His father, to his unfathomable dismay, contradicted his son completely and said that the young man could not possibly be speaking the truth.
“There is a war, I’m his son, and he just doesn’t call,” Mr. Katsurin, who is 33, said in an interview. So, Mr. Katsurin picked up the phone and let his father know that Ukraine was under attack by Russia.
“I’m trying to evacuate my children and my wife — everything is extremely scary,” Mr. Katsurin told him.
He did not get the response he expected. His father, Andrei, didn’t believe him.
“No, no, no, no stop,” Mr. Katsurin said of his father’s initial response.
“He started to tell me how the things in my country are going,” said Mr. Katsurin, who converted his restaurants into volunteer centers and is temporarily staying near the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil. “He started to yell at me and told me, ‘Look, everything is going like this. They are Nazis. […] There are Russian soldiers there helping people. They give them warm clothes and food.’”
Again, my rejoinder is: This is your son! How do you take a dictator’s blandishments over your own flesh and blood’s first-hand take on what his happening? He knows in a way few of us will ever, by experience. How do you discount the experience of your own child?
I remember coming across an article some years ago about a man charged with second-degree murder in one of the Plains states (I believe it was Kansas, maybe Missouri), where he had walked into his barn and found a stranger in the act of raping his teenaged daughter. The man was acquitted, the jury saying in part that he was not guilty by reason of self-defense. In that case, it was defending oneself in the third person. Literally, the law saw the father and daughter as one.
In these two cases I mentioned above, it is as though the fathers have fundamentally disavowed themselves in a way that defies explanation. Rational explanation, anyway. Some people do not believe that brainwashing is a real thing, but the two stories are linked in just that way. Through the consumption of conspiracies and alternate realities, they have turned against their loved ones in favor of a story that fits what they want to believe.
In our fight against fascism and disinformation, I fear what the above portends for how our collective story all turns out. If people can be turned against themselves in the face of nearly irrefutable evidence, our margin of error shrinks and the day grows short.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.