'Your cousin was always a wackadoo, I'm sorry': Conspiracy expert bluntly explains that QAnon believers are nothing new or special
Via Sandy Huffaker/AFP

In an interview with Rolling Stone's Alex Morris, political scientist Joseph Uscinski -- co-author of "American Conspiracy Theories" -- claimed that the QAnon movement that sees the "Deep State" behind any news that disturbs their worldview are nothing new in a country that has long tolerated a minority of people with beliefs that are odds with reality.

While not downplaying how dangerous QAnon believers can be, as the Jan 6th insurrection that led to deaths and destruction showed, Uscinski explained that QAnon isn't turning people into conspiracy kooks -- it is just reaching people who are susceptible to its lure of hidden, and generally bogus, information.

Taking up the question of whether conspiracy theories can take any person down a rabbit hole of misinformation and obsession, Uscinski claimed one has to be predisposed to leave the real world behind.

In his interview with Morris, the political scientist explained, "A typical conversation [I have] with a journalist would be something like: 'Hey, Joe, I saw this new conspiracy theory on Twitter and I'm freaked out about it because everyone's going to see it and everyone's going to believe it and that's going to be bad.' And I say, 'Well, did you see it?' And they say, 'Yeah.' And I say, 'So you must believe it then.' And they say, 'No.' And I say, 'Well, what makes you so f*cking special? What magic shield, what superpowers do you have that protect you?'"

He then added, "People have a bunch of psychological characteristics — some good, some not so good. They have worldviews and identities. Those drive the conspiracy beliefs. So if somebody is sort of sociopathic, then they're going to seek out ideas that are themselves sort of sociopathic."

Explaining that different conspiracy theories attract and then trigger different types of people, Uscinski added that he is amused when people claim a close associate or family member suddenly became obsessed with the conspiracy theory du jour, saying it was always there beneath the surface.

"Some conspiracy theories feel different precisely because they are different. And what we find is that some conspiracy theories — like Holocaust denial, saying that nobody died at Sandy Hook, things like that — they attract a different sort of person. And what we find on surveys is that those types of conspiracy theories, they appeal to people who have higher levels of psychopathy and narcissism," he explained before elaborating, "I mean, there's this style of reporting that's been out for a while, like, 'My cousin became a QAnon and now I don't know what to do.' These articles always start off with: 'My cousin used to be so normal.' What's really going on is the cousin was never normal or you just didn't pay attention to the cousin and he was probably weird but you didn't have a word to put on that."

He added, "But then you hear 'QAnon' in the news. Now you can categorize what your cousin is doing as something. You're like, 'Oh, my God, this thing just happened to him.' Well, no, it didn't just happen. Your cousin was always a wackadoo. I'm sorry."

"A lot of the coverage is saying, 'QAnon is big and getting bigger and it's far right.' None of those things are true. I've been polling on QAnon for three years — more than anyone else," he explained. "And that's what we find in our analyses, largely that QAnon is driven by people who just hate the entire establishment. I mean, when you watch the followers, these aren't normal Republican people. They're not conservative in any meaningful way. These are people who want to tear down the system because they feel alienated from it."

"That's the good news: It's small and not growing," he added before issuing a caveat. "The bad news is that a lot of the ideas it adopted are fairly popular. It's just we haven't paid attention. When we asked things [in polls] about views of child sex trafficking, people vastly overestimate how big it is in this country. When we ask about elite involvement in sex trafficking, people vastly overestimate that. So there are a lot of beliefs out there that are fairly widespread. But they're not QAnon. They're just ideas that QAnon adopted."

Uscinski also said journalists need to dial back their outrage and incredulity when confronted with the latest QAnon talking point.

"QAnon sort of created a little game, like: 'Here's clues; go figure them out.' So it's sort of like a decentralized cult, and it's got activities baked into it. 'Ooh, here's some garbled language. Go decode.' That's sort of new. But the theories themselves were not particularly new. Almost everything was old — some of it decades old; some of it was millennia old. And the news journalists covering it were freaking out like, 'Oh my God, they think that there's a deep state full of pedophiles working against the president,'" he stated before adding, "There's nothing new there. It's incredibly boring."

You can read more of Alex Morris' interview here -- subscription required.