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Journalist On What It's Like To Date A Conspiracy Theorist

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This week, organizers for the Republican National Convention removed one of the scheduled speakers from the program after she retweeted a thread promoting an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory with ties to QAnon. That's a far-right movement that is based on a bizarre conspiracy theory. But that's just the latest example of how false information and bizarre conspiracy theories are seeping into the country's political discourse.

And with something that's becoming so pervasive, it seems inevitable that it would also seep into people's personal relationships. That's why we've called Trent Kay Maverick. She wrote a piece in The Washington Post recently called "I'm Dating A Conspiracy Theorist, But It Feels Like I'm The One Going Crazy." And she's with us now.

Trent, thanks so much for joining us.

TRENT KAY MAVERICK: Hi. Thanks, Michel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So you were saying in your piece that you've been dating your guy for a while - super-nice guy - but that these beliefs, tendencies, et cetera, emerged right after March, when you all decided to - what? - quarantine together.

MAVERICK: I actually found out about this pretty much the week before quarantine happened. We had been, you know, pretty much dating kind of casually for about four months, and we were both a little drunk, and this kind of slipped out that he was maybe into these conspiracy theories. And the lockdown pretty much happened that week (laughter), so it was - everything happened all at once.

MARTIN: So what clued you in to this?

MAVERICK: I mean we were talking about politics. We were - Super Tuesday had just happened. And I was a Bernie supporter, and he was not, and I knew that. And he started saying these things about how, you know, he'd read this and that about Bernie Sanders, and he was kind of into some dark stuff that if I knew that about him, I wouldn't support him.

So I pressed him on this. I wasn't really sure what he had been reading. And, yeah, it came out that he had been reading all sorts of things - not just about Bernie but about Hillary, about pretty much every conspiracy that you can think of. That first night, he was telling me all sorts of stuff. You know, the Secret Service shot JFK, the Titanic sinking was masterminded by J.P. Morgan. It was just, you know, thing after thing after thing. Yeah, just a whole little universe of conspiracies that I was not aware of.

MARTIN: So you said in your piece that your gut told you to run, but you didn't. And why do you think you didn't?

MAVERICK: Yeah. Man, that's a really good question (laughter). So, I mean, when I first found out about this, I was devastated. You know, I think my first thought was, well, this has been fun, but this is over.

But then I started reaching out to people and, you know, people that I trusted to talk to them about this - you know, my mother, obviously, who comes up in the essay that I wrote, and also some friends. And kind of one by one, the responses that I got from friends were basically some shade of, what's the big deal? You know, he has a different opinion than you do. So what?

MARTIN: But let me say a little bit more about what some of the beliefs are that your significant other are expressing. You said, one time, bent over a puzzle of the Golden Gate Bridge, he informed me the global elite traffic in human flesh and blood. And he explained how famous people kidnap children, then torture them to death to harvest chemical adrenaline from their veins. The punchline is they drink it.

It's real, he insisted. Hunter S. Thompson exposed it in "Fear And Loathing." And you point out that Hunter Thompson was high out of his mind when he wrote that. But you...

MAVERICK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: But you also point out that a lot of these are anti-Semitic tropes. I mean, you point out that this is what they said about Jews and the blood of Christian babies.

MAVERICK: Right.

MARTIN: And so...

MAVERICK: Right.

MARTIN: Some of these theories - and I'm doing air quotes here - really originate in some vile anti-Semitic, racist beliefs about other people.

MAVERICK: Right.

MARTIN: And so does that concern you? Or do you just - does he not see the connection?

MAVERICK: You know, it's funny because I think my view and your view and the view of people who kind of live in, you know, a certain sort of established reality is, wow. Like, all of these views are kind of rooted in xenophobia and, you know, anti-other sentiment. But that's totally not the way that he sees it. You know, he sees it as, the media has been lying to me my entire life, and I'm just trying to assert some level of control and autonomy by essentially being a citizen detective and a citizen journalist and trying to uncover the truth for myself.

For him, it's not about hating Jews or hating other people. It's about, you know, kind of sticking it to the media and sticking it to the government. That's really what that's about.

MARTIN: And so what's good about him again?

(LAUGHTER)

MAVERICK: I mean, you know...

MARTIN: I'm sorry.

MAVERICK: Yeah, I mean...

MARTIN: Your mom's not here, so I have to ask.

MAVERICK: Yeah. I mean, what do I like about him?

MARTIN: Yeah.

MAVERICK: I mean, you know, he's sweet. We have a great time together. He's a good listener. He's curious about what's going on in my life. And, you know, I'm not saying that conspiracies are a good thing. But I've just been thinking a lot this year in ways that I often don't about my own reality and, you know, why is it that I believe certain things?

And, you know, do I trust something that Joe Biden says just because he's a Democrat, and so am I? And what does that mean - that I automatically place my trust in certain people? It's just really made me question just how I exist in the world because we're having these conversations all the time.

MARTIN: So let's say - forgive me for doing this to you because, like I say, your mom's not here, so I get to be...

MAVERICK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...The one. Let's say you down the road have children together, OK?

MAVERICK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: What about the vaccinations? I mean, they're - one of the real-world consequences of these conspiracy theories is that people aren't vaccinating their kids. And there have been terrible outbreaks of diseases that have been all but eradicated in some parts of the country because of this. And this is in an affluent country. So how does this play out?

MAVERICK: So, I mean, I think it's just an interesting question in general. Like, what are the real-world impacts of this, and how do they manifest themselves? And one, you know, kind of a shade of response that I got to this essay was friends basically getting in contact with me and saying, you know, does he have a gun? Does he have a bunker somewhere? I mean, is he the sort of person who's going to, like, jump in his truck and, you know, go shoot up a pizza parlor, for example?

And, I mean, it's kind of funny to respond to those questions because it's, like, we have this idea of what it means to be a conspiracy theorist and what those people look like and what they are like. And I can tell you, I was dating one for four months and didn't know it. I mean, we're surrounded by people in our social circles and in our families who believe these things, and we might not even know it.

And the threat of, you know, conspiracy theorists out there who are going to not vaccinate their kids, who are going to shoot up pizza parlors, who are going to be violent, who are going to be militant I think is somewhat overblown. And maybe that's because we're underestimating just how many people buy into this.

MARTIN: That was journalist Trent Kay Maverick. She recently wrote a piece for The Washington Post detailing her quarantine dating a nice boyfriend who nevertheless adheres to some interesting conspiracy theories.

Trent Kay Maverick, thanks so much for talking to us.

MAVERICK: Thanks so much for having me, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.