During a debate on Sept. 26, 2016, future President Donald Trump said this about allegations that Russia had hacked Democratic National Committee computers: "I don't think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. ... I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?"

I've always thought Trump was right about that guy. It couldn't have been Trump himself, although he weighs closer to 400 pounds than the 240 he claims. Besides, neither Trump nor I have the requisite skills. But the bed is in a basement somewhere in the U.S., and the first name of the guy picking away at the keyboard, laughing maniacally, is Quincy.

This "Q" is not, as "Star Trek" geeks like our former mayor may suspect, an alien being who possesses, as Wikipedia has it, "immeasurable power over time, space, the laws of physics, and reality itself." Nor is it the guy who designed cool gadgets and vehicles for James Bond to destroy. This fellow posts far-right conspiracy theories under the pseudonym "QAnon." If anyone could find him, the victims lined up to sue him for libel would stretch a couple of times around the planet, and the cadre of lawyers at their disposal wouldn't be much shorter. QAnon cranks such outrageous falsehoods that, 20 years ago, he would've been laughed out of his own basement. Now, with huge swaths of the world population vulnerable to accepting anything they read on the internet as gospel, QAnon has been embraced as a kindly grandmother with a batch of warm oatmeal cookies and gentle advice.

I don't think anyone who reads a newspaper believes Bill Gates created the coronavirus so he could sell a vaccine. Ironically, Gates made himself vulnerable to such allegations through his own philanthropic efforts to get people in Third World countries vaccinated against diseases. I'm not here to defend tycoons like Bill Gates or George Kaiser or George Soros, but they should no more be victims of smear campaigns than the average citizen.

Newspapers are held to a high standard when it comes to truth and accuracy, and separating fact from opinion. Broadcast is, too, but to a lesser degree, since Ronald Reagan (see "Fairness Doctrine"). We can employ "fair comment and criticism," but that, too, has several layers. We have a right to criticize elected officials, and to a lesser degree, public figures, and on the bottom rung, private citizens. But criticism through opinion based on fact is one thing; libel is another. Reputable media will not lie or they will get sued. But purely online resources aren't held to the same standards. That's why people can get on their Facebook pages or blogs and say just about anything without fear of litigation. QAnon knows this, and he also understands at least a third of the U.S. population is gullible, and looking desperately for validation of their own innate beliefs, suspicions, and fears. Most of those people don't read newspapers, nor do they listen to broadcasts from reputable media. Even Fox, with its conservative tilt, is too respectable for QAnon quacks.

I had a friend whose favorite conspiracy is the one about Gates. I was flabbergasted and embarrassed when she kept advancing it, and I said, "Look, this is no way based in fact!" So did others, but she became agitated and yelled that eventually, "the truth will come out!" She said repeatedly, "I've done my research." I couldn't convince her that using disreputable sources doesn't qualify as research, nor is it research when you turn exclusively to left-leaning or right-leaning sources. And if you can't tell the difference, you are wallowing in the quicksand of self-denial.

This has nothing to do with intelligence, by the way. I know a brilliant man who has accepted some of these theories. He can do calculus, listens to symphonies, and has read the world's great literature. He has copies of "Mein Kampf and "Das Kapital," so he understands every political philosophy. But he is terrified the world he grew up in is about to change in ways he cannot accept. He thinks people of color will usurp white folks' rightful place in the social hierarchy. He sees a growing acceptance of LGBTQ people, which is against his faith. Although he pays lip service to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, he would prefer limitations on everything but Christianity, especially Islam. Unlike those in my son's generation, this guy doesn't have among his close circle of friends any appreciable number of Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ people, recent immigrants, disabled people, or frankly, outspoken women. Fear of "Other" has clouded his perceptions and closed his mind.

Everyone should read the Book of Acts and Saul, who later became Paul. As a child, I accepted him as a saint-like fellow, although Baptists don't have saints. Later, I dismissed him as a misogynist. I now see him as a flawed man trying to survive under an imperialistic system that would have cut him down if he did not adhere to its norms. He was trying to interpret as best he could the teachings of Jesus, and keep fledgling Christian communities together. Back then, these groups were tearing one another apart - just like we're doing today.

The Bible describes how Paul developed scales on his eyes and went blind for a few days. You can take this literally or as a metaphor, but either way, it's effective. A lot of people today are stumbling around with scales, demonizing anyone or anything they don't understand. As with Paul, they brought the blindness upon themselves through their stubborn resistance to truth. You don't have to be a Christian to believe the authentic teachings, centered on love, offer the best way to make it through life. Sadly, some of the best "Christians" I know are atheists, but they intuitively do what's right.

QAnon is evil. Wikipedia says "his" prime directive is "that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring is plotting against President Donald Trump, ... leading to a 'day of reckoning' involving the mass arrest of journalists and politicians." Anytime a civilization collapses, it's preceded by the churning of propaganda. And the first ones they attack are the "intelligentsia" - scientists, doctors, educators, et al - and the free press. With troublemakers like us out of the way, authoritarians can do whatever they want, and the masses will blindly follow, until the scales fall off their eyes. By then, though, it may be too late.

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