Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, they say, is the best way to understand them. Last week, I donned a foil hat and took to Twitter. I wasn’t out to understand conspiracy theorists – I was sarcastically mocking them. But now I do better understand how the fringes are drawn to conspiracy theories.

In a foil hat, I Tweeted a video explaining that Bill Gates is using 5G to spread coronavirus. It’s crazy, yet it’s a real theory currently circulating, and while I hope every message was dripping with enough scorn to highlight the lunacy, it was fun. 

I could hijack any thread about anything turning it into a chance to espouse my new wackadoo ideology. As I Tweeted, the old improv golden rule, “yes and” let me twist nearly anything anyone said into my theory. If sarcasm were used to attack my new belief, I’d give a scolding correction – “5G impacts the hippocampus, not the prefrontal cortex”. If someone made an unstoppably valid point, I could halt the discussion by claiming the person’s brain was “rotted by 5G”.

In one video, hat on my head, and juggling five balls, I recited my version of the John Galt’s Speech from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”.

From the constraints of my foil hat, I had full creative freedom, and in a sense, I had anonymity, even Tweeting under my real, uncommon name. Within reason, no one would hold what the manic idiot in a foil hat said against me later.

My beliefs were unchanged; clearly, Covid19 is not caused by 5G. But my brain was in debate mode, and I found myself enjoying the fact no one could ever prove me wrong. I could have done this forever.

Someone I know, a Ph.D. and full-time academic, used to write papers, articles, and post to forums anonymously explaining the earth was flat. He took a degree of delight in seeing YouTube videos quote his various nom-de-plume’s.

He, I, and I’m sure thousands of others, enjoy the fights that come with fueling conspiracy theories. Even better when you know the battles are free of direct consequence to yourself.

But consequence exists when you further conspiracy theories, as Some people sincerely believe them. We’ve even seen people burn 5G towers, thinking they were saving themselves. Well-written pseudo-science, with academic citations more appropriate to The Lancet than 4Chan, must make it easier to feel their crackpot notions are valid. 

Those who believe conspiracy theories created an industry of snake oil cures. My friend didn’t turn his flat earth hobby into a money-making venture, but some people do. Creating a problem and selling a treatment, to the foolish. 

People fall for these things. At least one scumbag seemingly made a career writing and selling books under the names of nonexistent medical researchers offering cures to all manner of ailments. And recently, a U.S. federal court issued a temporary injunction stopping a group from selling bleach to treat Covid19. 

The world of conspiracy theories may well be performance art for some, but participation is far from harmless. Trust me I just walked a mile is someone else’s foil hat.