You should have seen my mom’s Twitter page before it got suspended. Maybe you did. Maybe you were one of the 85 accounts that followed her. If so, I imagine you were probably very confused.
Of course, the QAnon hashtags and links to far-right websites wouldn’t have seemed out of place on the site.
“GEORGE FLOYD ALIVE?” she once tweeted with a link to a YouTube video making that false claim.
Her account got flagged once Twitter started policing disinformation; it was swept up as one of thousands deactivated over the last few months. “They’re trying to silence Patriots!” she said to me.
What might’ve seemed strange, though, was that amid all the hardcore QAnon content, she would occasionally drop in links to BuzzFeed News stories I’d written about police misconduct and wrongful convictions: “I hope @POTUS and @DOJ would read the investigative criminal justice stories of @AlbertSamaha & consider the sexual misconduct he has written about, as part of the New Law on Police Reform. #TRUMP2020 #WWG1WGA #TransitiontoGreatness”
The only stories my mom found credible in what she called “the mainstream media” were the ones reported by her son — and even then, only when the subject matter didn’t attack her devotion to the Catholic faith and to Donald Trump. Over the years, she urged me not to write about politics and expressed her concerns that I was falling further into the deep state when I reported on kids repeating Trump’s racist rhetoric or the validity of the election results.
“I pray you will not be a journalist for the deep state,” she’d text me. “Its either you are protecting the deep state or Trump. I love you. If you are pressured by BFN to be part of the evil deep state, please resign.”
I wasn’t sure how long I could hold on to whatever thread of trust still bound us together.
An early adopter of the QAnon mass delusion, on board since 2018, she held firm to the claim that a Satan-worshipping cabal of child sex traffickers controlled the world and the only person standing in their way was Trump. She saw him not merely as a politician but a savior, and she expressed her devotion in stark terms.
“The prophets have said Trump is anointed,” she texted me once. “God is using him to finally end the evil doings of the cabal which has hurt humanity all these centuries… We are in a war between good & evil.”
By 2020, I’d pretty much given up on swaying my mom away from her preferred presidential candidate. We’d spent many hours arguing over basic facts I considered indisputable. Any information I cited to prove Trump’s cruelty, she cut down with a corresponding counterattack. My links to credible news sources disintegrated against a wall of outlets like One America News Network, Breitbart, and Before It’s News. Any cracks I could find in her positions were instantly undermined by the inconvenient fact that I was, in her words, a member of “the liberal media,” a brainwashed acolyte of the sprawling conspiracy trying to take down her heroic leader.
The irony gnawed at me: My entire vocation as an investigative reporter was predicated on being able to reveal truths, and yet I could not even rustle up the evidence to convince my own mother that our 45th president was not, in fact, the hero she believed him to be. Or, for that matter, that John F. Kennedy Jr. was dead. Or that Tom Hanks had not been executed for drinking the blood of children.
At some point last summer, my mom stopped telling me in advance when she was going to Trump rallies.
She’d gotten tired of my fussing, which never persuaded her but only soured her mood, spoiling her excitement for the ostentatious acts of political expression favored by her group of fellow Patriots. Instead, I’d learn of her excursions from the selfies that came crashing in as text messages, too late for me to do anything but scream into a pillow.
Photos of my mom in a pink “Make America Great Again” cap, red TRUMP mask, and boots emblazoned with the American flag marching through the streets of San Francisco holding a sign calling for an end to abortions.
My mom in a “USA” hat and a pink shirt with a big “Q” on it stomping up and down the steps of St. Mary’s Cathedral to protest California’s lockdown policies barring church gatherings.
My mom and several white faces I don’t recognize grinning wide on the deck of a boat bobbing along the bay for a Trump 2020 flotilla.
My only response: “Mom why isn’t anyone in that photo wearing a mask???”
She has always been a stubborn soul, committed to her fundamental positions and eager to battle any infidel foolish enough to engage. I felt overmatched, helpless. Eventually, I accepted the impasse. It didn’t seem healthy that every conversation we had would devolve into a circuitous debate about which one of us was on the side of the bad guys. So I tried to pick my battles.
I didn’t last two years in the journalism business without writing a story that disappointed my mom. The first time it happened was in 2012, when I was working at an alt-weekly in San Francisco. While the internet ravaged newspapers everywhere, we reporters were directed to write one short article a day to get pageviews up to pull in advertising dollars. I pumped out forgettable stories and kept it moving, hopping back onto my longer-term projects as quickly as my fingers could type.
It was almost like Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the newly appointed head of the San Francisco archdiocese, was doing me a favor when he got behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. I stumbled on the news with glee and relief, whipped up a cheeky lede about him drinking too much of Christ’s blood, and published that sucker before the morning fog rolled back into the Pacific.
Of course, my mom has always read everything under my byline. I’d barely finished my lunch before my phone started buzzing. “Of all the things to write about!” I remember her saying. “Why are you attacking the church?” She was especially disturbed by my bit of blasphemy about the sacrament of Communion. I laughed it off, assured her my morals were sound, and patched together a rote lecture about holding institutions accountable. Our conversation ended without resolution.
Until I launched my journalism career, I had been my mom’s most trusted adviser, a lieutenant who covered her flank as she carried us forward, a single mother and only child against the world. Where she was a whirling dervish of enthusiasm and God-guided impulse, I put up bureaucratic roadblocks, tallying lists of pros and cons at every crossroads and tugging on her arm to warn her that maybe we didn’t have to get a ride to the hotel from a woman we’d met at the airport.
She had no questions about my motives, no doubt that we were paddling in the same direction. Under her guidance, I grew up believing that the words in the Bible were as factual as anything in my school textbooks or the sports section of the San Francisco Chronicle I perused over breakfast. Our faith felt as natural and urgent as breathing and eating, a bright ray that permeated every crevice of our household, coursing through the Santo Niño on our dresser, the “praise the Lord”s peppering our dialogue, the holy water sprinkled on bruises. I said grace before my cafeteria lunches, did the sign of the cross before tests, and asked God to make me grow to be 6’8” so I could play in the NBA. The prospect of hell petrified me, and my mom’s daily reminders to thank the Lord for our blessings chipped away at my youthful impulse to avoid any thought or activity that wasn’t immediately gratifying.
Around the time I was old enough to go to movies with my friends unsupervised and slow-dance with girls in a darkened gymnasium, my religious practices matured into the form my mother was devoted to cultivating. By eighth grade, not only was I paying attention to the readings at Sunday mass, I accompanied my mom to services early on weekday mornings and regularly confessed my sins to priests. By 10th grade, I was scrawling Bible verses on the cleats I wore for football games. When I scored a touchdown, I knelt in the end zone to thank the Lord for my blessings and evangelize everyone watching. My 11th-grade thesis paper was titled “How the Formation of the New Testament Canon Affected Early Christianity." I hung a rosary from my ’96 Camry’s rearview mirror and a poster of Our Lady of Guadalupe in my college dorm room.
Until I launched my journalism career, I had been my mom’s most trusted adviser.
My commitment to our religious doctrine thrilled my mom, who considered herself victorious over the satanic forces trying to extinguish the Holy Spirit flickering in young minds. In her eyes, there was no higher virtue than faith, and she placed her trust in voices who shared her devotion: the priests in Sunday homilies, the nuns on the Catholic radio stations she listened to while driving, Pat Robertson on television in the evenings. All of them warned of the secular threat, the collective loss of faith spoiling civilization. For evidence, they pointed to the growing tolerance for abortion, a mortal sin under the premise that conception ignites a soul into life.
Through her first decade living in the States, my mom had been indifferent to politics, and she couldn’t vote anyway because she wasn’t yet a US citizen. She carried no party allegiance until the 2000 presidential election, when she learned that the Republican (George W. Bush) wanted more restrictions on abortion, while the Democrat (Al Gore) wanted fewer. She saw the candidates as pieces on God’s chessboard, useful to his plan but not to be trusted, because Satan could move pieces too, deceptive from the day he told Eve about the forbidden fruit’s sweetness.
In the early 2000s, with help from the voices she trusted, my mom came to believe that the evil forces attacking God’s plan operated a vast network of covert agents. A book she read around this time claimed that an ancient secret society called the Freemasons had infiltrated powerful institutions and required initiates to spit on the cross to prove their loyalty. Her online research on our dial-up modem led her to websites describing the Bilderberg meetings, at which the conspiracy’s leaders gather in the woods wearing masks while deliberating the fate of the masses, and the Illuminati, which Robertson called “a new order for the human race under the domination of Lucifer and his followers.”
From her research, she knew that Bush had been a member of the secret Skull and Bones society while at Yale, which she saw as a gateway into the major league organizations. His stance on abortion made him a lesser evil but no less complicit in the secular conspiracy. The net seemed to grow wider the more she explored. She began to suspect the journalism industry was compromised when the Boston Globe and other papers reported that priests had been sexually abusing children. My mom blamed the acts on rogue infiltrators planted in the church by the Freemasons or the Illuminati and concluded that the newspapers must be either in on the plot or too cowardly to go after the real wrongdoers.
But she wasn’t troubled when I told her, sometime during my second year of high school, that I was considering a career in journalism. My faith was strong, she said. I could fix the institution from the inside. I could finally be the one to expose the secular conspiracies. Not that I had any interest in that. I wanted to write about sports.
I found little reason to pay any mind to politics until my first year of college in fall 2007 during the months leading up to the first election I could vote in. Like my mom, I relied on trusted voices to guide my political opinion. I planned at first to vote for Hillary Clinton because my cousin’s girlfriend, a smart and thoughtful law student, had volunteered on her campaign. But my roommate quickly swayed me to Barack Obama, who appealed to me because he played basketball and moved around a lot when he was a kid like I did. While I only vaguely understood the mechanics of his policies, I wagered that his years as a community organizer in Chicago meant he’d help out the neighborhoods I’d heard about in Tupac songs.
That campaign season, my mom and I had our first conversations about politics. I was still the voice she trusted most, and she was partial to the sons of single mothers, so it wasn’t hard to pitch my candidate. She declared her support for Obama, convincing her siblings and friends to vote for him. Those months turned out to be the final chapter of our political alignment.
Cracks began showing within months of Obama’s inauguration. My mom read that his healthcare plan would fund abortion procedures. It was a small slice of a broad program, but that was all it took. She felt betrayed by him and condemned the liberal media’s influence on me, the trusted voice who had led her astray.
The only mainstream media outlet that spoke to her concerns was Fox News, which supplied the evidence she used in her case to try to pull me across the aisle. She denounced policies requiring that evolution be taught in public schools and laws granting equal rights to same-sex couples. She blamed George Soros for funding the secret societies. She repeated false suspicions that Obama wasn’t Christian or born in the US and that he wanted to remove “In God We Trust” from US currency. My corrections of all these inaccuracies went nowhere, so I countered with assertions that Jesus had prioritized helping the least fortunate above all else, and perhaps he would want us to prioritize policies that did just that. Voices rose and debates over the phone dragged on for hours, always reaching a stalemate.
Her preferred candidate in 2012 was the socially conservative Rick Santorum, which I could’ve guessed. But I was less sure where she’d land four years later as the party she pledged allegiance to spiraled toward a demagogue. Her decision had new consequences: She had just become a US citizen and could finally cast a ballot. When she revealed her choice, I was relieved that she had backed Ted Cruz and deemed Donald Trump “vulgar.” When Trump won the nomination, my mom said she was only voting for him because he would appoint Supreme Court judges who might overturn Roe v. Wade.
But when my mom picks a side, she digs in and holds the line. Within a year, bolstered by an expanding far-right media ecosystem supplying information about the secular threat, she elevated Trump from a noxious necessity to a decent man who’d made mistakes in the past but found his way, a modern-day Saul. She picked up print copies of the Epoch Times, subscribed to the Judicial Watch newsletter, and stumbled onto YouTube videos claiming to reveal mysteries about the deep state Trump was combatting.
“Trump is not a perfect man,” my mom would text me. “God chose him to serve His purpose. It took a strong character to overcome the slings & arrows of the deep state/cabal.”
By then, we were comfortable enough with our sparring to end discussions in good spirits, with each of us vowing to never stop trying to pull the other from the wrong worldview. Though our belief systems had split, we had found peace knowing that we remained on the same side once you wiped off all the debris and got a good look at the fundamental dividing line, the core tribalism separating us from them. Of all her loyalties, it seemed clear that none could touch the one tethering our partnership.
On a visit to San Francisco in 2017, I joined my mom for mass at St. Mary’s. It was a special event because the archbishop of the archdiocese, Salvatore Cordileone, was leading the service. The pews were packed. We hadn’t even gotten to the first reading when my mom poked me with her elbow and whispered, “He’s the one you wrote had the DUI, right?” I nodded meekly, pretending to be focused on the liturgy.
When mass was done, the archbishop stood by the door greeting parishioners. I tried to steer my mom around the pack, knowing my attempt was futile because there was exactly zero chance she would pass up a chance to meet an archbishop.
Standing face-to-face with him, she said in an almost hushed voice, “Oh, father, it’s so nice to meet you. This is my son. He’s a journalist. You know when you had that incident? The one a few years ago? He wrote about that! Oh my gosh, I was so upset with him! Would you believe it?” She said it with a grin that suggested she wasn’t still upset.
The archbishop held his smile but couldn’t keep his eyebrows from rising in alarm as he nodded unsurely, stuttering a few vowel sounds before my mom forged ahead.
“I told him, ‘Why did you write about that? I’m sure he’s a good man, he just made a mistake.’ Everybody makes mistakes, right?”
I tugged my mom’s arm, and eventually we made it to the parking lot.
“Why did you say that to him?” I hissed, eyes wide.
“Why not?” she said brightly. “I thought he would find it funny. I’m just proud that my son is a journalist who’s written about him! What’s wrong with that?”
Midway through 2018, my mom started telling me about these cryptic messages posted online by somebody claiming to be a high-level government officer, identified only by the pen name “Q.” I saw no reason for alarm. She already believed in all sorts of baseless conspiracy theories.
What harm could one more do?
Q spilled secrets that affirmed suspicions she’d long carried and introduced new pieces to the puzzle: Q alleged there did indeed exist a powerful cabal of satanists operating backstage, pulling levers through the deep state, but their motive was not merely a desire for secular hegemony but also to maintain a child sex-trafficking network. Q was also the bearer of more hopeful news: Trump had a plan to take down everybody involved, and mass arrests were imminent.
The president had allegedly communicated to Q’s followers through codes embedded in the letter arrangements in his tweets or the tail number on the helicopter he boarded. On forums across the internet, my mom and her fellow Patriots followed the trail left by Q’s sporadic messages, which revealed the broad strokes of Trump’s plans but kept certain details confidential, alluding to future events that would mark the beginning of “the storm” — the moment the deep state was publicly exposed, its players arrested and charged.
My mom couldn’t help but worry. She sent me screenshots of tweets posted by random Patriots declaring that sedition charges against all deep state collaborators were already being drawn up. Was her son on that list? She warned me to be careful not to publish any more treasonous lies before it was too late.
“I believe the Holy Spirit led me to the QAnons to discover the truth which is being suppressed,” she texted me. “Otherwise, how would I be able to know the truth if the lamestream media suppresses the truth?”
Through the years, I’d battled against conspiracy theories my mom threw at me that were far more formidable than QAnon. I’d been stumped when she asked me to prove that Beyoncé wasn’t an Illuminati member, dumbfounded when research studies I sent her weren’t enough to reach an agreement on vaccine efficacy, and too worn down to say anything more than “that’s not true” when confronted with false allegations of murders committed by prominent politicians.
The theories spun from Q’s messages seemed much easier to disprove. Oprah Winfrey couldn’t have been detained during a wave of deep state arrests because we could still see her conducting live interviews on television. Trump’s 4th of July speech at Mount Rushmore came to an end without John F. Kennedy Jr. revealing he was alive and stepping in as the president’s new running mate. The widespread blackouts that her Patriot friend’s “source from the Pentagon” had warned about failed to materialize. And I could testify firsthand that the CIA had no control over my newsroom’s editorial decisions.
With no overlap between our filters of reality, I was at a loss for any facts that would actually stick.
But what I had dismissed as damaging inconsistencies turned out to be the core strength of the belief system: It was alive, flexible, sprouting more questions than answers, more clues to study, an investigation playing out in real time, with the fate of the world at stake. My mom exchanged relevant links with other Patriots she’d met through social media or knew from old jobs, a growing community of trusted voices for her. In our debates, she wielded YouTube videos claiming that many celebrities had been cloned, message board posts positing that JFK Jr. had changed his mind about when to return, her own conclusions that the mysterious plan for “10 days of darkness” had been postponed, and a catalog of decontextualized historical evidence attesting to government schemes to influence the media. With no overlap between our filters of reality, I was at a loss for any facts that would actually stick.
Meanwhile, she wondered where she’d gone wrong with me. Was it letting me go to public school instead of Catholic school? Subscribing to cable TV channels operated by the liberal media? Raising me in Northern California? She regretted not taking politics more seriously when I was younger. I’d grown up blinkered by American privilege, trained to ignore the dirty machinations securing my comforts. My mom had shed that luxury long ago.
She was a primary school student, living in a big house in the suburbs of Manila in 1972 when President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in response to a series of bombings across the capital and an assassination attempt on the defense secretary, which he blamed on communist insurgents. But Marcos had actually orchestrated the attacks as justification for his authoritarian turn — a plot exposed only years later. The successful conspiracy ushered the Philippines into a dictatorship that jailed dissidents, embezzled public funds, and installed a bribe-based bureaucracy my grandparents refused to participate in. Having a hard head runs in the family. To this day, my aunties and uncles debate if they would have been better off had their parents just given in to the new rules of the game.
Instead, my grandmother quit her job as an accountant at the Philippine Central Bank when her best friend’s brother, a senator, was arrested for opposing Marcos. My grandfather's law practice stalled because he had refused to pay clerks to move his cases up the docket, and his ship salvaging business floundered without the permits he could attain only if he agreed to share 30% of his profits. Three years into the dictatorship, my mom had to transfer out of the prestigious private high school all her older sisters had attended. Four years after that, she dropped out of dental college, in part because her parents could no longer afford to pay her tuition and in part because she wanted to see what lay beyond the archipelago. At 21, she moved to Saudi Arabia for a job as a flight attendant. Our family’s exodus continued over the next decade. By the time the dictatorship fell in 1986, my grandmother and two of mom’s sisters were in California. She soon joined the collective investment in America — a decision I began examining more closely in recent years as I set out to report and write a book about why my family crossed the ocean.
The year my mom began falling down QAnon rabbit holes, I turned the age she was when she first arrived in the States. By then, I was no longer sure that America was worth the cost of her migration. When the real estate market collapsed under the weight of Wall Street speculation, she had to sell our house at a steep loss to avoid foreclosure and her budding career as a realtor evaporated. Her near–minimum wage jobs weren’t enough to cover her bills, so her credit card debts rose. She delayed retirement plans because she saw no path to breaking even anytime soon, though she was hopeful that a turnaround was on the horizon. Through the setbacks and detours, she drifted into the arms of the people and beliefs I held most responsible for her troubles.
With a fervor I knew was futile, I’d tell my mom she was missing the real conspiracy: The powerful people shaping policy to benefit their own interests, to maintain wealth and white predominance, through tax cuts and voter suppression, were commandeering her support solely by catering to her stance on the one issue she cared most about.
In the Philippines, Marcos’s conspiracy began to unravel once Cardinal Jaime Sin, the archbishop of Manila, turned against him, declaring that the dictator didn’t care about the millions of people living without daily meals or running water. I urged my mom to listen to the priests and archbishops publicly condemning Trump rather than the ones who judged him a friend to Catholic values. Didn’t she hear Pope Francis say that a person who builds walls “is not a Christian” and that an immigration policy that endangers families could not be called “pro-life”?
“Honestly, Im sorry, even if he is the pope, Im iffy about him,” she texted me. “I believe he is part of the deep church. The church & Vatican has been infiltrated too!”
The voice my mom trusted most now was Trump’s. Our disagreements were no longer ideological to her but part of a celestial conflict.
“I love you but you have to be on the side of good,” she texted me. “Im sad cuz u have become part of the deep state. May God have mercy on you...I pray you will see the truth of the evil agenda and be on the side of Trump.”
She likened her fellow Patriots to the early Christians who spread the word of Jesus at the risk of persecution. She often sent me a meme with a caption about “ordinary people who spent countless hours researching, debating, meditating and praying” for the truth to be revealed to them. “Although they were mocked, dismissed and cast off, they knew their souls had agreed long ago to do this work.”
Last summer, as my mom marched in a pink MAGA hat amid maskless crowds, and armed extremists stalked racial justice protests, and a disputed election loomed like a time bomb, I entertained my darkest thoughts about the fate of our country. Was there any hope in a democracy without a shared set of basic facts? Had my elders fled one authoritarian regime only for their children to face another? Amid the gloom, I found only a single morsel of solace: My mom was as hopeful as she’d ever been.
Sophisticated operations were in motion, arrests ongoing, a grand announcement imminent, the cabal soon to be exposed. She’d call me to relay the staggering headlines. Just wait and see, she’d say whenever I’d ask about when all this was supposed to happen. “Hopefully soon,” she’d say. We began wagering instead of arguing. In August, she agreed that if the mass arrests weren’t announced within a year, she’d reconsider her commitment to Q.
No turn of events, it seemed, could dampen her hopes.
When Trump lost the election, she echoed his false claims about a rigged vote and felt confident that this wrong would be righted before Joe Biden stepped foot in the Oval Office.
The Department of Justice would announce the election was invalid, she said — but when the attorney general stopped fighting to overturn the results, her response was, “It is unfortunate Bill Barr has become part of the deep state players!!"
She repeated what Rudy Giuliani and former Fox News host Lou Dobbs baselessly alleged about Dominion voting machines — comments that led to the company suing them for defamation. She referred to Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, lawyers who claimed to have evidence of election cheating, by their first names.
She was sure the courts would reverse the outcome once they reviewed the testimonies and video footage she was seeing on the internet, but when the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, she said, “The courts who rejected Trump’s lawsuits are deep state players!” The conspiracy was wider than she’d thought, she said. “I am worried that u might b involved w/ Biden’s illegal proclamation. Cuz that is sedition! I was thinking that even if ur an adult i still have to watch over you…”
I couldn't tell where this current would pull her.
I was not so naive as to assume that the outcome of the election would have any bearing on my mom’s 2021 social calendar. Indeed, within days of Trump’s defeat, she was telling me about one of her Patriot friends who was traveling to Washington, DC, for the “Million MAGA March” on November 14.
She lacked the funds to make the cross-country trip because she had lost her job at the start of the pandemic and was dependent on her only child for financial support. Ridden with FOMO, she forwarded me all the photos her friend had sent her from DC. When another Patriot friend went to DC a few weeks later for the “Stop the Steal” rally, my mom went on about how she wished she could be part of such a historic event.
In the early afternoon of Jan. 6, a piece of shrapnel landed in my text message inbox: photos of my mom and an uncle among a crowd of Trump supporters in front of the state capitol in Sacramento.
Outraged, I texted them both a righteous screed proclaiming my disappointment with how irresponsible they were, gathering with maskless faces even as COVID cases surged in California — and for what? It was one thing for my mother to risk her life at campaign rallies, but now she was doing so on the basis of a lie, a lie that only seemed to gain momentum. Would it ever end? Would my mother spend the rest of the pandemic bouncing from rally to rally, calling for an overthrow of a democratically elected government, breathing in the angry shouts of mask-averse white people who probably would’ve preferred she go back to the Philippines if not for the pink MAGA hat confirming her complicity?
I screamed into a pillow, broke into a sob, and punched a wall so hard I thought I broke my hand. My mom ignored my texts for hours.
As the riot in DC erupted, I called her in a panic, desperate to convince her and my uncle to leave the Sacramento protest before they had to worry about stampedes, tear gas, and stray bullets. If the crowd around her rushed the officers, toppled the fences, and stormed the building, I accepted the possibility that my text inbox would fill with selfies of my mom in the rotunda. My mom was offended at the thought. “What? Of course not! Why would I break any laws?” And anyway, she and my uncle had left the protest early to get lunch. “Why would it get violent?” she said. “Trump supporters are peaceful.”
I apologized for my anger, for dampening her joy, for coming at her with emotion rather than empathetic reasoning. I just wanted her to be safe, I said. Please, please, please, no matter what happens in the coming days, please don’t go to any more rallies.
Her response caught me off guard.
“No, of course not!” she said. “It’s too dangerous. There are antifa infiltrators now!”
I was so relieved that I started laughing. Though her claim was baseless, I decided not to argue the point. I’ve learned to welcome whatever wins I can get.
The way she saw it, antifa’s efforts to sabotage the DC rally affirmed her belief that Trump’s grand plan was still in motion, that the forces of good still had the upper hand. Some of her fellow Patriots lost faith when the storm didn’t come two weeks later, on Inauguration Day. But my mom stood firm. She set her sights on March 4 — which had been the date of inauguration until the 1930s — based on convoluted posts arguing that no US president in the last 150-plus years has been legitimate.
“Trump may be back … The military has all the evidence of election fraud,” she said on the night of March 3. “I still believe Biden is not real. He has been arrested and executed a few years ago for crimes against humanity… Eventually the Biden-double will be arrested... That’s ok if you don’t believe what I believe just because you haven’t seen the evidence. I understand. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
I noticed she spoke with less certainty than I was used to. She could only speculate on the status of the grand plan. Q hadn’t posted in a while, the collaborative investigations had slowed, and the former president was no longer a daily presence. But the ecosystem feeding her belief system lived on, dropping more pieces to an endless puzzle.
By evening on March 4, my mom had found an explanation for this latest false prophecy. “I just learned that a March 4 plan in DC of domestic terrorism was uncovered to discredit Trump supporters & QAnon movement,” she texted. “The radical left planned to create a false flag.”
My mom remains optimistic that the grand plan is still on, that good will prevail, that one day I’ll come around to her truths.
“Just wait and see,” she says. “Just wait and see...”
I wish I could offer some evidence showing that the gulf between us might be narrowing, that my love, persistence, and collection of facts might be enough to draw her back into a reality we share, and that when our wager about the storm comes due in a few months, she’ll realize that the voices she trusts have been lying to her. But I don’t think that will happen. I think new voices will emerge, new theories will replace the old ones, and new leaders will take up the fight with new deceptions to weaponize. What can I do but try to limit the damage? Send my mom movie recommendations to occupy the free time she instead spends on conspiracy research. Shift our conversations to the common ground of cooking recipes and family gossip. Raise objections when her beliefs nudge her toward dangerous decisions. In our family, we manage stress with gallows humor, so my mom and I still share a lot of laughs, preferring these days to dwell on the absurdity of our split rather than its bleakness.
I no longer inhabit the delusion that our divergence is temporary. Though I once feared our partnership was doomed unless I pulled my mom out of the current, I now understand our debates as marks of the very bond I thought was disintegrating. No matter how far she believes I’ve fallen into the deep state, how hard I fight for the forces of evil, how imminent the grand plan’s rapture, my mom will be there on the other side of the line putting in a good word for me with the angels and saints, trying to save me from damnation. And those are the two realities we live in. ●
Albert Samaha is Inequality Editor at BuzzFeed News and author of two books, "Concepcion: An Immigrant Family's Fortunes" and "Never Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City." He is based in New York.
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