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Around the time of the 2020 presidential election, a family member of sociologist Christopher T. Conner became subsumed in the QAnon conspiracy.

Wanting to learn more about how this indoctrination could have happened, Conner started exploring internet spaces populated by adherents. He found something surprising: Many of the beliefs touted by QAnon were being embraced by fans of the jam band Phish, psychics and yogis.

It might seem jarring to see counterculture fandoms and practices falling into violent, outlandish conspiracies. But it turns out that an openness to what scholars call stigmatized knowledge – beliefs that exist outside the mainstream – can make you more amenable to ones that are decidedly more sinister.

The more you learn about Conner’s work, the more findings like the fact that 8% of self-identified Democrats believe that Satan-worshipping pedophiles control the U.S. government start to make a bit more sense.

“Most researchers have understood conspiracy theories and alternative beliefs as being a product of poor education,” Conner writes. “But recent research has found that support for them exists regardless of educational level or income.”

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Nick Lehr

Arts + Culture Editor

Former NBA player Royce White addresses a crowd after the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright in April 2021. Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via Getty Images

What QAnon supporters, butthole sunners and New Age spiritualists have in common

Christopher T. Conner, University of Missouri-Columbia

New Age beliefs, alternative wellness practices and political conspiracies all fall under the umbrella of stigmatized knowledge, which can be attractive to anyone, no matter their political leanings.

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