When Dylan Reeve set out to write a book on a topic he knows an awful lot about, he imagined the process would be easy. Seventy-thousand words later he is a chastened man.
I’ve been talking about conspiracy theories and the people that believe them for years, so it seemed natural to bring that together into a book to help others understand a little of what’s been going on.
I don’t know why I thought it would be easy, but somehow, when I first committed to the idea of writing a book — one that required a final word count in the region of 70,000 words — I just assumed, “sure, that should be easy enough.”
And it wasn’t even a book that required me to embark on a massive journey of research or new investigation. I was writing about things I was already familiar with – things I had been talking about and writing about for years. I needed to refresh my memory on some stuff, talk to people to better understand certain subjects, and dig deeper on topics I already knew about, but generally I felt like I was on solid ground.
But, it probably comes as no surprise to most, writing a book was hard. For me the first challenge was finding structure.
If you talk to almost anyone who knows me you’ll learn that I’m very happy to rabbit on for a seemingly limitless time about all sorts of conspiracy theories and adjacent topics. I’ll bounce from one claim to another, and recount inane details and suggestions. I’ll probably pull out my phone and bring up some YouTube video I have saved on one of many playlists.
That wasn’t going to translate especially well to a book (although the finished product certainly has aspects of that). Instead I needed to think about where I draw my boundaries and what I was trying to say.
Ultimately what I decided on for Fake Believe was that I wanted to make people (who hadn’t been peering into rabbit holes for two decades like I had) feel like they at least had a handle on what was going on in the world of conspiracy theory belief.
I thought often as I wrote of the many conversations I’ve had with friends, colleagues and relatives who have come to me over the years with some weird website or puzzling Facebook post and asked, “what’s the deal with this?”
During the Covid pandemic, and as I wrote more often on these topics for The Spinoff, this started happening more and more frequently. People suddenly saw old schoolmates and not-all-that-distant relatives posting bizarre claims about vaccines and global politics.
So it was with those things in mind that I set out, one word at a time, to create a book that would help people land in a place of, at least, informed understanding.
But once I started it was also then a question of when, or where, to stop. One theme I explore in the book is the lack of borders in conspiracy theory. Everything just sort of blurs together. If you pull at strings you often discover that the claims go something like this: Covid was a manufactured crisis to force people to take vaccines, which in conjunction with 5G technology form the basis of a population control plan, that is part of UN Agenda 2030, which is a facet of the globalist agenda to take over the world, including by manipulating world governments through the powers of the Deep State, who are also engaging in ritual child sacrifice, and that’s what Donald Trump and QAnon were fighting against… and so on.
A real difficulty with communicating the nature of conspiracy theory is actually distilling it and finding clear and concise examples of beliefs and claims. A feature common to so much online conspiracy content is that it is sprawling — videos are often hours long, and many theories are laid out over thousands of words and confusing images across multiple webpages on obscure sites. Other ideas unfold in jumbled threads on web forums and instant messaging apps. It can become a mission to locate succinct examples of widely accepted ideas in order to share.
Although in some cases you can stumble upon a literal PowerPoint slide that lays one claim out with neat bullet points, so that’s nice.
I was aiming to write mostly about the belief in conspiracy theory as it affects Aotearoa, but these ideas don’t respect geographic boundaries. Believers don’t limit their interests to this country, and the never-ending flow of conspiratorial content is truly international. And so, unavoidably, was much of what I wrote about.
One challenge I anticipated, but underestimated, was finding believers (and former believers) who would speak openly to me — my general position on this issue isn’t hard to learn by Googling me.
But I did find a few, and among them was Vinny Eastwood, the conspiracy theory YouTuber (well, former YouTuber now, he was banned from the platform) most widely known for his association with Billy TK. He is not quoted extensively in the book, but our frank and open discussion was broadly informative for me. Eastwood is intelligent, logical and analytical – he is a good example of the general fact that conspiracy theorists, despite what many are quick to assume, are not “stupid” or unwilling to think about their beliefs.
Politically, Eastwood and I probably have fairly similar views about the world in many ways, but we have reached very different conclusions about what causes the problems we see. I’m still not exactly sure how though. Like, I’m not sure what has led him to trust the sources and ideas he does, and more significantly, I’m not sure what’s prevented me from doing the same. When I stop to think about these ideas, I can very easily imagine an alternative universe, not far removed from this one, where I too am deeply suspicious of the Rothschild family and believe the US government was behind 9/11.
Ultimately I hope that readers of my book are able to see in themselves many of the same traits, biases and tendencies that have led conspiracy believers to reach the conclusions they have, because I don’t think any of us are immune to the fundamental emotional and intellectual quirks that have created conspiracy theorists out of some of our neighbours and relatives.
Eventually, after longer than I anticipated (and a little longer than my publisher had hoped) I reached what felt like the end for my book.
What I’ve written isn’t exhaustive — I’m not sure anything could be, and in the months since I hit save for the final time on my draft there have been countless developments, discoveries, claims and revelations that I’d like to have included — but I hope I have created something that makes readers feel more informed about what sometimes seems like a looming threat to the fabric of reality (spoiler: it probably isn’t as bad as we might assume).