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Journalist 'Survived' Post-Election With Conspiracy Theorist Boyfriend

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to return to a subject that we've addressed before but which has returned with full force in recent days, and that is the reality that Americans are, in fact, living in different realities. And it's become very clear that conspiracy theories shared online and from the highest elected offices are informing many Americans' sense of the world.

We wanted to talk more about why that is and what effect this is having on the country and on relationships, so we've called Trent Kay Maverick. We spoke with Trent last year after she wrote an article in The Washington Post about navigating her relationship with her boyfriend, who, she discovered, believes in some of these conspiracies, such as those espoused by QAnon. And Trent Kay Maverick is with us once again.

Trent, thanks so much for coming back on. Welcome.

TRENT KAY MAVERICK: Thanks so much for having me on the show again, Michel. I really appreciate it.

MARTIN: So just to remind folks who may not have heard our first conversation, you and your boyfriend, your significant other - you didn't really realize he had some of these views before you actually started quarantining together. Would that be right?

MAVERICK: Oh, yeah. It was a bit of a dropped bomb right before quarantine started. We'd been together about four months. I suspected we had somewhat divergent politics. But the full force of the conspiracy undertones was not made apparent to me until - yeah, the week before we went into quarantine together. So that was a shock.

MARTIN: And what was some of the theories or beliefs that he holds - which, frankly are QAnon...

MAVERICK: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Beliefs? I mean, I saw them. So I don't know if he identifies as a QAnon follower. I don't know if he sees himself as a follower of any particular group or a part of any particular group. But what were some of the theories that he espoused that you came to understand that he holds?

MAVERICK: Yeah. I mean, he definitely identifies with QAnon, you know, follows the QAnon message boards and is part of QAnon communities online. And to the best of my understanding, I mean, the underpinnings of QAnon are that the deep state is kind of out to undermine President Trump. And President Trump, meanwhile, is trying to dismantle the super-secret, high-powered cabal of child-raping satanic pedophiles that, you know, is mostly made up of high-ranking liberals and Hollywood elites. So that is my understanding of the underpinnings of QAnon.

MARTIN: What was the election season like for you?

MAVERICK: Oh, we survived it (laughter). I think we kind of came to an understanding to not talk about politics as much, particularly in the ramp-up to the election. I can tell you I was all jazzed about going over there on election night and watching election returns with him. And he was, like, you know, I think I'm going to do that on my own. I'm going to have a private moment. He was joking that he wanted to put a Trump-Pence sign in his window but thought that his roommates would probably kill him, so (laughter) it was quite a season.

MARTIN: So I take it you two are still together.

MAVERICK: We are still together, you know? We're making it happen. And, you know, there's really no illusions about what's going on. He knows where I stand. I know where he stands. I think I've also come to accept that I'm not going to convince him to leave these theories behind. I'm not going to disabuse him of these beliefs.

And the reverse is also true. I mean, he's not going to convert me. So I think coming to that acceptance has been really helpful and has helped us just know that this is a difference that we have and one that we can work around and work through.

MARTIN: Let's talk about what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday with these supporters of the president invading the Capitol, trashing the Capitol. Sadly, some people lost their lives. You know, the Confederate flags, the anti-Semitic signs, the racist, overtly racist signs and T-shirts and so forth - what does he have to say about that?

MAVERICK: You know, I have not talked to him yet about what happened at the Capitol. We haven't checked in about that - again, maybe more of the not trying to talk about it. I will tell you that we've talked about protests just, you know, in separate conversations, and he would not be caught dead in a protest of any sort because he believes that the will of the people are ultimately - I mean, will ultimately be subverted, and it's just not worth his time.

I mean, if anything, he's kind of a QAnon slacktivist (ph). He's going to sit at home on the Internet. He's going to scroll through, you know, the QResearch message boards, and that's about the extent of it - and then go vote.

MARTIN: And again, I sort of want to go back to something we talked about earlier. I am not for one minute saying that everybody who adheres to these beliefs is a racist or an anti-Semite. I am not saying that. What I am saying is that - and you wrote about this - there are racist and anti-Semitic roots to many of these conspiracy theorists.

And the way they act out in public and the way they manifest these beliefs does move in the direction of racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of deep marginalization of people who have historically been marginalized. And I just - I'm just very curious about how you discuss this and how he thinks about that.

MAVERICK: Yeah. I mean, this is a really tough area. And, I mean, I think we've all seen the social media posts of people saying, you know, if you voted for Trump, that means you're a racist. Please unfriend me. And I think, you know, for a certain group of people, that works for them. It doesn't work for me. That has never worked for me. You know, I grew up in a politically mixed family. My mother's a Democrat, my father's a Republican. I have many Republican-leaning family members and friends.

And I can't just dismiss these people and say, because you support conspiracy theories or because you support President Trump or because you support the Republican Party, that automatically means you're a bad person, or you're a stupid person, or you're a violent person or a bigoted person. I'm just not willing to take that extra step.

People support the president for all sorts of reasons. People support the Republican Party for all sorts of reasons. And I think, crucially, people believe in conspiracy theories, I have come to believe over the past year, not because out of hatred for other people, but because of just this underlying worldview that is rooted in mistrust and is rooted in doubting information that is coming to them, period.

I mean, I think the underpinning belief that my boyfriend has that just underscores all of his other beliefs is there are powerful people who are working very hard to engineer the course of human history. And for that reason, I can't believe a single thing that I'm being told, period. That's what he believes.

MARTIN: So what's the way forward here, in your view? I mean, you know, it has been one of those sayings that's been repeated. I think it was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said, you know, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts. Well, we live in a moment where people do think they're entitled to their own facts. And so the question becomes, like, what's the way forward here?

MAVERICK: It's funny. I'm less concerned about the relationship at this point than I am about just the state of our country and our democracy and our society. You know, how do you begin to solve the problems that we have in our communities if we can't sit down and agree on what those problems are or even what the underlying reality of those problems even is? That's what I'm concerned about. You know, it's a significant chunk of the population that is just kind of living in this other dimension.

And how do we reach those people, and how do we work together with those people? I don't really have the answers to that. But I think that, you know, unfriending all your Trump-supporting friends on Facebook is probably not the way forward.

MARTIN: That was the journalist Trent Kay Maverick. We're talking about her relationship with her significant other who follows a number of prevalent conspiracy theories, including QAnon.

Trent Kay Maverick, thank you so much for the update. Keep us posted.

MAVERICK: So good to talk to you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.