Mom being drawn into anti-science/racist conspiracy thought please help
May 31, 2015 2:43 PM   Subscribe

My mom is elderly. She and her husband support my mostly unemployed brother in his 30s. I live far away but talk to her daily. My sibling and his father are into racist, misogynistic ideas and believe the end of the world is coming. They stockpile supplies and make my mom read David Icke (anti-semitism thinly veiled as "reptile aliens" taking over the government) as well as how vaccines and GMOS are poisoning us. I tried to talk to her but she thinks what I say is hard to understand (academic language) so maybe science is hiding something.

I desperately would like anything in simple English that can give her alternative ideas to consider. My mom is a good woman but very gullible. I know she is being exposed to white power ideology dressed up as "psychic vision" and "aliens". We are people of colour so if there is anything I can show to her about the racism that would help enormously. I've tried to tell her in words but she thinks I am just saying things as someone who went to University and was brainwashed by the government. She is open minded about other religions so the work does not have to be framed in a particular religion. She seems to like prosperity gospel type teachings.

My sibling and her husband are disturbed persons - I have not spoken to them in years and feel unsafe reaching out to them. I left home because of how violent they were to me and my mom but my mom was to afraid to come with me. Please help with easy to read articles I can share with her. I have tried for years to get her out of the situation but my sibling threatens to kill himself if she leaves and her husband (whom she dislikes) threatens to kill her, so she stays and sadly until I can afford a home for both of us she will not move. I know once she lives with me she will be safe but it will be a good year or two more before I can get her out and these awful beliefs are new. I think she is starting to truly believe because she is tired of the misery at home and just wants peace.

There is no legal recourse for her. She has attempted to get help from a lawyer but cannot afford it (her husband controls the finances) and a judge did not extend the one month restraining order she managed to get from a lawyer who took her small life savings because there was no proof he was a danger to her. Soon I will be able to help her but in the meantime I am concerned about the bizarre indoctrination she is suddenly receiving.

My mom is very smart and not internet savvy. Articles online I can print out for her are great, books I can order from Amazon would be awesome. She is fascinated by religion and the supernatural so anything that is understanding of these viewpoints would be so helpful! I really enjoy Carl Sagan and think it is introductory level but for her it was too difficult to comprehend.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose to Education (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ugh, I am all too familiar with this school of conspiracy thought. What about getting her to read a gently humorous look at the problems with David Icke in Jon Ronson's "Them: Adventures With Extremists"? Rather than attacking Icke head-on, he sort of humors him and entertains his ideas about Bohemian Grove and then takes a hard look at whether he is talking about Jews or reptiles.
posted by johngoren at 3:26 PM on May 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Jon Ronson’s ‘Them: Adventures with Extremists’ containts a good treatment of Icke (and a number of other other conspiracy theorists your mother may be exposed to). It treats the conspiracists sympathetically without buying in to their world views.

Also, Ronson’s documentary “The Secret Rulers of the World” has a full episode on David Icke that mom might find informative. It’s available on youtube, and does a good job unpacking Icke’s views — he seems to be legitimately deranged and actually believe in reptilian aliens. (Fair warning: comments for the video I clicked through to had an uncomforably high crazy quotient; I suppose that goes with the conspiracy theory territory.)

PS. That is a very difficult place for your mom to be in, and it sounds like you’re working hard to get her out. Best of luck managing the situation.…
posted by Haere at 3:48 PM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

The U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) offers a searchable online directory of state and local Area Agencies on Aging and a telephone referral service at (800) 677-1116, which can offer referrals to a variety of resources, including supportive and caretaker services, elder justice and health promotion programs.

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) offers a searchable online Eldercare locator that includes legal assistance and Elder Abuse Prevention resources.

(via MeFi Wiki Get a lawyer page section on free and low-cost legal resources)

These agencies can talk to you about possible options in your community that may be available and covered by Medicare, like visiting nurses and representative payees (to handle your mom's bills) to help protect her from exploitation. Also, your mom may qualify for an Vulnerable Adult Protective Order and can apply for help from a local legal aid organization.
posted by Little Dawn at 3:58 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

You are conflating issues.

Focus on saving money or making more money since this is your ultimate stated solution. Stop trying to "Thought Police" your mother, an adult person. You are coming off as incredibly misinformed, too, just in the opposite direction. This is a way to "battle" your mom's abusers, and a way of engaging in a proxy war with your sibling.

Who cares what your mother is reading or considering? Just focus on getting her into a different living situation.

Hint: You're worried your mom won't leave this toxic situation, and I don't blame you. Most abuse victims don't leave their abusers, I don't know why. Talk to a mental health professional about the abuse. Leave the politics out of it.
posted by jbenben at 6:04 PM on May 31, 2015 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Hello again, I would like to clarify some aspects of my question. jbenben mentioned that I am misinformed. I agree I am not knowledgeable about this culture my mom is involved in. I would like to state I am open minded and if I am wrong about these beliefs I would welcome information to set me right.

I am concerned about my mom and what she reads because she is far away from me, and she is showing a change in personality that is worrisome. I do not feel comfortable hearing what she is now saying about entire groups, this is not like her at all. I am afraid she will unwittingly get caught up in a a movement associated with antisemitism and ideas about racial segregation. That said I could be totally wrong in my judgement and if there is an alternative view that has positive things to say about about her ideas I am open to hearing.

She tells me how the September 11th attacks were perpetrated by the American government and has told me about the loose change series. I accept this as an interest of hers that is harmless, it is not the type of conspiracy theory thinking I worry about. I don't have an issue with "preppers" or survivalist types as it does seem sensible to be ready for disasters, that is also not what I am taking issue with. My concern is with the implications of what people like Icke are saying - and I am under the impression he is not talking about literal alien reptiles.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 7:42 PM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am not sure that the information you find will be strong enough to turn the tide. These ideas are being reinforced on a daily basis through conversation with people who have influence, not only because of proximity, but because of your mom's dependence. Even the best-shaped, best-argued facts will be weak in the face of all this. (If I were to guess, I'd say your mother is funnelling her general sense of powerlessness through these conspiracy theories, which may make the world feel a bit more controllable to her, in principle, at least.)

I agree with jbenben. Focus on getting the money and getting your mom out of there. Maybe these notions will lose their grip on her if she feels (and is) safer and more secure.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:11 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would be worrying about it too, but more from the point of view that her repetition of these beliefs is signalling that she may well use them as another excuse not to leave the situation.

I don't think there's much you can do, to be honest, besides get her out of the situation as soon as possible. Are there neighbors or relatives who are close to her that you do trust?
posted by frumiousb at 9:19 PM on May 31, 2015

Best answer: Sounds like she already has people trying to tell her what to think. How about just listening to her instead of trying to make her hold the opinions you want her to hold?
posted by mysterious_stranger at 4:21 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Whether or not you get her away from anti-Semitism and conspiracy theory, it is important that you continue to offer her viewpoints other than those in her household. It is healthy for her to know that there's another world out there, and to keep that in her head as the insular waves of conspiracy theory wash over her.

The Jon Ronson stuff is a good idea. Similarly, simply discussing boring mainstream news with her, even stuff not directly connected to the federal government will help. It'll broaden her view in addition to letting her know you care enough about her to spend a little time with her.
posted by ignignokt at 7:25 AM on June 1, 2015

Mod note: Couple comments removed; please don't dig in on side-discussion stuff.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:10 AM on June 1, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you for the good advice. I was so worried and frustrated I feared the worst. Especially as I am too far away to be of practical help. I had a long heart to heart with her today and took the advice to listen and take her ideas seriously instead of telling her what to believe, which is how I have been approaching things the last few months. I asked her to explain to me what she had learned and tell me about what my brother was learning about, which she was happy to do. I began the conversation thinking it was all evil and stupid and angry at the men in her life. I was afraid they were trying to control her. I finished it with more sympathy for her ideas and also sympathy for my brother.

I came away from the discussion feeling that I over-reacted. It sounds like my brother is very stressed out and unhappy by his father's behaviour and these ideas help him make sense of the world. It is something he and my mom can bond over when his dad is acting up towards them. Although he does hold racist and misogynistic views, that is not any of my business. As for my mom, she genuinely believes in immortal aliens and alien human hybrids that walk among us. She thinks certain job descriptions (government and banking) are only run by aliens but she does not believe the aliens are all of one race or religion. As I let her speak more it is clear this is a heartfelt but overall harmless belief. For all I know this could be true. It sounds like while my brother has unpleasant beliefs he is not forcing her to agree with hisextreme views, and I do feel bad for freaking out and judging him harshly. I don't really know him well beyond the fact he has very conservative views about women- I have't really talked to him since he was a child so it was easy to cast him as a villain.

I am still very worried about the way her husband behaves, but we talked about our plans to live together and this will definitely be happening. The violence going on at home has nothing to do with her beliefs so I was wrong to assume the new beliefs were the result of "brainwashing" or abuse.

Although it was hard to hear that I was being judgmental and not respecting her views, by accepting my fault in the matter I was able to come to a good conclusion. I think if I had been pushy trying to convince her she was wrong, it could have harmed our relationship. From now on I will consider these ideas her religious beliefs and be respectful of them since it brings her so much happiness. I asked if she would like to read Jon Ronson and she is open to it so I will buy her this book. But overall I will drop the subject or just smile and nod when she starts talking about some aspect of these teachings.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 1:37 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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