Who are some notable examples of drastic mind changes/flips in opinion?
December 4, 2015 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to interview a few people who have drastically changed their minds concerning something about which they once felt very strongly. Who are some people who have notably changed their minds or who have "flipped" on an notable issue?

I'm working on a book about persuasion and social change, and I'd like to interview a few people who have drastically changed their minds concerning something about which they once felt very strongly.

One such example is Megan Phelps-Roper, who recently left Westboro Baptist Church and now actively speaks out against them. Another great example is in the documentary "The Act of Killing" in which Anwar Congo realized he is murderer and changed his mind about his participation in a genocide. A final example is Julius Waties Waring, a man who was deeply opposed to civil rights and then flipped and became a civil rights activist.

Though I've made progress, this is something that is very difficult to research conventionally, so I'm hoping the hivemind can help.

Who are some living people who have notably changed their minds or who have "flipped" on an notable issue?
posted by Lownotes to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Environmental activist Stewart Brand has converted to being pro-nuclear power.
posted by hollyholly at 8:47 AM on December 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Diane Ravitch switched from being pro high-stakes standardized testing, NCLB and charter schools to being an outspoken opponent of all three.
posted by jeffch at 8:54 AM on December 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

David Brock, who made his name attacking the Clintons in the '90s but then changed his mind and founded Media Matters for America.

Going the other direction, David Horowitz was an editor of Ramparts and friends with Huey P. Newton, but later in life rejected Marxism and socialism and has spent the past 25+ years as a conservative activist.
posted by asterix at 9:13 AM on December 4, 2015

George Wallace.

I mean, it took someone shooting him in the spine, but still.

Settin' the Woods of Fire is a documentary about his life and politics - including eventually asking forgiveness for his lifetime of racist demagoguery.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:27 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Andrew Sullivan vehemently supported the Iraq War, then later wrote a book about why he was wrong.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 9:28 AM on December 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ronald Reagan was the president of the Screen Actors Guild at one time. Once he was president, in an amazing disregard for what unions represent, he fired all 11,345 members of Professional Air Traffic Controllers union.

He was an ass.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:29 AM on December 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Paul Haggis and Leah Rimini both publicly changed their minds about Scientology.
posted by kinetic at 9:33 AM on December 4, 2015

I'll see your Mamet and raise you Dennis Miller.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:48 AM on December 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Justice Richard Posner just published a fascinating "re-review" of a book supporting gay marriage that he reviewed for Yale Law Review 18 years ago and disagreed with, before (in 2014) famously bench-slapping lawyers making essentially the same arguments he did back then. He goes back over his thinking and assesses where he was wrong and how his mind changed and how he now views the author of the book as a prophet who has been fully vindicated.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:51 AM on December 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Posner also moved from dismissing Keynes to endorsing him.
posted by namespan at 10:23 AM on December 4, 2015

Best answer: Religious conversion / loss of faith narratives are presumably common, but Dan Everett's Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes is particularly interesting. Based on his experience trying to translate the Bible and convert a particular group of folks in the Amazon, a missionary gives up his faith and acquires an appreciation for the obligatory expression of evidentiality plus what he thinks of as 'immediate' experience. At the same time, he becomes convinced that at least one common assumption in modern linguistics--something it takes very strong proof to doubt--isn't quite correct. I couldn't guess whether he'd frame the latter as a drastic change of mind, but it seems possible.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:24 AM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Jane Roe
posted by ch3ch2oh at 10:29 AM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lynx and Lamb Gaede.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:30 AM on December 4, 2015

Colin Powell

Powell donated the maximum allowable amount to John McCain's campaign in the summer of 2007[85] and in early 2008, his name was listed as a possible running mate for Republican nominee McCain's bid during the 2008 U.S. presidential election.[86] However, on October 19, 2008, Powell announced his endorsement of Barack Obama during a Meet the Press interview, citing "his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities," in addition to his "style and substance."


He later stated, "Over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party has become narrower and narrower [...] I look at these kind of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me."

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:48 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't find the actual interview, but at the end of his life the infamous Republican campaign strategist Lee Atwater apologized for being a such a huge asshole.
posted by schroedinger at 10:53 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Christopher Hitchens, claiming that waterboarding was not torture, then giving it a whirl, and coming out the other end with his mind changed.
posted by labberdasher at 11:29 AM on December 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Greg Fishel, a TV meteorologist for the Raleigh, NC, CBS affiliate, largely reversed his stance on climate change and left the Republican party. Here's a Q&A. Here's the blog post where he shared his change of heart. And here's a Washington Post story about it.
posted by Shoggoth at 11:37 AM on December 4, 2015

mandolin conspiracy, the best part of the Mamet book review is that it was written by Kurt Loder.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:39 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about Robert S. McNamara?

He was an intelligent and complex man, hard to pigeonhole. Influenced by WWI, and afterward by Lemay, he went into some very dark places in the 60's and 70's. On the one hand, he tried to bring common sense into the auto industry by pushing for smaller and safer autos--this was a ballsy move in those days. On the other, he calculated acceptable losses for the Cold War (in the tens of millions for us), and favored increasing the pressure on Hanoi by sending more and more troops into Vietnam and widening the range of targets acceptable to our bombers. He was one of the writers of policy, not a cheerleader for the party. He was a shaper, under whose watch millions died. He stood at the door of apocalypse and didn't flinch from what he saw as his job. I can't imagine what it may have been like to stand in his shoes.

Years afterward, he had the grace to admit that he'd been wrong at several levels. I can't honestly speak to his motivations, but unlike others in this arena, he had nothing to gain by this revelation. Doing the right thing is expensive, always, to a person of conscience.
posted by mule98J at 11:59 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Robert Byrd, Representative, then Senator from West Virginia. Was in the KKK, filibustered the 1964 civil rights act. By the 90's and 00's, he was fighting for civil rights. (In 2003, he received a 100% rating from the NAACP.)
posted by Hactar at 12:17 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, missed the living part, sorry. Byrd passed away in 2010.
posted by Hactar at 12:18 PM on December 4, 2015

Best answer: Maajid Nawaz, former radical Islamist, is an interesting character.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 12:47 PM on December 4, 2015

Many of the original neoconservatives (Irving Kristol et al) were Trotskyites before being "mugged by reality". Kristol, like Seymour Martin Lipset, Daniel Bell, and many others, are no longer living, but there are still some. Charles Krauthammer might be the best example. He got his start in the Carter Administration, wrote for Walter Mondale, and then became a pretty far-right Fox News guy. He might not be the best interview, though, as I suspect he would deny changing. But Rick Hertzberg wrote an article for the New Republic's 100th anniversary issue where he said he believed Krauthammer was an earnest liberal originally.

The aforementioned David Brock is probably the best example in contemporary politics. He was pretty rabidly right-wing, and now he's pretty rabidly left-wing. You probably won't find someone else who will acknowledge such a wide swing.

Thomas Frank talked in "What's the Matter with Kansas?" about how he was a teenage conservative, and now he's a liberal.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:01 PM on December 4, 2015

David Horowitz was a Red Diaper baby, and had a major change of perspective -- all chronicled in his very good autobio, Radical Son.
posted by gsh at 1:29 PM on December 4, 2015

Erm, yeah, I also missed the "living" part. :(

Michael Coren is a Canadian commentator who, fairly recently, changed his mind about his deeply-held conservative Catholic views and left the church.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:32 PM on December 4, 2015

in 1999-2001ish I was the webmaster for the Libertarian Party of VA . In 2012 I voted for Jill Stein (Green Party) for President.
posted by COD at 1:38 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wisconsin State Rep. Mary Czaja (R) changed her mind about mandatory coverage of chemotherapy by insurance companies after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
posted by switcheroo at 1:52 PM on December 4, 2015

If you're in the USA, though maybe a bit obvious and already considered: there has been surprise and investigation into how a society that broadly opposed gay marriage flipped so quickly and completely. There are lots of regular-joe people who flipped and could be interviewed, if it works to have the society-wide flip be the note-worthy part rather than the specific person.
posted by anonymisc at 2:09 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tim Zaal is a former neo-nazi who speaks for tolerance these days. He's most known for accidentally re-connecting with a gay person, who he thought he had killed 30 years prior, when the two were speaking at the same event. Now the two do a lot of speaking arrangements together and are friends.
posted by john-a-dreams at 3:18 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

The guy who runs Little Green Footballs, Charles Johnson (not to be confused with Charles C. Johnson), was a hard-core islamophobe post-9/11, and round about 2008 or so he began to come out of it. Now the site pretty regularly challenges right-wing talking points.

I also recommend Kathryn Schulz' book, Being Wrong.
posted by suelac at 3:29 PM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) reversed his position on gay marriage after his son came out.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:56 PM on December 4, 2015

I can't tell from your question if you're only interested in famous people. I am a former gun owner and NRA member who entirely changed my view on gun control*. I've also more recently changed my view on fox hunting (was pro, am now con*) and on culling (was con, am now pro.)

I can't imagine this is rare; humans constantly acquire new data, and thus new data from which to draw conclusions.

These two things are not related
posted by DarlingBri at 6:46 PM on December 4, 2015

I'm not quite sure how far a swing it was for her vs. the parties just shifting to the right, but Elizabeth Warren, current darling of many liberals, used to be a dyed in the wool Republican. Her shift towards being a democrat started in the mid-90s, right around Newt and the first batch of modern conservatives.
posted by Hactar at 7:19 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

The OP specified "notable" examples, so if that's anything like Wikipedia's notion of "notability," then "Some Dude on the Internet who changed his mind about something" probably doesn't cut it.

Israeli historian Benny Morris made a name for himself by challenging mainstream Israel's view of its own history from the revisionist left. His political views have subsequently shifted sharply to the right, as he himself acknowledges.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:20 PM on December 4, 2015

The Squidalicious blogger changed her mind about vaccines causing autism.
posted by lakeroon at 3:47 AM on December 5, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! I'm contacting several of these people for the book. You are amazing.
posted by Lownotes at 8:21 AM on December 23, 2015

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