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Why the grandiose promises of multilevel marketing and QAnon conspiracy theories go hand in hand

Collage of a snake, a sheep in a triangle, + a vintage photo of a nude person standing in front of an old bottle of medicine
Collage of a snake, a sheep in a triangle, + a vintage photo of a nude person standing in front of an old bottle of medicine
Illustrations: Kay Kasparhauser

By Kaitlyn Tiffany

This article is part of “Shadowland,” a project about conspiracy thinking in America.

Jordan Schrandt — blond, beautiful, mother of eight, founder of The Farmhouse Movement magazine, which teaches readers how to achieve “a lifestyle of authenticity, simplicity, and kindness” — is a Royal Crown Diamond.

On a Friday night in March, Schrandt shared a revelation on one of her Facebook pages. “I’m awake!” she announced. President Donald Trump would soon prove that he had been Q all along, she wrote, and this was just the beginning of a “spiritual war” in defense of all that is good. The post continued for hundreds of words about the evils of the mainstream media and the mythology of QAnon, which holds that Trump is a warrior taking on a global ring of Satan-worshipping pedophiles, who are also in cahoots with the “deep state,” and tend to be Democratic politicians, Hollywood celebrities, or the owners of seemingly random small businesses. The post has since disappeared, but not before it went out to nearly 13,000 of Schrandt’s Facebook followers — in her post she notes that she had already sent the information to “1,000 or so” of them privately. …


The odds of altering the outcome of the election: close to zero. The odds of altering your relationship with your family: much higher.

Vintage illustration of a husband + wife pulling the wishbone; the wife’s face has text Biden on it, and the husband’s Trump
Vintage illustration of a husband + wife pulling the wishbone; the wife’s face has text Biden on it, and the husband’s Trump
Illustration: The Atlantic; image source: GraphicaArtis/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Lately, Sunshine Hillygus has been hearing the same question from some of her politically active friends. They’ve been writing postcards to voters in swing states and knocking on potential voters’ doors, but they want to know if they’re channeling their energy toward the right things: What should they be doing, they ask her, if their goal is to influence the outcome of the election?

This month, I interviewed more than 20 people who had tried to convince a family member to vote for a particular presidential candidate, or to vote at all, in the 2020 election. Their tones and approaches varied, and so did their results: I heard from a woman whose grandparents met her tearful plea with cold indifference, as well as from a man whose mom ultimately caved because this year, his birthday falls on Election Day. …


Every time the president ramps up his violent rhetoric, every time he fires up Twitter to launch another broadside against me, my family and I see a surge of vicious attacks sent our way.

Black-and-white photo of Gretchen Whitmer sitting on a chair, looking at the camera.
Black-and-white photo of Gretchen Whitmer sitting on a chair, looking at the camera.
Photo: Brittany Greeson for The Washington Post via Getty Images

By Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan

When I put my hand on the Bible at my inauguration, it did not occur to me that less than two years later, I would have to tell my daughters about a plot against me. …


Adolescents spend ever greater portions of their days online and are especially vulnerable to discrimination. That’s a worrying combination.

Photo of a Black person with circular slivers that have been rotated, creating a collage effect
Photo of a Black person with circular slivers that have been rotated, creating a collage effect
Photo illustration: Lunga Ntila

By Avriel Epps-Darling

Last month, Twitter users uncovered a disturbing example of bias on the platform: An image-detection algorithm designed to optimize photo previews was cropping out Black faces in favor of white ones. Twitter apologized for this botched algorithm, but the bug remains.

Acts of technological racism might not always be so blatant, but they are largely unavoidable. Black defendants are more likely to be unfairly sentenced or labeled as future re-offenders, not just by judges, but also by a sentencing algorithm advertised in part as a remedy to human biases. …


The pandemic has broken Americans’ understanding of what to fear.

2 used surgical gloves on a green surface with a rectangular shadow falling between them.
2 used surgical gloves on a green surface with a rectangular shadow falling between them.
Photo: Francesco Carta fotografo/Moment/Getty Images

On a normal day, the White House is one of the safest buildings in the world. Secret Service snipers stand guard on the roof, their aim tested monthly to ensure their accuracy up to 1,000 feet. Their heavily armed colleagues patrol the ground below and staff security checkpoints. Belgian Malinois guard dogs lie in wait for anyone who manages to jump the property’s massive iron fence.

But safety means something different in a pandemic. Over the past few days, several aides to Vice President Mike Pence, including his chief of staff, have tested positive for the coronavirus. The outbreak is the second in the White House in a month, after dozens of people, including President Donald Trump himself, tested positive following the apparent super-spreader event hosted by the administration to celebrate the Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. …


‘Our boyfriends, our significant others, and our husbands are supposed to be Number 1. Our worlds are backward.’

Vintage photo of two women in bathing costumes holding hands hip-deep in a body of water, overlaid with sold colored fragment
Vintage photo of two women in bathing costumes holding hands hip-deep in a body of water, overlaid with sold colored fragment
Photo illustration: Arsh Raziuddin / The Atlantic, Kirn Vintage Stock/Getty Images

By Rhaina Cohen

Kami West had been dating her current boyfriend for a few weeks when she told him that he was outranked by her best friend. …


The bumbling provocateur who stormed the United States in 2006 has become an unlikely voice of reason.

Borat undercover as “Country Steve” on a stage with musicians behind him at a March for Our Rights rally.
Borat undercover as “Country Steve” on a stage with musicians behind him at a March for Our Rights rally.
In 2020, Borat has become the peacekeeper rather than the agitator. Photos: Amazon Studios

By now, you’ve probably heard about the already infamous climax of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the Amazon sequel that heralds the return of the titular Kazakh journalist and agent of chaos played by Sacha Baron Cohen. …


Cases are rising in all but nine states. Unlike the past two waves, this one has no epicenter.

A plastic oral thermometer covered with “I voted” stickers.
A plastic oral thermometer covered with “I voted” stickers.
Photo illustration: The Atlantic

The United States is sleepwalking into what could become the largest coronavirus outbreak of the pandemic so far. In the past week alone, as voters prepare to go to the ballot box, about one in every 1,000 Americans has tested positive for the virus, and about two in every 100,000 Americans have died of it.

This third surge is far more geographically dispersed than what the country saw in the spring or summer: The coronavirus is at risk of careening out of control, and it can be found in every kind of American community, from tiny farm towns to affluent suburbs to bustling border cities. …


Some of Trump’s most committed Catholic supporters have leveled dark charges against Biden as they battle to sway the vote in crucial swing states. And wait until you hear what they think of the pope.

Stained glass window with an orange and red cross surrounded by Trump and Biden with pieces missing out of their faces.
Stained glass window with an orange and red cross surrounded by Trump and Biden with pieces missing out of their faces.
Photo illustration: The Atlantic; source: Shutterstock

By Tish Durbin

Joe Biden or Donald Trump: Who’s the better Catholic? If this seems like an odd question to raise in the context of a race for the highest secular office in America — and a race in which one of the two candidates is Protestant — never mind. Both campaigns, and their surrogates, are hotly contesting the answer.

The ex–Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz slammed Biden as a “Catholic in name only” in his appearance at the Republican National Convention.

“President Trump is ignoring Catholic teachings on care for the Earth, feeding the hungry, welcoming the immigrant,” Sister Simone Campbell, a social-justice activist who led a prayer at the Democratic convention, fired back in an interview with me not long after. …


Paging Dr. Hamblin

I’m young and healthy, so what’s the point?

Silhouette of a person’s chest, torso, and abdomen. Blue dots cover its chest, and a skinny triangle is coming out of one
Silhouette of a person’s chest, torso, and abdomen. Blue dots cover its chest, and a skinny triangle is coming out of one
Illustration: Julian Montague

Dear Dr. Hamblin,

I’m perfectly healthy. I’m 42 and I exercise routinely, eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, and have excellent biomarkers. If I get the flu, chances are it will be mild and run its course. So why risk any potential negative side effects of a vaccine? To protect me against something that I might still get even with the shot? Even though I’m sure the risk is low, why should I potentially jeopardize my health? I guess I see only downsides and no upside.

Todd Kelly
Philadelphia, Pa.

Your concerns are widely shared, and your question is important. The answer is especially worth considering because the same logic that guides your decision will apply to the coronavirus vaccines in coming years. …

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