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Reality Check: Blowing the lid off James Tynion IV's 'The Department of Truth'

Comic Books

Reality Check: Blowing the lid off James Tynion IV’s ‘The Department of Truth’

The Illuminati don’t want you to know how easy it really is to slip into conspiracy belief.

I never thought I’d say this, but thank God for Facebook. Thank you, Mark “Totally Not a Reptilian Alien” Zuckerberg, for finally doing what had to be done: banning the “QAnon” conspiracy-mongers who think President Trump is waging a covert war against child molesting elites in the “Deep State” from all your platforms (including Instagram).

Now wouldn’t it be great if we could switch off the baseless belief just as easily?

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That’s the premise of white-hot writer James Tynion IV’s new, best-selling Image Comics series, The Department of Truth, drawn and colored by the incomparable Martin Simmonds. Sort of. The hugest of spoilers coming up for issue #1 (available now), so don’t say the Men in Black didn’t warn you.

In “Chapter One: End of the World,” FBI agent Cole Turner is whisked away against his will to the Library of Congress, where he’s grilled by shadowy agents he’s convinced will off him as soon as he reveals what he knows. Up until recently, it wasn’t a whole lot — Turner monitors right-wing white nationalist groups online (presumably for hints of impending violence), along with other, garden variety conspiracy pages.

Specifically, Turner wants to know what makes people susceptible to such gross detachments from reality. He says conspiracy-believers think “the system is stacked against them, in deliberate ways.” Mick West, real-life conspiracy-buster and author of the book Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect, pretty much agrees.

“You don’t see many people who have a serious, full-time job, and are also flat-Earthers,” West says. “They tend to be people who have a huge void in their life, that can only be filled by something like this.”

Tynion and Simmonds show this masterfully when Turner recalls his trip to a flat-Earth conference, where the attendees laugh, talk about TV, and tip a few back at the hotel bar. Conspiracy groups often become like family to their adherents, who often lack a more traditional social life, united by the fact “they [know] a secret truth about this world.” It’s only exasperated now, when COVID-19 has cut so many off from the contacts that keep them grounded, leaving more people vulnerable to these online networks.

“That kind of replaces what they had before, in terms of fulfilling their needs,” West says.

“It’s always about control,” Turner tells his interrogator. “It’s a desire to reject the aspects of life that feel too complicated and too abstract, and build a more comfortable reality that they can understand.” The “9/11 Truth” movement does the same thing, bizarrely preferring a world where the destruction of the Twin Towers was an orderly “inside job” to one in which a few untrained and impoverished zealots managed to change the world. Small things can bring big consequences; just ask Archduke Ferdinand.

And yes, as seen in the flat-Earth documentary Behind the Curve, most of them really are white males. About 80% West says, anecdotally judging by the demographics of visitors to his website. No one really knows why that is, but West speculates dealing with a whole lot of people who really do stack things against you is probably enough for black men in America. Women aren’t immune to conspiracy belief, but they tend to gravitate toward more health-based ones, like the anti-vaccine movement.

flat earth conspiracy

The Department of Truth #1. Courtesy of Image Comics

Most QAnon believers are definitely white, and just like Turner says of the flat-Earthers, many really do see themselves as heroes. They’ve even co-opted “Save the Children,” the name of a legitimate charity that provides humanitarian aid worldwide, by using the phrase to draw attention to their fictitious narratives of 800,000 children being kidnapped in America every year. Child-trafficking is real, but if almost a million kids of all backgrounds disappeared in 2020, even in our current chaos, someone would notice.

But in the world of The Department of Truth, frighteningly enough, if too many people believe a thing, it starts to become real. Hence the big reveal of the book’s heroes, a secret government organization dedicated to stamping out conspiracy belief before it mangles the world around us.

Sadly, it’s not much different in the real world. Believing in QAnon won’t make kids disappear, but it can shockingly put wackos in Congress. Still, maybe we should all think really hard about a positive conspiracy, just in case. West is holding out for a good, old-fashioned perpetual motion machine.

“If that were actually true, and we could actually get free energy, that would be great!” he says.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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