Conspiracy thinking has shaped the world for centuries, destroying great institutions, eradicating knowledge, endangering democracies, and ending lives. These theories threaten not just individual facts, but the idea that empirical truth exists at all. And now, with a president of the United States who advances conspiracy thinking about a pandemic that has led to 82,000 reported deaths in America, it becomes an existential threat.
In an effort to better understand how we got here, and how we might find a way out, The Atlantic today launches “Shadowland,” an exploration of how conspiracy theories have shaped America, and why they are more powerful, and dangerous, now than ever.
Shadowland takes you down the rabbit hole through an interactive project portal, built with the mobile reader in mind; the product and visuals are central to the storytelling. It represents some of the most ambitious work of the year, even as The Atlantic continues to apply the full weight of its newsroom to cover the biggest stories of our age: the global pandemic, the Trump presidency, and the spread of illiberalism across the planet.
The project debuts with “The Prophecies of Q,” executive editor Adrienne LaFrance’s cover story on QAnon for The Atlantic’s June issue. With its legions of followers, fabrications about the coronavirus, and dark predictions about the “deep state,” QAnon’s power—and the rejection of reality it represents—only grows. LaFrance warns that QAnon “is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values. And we are likely closer to the beginning of its story than the end … To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion.”