Choose your reality: Trust wanes, conspiracy theories rise

Daniel Charles Wilson believes the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were an inside job. The war in Ukraine is “totally scripted” and COVID-19 is “completely fake.” The Boston Marathon bombing? Mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas? “Crisis actors,” he says.

Wilson, a 41-year-old from London, Ontario, has doubts about free elections, vaccines and the Jan. 6 insurrection, too. He accepts little of what has happened in the past 20 years and cheerfully predicts that someday, the internet will make everyone as distrustful as he is.

“It’s the age of information, and the hidden government, the people who control everything, they know they can’t win,” Wilson told The Associated Press. “They’re all lying to us. But we’re going to break through this. It will be a good change for everyone.”

Wilson, who is now working on a book about his views, is not an isolated case of perpetual disbelief. He speaks for a growing number of people in Western nations who have lost faith in democratic governance and a free press, and who have turned to conspiracy theories to fill the void.

Rejecting what they hear from scientists, journalists or public officials, these people instead embrace tales of dark plots and secret explanations. And their beliefs, say experts who study misinformation and extremism, reflect a widespread loss of faith in institutions like government and media.

A poll conducted last year by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that just 16% of Americans say democracy is working well or extremely well. Another 38% said it’s working only somewhat well.

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