26 March

Getting Mad: When I Became A Conspiracy Theory

by Jon Katz

I never, ever talk politics with strangers, or if I can help it, with people I know.

Politics in America has become a cesspool of rigidity, fear, argument, and division. I keep my politics to myself. In a country where everybody is quick to label everybody else, I try to label myself.

It is nobody’s business who I vote for or what label I ought to wear.

Today, I broke that rule and lost it, and I was reminded of how sick our country is in so many ways. Like the virus, I believe this sickness too shall pass, and like the virus, it will take a while.

I went to a place in town I often go to, and I’ll keep it nameless.

Standing outside were two or three men I know.

All three have done some work for me, and I also know them just from living in a small town. I like two of them a lot, they are funny and smart.

They are nice guys, hard-working and friendly. I think they often work together on carpentry and construction jobs. I always stop to talk to them when I see them.

I don’t know what their politics are, and I don’t care. I imagine it is different than mine.

One of them asked me about the coronavirus, and how I was handling it (being old and all) and we started talking about how eerie it is being shut up in our homes is, and also about social isolation, which they were not practicing at the moment. I stood back a bit.

They were a few feet apart from one another and their frustration at being out of work was evident.

One them turned to me and said, “you know this virus is mostly bullshit. The flu is much worse, and we don’t shut the country down over it. The Democrats and the media whipped this one up to make Trump look bad. The doctors are in it with them. It’s a disgrace.”

All three were nodding as if what they were saying is obvious and true. I told myself to be quiet, I don’t need to argue politics.

But something snapped in me,  I got angry. I felt the blood rushing to my face. Did they know that they were talking about me? Accusing me of exploiting sickness and death to hurt a politician?

I believe in truth and facts, I was a journalist and am, in my heart, still something a journalist. I was taught to care about the truth and I do care about the truth. And the truth is an orphan in our country right now, and at some point, those of us who care about will have to fight for it.

I believe there is a point where I must stand up to stupidity and lies, especially one as cruel as this. It’s not what I want to do. But I surprised myself, I did speak up.

Listen,” I said, “I don’t want to stand here and listen to this. I voted as a Democrat in the past two elections, and you might know that I was a member of the dread “media” for some years. You are basically saying that I am a murderer, exploiting and supporting the killing of many thousands of people just to thwart your politics. What you are pitching here is a conspiracy theory, a monstrous lie, and if you believe bullshit like that, then I’m afraid I can’t do business with you or stand here and talk with you. I don’t care who you vote for, and I don’t hate you if it’s different from my vote. But I won’t be called a murderer in my own town to my face by people who take my money, or even people who don’t. If you tell me this story again, I will never let you near my farm or want to speak with you again. Take care of yourselves,” and I walked away.”

I went home to Maria and confessed I broke my own rule, shattered the unspoken law of the outsider in a small town and engaged in an angry way in politics. I just suddenly got angry, they pushed a button deep inside of me.

I  hate that I did that, but even worse, I hated that these good men believed such ugly horseshit – one said he heard it all the time on Fox News – and I hated that he didn’t even realize they were talking about me and people like me.

I added this: “You have no business taking money from me or even talking to me if you think I would condone creating a lethal Pandemic that has caused such suffering for some political advantage. I have to be honest with you, that is sick, and I am hurt and offended to hear it. It breaks my heart. Hell, I said, I don’t even want to live in a country where honest and good people believe stuff like that. Why do you blindly trust one media but not any other? Don’t you know they are two tails on the same ass?”

And I walked away.

The men just turned to stone, they seemed shocked and unsure of what to say. I didn’t give them a chance to say anything. Perhaps they were stunned to realize they were talking about me, we had all always gotten along well. I am sure they will be thinking about what I said and talking about it. That’s all I can really ask.

If I see them again, I will speak politely to them, as I always have. If they say that sort of thing again in front of me, it will be different. But I will speak softly and from the heart.

I welcomed my social isolation this afternoon. I was glad to be removed from people, and just walk with Zinnia in the woods.

I have returned to my normal stance – I don’t talk politics with anybody, I consider my views private and I don’t need to argue about them. I hated hearing this dementia.

Maria said she was proud of me, I was right in speaking honestly about so hateful a thing to hear. She said I wasn’t arguing about politics, I was letting them know that it was human beings like me that they were talking about.

They need to know that, she said. And she was right.


  1. I love you Jon💜
    Hang in there. You did the right thing 🧡🧡🧡

    It reminds me when people betrayed and were cruel to their own family and friends when they suffered from AIDs. Like it was their fault. That somehow they did something wrong.

    You were coming from your heart Jon.
    I lost all of my money in the Great Recession and lost my job due to COVID 19. I can tell you I dont care how much I lose financially during this, I don’t want people to suffer and die.

  2. I’m proud of you too for speaking up, and Maria is absolutely right. Hopefully you taught those men a lesson too.

  3. Jon,
    There is politics, and there is right and wrong, you were right to set the record straight. Lies are not a legitimate political position or ideology. What is being peddled today is propaganda pure and simple. Am proud of you. Thank you.

  4. 3 cheers for you, more like 100 cheers. “It breaks my heart” took it from the political to the personal. I am sure you gave them a lot to think about.

  5. Good for you…once in awhile people need their bullshit challenged. I work with a bunch of deeply religious women who told that God sent Trump to end abortion in our country. I asked one of them….so did God send President Obama to give us health care? No answer. I am proud of you too!

  6. Jon, you were right to call them on their gullibility. I applaud you for it. Calling this a hoax is an insult to those who have died and to the rest of us who are trying to prevent this from getting worse. This virus is bringing out the best and also the worst in people. You can’t make these guys smart but maybe you made them think.

  7. Good for you. I wish I could speak as eloquently as you did to these men even if it was in anger. I have a friend or two who also feel this is over stated as well. One of them even says she doesn’t watch the news as she feels it hypes things too much. I am highly frustrated with these people and find myself not inter acting with them–I am with you that maybe the quarantine thing is good. Keeps me out of trouble.

  8. While you and I may differ on party I respect your opinion and do not judge you for it. I love your writing and respect your past as a reporter. Sometimes one has to speak up for their belief and you did. Hope you and Maria are doing well. When I read your first book I wanted to come and meet you and maybe someday you will see me at a book signing. Keep up the good work.

  9. Oh thank you, Jon, for your profound words to stand up in the face of such ignorance! You’re my hero today! and two of the guys who hadn’t actually said anything they were at least allowing the one guy to spew that garbage. Once when I was lamenting the powerlessness that I felt in even speaking up like you did, a friend said, “Maybe you didn’t change that person’s mind, but at least the other two heard what you said, too, and you may have affected their thinking!” Words matter and have a power of their own. Maya Angelou said that words stick to things so be careful what you say and where. You’re doing great–thank you!

  10. “I was letting them know that it was human beings like me that they were talking about.
    They need to know that, she said. And she was right.”

    One of the things that your blog has done for THEM (whether they know it or not) is describe the humanity of the people who support trump. Not as a faceless “base” or “cult”. It is right and proper that people in insulated, homogenous rural towns are shown the same thing about the dreaded “libs”. Now to focus on hard-working and dedicated civil servants who provide help to them, and us all, without most of us ever seeing their efforts.
    As for “the doctors”, the small upstate village I grew up in had a lot of animosity towards education and science as long as 50 years ago, always with that same resentment.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  11. You said what needed to be said. It is unfortunate that it did need to be said, that there are people out there who believe this nonsense. i feel for you having the need to speak out when you try so hard to stay out of this. Be of good courage and stay strong in your beliefs.

  12. YOU ROCK! Speaking your truth is always good. I’ve watched behavior like those three men since Jan 2017 and haven’t had any success in understanding it. It’s heart breaking and mind numbing and sometimes the pain comes out of my mouth too. Hugs to you.

  13. Amen. And thank you. I am one of a group of 6 friends, and I know three of us voted one way and three the other way in the 2016 election. I love them all equally, condemn none for the way they chose to exercise their right to vote, and I strive to understand the things in all of their (and my) backgrounds and life experiences that lead each of us to view our shared world in quite different ways. That being said, at our last monthly dinner before the Great Social Distancing, one friend remarked that a friend of hers said that he had *this same* “coronavirus” three years ago and it was *nothing.* I took a deep breath and said, he may have had *a* coronavirus, because that is a generic term for a host of different viruses, including SARS and MERS, but he could not have had *this* COVID-19 virus because it just emerged in late 2019 (hence the name). I was very calm, but I just could not let it go without correction. Where otherwise intelligent people pick up all this disinformation I do not know, but I do believe we have an obligation to challenge it when we hear it.

  14. Jon, I hear your frustration…I know what it feels like to work so hard to be able to talk to people who you know have a very different world view,.. then one day just crack. I have experienced the same sequence of emotions, and erupted in much the same way, then felt such shame afterwords. I don’t know if the shame is shared by the recipients of my eruptions, I don’t sense that it is….which adds another layer of contemplation for sure. Just wanted to assure you, that you are not alone in this experience.

  15. I wonder if they have any family members working in health care? Their attitude is a slap in the face to me and everyone else putting themselves at risk to help people just like them. It’s so hurtful.

  16. Yea, Jon! I live in the rural South and since I am white and of a certain age, people think I am part of their club (it’s a big one) and will talk disparagingly about all people of color or Democrats, assuming I will join in the vitriol. I am sure I’ve embarrassed quite a few people when I calmly made clear I am not what they think. I try to avoid those conversations, but if they come up I cannot go along or be silent. Sometimes it feels good to speak up.

  17. Thanks you, Joh. I agree with Maria that you did the right thing. It’s unfortunate these three good men ‘can’t handle the truth!’ I hope it doesn’t really happen to them, but it might help change their minds if they are hit by the freight train known as “coronavirus/COVID-19.”

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