Young adult entrenched in conspiracy theories

My 18 year old nephew is a lovely kid with lots of interests and talents. Lately, his parents are increasingly concerned because, especially during the pandemic, he has become entrenched in the extreme right. He’s involved in conspiracy theories, justifies the attack on the Capital, thinks being a white Christian male makes him “oppressed” (even though mom is Jewish and dad is half Latino), and says women should have fewer rights and should be required to stay home with children. He’s on the autism spectrum and says he’s always felt he didn’t fit in and now has found a group that he thinks he can identify with and feel a connection. In calmer moments, he has expressed that these conspiracy theories make him feel anxious. There have been late night emotional explosions where he talks nonstop about things like the “liberal Jewish media” controlling everything. His parents are desperate, sad and feel their child is lost, as if he’s in a cult. He is open to family therapy and his parents might be able to convince him to meet with a psychiatrist. If anyone has experience with something like this, they would very much appreciate ideas, input, referrals. Thank you.

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I have no direct experience with this, except that my teen son is on the autism spectrum and I can totally imagine how it would/could happen. The ASD population is particularly vulnerable and I worry about my own son in that regard-- I can only imagine how hard this is to live with and to watch your child experience.  I think talking with a therapist-- even if just the parents-- could be very helpful.  We (parents and 16-y.o on spectrum) started therapy in September with Dr. Andrew Schlegelmilch ( He came strongly recommended as having lots of experience with teens/young adults with ASD-- he is a former psychologist at Orion Academy in Moraga (a school specializing in support for students with Asperger's).  I will say that therapy can be an uphill climb, particularly if the patient doesn't see himself as needing therapy (our own son resists and there are times when I question the value for him), but we find it extremely helpful as parents.  Dr. Schelgelmilch is currently based in Ohio, but maintains his CA license and sees many patients here via telemed.  It's worth a conversation.  Take care and I sincerely hope they can find help.  

Hi there, I cannot offer any solutions but I can tell you I share your pain. My young adult daughter is similarly on the autism spectrum and has been caught up in the alt-right online community. She is a Black woman who has struggled all her life to make friends in the offline world, and she was thrilled to find people online who share her special interests. Unfortunately, the networks she tapped into are heavily male, misogynist, and racist. She tells me she is loyal to them because she wants to prove to them, with her "nice" and "understanding" interactions, that women and Black people are not bad. She tells me, "If you believed things that weren't true, wouldn't you want someone to educate you?" I appreciate her compassion, loyalty, and good intentions. But her naivete and lack of social savvy means that she has (1) sent naked pictures of herself to men who asked for them; (2) believed an online boyfriend (diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia) when he ranted about various government conspiracies, because "he is a genius and he knows what I'm feeling without me having to tell him" (in this period, she believed I was spying on her through her laptop); and (3) more recently, was ready to move across the country to live with a man whose offline name she doesn't know, who says he is married and has children but is a multimillionaire and would like her to be his girlfriend. When I criticize these interactions, she either reiterates that she plans to "change" her friends to make them tolerant and good, or tells me I'm a boomer who doesn't understand the internet. All I can think of to do is to encourage her to discuss these relationships with her therapist and to also encourage her to spend more time offline. But it's so hard to make friends in the "real world" if you are on the spectrum, and doubly so during pandemic times. I, too, would love to hear ideas and referrals!

My 19 year old son is on the spectrum and I have had the same concerns. He also has a Jewish mom (me) and a Chinese dad. What has worried me is he had psychotic symptoms when he was younger, and where that line between conspiracy theories/extremist views and psychoses may lie.

In MY calmer moments, I try to remember that his ASD centers around rigidity and black/white thinking, and he has little tolerance for anything that is subjective. There is nothing nuanced, vague or subtle about extreme views, and conspiracy theories provide an explanation to the more-than-usual confusing and out-of-our own control world that surrounds us. I hope that feeling a connection to these groups are his way of grasping onto something that feels understandable and normalized.  And that this interest will pass, like teenage angst.

I try to stay curious and non-reactive, and ask him about what he thinks, and I find I am impressed with his depth of knowledge and research. One night he talked non-stop for almost 2 hours about various conspiracy theories and views. I also asked if he has anyone to talk to about these subjects, and he says no-one wants to listen and they don't care. So I try to be an outlet for him to verbalize these ideas and opinions, though I admit I am a little traumatized for a day or two after a lengthy discussion.

I saved a FB post from a friend that I haven't read yet, and of course now I can't find it. It was something about "what to do when your young adult is attracted to conspiracy theories" or something similar. When I find it and watch it I will post back with the link.

Hugs to you and his parents.