Conspiracy theorists are setting up their own dedicated dating sites, in response to what they see as their growing incompatibility with mainstream society.
The latest, schwurbeltreff.de, was launched last month in Germany, and claims to have gained 1,500 users in its first three weeks.
Alongside the standard dating profile bio questions around height, hobbies and favourite movies, new users of the site are asked to list which conspiracy theories they consider to be real – such as coronavirus, QAnon, New World Order or prepper ideology – and to disclose the number of coronavirus vaccines they’ve taken. New users are also asked to describe where they get their information about current events, and to explain how they think the world will change in the next 20 years.
The site – whose name is based on a disparaging German term for conspiracy theorists as people who speak gibberish – was launched by Michael Bründel, a prominent figure in Germany’s conspiracy theorist anti-lockdown scene. Styling himself as “Captain Future,” wearing a trademark yellow cap and eyemask, Bründel has been a fixture at so-called “Freedom Marches” since the start of the pandemic.
The site’s homepage shows Bründel wearing a tinfoil hat connected through a web of electrical sparks to a tinfoil hat-wearing woman, whose laptop is decorated with stickers featuring a UFO, a call to “Free Julian Assange,” and a photo of a plane about to crash into the World Trade Centre.
Bründel told VICE World News via email that the pandemic had divided the world “into two camps: those who basically trust the mainstream media and politicians, and those who use alternative media and see and evaluate many things very differently.”
“The different opinions on corona have broken many old friendships and relationships, but often also created new ones,” he said.
He said he saw conspiracy theorists and the mainstream as essentially incompatible, hence the need for dedicated dating websites for “lateral thinkers,” or “Querdenken” as the German conspiracy movement is known.
“You wouldn't understand each other [when] you look at the world so differently,” he said, repeating the myth that vaccinated people posed a threat to the unvaccinated by harmfully “shedding” the vaccine.
“I'm a lateral thinker and I'm not vaccinated, shedding is real, so vaccinated people are hardly an option,” he said.
Nicholas Potter, a researcher at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, an anti-extremism group in Berlin, told VICE World News that conspiracy ideology could “alienate people from their social environments, as friends and family refuse to accept their increasingly wild claims about chemtrails, 5G and chips in vaccinations.”
“They then seek comfort among like-minded people,” he said. “This can lead to a spiral of radicalisation.”
He said the dating site wasn’t the first he had come across that targeted the conspiracist scene. One, registered in Switzerland, was launched specifically for anti-vaxxers during the pandemic; another, initially launched in Germany in 2015, had come to parrot the rhetoric of the Querdenken movement in its social media since the start of the pandemic. He cited an Instagram post on the platform’s page that read: “Back then: ‘Jews won't be served here.’ Now: ‘Unvaccinated are not wanted’.”
The dating sites are just one expression of the separatist impulse of conspiracy movements as they become increasingly radicalised and estranged from mainstream society. Potter pointed to a German-language job portal specifically targeting anti-vaxxers, while VICE World News has previously reported on efforts by anti-vax conspiracy theorists to set up a new global infrastructure for the supply of unvaccinated blood.
Meanwhile in the UK, hardline conspiracy groups have set up their own off-grid “education hubs” to pull their children out of mainstream education, while others have launched efforts to set up entire breakaway communities, supposedly beyond the reach of the state.
Potter said that Bründel was a high-profile figure within Germany’s radical conspiracist scene – a regular presence at anti-lockdown marches which had defied government restrictions at a time COVID deaths were surging, and which had featured a continuous right-wing extremist presence.
But although his dating site also had functions that allowed users to list upcoming conspiracist demonstrations or other events, he wasn’t concerned that the site would become a useful portal to organise the kind of demos that have frequently erupted into violence and proved a security concern in Germany.
“Telegram already provides the perfect digital space for them to do that, and almost all relevant players are still active there, radicalising their followers and spreading … fake news,” he said. He added that he believed the launch of the site was probably an attempt by Bründel to “remain in the limelight of the conspiracy scene” as the numbers of people attending protests continued to shrink, with the movement’s pro-Russian slant alienating many potential supporters.
As for Bründel, he expressed the view, widespread in the conspiracist scene, that “lateral thinkers” like him would soon become the mainstream. Somewhat alarmingly, he claimed the “division” between his tribe and the rest of society would eventually be overcome only once those supposedly responsible for the pandemic were somehow held accountable.
“Lateral thinkers will soon be mainstream, I think. We're on our way there,” he said.
“But the problem is, of course, that no one wants to admit they were wrong. The division will be over when the truth is mainstream and those responsible have been brought to justice.”