Treating the conspiracy theory as a work of artistic expression, Erling Hope’s CrazyMaking project is an exploration of the creative act of believing things in the Post-Truth world. The Q.Public conspiracy theory that emerges from it investigates the liberational aspects of this troubled and timeless genre, testing the frontiers between making and finding meaning, between truth telling and story telling, between fact and fantasy, data and delusion.

To the right, a recitation of some of the beliefs shared with the CrazyMaking project in litany form, read by Erling Hope. More information available at

Erling Hope interviewed by
Grace Jackson.

Please tell me your name and a little bit about your background, and how you are connected to Vision Lab.

My name is Erling Hope. I am a maker of things. I say that loosely because they range all over the map, from liturgical artifacts to artwork. Most of my paycheck work is residential stuff. For me, it’s all built around the same core questions, about how the object and the built environment shape religious sensibility. Take a kitchen for example. There is no more liturgical space than a kitchen. It’s a space of ritual and repeated practice. It's life and death. You're taking life, you're giving life.

Can I ask what space you're in right now?

This is where I make most of the things. I’ve lived on the same piece of land in Long Island for 20 years. This piece of land was dumped here by the glaciers fifteen or twenty thousand years ago. I'm at the top of the moraine, where the glacier ended. It’s been interesting spending twenty years here. About 500 feet before you get down to basalt. The ocean is making its claims on this real estate over time. I've seen changes happen in the flora here. This used to be a wonderful big grandstand of mountain laurel, which is my favorite plant on the planet. It has these amazing flowers, and it makes a lovely, expressive wood. As that's been dying back over 20 years, we've seen the fauna change and the ticks and parasites move in. We were all epidemiologists out here before COVID hit. I grew up thinking of woodland as a friendly space, not realizing that I was in the sweet spot between polio and Lyme disease.

How did you come to be connected with Vision Lab?

My making things that end up in churches and synagogues, and my exploration of the role of religion and the influence of objects and environments, has put me in a kind of a long-term conversation with people doing similar or adjacent inquiries. I've been involved with an outfit called the Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture for some decades now. Kythe has been involved with them peripherally. Kythe and I have some old friends in common and connected that way. I'm really glad because this is a very exciting group.

Can you tell me about your project?

My project is a weird one. I'm working on an alternative conspiracy theory called Q Public. I've been watching the proliferation of what you might call the conspiracy-industrial complex here in the States, with fascination, curiosity, incredulity evolving into horror. I've seen colleagues, by which I used to mean the white dudes over 40 in the building trades and now, I mean, everybody in the building trades. They've all kind of tumbled into this world that I couldn't identify for a long time. I knew that something was weird going on and it took me about ten years to figure out the right questions in the right order. Because if you ask the wrong questions or if you asked the right questions in the wrong order, you’ll hit a roadblock because they knew it was weird. And they kind of didn't want to tell you everything. But when I finally found out where these people were going, it’s really kind of stunning, you know. QAnon is center stage now, but before that it was Alex Jones. His two platforms were Info Wars and Prison Planet. And that's not because he was concerned about incarceration rates in the United States or anywhere else. It's because he believes that we are all incarcerated in a planet-wide prison facility. I'm not going to laugh because this is serious.

I think these movements prey on people who have not dealt with their issues by giving them a way to externalize their anger when they actually need to be doing inner work.

Some people think of QAnon and its prior iterations as a new religion, and there's something interesting in that proposition. They do exhibit certain world-organizing and tribe-consolidating qualities.

They’re totalizing.

Yeah, and they’ve also been on this fast track of fundamentalizing, which I think is a function of it being a digital. By fundamentalizing I mean being hostile to any lines of inquiry that undermine the accepted narrative and dehumanizing people who aren't in the fold. We’re called sheeple, right? And it's alien reptoids and pedophiles and child eaters who are the enemy. But the thing that makes it not a religion is that it doesn't offer anything sustaining. It doesn't offer anything affirming. It does not console at all. It's a purely negative, cynical and instrumental.

I think the topic of conspiracy theories is fascinating, especially the history of what has been branded a conspiracy theory versus what has been considered a legitimate line of inquiry. It seems to me that labeling someone a conspiracy theorist is a very easy way to discredit them and paint them as a total nut job, even if their perspective contains a tiny seed of truth, embedded in a lot of nonsense.

This is the hardest part for me, this other kind of tension that we have to hold, which is that we have to remain committed to calling out the truths and falsehoods that we see with the passion of our conviction, while also remaining humble and recognizing that our vision is always limited. We might be wrong. Here in the US, we call it a culture war. It's really a cold civil war we're undergoing. That requires speaking truth when we see falsehood. Doing that with conviction while also keeping the humility is a very strange thing. I can only usually do one of those at a time.

That combination of conviction and humility seems to me to be the essence of so many religious practices and traditions. It’s something that I think only religions can really traffic in. Do you think religion has a monopoly on that sweet spot?

Well, I think they had a monopoly and I think they've squandered it. Pockets of it remain. Evangelicals talk about hating the sin but loving the sinner. That's a well-crafted thought for maintaining conviction while also maintaining love. One of the earliest words we had for faith was the Hebrew word yirah, which really means a kind of fear. But most of us would define fear it is the opposite of faith, right? Faith is an emotional thing. It’s about trust. So, to fear something and trust it at the same time – that's a tightrope walk right there. But all the interesting things are like that. All the best words have their own contradictions built in. All the most interesting people are full of contradictions.

Tell me about your alternative conspiracy theory.

Well, in the US and maybe in the UK, too, we are all being funneled largely by corporate interests into these broad, bogus binaries. There are longstanding cultural aspects to this, but there are also increasingly monetized interests, sorting us into more marketable demographics. If you were to sit down the most rabid Antifa with the most rabid QAnon people, you'd find a common thread, and it’s a deeply American insight: that power corrupts. We on the left and we on the right have chosen to locate that corrupting power in different places. On the right, all that corrupting power is the state. On the left, we tend to locate it in globalized, sociopathic corporations. So, I'm creating a somewhat on the nose, upside-down world, mirror version of QAnon.

I'll read a couple of paragraphs of my origin story. I'm calling it The Deep Story:

The colonization and enslavement of Europeans began in earnest in the year 1600. From there, it spread outwards gradually, spanning the globe or the sea over the course of the following decades and centuries, in an imitative process of trauma transferal that would repeat itself down to the most granular level. Colonized became colonizer and slave became slaver until eventually the individual perpetuates the operation on themselves. Only the most stubborn assertions of humanity are sufficient to break these chains of causation and coercion. We are entering the final stages of this now, with our last vestiges of agency and clarity in the balance. Earth at the turn of the 17th century was a planet teeming with life and organic resources. The little ice age had cooled the temperatures enough to curtail oceanic storms, prompting an increasingly robust schedule of maritime travel. And the inhabitants of the European peninsula had just begun knitting science, industry and warfare into a cohesive cultural sector, heralding a new era of resource extraction. These developments gained the notice of a population of non-terrestrial, sociopathic, artificially intelligent entities, which had been infiltrating the planet’s human population for the previous few millennia, exploiting a set of core vulnerabilities in our source code programming. They'd been conditioning growing contingents of humans to engage in increasingly large-scale extractive and exploitative endeavors.

So, my non-terrestrial sociopathic, artificially intelligent, hyper-empowered entities are, of course, multinational corporations.

That’s fascinating.

It’s actually been fun to game this out and build a fictional culture around this belief system. I consider myself to be a person of faith—of abiding, sustaining faith—but I am not a believer. I am a skeptical person of faith, and I feel that there are really interesting, problematic things happening with beliefs in general, in this post-truth world. So, this fits into a larger project exploring what beliefs are, what they are doing to us, and how we engage them and treat our fellow humans.

I have a really deep interest in the enchantment capacities of narrative to really fixate the mind and shape our experience. We know from the placebo effect that this is a real thing that can change our body chemistry. There are mechanisms that work that we are far from understanding. I have a strong suspicion of language in general, and storytelling in particular. But I also recognize that at the core of storytelling, there is this bigger question of what is the human being? What are we? That’s what I'm after here.

What role does history play in your theory?

When I say that the colonization of Europeans began in the 1600s, that’s history. I'm just science-fictionalizing history, which is what QAnon and Alex Jones have been doing. And this is 2021. We live in science fiction, this alternative universe. That’s the conceit. But I'm trying to stick very close to the rules I've set out, which is that, all these claims have some kind of historical basis. So, when I say that corporations are artificially intelligent, I’m using Milton Friedman's description of capitalism, that it is the best machine for calculating value. When I talk about these entities having pre-settled in bronze age India or republican Rome, there were expressions of corporations, like the publicani in Rome. These were sort of precursors to the corporation and they raised similar questions about the group versus the individual. Modern corporations have aspired to replace humans in the status of personhood, basically. We see that in the courts here in the US, most recently in the Citizens United case, but also way back in 1886 in the Southern Pacific Railroad vs. Santa Monica County case. As soon as these corporations are invented or reinvented in the Netherlands and then in England in the 1600s – bingo. What happens? Industrialized, commercialized, racialized slave trade kicks into gear. Genocidal colonization practices kick into gear. These processes were all funded by corporations in which the individual and the conscience becomes subsumed in a larger force.

The funny thing about the way QAnon seems to work, is that people can still believe a ton of other things. It’s like this little pocket, like a portal to another world, an upside-down world. So, you can simultaneously hold all kinds of contradictory facts in your head at once.

You’re touching on one of the really interesting things about what is happening to belief right now, where there's this kind of gamification effect. Leonard Pozner is the father of one of the children who was killed at Sandy Hook, and he described how, before that happened to him, he used to love playing around with conspiracy theories. He said he enjoyed the suspension of disbelief. Another way to describe suspension of disbelief is belief. And there was this white supremacist who said, “the Holocaust never happened and if you Jews aren't careful it'll happen again.” They don't believe this stuff. They just put it on and take it off as it suits them. In a sense it's like gamifying it to score points in virality, with hits and clicks and shares. I don't think the originators of the QAnon concept believe any of what they're putting out there. I think they're just monetizing it.

How does your project relate to the idea of the phoenix that we’ve been examining in Vision Lab?

In the 20th and 21st centuries, I feel strongly that the role of the artist in a shrinking and increasingly market-driven world, to take wildly disparate ideas and phenomena, and combine them in novel and compelling arrangements, to show in a sense that everything has its place, everything is in communication with all of the other pieces.

The Phoenix is in a family of mythical images and stories that do this. The arts have not always been the place that we do this. Traditionally, religions and mythology have been the places that we've done this. We see this in images like the burning bush. Like, what is that? It doesn't work, but it does. The phoenix is the same. Feathers and flame. It doesn’t work, but it does. It’s an exercise in combining incompatible ingredients into something sustaining and meaningful.

This whole COVID moment has been a strange exercise in living through incompatible emotional states. In the first six weeks of the pandemic, there was this idea that we're all in this together, but at the same time, alone and isolated. It felt like I was having a dream that I couldn’t wake up from, and at the same time like I'd finally woken up for the first time. So, you have these irreconcilable emotions, and on top of that you've got to have a sense of humor. We're trying to make a home for these things in ourselves.

I have just a fumbling sense of this, but that is what I see emerging from this. This bird that is both on fire and emerging from the flames, alive having just died. So, we have to hold these irreconcilable paradoxes within ourselves. I feel that's what this moment is demanding and that’s what the phoenix represents.

What have you found to be permanent in the midst of all this change and this loss destruction and grief? What’s going to remain for you at the end of the pandemic?

For a while I thought that these new, contradictory emotions I was experiencing—all in it together vs. isolated and alone / can't wake up from a dream vs. finally just woke up—I thought that we were actually experiencing new emotions as a species. I thought we were entering into a new set of emotional states. There might be something there, but it’s also occurred to me that these are actually ancient states. Like fear and faith in one word. That sense of moving through the world with confidence and humility at the same time. The sense of nature not minding if she kills you. That's ancient, it’s how things are supposed to be. So, I'm less involved in stigmatizing this moment and more about embracing it and affirming it.

There’s this idea of the phoenix building its nest before it sets itself on fire and embarks for the next life. So, I've been asking people about their nests. How are you preparing for what comes after this?

I'm a bit of a downer. I don't think the pandemic is coming to any near end. I think this is just a new feature of life. But I do have children, so I don't have a luxury of despair. That becomes increasingly an engineering feat, because I have this very morbid imagination, which has served me really well over the last few years. So, I'm not willing to toss it onto the pyre.

Since the pandemic I've been working largely alone, so anything I can do to get myself out of my head is what I gravitate to. For that, my nest, my restorative place is any body of salt water. It’s simple. A pair of goggles is all I really want. To spend time underneath the water. Because the ocean is as close as we get to another world on this planet. It's always a kind of baptism. You always go into the ocean with your hat in your hand, asking for mercy.

For nearly 35 years, Erling Hope has been exploring the cultural / cognitive third space that lies between art and religion. As artist, artisan, clergy and performer, he has been exploring the influence of objects, images, and the built environment on religious sensibility in the human animal. He has invented new building materials and developed novel collaborative processes for communal artistic output. He was once called a “tourist trapped in a local’s body” by a snide teenage daughter. He has adopted this epithet as a keen honor and his life’s highest calling.