When part of the frenzied mob at the U.S. Capital started a violent riot earlier this month it shocked the nation.

As the FBI continues to investigate and make arrests, it has become clear the protest had attracted many groups and organizations that espoused a range of beliefs.

Some who were in the crowd and others across the county remain convinced there was a wide-ranging conspiracy by Democrats and assorted Trump-haters to steal the election. But this is hardly the first time people have taken hold of a belief in something that has no basis in fact.

Jack Bratich, an associate professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, said individuals who believe and support a conspiracy theory become attached to an idea with a religious kind of fervor.

“They take being rebuffed by the courts or having a lack of evidence to be challenges and obstacles,” he said. "But the project for them continues because there’s a deep-seated, almost spiritual mission that’s part of this.”

He said  this kind of belief can become rooted “in grand stories about good and evil and Satan, so that also to me is what keeps people going. It’s a kind of faith-based movement.”

Bratich said people who feel disenfranchised and marginalized, left out on the fringe of society, may be more inclined to latch onto a conspiracy theory than others.

He noted with the pandemic causing people to become more isolated, many have been searching for a sense of community online, and those who have embraced a conspiracy theory may seek out others who feel the same way online, and this will then reinforce belief in the conspiracy.

He said some people also tend to believe everything they read online or hear in a video “because it fits into their world view” and this seems to be happening more and more, and lately.

“There’s been this sort of game element to this where people are claiming to do their own research," he said. "They see something online, they’ve made a connection, and then they think they’ve discovered something.”

He said when conspiracy theorists get involved in this, “they feel pleasure, they get a dopamine rush and it becomes a little more attractive when they think they’ve discovered something on their own.”

He said people are finding each other online and forming a kind of collective world-view “but also really an alternate reality."

"It breaks with this idea that we share the same reality, that we have a consensus around what some things are and aren’t," he said.

Bratich added some “media influencers” are pumping out daily reports about what they see going on in “an attempt to really have a breakaway mythic world that people are living in” similar to what happens when cults retreat to live in compounds.

He said the fact that most of this activity is taking place online makes it “harder to detect and harder to figure out what’s happening when they could be our neighbors who just seem completely fine, mowing their lawns or taking out the garbage.”

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