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How Minds Change

The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion

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Hardcover
$30.00 US
6.22"W x 9.28"H x 1.2"D  
On sale Jun 21, 2022 | 352 Pages | 978-0-593-19029-6
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
The 2022 Porchlight Marketing and Sales Book of the Year

A brain-bending investigation of why some people never change their minds—and others do in an instant—by the bestselling author of You Are Not So Smart


What made a prominent conspiracy-theorist YouTuber finally see that 9/11 was not a hoax? How do voter opinions shift from neutral to resolute? Can widespread social change only take place when a generation dies out? From one of our greatest thinkers on reasoning, HOW MINDS CHANGE is a book about the science, and the experience, of transformation.

When self-delusion expert and psychology nerd David McRaney began a book about how to change someone’s mind in one conversation, he never expected to change his own. But then a diehard 9/11 Truther’s conversion blew up his theories—inspiring him to ask not just how to persuade, but why we believe, from the eye of the beholder. Delving into the latest research of psychologists and neuroscientists, HOW MINDS CHANGE explores the limits of reasoning, the power of groupthink, and the effects of deep canvassing. Told with McRaney’s trademark sense of humor, compassion, and scientific curiosity, it’s an eye-opening journey among cult members, conspiracy theorists, and political activists, from Westboro Baptist Church picketers to LGBTQ campaigners in California—that ultimately challenges us to question our own motives and beliefs. In an age of dangerous conspiratorial thinking, can we rise to the occasion with empathy?

An expansive, big-hearted journalistic narrative, HOW MINDS CHANGE reaches surprising and thought-provoking conclusions, to demonstrate the rare but transformative circumstances under which minds can change.
A two-time winner of the William Randolph Hearst Award, journalist David McRaney writes the blog youarenotsosmart.com. A self-described psychology nerd, he lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. View titles by David McRaney

Chapter 1: Post Truth

 

I spotted Charlie Veitch as he rose on an escalator from beneath the London Road entrance to Manchester's Piccadilly train station. He wore a green plaid hoodie, blue jeans, and a backpack. A splotch of white just above his temples stood out from within his otherwise conservative haircut. At the top, he smiled, pivoted, and kept his momentum going as he closed the distance between us.

 

He said hello while walking and changed direction to enter the flow of pedestrian traffic, his body parting a parade of people walking in the opposite direction. Charlie kept his head turned toward me and abandoned introductions, explaining with wide gestures the architecture and history of the city where he and his partner, Stacey, were now raising three kids. Life was good here, he said, though he still worked under a false name to keep the truthers from finding him.

 

Charlie is a tall man, so keeping up with his stride took some effort. I felt pulled along as if I had grabbed the back of a bus, my feet suspended in the air like in a Chaplin gag. He had insights he wanted to share on homelessness, the local art and music scenes, modern movie production, the similarities and differences between Manchester and London and Berlin-all before we had reached our third crosswalk, which he would have likely ignored like the others if traffic had permitted.

 

I wanted to meet Charlie because when he was making a living as a professional conspiracy theorist he had done something incredible, something so rare and unusual that, before I started this book, I thought was impossible-something that had nearly ruined his life.

 

It all began in June 2011, just ahead of the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, when Charlie boarded a British Airways flight at Heathrow Airport bound for the United States and Ground Zero. He and four other truthers joined a group of cameramen, editors, and sound engineers along with comedian Andrew Maxwell, the host of a TV series called Conspiracy Road Trip. Maxwell and his crew would make four programs for the BBC, each dealing with a different conspiratorial community: UFO enthusiasts, evolution deniers, London bombing conspiracy theorists, and truthers, the people who believe the official story of what happened on September 11, 2001, is a lie.

 

The premise of the show was to send such people around the world and have them travel by bus to meet experts and eyewitnesses who would challenge their conspiratorial beliefs with undeniable evidence, with facts. Whatever drama that ensued made for great television, arguing and frustration on both sides cut together with playful music and the usual reality show editing. At the end of each show, Maxwell, our host and guide into the world of conspiracy theorists, would sit down with his road trippers to see if the facts presented had persuaded them in any way. That was the hook. People never budged. Maxwell, exasperated, ended every road trip shaking his head, wondering what it would take to reach them.

 

But Charlie's episode was different.

 

He and his fellow 9/11 truthers spent ten days in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They walked the crash sites. They met experts in demolition, explosives, air travel, and construction. They met family members of the victims. They met officials from the government, including one who was at the Pentagon when it was hit and helped with the gory cleanup. They visited the original architects of the World Trade Center. They met the person who was the national operations manager of the FAA at the time of the attacks. They even trained in a commercial airliner flight simulator and took flying lessons over New York City, landing a single-engine airplane with no prior piloting experience. At each step of their journey, they met people who were either at the top of their fields of expertise, saw 9/11 unfold firsthand, or had lost someone that day.

 

Despite Maxwell's efforts, the truthers doubled down, more certain than ever that there was a conspiracy afoot. If anything, his efforts confirmed it. They all argued with him, suggesting they were being tricked by paid actors, or that the experts were mistaken, or the so-called facts came from dubious sources. All except for one.

 

At the time, Charlie was a leader in the truther community. His main income for years came from producing hundreds of anarchy- and conspiracy-themed YouTube videos, some receiving a million views or more. He told his fans that the fires of 9/11 couldn't have burned hot enough to melt the World Trade Center's steel beams, and that the buildings fell perfectly into their footprints: it must have been a controlled demolition. He traced out the connections between governments, businesses, militaries, and so on to determine who was truly responsible. He routinely hit the streets with a megaphone in one hand and a camera in the other, working diligently to gain subscribers and wake people up to the truth.

 

Once it became his full-time job, Charlie traveled the subversive speaker circuit where he regularly appeared at festivals that catered to

fellow conspiracy theorists, anarchists, and neo-hippies seeking sex, drugs, and free Wi-Fi. He became friend and collaborator to world-famous histrionic patriot Alex Jones and the interdimensional reptilian investigator David Icke.

 

For five years, he had paid his dues, even going to jail on several occasions. He was arrested for impersonating a police officer when Russian state television sent him to cover the G20 Summit in Toronto to uncover the machinations of a dystopian new world order. Later, he was arrested on, ironically, suspicion of conspiracy for planning a protest during the royal wedding. Covering his capture, The Telegraph described him as a "known anarchist."

 

A darling of the conspiracy community, a rising star on YouTube, Charlie saw himself as an up-and-coming celebrity provocateur. Hated by some. Beloved by others. He thought the trip to New York would be his big break, the event that would take him mainstream. But once there, at the height of his fame, he did something unbelievable and, as it would turn out, unforgivable.

 

He changed his mind.

 

 

At the Eastern Bloc coffee shop, we sat through a few revolutions of customers stopping to eat and talk and laugh, and Charlie seemed to feed off of it, raising his voice so that bystanders could easily hear him explain from within a cloud of American Spirit cigarette smoke why he was no longer a truther.

 

Early in the filming of his episode, he and the other truthers met a demolition expert named Brent Blanchard, who told them that a controlled demolition would have required a massive crew of people. They would have needed to first demolish the inner walls of the World Trade Center (WTC) towers to expose hundreds of internal columns, then precut each one with jackhammer-type devices, and then insert explosives, Blanchard explained. It would have taken months for workers to rig the WTC towers for a controlled demolition of that size. All the while, they would have been seen going in and out of the building, taking lunch breaks, moving equipment, dealing with debris and construction waste. It would have been impossible to conceal.

 

Charlie asked: If this was true, why did the buildings fall perfectly into their footprints? Blanchard explained they didn't. He used a prop made of Legos to show Charlie how the top half destroyed itself and everything below it in a chain reaction as it all came crashing down. It blew the debris outward, he explained, not into the buildings' footprints.

 

Charlie asked: But if it was only jet fuel and not explosives, and jet fuel doesn't burn hot enough to melt steel beams, how could the buildings have collapsed? Blanchard explained that the steel skeleton didn't need to melt. The beams only needed to bend just the slightest bit. Once bent, they couldn't support the entire weight of the building above them and would continue to bend even farther, past the point where they could support the enormous forces pressing down. Charlie didn't argue. He absorbed Blanchard's explanation, unsure what to think.

 

The group later met the architects of the World Trade Center who patiently explained that it was designed to withstand an airplane of its era, not a modern jet loaded with fuel and traveling at full speed. They met Alice Hoagland, who lost her son, Mark Bingham, whose hijacked flight crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. They met Tom Heidenberger, who lost his wife of thirty years, Michelle, an American Airlines flight attendant who was working on the plane that slammed into the Pentagon. The doubt rushed in on him, filling his head with a swarm of other doubts.

 

"All of this suddenly, then, bang!" Charlie said, describing his realization. The flight school, the blueprints, the architecture firm, the demolition experts-it had all chipped away at his certainty. It exposed the possibility that he might be wrong, but it was the grieving family members that confirmed it.

 

But back at the hotel, Charlie was surprised to learn that his epiphany was his alone. The others told him that Hoagland had been brainwashed by the FBI, or worse yet, she was an actress hired by the BBC to trick them all with her "crocodile tears." It shocked Charlie, who had held Hoagland while she sobbed. He said he began hating his companions, thinking, "You fucking animals. You disgusting fucking animals."

 

While still on the trip, Charlie stood in Times Square and filmed himself explaining what he had learned. He had met experts who showed him how easy it was to fly a plane and land it with little experience, how hard it would be to create a controlled demolition with no one noticing, how the buildings could'nt withstand the impact of a modern jet loaded with fuel, and so on.

 

"I don't know, man," he said, detailing the specifics. He understood why so many people, like him, had suspected foul play. There had been lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and wars had been based on those lies. Their anger was justified, their obsessive pursuit for answers understandable.

 

"We're not gullible," Charlie said. "We're truth seekers in a 9/11 Truth movement just trying to find out the truth about what happened. The mind boggles. This reality, this universe is truly one of smoke screens, illusions, and wrong paths, but also the right path, which is always be committed to the truth. Do not hold on to religious dogma. If you are presented with new evidence, take it on, even if it contradicts what you or your group might be believing or wanting to believe. You have to give the truth the greatest respect, and I do."

 

A week later, back home, Charlie edited and uploaded a three-minute-and-thirty-three-second confessional intercut with footage from his trip. He titled it: No Emotional Attachment to 9/11 Theories-The Truth is Most Important.

 

He wrote in the video's description that after five years of believing in the conspiracy theory, after appearing on Alex Jones's program several times, after promoting the truther community onstage and on television, he now believed that "America's defenses got caught with their pants around their ankles. I do not think there was high-level complicity in the events of that day. Yes, I have changed my mind." He signed off with, "Honour the truth-Charlie."

 

The backlash was swift and brutal.

 

 

 

 

At first, people began emailing, asking if he was okay, asking what the government had done to him. Within the first few days, fellow conspiracy theorist Ian R. Crane posted on truther forums that a producer friend told him Charlie had been manipulated by a psychologist who worked closely with mentalist Derren Brown. That explained why Charlie had uploaded that video.

 

Rumors began to spread that he had been an operative sent by the FBI or the CIA or the British Secret Service the whole time, sent to infiltrate the ranks of the truther movement-a plant sent to discredit them. Conspiracy radio host Max Igan said that Charlie was the first person he had ever heard of in the truther movement to change his mind. It just didn't make sense. Commenters to that show's website wrote things like, "they got to him," and "so Charlie how much hush money did the elites give you to shut your mouth?" and "that's like exchanging the belief in gravity for believing that it doesn't exist."

 

Hastily shot response videos began to appear online claiming Charlie had been paid off by the BBC. To explain himself, he appeared on internet conspiracy talk shows. He shared what the experts had told him and why it was so convincing, but his fellow truthers were incredulous. Charlie begged in his own response videos for decency. Before long, it became clear he was being excommunicated. The harassment continued for months. His website was hacked. He shut down his comment sections. David Icke and Alex Jones cut ties.

 

Charlie's episode of Conspiracy Road Trip eventually aired. At the end, he told Maxwell, "I just need to basically take it on the chin, admit I was wrong, be humble about it, and carry on," but by then the truthers had made that impossible. Charlie told me the most heinous moment in his harassment came when someone discovered he had an unpublicized YouTube channel that featured videos of his family and other personal material.

 

"In one of my videos, my sister had two younger children at the time, and I went to visit her in Cornwall, lovely part of England, and some asshole-" Charlie searched for the right words. "-The channel was called, like, 'Kill Charlie Veitch,' and he Photoshopped nudity on my sister's children. They sent it to my sister."

 

Charlie's sister called him crying. She couldn't understand how or why it was happening. His mother would call, too. Someone found her email address and sent her thousands of emails, including one that contained child pornography with her grandchildren's faces superimposed. The sender claimed the images were real, and that Charlie had taken them. She contacted Charlie thinking it was true.

 

"They were out for his blood, like a trophy," explained his partner, Stacey Bluer, who had joined us for breakfast. "When I was pregnant, I started receiving a lot of messages-'Your child is devil's spawn,' all this horrible stuff."

 

Alex Jones chimed in with a video of his own. He sat in a darkened room, his face illuminated by red light, the camera zoomed in on his eyes, and explained that he knew Charlie was a double agent all along. He ended by saying his fans should remain vigilant because people like Charlie would keep showing up, and they might say they had changed their minds after being in the movement for a while. For Charlie, that was it. He gave up trying to convince anyone of the things he now believed. The truthers had officially cast him out, and so he left the community for good.

“A combination of compelling overview and practical strategy . . . Convincing advice regarding a timely issue.”
Kirkus Reviews

“McRaney makes a convincing case . . . and backs it up with what science has to say about ‘replac[ing] old ignorance with new wisdom.’ The result is an eye-opening survey filled with heart.”
Publishers Weekly

How Minds Change explores why some world views seem so stubbornly immune to reason . . . Hence McRaney’s ‘softly softly’ approach, inspired by conversational techniques such as ‘street epistemology’ and ‘deep canvassing,’ which sometimes trigger remarkable conversations . . . a world champion debater cannot change your mind; only you can do that.”
Financial Times

“Indeed, [McRaney’s] writing is a tonic for those who might scratch their head at how others could be so nonsensical as to distrust vaccines, believe the Earth is flat or subscribe to any other number of conspiracy theories. It helps shift perceptions from the unhelpful attitude of ‘this person is stupid and beyond help’ to ‘this person has a different frame of belief, and they can be encouraged to think more deeply about the issue.’’
The New Scientist

“An optimistic, illuminating and even inspiring read . . . a rousing call to action . . . But McRaney is also inspiring in his quieter revelations.”
The Guardian

"A riveting read on the art and science of persuasion. David McRaney's brilliant book will force you to rethink your views about how to motivate other people to rethink theirs. In a time when too many minds seem closed, this is a masterful analysis of what it takes to open them."
Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the podcast WorkLife

"If you join David McRaney on this journey — a spirited tour that ranges from activists to scientists to cultists — you’ll arrive in an unexpected place. He shows us how generous conversations can replace zero-sum debates and how genuine empathy can close deep divisions. How Minds Change is the ideal book for our perilous moment.”
Daniel H. Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Power of Regret, To Sell is Human, and Drive

“This book is a fascinating journey through the neuroscience and psychology of how we form and update our opinions. How Minds Change is the book our society desperately needs right now. David McRaney shows us how to connect, consider, and see the potential for change in others and ourselves.”
Scott Barry Kaufman, host of The Psychology Podcast

"Filled with the kinds of captivating real-life stories that you can't wait to tell your friends and the latest scientific insights from psychology and beyond, McRaney's book provides a surprising glimpse into why changing human minds is so damn hard... but also the good news that it can in fact be possible with the right strategies."
Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University and host of The Happiness Lab podcast

“When I first talked to David McRaney about How Minds Change, I found myself taking mad notes on everything he was explaining to me! Thank goodness he wrote the book so I can relax and just soak it all in!”
Simon Sinek, Optimist and New York Times bestselling author of Start with Why and The Infinite Game

"McRaney's topic in How Minds Change couldn't be more important, and he's the perfect guide to it: warm, witty, and powered by an infectious curiosity."
Julia Galef, author of The Scout Mindset

"There is perhaps no greater nut to crack than how we can more easily change minds, including our own, in the face of compelling evidence. David McRaney has turned his attention to this important problem in recent years and shares the surprising nature of why minds do and do not change. In these contentious times, it's heartening to have David's book on hand -- to teach us about burgeoning research into effectively changing minds and how it might be more achievable in certain contexts than we might think."
Maya Shankar, creator and host of A Slight Change of Plans

"That very rare thing - an astonishingly interesting book on a vitally important topic."
Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman at Ogilvy UK and author of Alchemy: The Surprising Power Of Ideas That Don't Make Sense

"This is a must-read manual for anyone interested in the seemingly impossible task of changing people’s minds. Discover the science behind how we form beliefs, attitudes, and values, and the surprisingly simple way our views can shift."
Logan Ury, author of How To Not Die Alone

"In an era where people feel separated by polarization and tribalism, David goes beyond simple academic concepts and provides concrete strategies to create meaningful conversations that can shift perspectives and connect people."
Jon Levy, behavioral scientist and New York Times bestselling author of You're Invited

"If you didn't like Dave McRaney's writing before, not only will this book change your mind, it'll explain why that happens."
Dean Burnett, neuroscientist and bestselling author of The Idiot Brain

"David McRaney changed my mind about changing minds. Now I think it is possible. All is not lost. We can bridge these enormous gaps in our culture and repair our epistemic foundations – but it will take a lot of hard work, as well as the ideas found in this hugely important and enlightening book. If you want to be a better thinker and citizen and aren’t ready to give up on the world, this book is a must-read."
AJ Jacobs, journalist and author the New York Times bestseller The Year of Living Biblically

"David McRaney, more than just about anybody, has devoted his life to exploring the surprising tricks that our minds play on us. He is a master of using fascinating stories to teach us important principles of psychology. While David's previous work focused on how reasoning and decision-making so often go wrong and how we manage to convince ourselves we're right, now he is tackling the other side of the coin: how it is that we sometimes dramatically change our minds."
Spencer Greenberg, founder and CEO of Spark Wave

"David McRaney is one of our finest science communicators, and How Minds Change is his greatest achievement yet. Brilliantly smart, continually entertaining and utterly timely, it will change the way you see the world - and help you change others."
Will Storr, journalist and author of The Status Game

"A timely, informative, and encouraging case for why the craziness paralyzing our society may not be permanent, and a refreshingly actionable proposal for changing ourselves, among others."
Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock and Team Human

"As a social psychologist who studies interpersonal conflict, I've given up on my ability to change the minds of some of my closest family members and friends. I've tried all of the tricks to try to get my different-thinking close others to abandon their (false) beliefs. To keep our relationships in tact we talk about the weather. David McRaney’s book has changed this steadfast pessimist not into an optimist but a realist. His perspective is fresh and actionable. He recommends honesty when trickery feels more appealing. And it works. Read this book cover to cover--it will change how you feel about tackling one of the most difficult relationship challenges: Changing the minds of the people we care about, without damaging the relationship itself."
Tessa West, social psychologist and author of Jerks at Work

"Whether you’ve watched a loved one fall down a rabbit hole of misinformation or need to persuade your colleagues at work, this is the book for you. David McRaney weaves together a blend of gripping stories and cutting-edge research on the science of changing minds. In an age of fake news, conspiracy theories, and propaganda, he gives you the tools to get through to others and help them come to their damn senses."
Jay Van Bavel, psychologist and author of The Power of Us

"I loved How Minds Change—a book that's crammed with amazing stories and eye-opening reporting. McRaney is a gifted science writer."
Clive Thompson, author of Coders: The Making of A New Tribe and the Remaking of the World

About

The 2022 Porchlight Marketing and Sales Book of the Year

A brain-bending investigation of why some people never change their minds—and others do in an instant—by the bestselling author of You Are Not So Smart


What made a prominent conspiracy-theorist YouTuber finally see that 9/11 was not a hoax? How do voter opinions shift from neutral to resolute? Can widespread social change only take place when a generation dies out? From one of our greatest thinkers on reasoning, HOW MINDS CHANGE is a book about the science, and the experience, of transformation.

When self-delusion expert and psychology nerd David McRaney began a book about how to change someone’s mind in one conversation, he never expected to change his own. But then a diehard 9/11 Truther’s conversion blew up his theories—inspiring him to ask not just how to persuade, but why we believe, from the eye of the beholder. Delving into the latest research of psychologists and neuroscientists, HOW MINDS CHANGE explores the limits of reasoning, the power of groupthink, and the effects of deep canvassing. Told with McRaney’s trademark sense of humor, compassion, and scientific curiosity, it’s an eye-opening journey among cult members, conspiracy theorists, and political activists, from Westboro Baptist Church picketers to LGBTQ campaigners in California—that ultimately challenges us to question our own motives and beliefs. In an age of dangerous conspiratorial thinking, can we rise to the occasion with empathy?

An expansive, big-hearted journalistic narrative, HOW MINDS CHANGE reaches surprising and thought-provoking conclusions, to demonstrate the rare but transformative circumstances under which minds can change.

Author

A two-time winner of the William Randolph Hearst Award, journalist David McRaney writes the blog youarenotsosmart.com. A self-described psychology nerd, he lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. View titles by David McRaney

Excerpt

Chapter 1: Post Truth

 

I spotted Charlie Veitch as he rose on an escalator from beneath the London Road entrance to Manchester's Piccadilly train station. He wore a green plaid hoodie, blue jeans, and a backpack. A splotch of white just above his temples stood out from within his otherwise conservative haircut. At the top, he smiled, pivoted, and kept his momentum going as he closed the distance between us.

 

He said hello while walking and changed direction to enter the flow of pedestrian traffic, his body parting a parade of people walking in the opposite direction. Charlie kept his head turned toward me and abandoned introductions, explaining with wide gestures the architecture and history of the city where he and his partner, Stacey, were now raising three kids. Life was good here, he said, though he still worked under a false name to keep the truthers from finding him.

 

Charlie is a tall man, so keeping up with his stride took some effort. I felt pulled along as if I had grabbed the back of a bus, my feet suspended in the air like in a Chaplin gag. He had insights he wanted to share on homelessness, the local art and music scenes, modern movie production, the similarities and differences between Manchester and London and Berlin-all before we had reached our third crosswalk, which he would have likely ignored like the others if traffic had permitted.

 

I wanted to meet Charlie because when he was making a living as a professional conspiracy theorist he had done something incredible, something so rare and unusual that, before I started this book, I thought was impossible-something that had nearly ruined his life.

 

It all began in June 2011, just ahead of the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, when Charlie boarded a British Airways flight at Heathrow Airport bound for the United States and Ground Zero. He and four other truthers joined a group of cameramen, editors, and sound engineers along with comedian Andrew Maxwell, the host of a TV series called Conspiracy Road Trip. Maxwell and his crew would make four programs for the BBC, each dealing with a different conspiratorial community: UFO enthusiasts, evolution deniers, London bombing conspiracy theorists, and truthers, the people who believe the official story of what happened on September 11, 2001, is a lie.

 

The premise of the show was to send such people around the world and have them travel by bus to meet experts and eyewitnesses who would challenge their conspiratorial beliefs with undeniable evidence, with facts. Whatever drama that ensued made for great television, arguing and frustration on both sides cut together with playful music and the usual reality show editing. At the end of each show, Maxwell, our host and guide into the world of conspiracy theorists, would sit down with his road trippers to see if the facts presented had persuaded them in any way. That was the hook. People never budged. Maxwell, exasperated, ended every road trip shaking his head, wondering what it would take to reach them.

 

But Charlie's episode was different.

 

He and his fellow 9/11 truthers spent ten days in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They walked the crash sites. They met experts in demolition, explosives, air travel, and construction. They met family members of the victims. They met officials from the government, including one who was at the Pentagon when it was hit and helped with the gory cleanup. They visited the original architects of the World Trade Center. They met the person who was the national operations manager of the FAA at the time of the attacks. They even trained in a commercial airliner flight simulator and took flying lessons over New York City, landing a single-engine airplane with no prior piloting experience. At each step of their journey, they met people who were either at the top of their fields of expertise, saw 9/11 unfold firsthand, or had lost someone that day.

 

Despite Maxwell's efforts, the truthers doubled down, more certain than ever that there was a conspiracy afoot. If anything, his efforts confirmed it. They all argued with him, suggesting they were being tricked by paid actors, or that the experts were mistaken, or the so-called facts came from dubious sources. All except for one.

 

At the time, Charlie was a leader in the truther community. His main income for years came from producing hundreds of anarchy- and conspiracy-themed YouTube videos, some receiving a million views or more. He told his fans that the fires of 9/11 couldn't have burned hot enough to melt the World Trade Center's steel beams, and that the buildings fell perfectly into their footprints: it must have been a controlled demolition. He traced out the connections between governments, businesses, militaries, and so on to determine who was truly responsible. He routinely hit the streets with a megaphone in one hand and a camera in the other, working diligently to gain subscribers and wake people up to the truth.

 

Once it became his full-time job, Charlie traveled the subversive speaker circuit where he regularly appeared at festivals that catered to

fellow conspiracy theorists, anarchists, and neo-hippies seeking sex, drugs, and free Wi-Fi. He became friend and collaborator to world-famous histrionic patriot Alex Jones and the interdimensional reptilian investigator David Icke.

 

For five years, he had paid his dues, even going to jail on several occasions. He was arrested for impersonating a police officer when Russian state television sent him to cover the G20 Summit in Toronto to uncover the machinations of a dystopian new world order. Later, he was arrested on, ironically, suspicion of conspiracy for planning a protest during the royal wedding. Covering his capture, The Telegraph described him as a "known anarchist."

 

A darling of the conspiracy community, a rising star on YouTube, Charlie saw himself as an up-and-coming celebrity provocateur. Hated by some. Beloved by others. He thought the trip to New York would be his big break, the event that would take him mainstream. But once there, at the height of his fame, he did something unbelievable and, as it would turn out, unforgivable.

 

He changed his mind.

 

 

At the Eastern Bloc coffee shop, we sat through a few revolutions of customers stopping to eat and talk and laugh, and Charlie seemed to feed off of it, raising his voice so that bystanders could easily hear him explain from within a cloud of American Spirit cigarette smoke why he was no longer a truther.

 

Early in the filming of his episode, he and the other truthers met a demolition expert named Brent Blanchard, who told them that a controlled demolition would have required a massive crew of people. They would have needed to first demolish the inner walls of the World Trade Center (WTC) towers to expose hundreds of internal columns, then precut each one with jackhammer-type devices, and then insert explosives, Blanchard explained. It would have taken months for workers to rig the WTC towers for a controlled demolition of that size. All the while, they would have been seen going in and out of the building, taking lunch breaks, moving equipment, dealing with debris and construction waste. It would have been impossible to conceal.

 

Charlie asked: If this was true, why did the buildings fall perfectly into their footprints? Blanchard explained they didn't. He used a prop made of Legos to show Charlie how the top half destroyed itself and everything below it in a chain reaction as it all came crashing down. It blew the debris outward, he explained, not into the buildings' footprints.

 

Charlie asked: But if it was only jet fuel and not explosives, and jet fuel doesn't burn hot enough to melt steel beams, how could the buildings have collapsed? Blanchard explained that the steel skeleton didn't need to melt. The beams only needed to bend just the slightest bit. Once bent, they couldn't support the entire weight of the building above them and would continue to bend even farther, past the point where they could support the enormous forces pressing down. Charlie didn't argue. He absorbed Blanchard's explanation, unsure what to think.

 

The group later met the architects of the World Trade Center who patiently explained that it was designed to withstand an airplane of its era, not a modern jet loaded with fuel and traveling at full speed. They met Alice Hoagland, who lost her son, Mark Bingham, whose hijacked flight crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. They met Tom Heidenberger, who lost his wife of thirty years, Michelle, an American Airlines flight attendant who was working on the plane that slammed into the Pentagon. The doubt rushed in on him, filling his head with a swarm of other doubts.

 

"All of this suddenly, then, bang!" Charlie said, describing his realization. The flight school, the blueprints, the architecture firm, the demolition experts-it had all chipped away at his certainty. It exposed the possibility that he might be wrong, but it was the grieving family members that confirmed it.

 

But back at the hotel, Charlie was surprised to learn that his epiphany was his alone. The others told him that Hoagland had been brainwashed by the FBI, or worse yet, she was an actress hired by the BBC to trick them all with her "crocodile tears." It shocked Charlie, who had held Hoagland while she sobbed. He said he began hating his companions, thinking, "You fucking animals. You disgusting fucking animals."

 

While still on the trip, Charlie stood in Times Square and filmed himself explaining what he had learned. He had met experts who showed him how easy it was to fly a plane and land it with little experience, how hard it would be to create a controlled demolition with no one noticing, how the buildings could'nt withstand the impact of a modern jet loaded with fuel, and so on.

 

"I don't know, man," he said, detailing the specifics. He understood why so many people, like him, had suspected foul play. There had been lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and wars had been based on those lies. Their anger was justified, their obsessive pursuit for answers understandable.

 

"We're not gullible," Charlie said. "We're truth seekers in a 9/11 Truth movement just trying to find out the truth about what happened. The mind boggles. This reality, this universe is truly one of smoke screens, illusions, and wrong paths, but also the right path, which is always be committed to the truth. Do not hold on to religious dogma. If you are presented with new evidence, take it on, even if it contradicts what you or your group might be believing or wanting to believe. You have to give the truth the greatest respect, and I do."

 

A week later, back home, Charlie edited and uploaded a three-minute-and-thirty-three-second confessional intercut with footage from his trip. He titled it: No Emotional Attachment to 9/11 Theories-The Truth is Most Important.

 

He wrote in the video's description that after five years of believing in the conspiracy theory, after appearing on Alex Jones's program several times, after promoting the truther community onstage and on television, he now believed that "America's defenses got caught with their pants around their ankles. I do not think there was high-level complicity in the events of that day. Yes, I have changed my mind." He signed off with, "Honour the truth-Charlie."

 

The backlash was swift and brutal.

 

 

 

 

At first, people began emailing, asking if he was okay, asking what the government had done to him. Within the first few days, fellow conspiracy theorist Ian R. Crane posted on truther forums that a producer friend told him Charlie had been manipulated by a psychologist who worked closely with mentalist Derren Brown. That explained why Charlie had uploaded that video.

 

Rumors began to spread that he had been an operative sent by the FBI or the CIA or the British Secret Service the whole time, sent to infiltrate the ranks of the truther movement-a plant sent to discredit them. Conspiracy radio host Max Igan said that Charlie was the first person he had ever heard of in the truther movement to change his mind. It just didn't make sense. Commenters to that show's website wrote things like, "they got to him," and "so Charlie how much hush money did the elites give you to shut your mouth?" and "that's like exchanging the belief in gravity for believing that it doesn't exist."

 

Hastily shot response videos began to appear online claiming Charlie had been paid off by the BBC. To explain himself, he appeared on internet conspiracy talk shows. He shared what the experts had told him and why it was so convincing, but his fellow truthers were incredulous. Charlie begged in his own response videos for decency. Before long, it became clear he was being excommunicated. The harassment continued for months. His website was hacked. He shut down his comment sections. David Icke and Alex Jones cut ties.

 

Charlie's episode of Conspiracy Road Trip eventually aired. At the end, he told Maxwell, "I just need to basically take it on the chin, admit I was wrong, be humble about it, and carry on," but by then the truthers had made that impossible. Charlie told me the most heinous moment in his harassment came when someone discovered he had an unpublicized YouTube channel that featured videos of his family and other personal material.

 

"In one of my videos, my sister had two younger children at the time, and I went to visit her in Cornwall, lovely part of England, and some asshole-" Charlie searched for the right words. "-The channel was called, like, 'Kill Charlie Veitch,' and he Photoshopped nudity on my sister's children. They sent it to my sister."

 

Charlie's sister called him crying. She couldn't understand how or why it was happening. His mother would call, too. Someone found her email address and sent her thousands of emails, including one that contained child pornography with her grandchildren's faces superimposed. The sender claimed the images were real, and that Charlie had taken them. She contacted Charlie thinking it was true.

 

"They were out for his blood, like a trophy," explained his partner, Stacey Bluer, who had joined us for breakfast. "When I was pregnant, I started receiving a lot of messages-'Your child is devil's spawn,' all this horrible stuff."

 

Alex Jones chimed in with a video of his own. He sat in a darkened room, his face illuminated by red light, the camera zoomed in on his eyes, and explained that he knew Charlie was a double agent all along. He ended by saying his fans should remain vigilant because people like Charlie would keep showing up, and they might say they had changed their minds after being in the movement for a while. For Charlie, that was it. He gave up trying to convince anyone of the things he now believed. The truthers had officially cast him out, and so he left the community for good.

Praise

“A combination of compelling overview and practical strategy . . . Convincing advice regarding a timely issue.”
Kirkus Reviews

“McRaney makes a convincing case . . . and backs it up with what science has to say about ‘replac[ing] old ignorance with new wisdom.’ The result is an eye-opening survey filled with heart.”
Publishers Weekly

How Minds Change explores why some world views seem so stubbornly immune to reason . . . Hence McRaney’s ‘softly softly’ approach, inspired by conversational techniques such as ‘street epistemology’ and ‘deep canvassing,’ which sometimes trigger remarkable conversations . . . a world champion debater cannot change your mind; only you can do that.”
Financial Times

“Indeed, [McRaney’s] writing is a tonic for those who might scratch their head at how others could be so nonsensical as to distrust vaccines, believe the Earth is flat or subscribe to any other number of conspiracy theories. It helps shift perceptions from the unhelpful attitude of ‘this person is stupid and beyond help’ to ‘this person has a different frame of belief, and they can be encouraged to think more deeply about the issue.’’
The New Scientist

“An optimistic, illuminating and even inspiring read . . . a rousing call to action . . . But McRaney is also inspiring in his quieter revelations.”
The Guardian

"A riveting read on the art and science of persuasion. David McRaney's brilliant book will force you to rethink your views about how to motivate other people to rethink theirs. In a time when too many minds seem closed, this is a masterful analysis of what it takes to open them."
Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the podcast WorkLife

"If you join David McRaney on this journey — a spirited tour that ranges from activists to scientists to cultists — you’ll arrive in an unexpected place. He shows us how generous conversations can replace zero-sum debates and how genuine empathy can close deep divisions. How Minds Change is the ideal book for our perilous moment.”
Daniel H. Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Power of Regret, To Sell is Human, and Drive

“This book is a fascinating journey through the neuroscience and psychology of how we form and update our opinions. How Minds Change is the book our society desperately needs right now. David McRaney shows us how to connect, consider, and see the potential for change in others and ourselves.”
Scott Barry Kaufman, host of The Psychology Podcast

"Filled with the kinds of captivating real-life stories that you can't wait to tell your friends and the latest scientific insights from psychology and beyond, McRaney's book provides a surprising glimpse into why changing human minds is so damn hard... but also the good news that it can in fact be possible with the right strategies."
Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University and host of The Happiness Lab podcast

“When I first talked to David McRaney about How Minds Change, I found myself taking mad notes on everything he was explaining to me! Thank goodness he wrote the book so I can relax and just soak it all in!”
Simon Sinek, Optimist and New York Times bestselling author of Start with Why and The Infinite Game

"McRaney's topic in How Minds Change couldn't be more important, and he's the perfect guide to it: warm, witty, and powered by an infectious curiosity."
Julia Galef, author of The Scout Mindset

"There is perhaps no greater nut to crack than how we can more easily change minds, including our own, in the face of compelling evidence. David McRaney has turned his attention to this important problem in recent years and shares the surprising nature of why minds do and do not change. In these contentious times, it's heartening to have David's book on hand -- to teach us about burgeoning research into effectively changing minds and how it might be more achievable in certain contexts than we might think."
Maya Shankar, creator and host of A Slight Change of Plans

"That very rare thing - an astonishingly interesting book on a vitally important topic."
Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman at Ogilvy UK and author of Alchemy: The Surprising Power Of Ideas That Don't Make Sense

"This is a must-read manual for anyone interested in the seemingly impossible task of changing people’s minds. Discover the science behind how we form beliefs, attitudes, and values, and the surprisingly simple way our views can shift."
Logan Ury, author of How To Not Die Alone

"In an era where people feel separated by polarization and tribalism, David goes beyond simple academic concepts and provides concrete strategies to create meaningful conversations that can shift perspectives and connect people."
Jon Levy, behavioral scientist and New York Times bestselling author of You're Invited

"If you didn't like Dave McRaney's writing before, not only will this book change your mind, it'll explain why that happens."
Dean Burnett, neuroscientist and bestselling author of The Idiot Brain

"David McRaney changed my mind about changing minds. Now I think it is possible. All is not lost. We can bridge these enormous gaps in our culture and repair our epistemic foundations – but it will take a lot of hard work, as well as the ideas found in this hugely important and enlightening book. If you want to be a better thinker and citizen and aren’t ready to give up on the world, this book is a must-read."
AJ Jacobs, journalist and author the New York Times bestseller The Year of Living Biblically

"David McRaney, more than just about anybody, has devoted his life to exploring the surprising tricks that our minds play on us. He is a master of using fascinating stories to teach us important principles of psychology. While David's previous work focused on how reasoning and decision-making so often go wrong and how we manage to convince ourselves we're right, now he is tackling the other side of the coin: how it is that we sometimes dramatically change our minds."
Spencer Greenberg, founder and CEO of Spark Wave

"David McRaney is one of our finest science communicators, and How Minds Change is his greatest achievement yet. Brilliantly smart, continually entertaining and utterly timely, it will change the way you see the world - and help you change others."
Will Storr, journalist and author of The Status Game

"A timely, informative, and encouraging case for why the craziness paralyzing our society may not be permanent, and a refreshingly actionable proposal for changing ourselves, among others."
Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock and Team Human

"As a social psychologist who studies interpersonal conflict, I've given up on my ability to change the minds of some of my closest family members and friends. I've tried all of the tricks to try to get my different-thinking close others to abandon their (false) beliefs. To keep our relationships in tact we talk about the weather. David McRaney’s book has changed this steadfast pessimist not into an optimist but a realist. His perspective is fresh and actionable. He recommends honesty when trickery feels more appealing. And it works. Read this book cover to cover--it will change how you feel about tackling one of the most difficult relationship challenges: Changing the minds of the people we care about, without damaging the relationship itself."
Tessa West, social psychologist and author of Jerks at Work

"Whether you’ve watched a loved one fall down a rabbit hole of misinformation or need to persuade your colleagues at work, this is the book for you. David McRaney weaves together a blend of gripping stories and cutting-edge research on the science of changing minds. In an age of fake news, conspiracy theories, and propaganda, he gives you the tools to get through to others and help them come to their damn senses."
Jay Van Bavel, psychologist and author of The Power of Us

"I loved How Minds Change—a book that's crammed with amazing stories and eye-opening reporting. McRaney is a gifted science writer."
Clive Thompson, author of Coders: The Making of A New Tribe and the Remaking of the World

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