Susan feels as though she’s lost her mother, grandmother and two aunts recently. To be clear, her relatives are still alive—in Susan’s eyes, though, they’ve been lost to the radical conspiracy theory known widely as QAnon .
The grief Susan described to Newsweek over email sounds akin to the sort associated with a death in the family. ” Qanon took my mother away from me,” Susan wrote. “The mom as I remember will probably never be seen again. She is forever lost in this realm of fantasy and drama.”
She’s certainly not alone in this feeling of loss. Susan is one of approximately 118,000 members of a Reddit community known as “QAnon Casualties,” or “r/QAnonCasualties.” The community’s “about” section reads: “Do you have a friend or loved one who’s been taken in by the QAnon conspiracy fantasy? Look here for emotional support, resources, and a place to vent. Feel free to peruse old posts, settle in and relax. Learn to cope, deal and deprogram.”
“Susan” is not the real name of this particular person who shared her experiences with Newsweek . The members of QAnon Casualties who were willing to have their stories printed here requested that their real names not be used, as the details they provided may dwindle whatever faint hope they have of reconciling with their loved ones, or possibly even put them in danger, since some QAnon believers have been linked to violent acts and threats. However, everyone quoted in this story did provide their full names to Newsweek for verification on the condition that they not be used in this article.
“My family always leaned a little more conservative, although my mom would say she was not a very political person. But she was always drawn to semi-spiritual movements like homeopathic medicine, the anti-vax movement, etc.,” one woman—who we’ll refer to as “Cynthia”—wrote to Newsweek via private messages on Reddit .
The pattern Cynthia describes is not unusual when compared to other members of the QAnon Casualties community, many of whom describe being brought up in Republican (and often religious) households. Then, many of the people who spoke with Newsweek said, something unexplainable suddenly occurs, when their loved ones’ views take a decidedly more drastic turn.
As Susan put it, one day her mother told her “that Obama was the anti-Christ, and Trump had come to ‘cleanse’ America. I was totally shocked. We’re not really speaking at the moment. Honestly, I’m not sure how to deal with having someone so close to you start buying into something completely illogical.”
The claims Susan said her mother made might sound all-too-familiar to anyone who has has had encounters with QAnon. For those with only a passing familiarity with QAnon, who may be confused how it could drive families apart, here are some things to know: QAnon is a widely disproven, far-right conspiracy theory that states a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles is running a child-sex-trafficking ring. Supporters assert Donald Trump is actively fighting against the cabal, but Democrats , Hollywood actors, the mainstream media and large tech companies are working to thwart him.
As outlandish as this all sounds, an internal Facebook investigation last year found thousands of groups and pages dedicated to QAnon conspiracies that boasted millions of members and followers.
But some evidence suggests that even among those who say they believe in some theories pushed by QAnon, not everyone actually fully buys into the more extreme elements. An NPR/Ipsos poll released at the end of December found that 39 percent of Americans believed the QAnon-accepted theory that “a deep state” worked to undermine Donald Trump during the presidential election, but only 17 percent of respondents said they believed Satan-worshipping elites who run child-sex rings are trying to control the government. (While the latter number is startlingly high, 47 percent said Satanists weren’t trying to control the government and a further 37 percent said they weren’t sure.)
While resisting the influences of the devil and Democrats are core principles of QAnon, other conspiracies are often grouped in with them, which leads to many referring to QAnon as a group, an overall system of conspiracy-minded beliefs, or a fringe movement. Some other theories characterized as being part of QAnon include beliefs that many of the effects and deaths from COVID-19 are exaggerated, and that the coronavirus was intentionally created by scientists (often said to be Chinese) to unleash on the public. Another popular theory attached to QAnon—though believed to have originated elsewhere—is that last year’s Democratic primaries were rigged against Bernie Sanders .
Everyone in the QAnon Casualties community who shared their stories with Newsweek all have strained relations with loved ones who actively believe in the fullest, most extreme definition of the QAnon theory. Some of Newsweek ‘s sources rarely speak to their QAnon-believing loved ones but still check in on them on occasion, while others said their ties are currently completely severed, either by their choice or the other person’s. Their stories share many similarities, common threads, and nearly all of the people Newsweek spoke with use the word “cult” when discussing QAnon. Their loved ones who believe and spread the conspiracies also shatter any stereotypes one might have—some are described as well-educated, some come from liberal backgrounds or are former hippies, and there are instances of people of color who subscribe to the QAnon conspiracy.
Travis said he was living with his girlfriend and her Q-believing parents in Arizona until recently, when their beliefs caused him to begin staying at a hotel. In an email, he said of her parents: “These people are so harmless looking. [Her mother] works for the VA [Dept. of Veteran Affairs], doing research on the COVID vaccine. She believes the sex trafficking, blood-libel, satanic bulls**t hook, line, and sinker. [The father] works in IT for a large financial company. It is scary how these people are integrated into our society. I truly believe they would excuse mass violence to justify their beliefs… They believe the military is behind Trump and Biden is a puppet.”
Sunny still lives with her QAnon-believing family, and she assists in caring for her ailing grandfather. She described herself as Jewish, Hispanic and LGBTQ+, but remains in the closet, out of fear of her family. “My family over the past year has mocked my concern over COVID, which they think is a hoax,” she wrote in an email to Newsweek . “They’ve joked about taking me out back and shooting me for voting Democrat. They threaten to kick me out if I get the vaccine. I am not allowed to disagree with them politically without some sort of repercussion, often in the form of dangerous threats or physical violence… It is incredibly disheartening to watch what has happened in my family, and I live in fear and grief over what my future could hold.”
Another common pattern is that followers often try to convince their loved ones of the conspiracies, or at least try to justify believing in them. Though she lives all the way over in Ireland, Amy said she still experienced such efforts firsthand. Her sister, who moved to the U.S., began showing signs of following QAnon only after the 2020 presidential election, according to Amy. In December, seemingly out of nowhere, Amy said she “got the first of many super-long emails about all the research (‘deep dive’) she was doing, along with info being shared with her from her ‘many friends in the government’ (she never had friends in government before), with a link to a ‘documentary’ on election fraud…”
After her sister’s “emails kept getting wackier,” Amy finally told her she was done discussing such matters with her. Though frustrated, she hasn’t become fully cut off from her sister. Others who contacted Newsweek were despondent, worried and some even scared, but all expressed gratitude for the chance to tell their stories in the hopes that it may help others going through similar experiences. All were also appreciative of the QAnon Casualties Reddit community, saying that seeing that their grief was shared by others helped them feel less alone. (QAnon Casualties members also frequently post links to organizations that will help those who need counseling, financial help to relocate or feel physically endangered.)
Whether they were still going through the initial waves of shock, expressing anger or mourning a possibly irreparable relationship, everyone in the Reddit group seems to be feeling what was expressed by one member, who we’ll call “Lexie.” She wrote: “I’m just…tired. QAnon has successfully destroyed my family, and I need a break.”
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