A true story about a friend’s deep dive into (and out of) QAnon...
Updated: a day ago
I talked to a really bright friend the other day, catching up and brainstorming ideas on how to get involved in volunteer activities in a new community. I shared that I was thrilled with the election results, but am trying to figure out how to heal relationships with family and friends, as I fear some have gotten pulled into the QAnon world. She then surprised me and admitted she got pulled into the Qanon cult for a year. Whoa! I found myself becoming incredibly curious. So many questions... How could a yogi/spiritual person get pulled into something that felt so sinister?
And just by chance, the other day I listened to an interview on NPR and one of the interviewees was a Harvard grad - and a staunch QAnon follower..... Clearly it’s not a matter of intellect, but what is it? What compels people to follow these deep conspiracy theories?
I wondered if my friend would be willing to explore these questions while keeping her identity safe. I have a desire to understand how “we” can understand and better interact with folks that may be on a very different path from us. She said she would, and I sent her a list of questions. What follows is the exchange.
My simple goal is to share her personal account with QAnon to lend more insight into a world, that I think, is pretty foreign to many of us.
1) Do you remember the first YouTube video that led you down the path?
I do. It was a video on a channel called In Pursuit of Truth (IPOT). The channel was one of many on YouTube that was talking about the “behind the scenes” of what was happening post the 2016 election. The videos seemed harmless enough. Most focused on explaining Q, interpreting Q posts & exploring alternative narratives for seemingly everyday, average news.
2) How did you find the video? Was it a recommendation from a friend?
A friend of mine who I also considered a bit of a mentor recommended the channel. I trusted her and felt her to be a good judge of character (at the time).
3) What was in the videos that you found so compelling?
I initially found the videos to be harmless enough. I watched a few IPOT videos and found some of the information (evidence) he presented to be compelling. I've always wondered about events like JFK's shooting and 9/11 so it wasn’t a huge leap for me to believe that we (the public) weren't being given the absolute truth.
As I continued watching the IPOT videos, I was also introduced to other channels that would now be labeled as QANON propaganda channels. Some would focus on the news of the day or particular Q posts. Others would dive deep into a particular conspiracy and its cast of characters. Most of the ideas were centered on a nefarious energy (a “Cabal”) that was working to control the government, media, big tech, and major industries. Essentially, the viewer (myself included) felt like we were being given access to insider information to help break the grip this energy (these people) had on the planet.
Even as I write this, I hear how crazy it sounds but at the time...somehow...it didn't seem that crazy. There were just enough spiritual undertones and talk of making the planet a better place to live that it was easy to feel the pull to be involved. For me, being involved meant being educated and open to alternative options regarding the how and what of world politics. Sentiments like, working to bring light to the planet...exposing what's been lurking in the shadows...stopping human & child trafficking...indicting those in power that have been abusing the system. It was hard not to wonder "What if there's something here?? I want to know and be a part of making the world a better place!”
4) When did you learn to mistrust the mainstream media (MSM)?
These channels became the sources I relied on for my news. I usually watched IPOT and Destroying the Illusion nightly (another popular channel that has since been removed), no different than anyone else would watch the evening or nightly news. In doing so, I was fed a pretty steady narrative of how the MSM media can't be trusted. How the MSM is being fed talking points to keep the public subdued and/or distracted. It was common to feel that the MSM had its own agenda and that that agenda was primarily to keep you looking at the left hand so you wouldn't see what the right hand was doing. When you hear something enough it starts to sink in so I just stopped bothering with the news...until COVID happened and the POTUS started holding daily briefings. In some ways, I’m so thankful for the virus. It popped me out of the “protective” bubble I had created for myself by pushing me to want to be informed, and listening to the daily briefings felt like the best way to be informed. Watching Trump live...hearing the words come out of his mouth directly...that was all I needed for the facade to begin to crack. Watching him allowed me to see for myself how out of alignment the man and the movement were from each other and to begin to realize how much bullshit I had been consuming.
5) With whom did you talk about these ideas?
Luckily I wasn't so deep in the weeds that I couldn't have a rational conversation with someone. For the most part, if I did bring it up with people that weren't in the know, I did so from the perspective of "what if there is another agenda" or "things aren't as they seem"? I never really felt the need to "recruit" others to my way of thinking primarily because I felt that I was in a constant state of discovery and research. I never felt a 100% committed to "the plan" as they like to call it in the Q world.
When I did go down the rabbit hole, though, I would primarily talk with my best friend who also had a working knowledge of the movement or I’d chat with members of my family who had also seemed to find some similar channels to get information from. Again, I never felt 100% sure about anything I was reading or watching so becoming swept up into Crazy Town wasn’t as easy of an option for me as it might have been for others. And for that, I’m so grateful.
6) Did any of your friends or family try to talk you out of these beliefs?
No, because I never totally detached from reality. I'm guessing it looked more like I had a working knowledge of what was going on and less like I believed in the movement, which is probably more accurate than not.
7) I understand you attended a QAnon conference. What was it like? What were the other attendees like?
In 2019, I attended the Dimensions of Disclosure conference in Venice Beach California. I was primarily drawn to it because several spiritual teachers I had been following were going to be in attendance. I was curious to see how the disclosure community and spiritual community were going to come together. At the time, the merging of these communities felt important to me but also to the larger consciousness.
Like me, the majority of attendees looked normal. They had normal day jobs. Had families. Owned businesses. Then you'd engage in a conversation and a clearer picture of how "not normal" some were would emerge. Many believed in the potential for 10 days of darkness...for mass arrests...for civil war...for aliens to present themselves...for the government to be tumbled from the inside out. All kinds of interesting potentialities were available for discovery.
It was actually the integration of the spiritual component that made it harder for me to separate the craziness from evolving the planet. In hindsight, I feel this was a very calculated move on the part of those organizing on the disclosure side. The spiritual community is comprised of seekers and individuals that are much more open to energy forces and influences that can’t be seen. What a group to target with conspiracies of a dark energy trying to limit your potential. I mean, it’s really kind of brilliant on their part from a marketing perspective.
8) What was it that made you begin to question the ideology?
Partly watching the Trump COVID press conferences, but also going deeper into some of the rabbit holes with videos on YouTube and accounts on social media. Reading the comments posted by “followers” and friends was so eye opening. There’s crazy and then there’s CRAZY. The adage “like attracts like” was never far from top of mind, for good reason.
It was also the shift from posing questions and referring to all Americans that wanted to make things better, as Patriots, to drawing clear black and white lines. It became clear that the movement felt that republicans are good and democrats are evil. That was a huge red flag for me. That’s when the movement as a political marketing machine with the sole purpose of re-electing Donald Trump became obvious and I woke up from the cult I’d been following for months.
9) What did it feel like when you started to let go of the beliefs?
Honestly, it felt amazing! Finally I was rid of the energy that focused on everything that was awful in the world. I could go back to focusing on the good...enjoying Anderson Cooper...having my own brain and thoughts.
Around the same time that I woke up from the Q cult, I also started to see how many in the spiritual communities I used to feel aligned with had lost their way. So I allowed myself to move away from anyone and anything I didn’t resonate with. I began to more fully trust myself again. Not surprisingly, that little voice in my head that I had been ignoring...she was right. Finally, I was listening to her again.
10) Did you keep any of the friends you made that were part of the group?
I tried at first but it became too difficult. One of two things would happen. Either they would become hyper defensive and attack me as a result of becoming a free thinker or they would completely ignore me. Neither was an energy I wanted to be in.
I unfriended some who I only knew as a result of the movement. Those that I had known prior, I’ve stayed friends with in hopes that as they wake up from the falsehoods, they might reach out.
11) Have others that you knew also left the group?
I know several that did either prior to the 2020 election or immediately following. Each of us can’t believe that we allowed ourselves to believe any of the insanity.
12) Is there anything friends or family, outside of the QAnon world, could have said to you that may have prompted you to question QAnon sooner?
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I don’t think so. I feel that this experience was a rite of passage of sorts. It was yet another confirmation that I need to be my own guru. That I need to seek out and find my own truth. That I need to stay nimble in my ability to adjust my thinking. But most importantly, I need to remember to trust my body. When I get that icky feeling in my belly, there’s a legit reason.
13) What do you think motivates people behind the movement?
I actually think initially, many were motivated by a desire to share information and what they felt were truths. I feel some probably still are. As the community grew, though, and more channels started popping up on YouTube, it became easier to see how others were motivated by money. The more outrageous their claims, the more views their videos would have and the more money they would make. Ironically, the “citizen journalists” started to behave more and more like they claimed the MSM was...with their talking points and bottomline money objectives.
So there you have it. It seems like my friend’s experience validates the case made by the documentary “The Social Dilemma” and the ways social media has influenced collective thought. One YouTube video leads to another to another creating a world view that has veered way off course.
My takeaway is this: Being ruled by fear, as opposed to love, is a dark place. Keep up the good fight friends...
A friend who had been involved in a religious cult suggested I provide a link to Steve Hassan who is one of the preeminent scholars on cults.