Trump supporters
Credit: Gage Skidmore

It’s hard to believe that the Q-Anon conspiracy theory is still a thing. With so much constant bad news surrounding President Trump and the Mueller investigation, a reasonable person would imagine that a conspiracy theory centered on the notion that Trump and Mueller–and, it was long thought, Jeff Sessions–are working together to take down a shadowy cabal of liberal pedophiles and satanists would have long since blown apart.

But the followers of “Q”, an enigmatic and anonymous person or set of persons posting cryptic messages purported to be a White insider on the troll message boards of 8chan, are still out there and still believe. The posts coming from “Q” have long since been proven to be riddled with photoshops, false predictions and forged “codes” that turn out to be product serial numbers, but that hasn’t shaken the faith of the true believers. Like so many prophetic cults, every failed prediction is dismissed and waived away, while the vaguest and most tenuous connections are held up as “proofs.” The latest such prediction was that a wave of arrests would take place on December 5th (“D5” in Q-world). When it didn’t materialize, followers of “Q” blamed the George H.W. Bush funeral for delaying the “storm” and blithely moved on.

With so much of the Q-Anon activity online, it’s easy to dissociate and forget that there are real human beings who buy into the nonsense. Recently, a SWAT officer wearing a “Q” badge was demoted after being photographed with Mike Pence. Other followers of Q-Anon have been arrested for various threats of violence. And even the more peaceful adherents are not faring well in their relationships with their families or employers.

When Reddit banned the subreddits dedicated to the conspiracy theory, much of the online activity shifted to other forums such as Voat, a website that imitates Reddit’s structure and has become a festering hotbed of racism, anti-semitism, and sexism after earning a reputation as a refuge for all those with far-right views too repellent even for Reddit.

Even a quick look at the Q-Anon community on Voat is enough to paint a portrait of families torn apart, relationships destroyed and people spiraling into mental illness. Here are a few examples from just one thread in which various conspiracy acolytes have convinced themselves that everyone else in their lives is brainwashed and crazy:

My Dad is completely mentally ill due to successful brainwashing. He is of the type that if its on TV its true. I just watched the most ridiculous hit piece on France. They did the whole ten minute bit, telling you what they want you to believe including the French man speaking French and talking over him in English telling you what he said. I pointed this out to my old man and he went off on me on how I am a mental patient and a sicko and need help , on and on and on. If he was not my dad and this was a regular argument, I was completely triggered too. I could have just went into rip roar rioting no problem until nothing was left.

There’s an entire comment thread on the same page devoted to not getting the flu shot, because many of them believe the flu shot is a conspiracy to infect people with the flu:

My lifelong conservative dad told me I’m paranoid because of following Q and not wanting to get a flu-shot, which I haven’t gotten in years because of a reaction to it.

You have to remember as you said it’s brainwashing. Think of it as an illness. I know it’s hard not to get angry in the moment, but don’t stay angry. You’ve woken up, you have to be patient and willing to let things go to help them wakeup…

[Response:] Yes, they’re counting on that! Making them sick, hoping they die, because “they’re a drain on society, taking up space, etc..” Makes me SO mad!

Grandparents harassing their grandchildren with nonsense:

I am a 63 yr old Granny Patriot…. actually going to be 64 in 2 days. I am so awake and get more wide eyed EVERYDAY. I am trying to red pill my 4 kids. 3 of them think I am crazy and laugh at me whenever I try to plant a seed BUT I HAVE one daughter who listens and asks me questions. I don’t have anyone to talk to except my Q Patriots. We just have to keep planting those seeds. I say a little bit at a time. Seed by Seed.

Fraying marriages:

My hubby won’t listen. Says “nothing Q predicts ever happens! You need to get off that computer for a while!” Like I’m stupid! I have a high IQ, and had the military begging me to signup after my high scores on the test they gave the Seniors of 78! Not stupid, I know sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction! I haven’t even mentioned the baby blood thing! And, he gets upset when I watch FoxNews! We ALWAYS watched it, until Pres Trump won. So, he never sees the verification on Fox, he makes me change it! So, I have to record it. Says he hates Pres Trump as a person, likes what he’s done. I hate to tell him, Pres Trump is exactly like HIM! All the time, he says mean things about people, and I’m thinking, that’s what the president said! LOL I wish something big would happen like Q said, THAT would convince him!

Fights at family dinners (with bonus anti-vax content):

I am ex-Military and when they shot us up on the base for the H1N1 Bird Flu (See: they gave us H1N1 Flu) and I felt like I was going to die for 2 days straight, I knew then that no more “Vaccines” would go into my body.Have not been sick since that day (minus a cold for 3 days, 2 years ago) which was in 2009.

My father was beginning to wake up to Q but he made a big mistake in trying to convince my aunt and uncle around a family dinner, with my mother present – all hell broke loose, apparently. They called me sick and conspiracy theorist and all the rest. People: it really is a WAR for our HEARTS and MINDS.

People dragging their parents into the morass:

Years ago I tried red pilling my mother. She thought I was turning away from God. She even cried worried about me. She decided to do her own research and now she shows me things I don’t know yet. My mom took the red pill finally and sometimes she is ahead of me on researching all this.

Or failing and cutting off ties:

My dad is a liberal dip ass as well. I can’t get through a 5 min conversation with him before he is using profanity towards President Trump. Our relationship has always been rocky and I figure sometimes you can’t fix stupid, so f— him.

There are other threads in which individuals describe quitting decent jobs and even leaving their families to devote themselves to following “Q” and preparing for the “storm.”

It’s hard to know what to do about all this. Certainly these folks are impervious to reasonable persuasion from the left. President Trump and Vice President Pence obvious know about this, and could deflate it easily with a single brief message or statement. But they don’t care about these people’s well-being as long as they remain delusionally devoted. Whoever is behind the “Q” messages could decide that whatever fun they’re having (or potentially whatever money they’re making off “Q” merchandise, as some have speculated) isn’t worth the damage they’re doing to real people, and the real danger they’re creating by fomenting a cult of paranoia.

But someone with the power to put it bed needs to do so before more people get hurt.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.