When You've Lost Someone to QAnon
4 strategies to keep you connected.
Posted March 10, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
- When a loved one becomes taken in by conspiracy theories like QAnon, it can be tempting to cut them out of your life. Experts urge finding ways to engage instead.
- It's important to understand the process by which new converts are taken in by groups like QAnon, and that debate will not quickly win someone back.
- Maintaining communication that is caring and nostalgic, rather than political, can remind the person that they have loved ones who still care about them.
If you have a family member or friend who has been taken in by QAnon or other conspiracy theory groups, you may be feeling conflicted, frightened, embarrassed, angry, and grieved. Perhaps you want to cut this person out of your life altogether, but if you’re like me, you’re looking for ways to stay connected to a person you thought you knew.
Like family members of those with addictions, families who have a QAnon-following loved one have much to share. When looking at QAnon Casualties, a family support group on Reddit, the anguish of family members is palpable. After National Public Radio spoke with some family members during a January special report, QAnon Casualties' membership rose from 70,000 members to 139,000. I was one of those who joined, hoping to find guidance and support for my own despair. Here is what I learned:
1. Avoid Political Debates. Do not try to convince your family member that they are wrong. As with any cult or fringe religious group, their mission is to convert you, not converse with you. Attempts at rational conversation are doomed to fail. Further, they often treat their non-QAnon family members with arrogance and contempt.
For example, in 2016, an armed gunman entered Comet Pizza in Washington, DC, intent on freeing children he falsely believed were held in the basement as part of a child sex trafficking ring led by Hilary Clinton. I mentioned this to my relative, unaware of the fact that they had become a conspiracy theory convert, explaining there was no basement in this establishment.
“Underground tunnels are a part of history,” was their stony reply. “You do know Clinton is part of the globalist movement, along with Hollywood, the mainstream media, George Soros, and Bill Gates. They want to create an authoritarian world government. It is up to the Nationalists to stop them.”
Stunned, I replied, “What are you talking about?” “You will never know the truth reading the newspapers you read. You don’t know what is really going on, do you?” said my relative, eyeing me with pity.
2. Know the Two-Part Process to Seduce New Members. Conspiracy theory groups often use a two-part process to seduce members, first isolating a person from the real world through the internet and then controlling the person’s life. It resembles an abusive relationship in which the abuser tries to separate the abused from their family so they have total control over the abused.
When a family member says something threatening like, “I do not want to be in a hollow relationship with you”—meaning, “If you do not buy into my conspiracy beliefs you are no longer part of my life”—bear in mind that this is a purposeful programmed promotion by QAnon and other conspiracy groups to sever the person from all other relational ties.
Although my family did not gather in 2020 for our annual July 4 get-together due to COVID restrictions, in 2018 and 2019, the Q family member spent most of the picnics inside the house or in a corner of the yard reading an iPhone. When asked to join in volleyball, the brush-off was, “No thanks, I have some research to do.” “Do your research” is QAnon jargon for following the Q sites’ algorithms that lead to even more conspiracies.
3. Protect Yourself Emotionally. To protect yourself, learn to recognize when someone is using denial (refusing to believe the truth) and projection (attributing their thoughts and feelings to the other) and relating to others with arrogance and contempt.
Before conversion, the QAnon victim most likely felt threatened by anxious uncertainty about the world. Not only does QAnon offer absolute answers, all doubts are erased by disavowing uncertainty and projecting it into the non-believer. The latter is usually expressed by accusing others of not really understanding what is going on in the world.
The near-pathological certainty and air of unbridled superiority and arrogance of the QAnon convert are difficult to tolerate. The hardest part for me is holding my tongue. When my relative told me not to get a COVID vaccine because the government wants to plant a microchip in my body to control my mind, it was all I could do to keep from screaming.
4. Be Persistent. Do not allow yourself to be pushed away by your QAnon relative. Keep in frequent touch with telephone calls, text,s or emails. When initiating contact, introduce a non-controversial, loving topic, or a reminder about who they used to be. For example, call and say you heard that freezing temperatures are headed their way and you are thinking about them. Or send a text and a photograph reminding them of the great time the two of you had rafting down the Colorado River or a video of the two of you dancing at a wedding.
There is no guarantee the QAnon relative will give up conspiracy theories but family members can better bear the pain of this loss by knowing that you did what you could to help while preserving your own mental health and well-being.
* Real name withheld by request to protect the author’s family relationships.