Since it became clear that the QAnon conspiracy theory was a driving force in the siege of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Anastasiia Carrier has been interviewing former QAnon believers and hearing from them, in their own words, how they were drawn into that world and how they got out. Their stories, like Megan’s below, reveal surprising political implications of a movement that is still thriving outside mainstream scrutiny. This is the first article in the series. (Megan and Dave are pseudonyms, granted at their request to avoid online bullying that Megan has experienced in the past after posting about following and quitting QAnon. This interview was done virtually over a series of video calls.)
I was radicalized overnight. I went to bed as a liberal, a die-hard Bernie Sanders supporter, social activist and a feminist. The next morning, I left the bed viewing Donald Trump — a man whom I had utterly despised — as a hero fighting a war against the Deep State. In the ensuing days my fiancé Dave would hardly recognize me, and our relationship would nearly be destroyed.
My conversion happened last June, soon after California expanded the stay-at-home order to control the Covid-19 pandemic. As an extrovert, I did not take the lockdown well. The inability to go out with my friends, work with people and interact with strangers left me feeling trapped and suffocated. At the same time, I was struggling to adjust to sharing the house with Dave after being single for most of my adult life. There were times when I desperately needed to get away for a couple of nights to reconnect with my energy … but where do you go during a deadly pandemic?
Dave wasn’t handling the stay-at-home order well either: Without the ability to take extended weekends away to unwind from his demanding job, he became depressed and increasingly short-tempered. The more he let his anger leak out and at times explode toward me, the more I felt trapped inside the house and desperate for something to change.
It was after a day of his angry outbursts when I discovered QAnon. That night, Dave was asleep and I lay awake buzzing with stress. Tired of staring at the ceiling, I decided to watch the “Fall Cabal” YouTube series a friend of mine had told me about. “It’s really weird. I’d love to get your opinion on it,” she messaged me a few days before along with a link. The 10 episodes wove together a narrative about “The Cabal,” supposedly a secret and satanic pedophile ring run by members of the liberal elite, and Trump’s secret fight to overthrow them. I didn’t sleep at all that night. Instead, I found dozens of articles and videos confirming my new political views. By the morning, I was a true believer.
I think the fact that I was already a big supporter of Bernie Sanders primed me for the transformation — a process people call being red-pilled. One thing QAnon and Bernie have in common is the belief that there is a group of corrupt elites that makes it hard for everyone else in the country and the world to stay afloat. I hadn’t trusted the government entirely before 2016 — for example, I didn’t find the explanations of 9/11 or the assassination of John F. Kennedy to be satisfactory. But my distrust only strengthened when I started to support Bernie that year. I started to think that the news media, billionaires and the Democratic establishment conspired to keep Bernie from the presidency. This was a significant part of my bridge into QAnon.
“Fall Cabal” affirmed my ideas about the system being rigged against Bernie and my general mistrust of the government, and organized all those thoughts under a simple explanation — the world was being run by the Cabal. The documentary congratulated me for being able to recognize it and promised that Trump and others were already working to fix it.
Initially, believing in Q felt amazing, like being in some sort of mystical state or euphoria. For about six weeks, my fears about impending doom because of Covid-19, climate change and what I perceived as the threat of fascism were gone. The world felt safe and I felt energized, confident, creative and brimming with love. I’m not religious, but I kept thinking “Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.” I heard “Amazing Grace” playing in my mind. I was so relieved to stop hating Trump, whom I used to see as racist, sexist and a Hitler-wannabe.
Dave, however, didn’t take my sudden political flip well. The next morning, it was immediately obvious to him that something had changed in me — I was beaming and cheerful and yet held back on explaining the change. Despite his insistence, it took me a few hours before I was willing to tell him about my new beliefs. He was disgusted. Just a month earlier George Floyd had been murdered, and Dave, who had always considered himself to be a proud American, was so disheartened by the systematic racism and police brutality still present in this country. He was more depressed than I had ever seen him. Hearing me express my new beliefs about the “evil Cabal,” how the pandemic was a hoax designed to control humanity, and how Trump was our only chance at saving humanity was very upsetting to him. He abhorred Trump, he felt vulnerable to the virus and thought I should feel that way too. He was afraid I might have a mental illness.
For the first few days after my flip he couldn’t stand to be near me. He repeatedly told me he was disgusted by my energy, and he couldn’t bring himself to touch me or to speak kindly to me. His comments were painfully cutting and sarcastic, and at times he would slam doors. On day three, he sent me a text and asked me to promise that I wouldn’t hurt him in his sleep. This was too much. How could he ever think that I would have any desire to hurt him? I felt unsafe and unloved. I packed my bags and left, willing to end the relationship if it came to that.
But Dave didn’t want to lose me. He agreed to learn anger management techniques and to watch “Fall Cabal.” He thought the series was full of crap, and tried to talk me out of my new beliefs. The more he tried, though, the less safe I felt in his presence and the more I turned to my rapidly growing community of QAnon friends. Dave started talking with his therapist and a psychologist friend about my sudden switch, trying to make sense of how the woman he loved could become a different person overnight, or so it seemed.
Eventually, his therapist told him to treat it as if I had found Jesus and may never again be the person I once was. “Can you accept her as she is and still be happy in this relationship?” the therapist asked. His therapist also suggested to Dave that he stay close to me, to keep our relationship as solid as he could — to help me avoid doing irreparable damage to my life and friendships as I was tumbling deeper into QAnon.
He didn’t tell me at the time, but he gave himself half a year to figure out if he could make us work despite the growing differences between us. Dave decided to give it all he had. He learned to approach my new views with curiosity instead of judgment. But he also had to set boundaries and ground rules: I only shared QAnon-related information with him when he was willing, and he promised to make time for these conversations once a week. We also both acknowledged that neither of us could say for sure what was truly going on and decided we were willing to hold different beliefs — without trying to bring the other over to our side.
“I am open to the possibility that I could be wrong,” Dave said. “Are you willing to meet me there? Would you be willing to consider that while you’re feeling really certain about things, there’s a possibility that there’s things you’re seeing that could be wrong?”
I agreed. That was the first crack in my firm belief system — allowing myself to simply consider the possibility that I might be wrong despite feeling as sure as I was.
The ability to talk to Dave about my QAnon-induced fears was very grounding for me and good for our relationship. (My initial QAnon euphoria wore off after a few weeks, leaving me with unease about the dark world controlled by the Cabal.) When I was scared that President Joe Biden would mandate all people get vaccinated, I could go to Dave with my fear. I didn’t trust Big Pharma and believed that Bill Gates played a devious role in the push to get everyone vaccinated. Dave told me, if such a mandate were to happen, he would be willing to move to a country that did not have those requirements. But, he also said, we had to wait for undeniable evidence before acting.
When it came to safety measures against Covid, we had to compromise. I believed that Covid-19 was a real virus, but I thought its deadliness had been blown out of proportion by the media. (News media said we lived in a hot spot, but we heard of no one who got sick.) I didn’t wear a mask outside, but Dave and I agreed that I would wear one when we went anywhere indoors. I also agreed not to hug people and kept at least a three-foot distance when engaging in conversation.
It took me about five months to start suspecting something was off. No promised changes came — Q-followers believed that John F. Kennedy Jr. was alive and secretly working with Trump to overthrow the Cabal, but he never showed up. I started to doubt the “QAnon intel” I was reading. According to the community, “The Storm,” a mass arrest of politicians alleged to be in the Cabal, happened three separate times during the pandemic. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others were supposedly arrested for crimes against humanity, a few times each. I thought, “These stories must be lying. They can’t be arrested again and again.” Then Trump lost the election and it made me question the conspiracy further — his loss was not part of “The Plan.”
I became more aware that far-right media was as unfairly critical of the left as the other way around. On top of that, Dave managed to persuade me to stop spending so much time doing my QAnon research because each new story I read made me more anxious and depressed. I told myself that I had no control over the future, no matter how scary it might be, but I did have control over my happiness and mental well-being.
When Jan. 6 happened, I hadn’t checked QAnon “news” for weeks. I still don’t fully know what happened that day, but I know that there were militia members and groups like the KKK and Nazi sympathizers there supporting Trump. I always disapproved of Trump’s style of saying things in an intentionally vague manner that left his motivations open to interpretation. His encouragement of the violence at the Capitol that day was too much — he had to know that “fight like Hell” would suggest literal fighting to his supporters who were both carrying guns and believed the country had been taken from them through a rigged election. If Trump were a true hero fighting to save children and defeat the Cabal, he wouldn’t have encouraged destructive mob-like behavior and he would have denounced the KKK and other racist groups in a way that would stop them from supporting him altogether.
A week after the storming of the Capitol, I told my dad that I was done with QAnon. I was “out of the rabbit hole.”
QAnon did damage my life over the half year that I followed it, but with work, I repaired most of the relationships that still matter to me. Dave had persuaded me not to post about politics on Facebook while I was following Q, but a few times I couldn’t help myself and I did end up losing friends. One of my old friends even called Dave and passionately tried to persuade him to leave me. A half dozen others told him, “I wouldn’t blame you for leaving her.” I was astonished — I had done nothing bad and yet people were so antagonistic towards me. The more someone tried to push me to “wake up” and the more they engaged in name-calling, the deeper I went into QAnon, finding solace in the community of like-minded people with whom I had a shared reality.
Then there are people I haven’t spoken to for a while; I don’t know if they were ever aware of my QAnon experience. I don’t feel like reaching out and explaining to them something they might have been lucky enough not to know about.
QAnon also hurt Dave — he had to quit his job because dealing with me was too distracting. He still has some PTSD when he sees me fixated on my phone. Even now he is worried I might be sucked back in. Otherwise, our relationship has become so much stronger and sweeter. We have learned to respect and appreciate each other more, and to consistently choose love over fear. And we’ve started to joke around a whole lot more about politics and life in general, something we didn’t do so much before. Overcoming the challenges and learning to laugh about them brought us closer.
Since I left, I sometimes feel frustrated and disheartened that I can’t fit into either the political “right” or “left.” I still don’t trust the government that much. I no longer identify as red or blue — I wish I could be purple, but there is too much red in the purple for my liberal friends and family, so I mostly have stopped talking about politics. Reading news can be disheartening and stir up old QAnon associations, so I generally avoid it. I have almost completely exited all forms of social media. That was essential to my recovery.
This experience has taught me a lot: Before I joined the radical right, I was part of the radical left. Now I am more open to opinions from the whole political spectrum and my curiosity and compassion has expanded. I’m OK with not having the answers. I have learned who my real friends are. I’m thinking of this whole experience as a form of death and rebirth. I am excited for this next chapter of my life.