When "The Storm" didn't take place on Biden's Inauguration Day, Lily thought her parents would finally stop following QAnon. She was wrong.
Over the past four years, families have lost a number of things. However, in addition to perhaps losing their loved ones to COVID, many lost their closest family members to politics. Most dangerously, many Americans saw their parents become more and more radicalized as the years went on, some owing to QAnon, the disproven far-right conspiracy theory that alleged that a secret cabal of "Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles" was running a global child sex-trafficking ring. The theory also insinuated that this cabal plotted against former United States President Donald Trump while he was in office, ultimately leading to his loss during the last Presidential elections. In a report by CNN, these children reflect on what it was like to slowly lose their parents to a disproven conspiracy theory.
Lily, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, has parents who still believe in QAnon. She thought President Joe Biden's inauguration into office would finally change their minds. "I thought, for sure this would be it," she said in an interview with the news outlet. "[Inauguration] was the end of the line." It was not. Days before the inauguration, her father implored her to come home "for her safety." That is because he believed in "The Storm," a day of reckoning foretold by Q during which the cabal of elites would be exposed, rounded up, and even executed. Of course, it never happened.
NEW: I talked to nine children of QAnon believers, who described to me the heartbreaking process of trying to deradicalize your own mom & dad.— Jesselyn Cook (@JessReports) February 11, 2021
"I don't know what to do,” one teen said. “I feel like I've lost my parents.” https://t.co/GB05L7C1qZ
She said, "They blame themselves for not understanding what Q meant. For not being smart enough to be able to know what really is going to happen." Lily's parents are just two of the many QAnon followers there are. Realistically, it is not possible to know how many there are for certain, but awareness of the conspiracy theory has grown rapidly. As per the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who had heard of QAnon rose from 23 percent to 47 percent over a period of just six months in 2020. The conspiracy theory was even linked with prominent political candidates in the 2020 election.
QAnon conspiracy theorists have "ruined my family. They took what was supposed to be the best, most consistent, most loving part of my life and turned it into evil."— CNN (@CNN) February 13, 2021
These women say their parents believe QAnon lies and it's tearing their families apart. https://t.co/wWFyq4qFda pic.twitter.com/wyyA3cYi5l
As the conspiracy theory gained recognition, friends and family of those who follow QAnon have become victims of their radicalization. The Reddit sub-thread r/QanonCasualties documents these individuals' experiences trauma; from marriages being pushed to the brink, to families being completely torn apart, the inability to reason with QAnon followers has caught up with hundreds of Americans. Lily stated, "[My parents] are, on the outside, definitions of great people. But it's this switch that flips in them when they're talking about what the latest Q drop means." She explained that her parents are no longer the same people she once knew. For instance, they have taken a series of extreme steps: they sold their home and moved to a more rural area, bought $7,000 worth of pre-packaged food, and withdrew all the money from their bank accounts. The money is presently kept under their mattress.
The daughter affirmed, "They're unrecognizable as the people that I grew up with." Lily was once their "dream daughter," who they absolutely loved to brag about. Now, she is nothing but an enemy, a disappointment, and a brainwashed student" to them. Nonetheless, disavowing QAnon is not impossible. Experts suggest not discussing "doctrine or facts" with QAnon believers. Diane Benscoter, a former member of the Unification Church, is the founder of Antidote, an organization that offers support to people who have lost loved ones to cults. She shared, "They shouldn't argue about the specifics of the messaging, because that only causes the person to become defensive."
We lived off-grid and off the land, and shockingly never got botulism from the unsterilized canned green beans turned gelatinous goo. Years later, my hippie parents started watching Fox News — and everything changed — writes @dawnjpostesq for @Independent. https://t.co/ck4Bj4aPSf— Cambridge Skeptics (@cambskeptics) February 7, 2021
She believes that following conspiracy theories is not sustainable; believers eventually doubt the misinformation they have been indoctrinated by. "That person that they love is still in there," Benscoter said. "It's a lot to ask of a young person to be there for their parents to help them get out of this with their dignity, but that's really what needs to happen in order to mend the relationship." Until that day, Lily is unsure of what the next Q drop will mean for her parents and their family.