An interesting feature of WordPress (and most likely other brands of) blogs is that the admins are able to see the sites from which visitors are referred. We don’t bother with it often, but yesterday we just happened to notice we’d had a number of visits from Reddit.
Our curiosity piqued, we went to check it out.
Turns out that the referring sub-Reddit, r/Qult Headquarters, is devoted to people who see the bizarre QAnon phenomenon for what it is: a far-right extremist conspiracy cult which is ruining lives and leading people down a very dangerous, possibly violent, path.
The referral to this blog came from the comments on a post titled “I think I’ve lost my husband to Q“. It struck us that while we sometimes speculate on what it might be like to have a friend or relative become immersed in conspiracy theories, it’s unusual to actually hear from someone going through the experience.
Here’s the post, in its entirety:
I’m not sure what I expect to gain from posting this apart from perhaps a bit of advice. I’ve found real solace reading some of the posts on this sub and it really helps knowing I’m not the only one going through this.
Firstly, we’re in the U.K. This makes it even weirder to me – why he’s so invested and involved in American politics while his own country goes down the toilet with Brexit… but he sees it as all connected.
He’s always been into conspiracy theories and to be honest I found it quite fun to talk about them and hear about theories. He first started reading about Q late last year. Probably late to the party compared to most but to begin with I just noticed small changes in his views and then personality which weren’t really enough to concern me and I figured it’d blow over. Now it’s getting to the point where I can’t stand listening to it and I can’t even see my husband anymore. He was out of work for a few months (though has just got a new job which will hopefully reduce the time he’s reading about it). What started off in small changes to his views now just leave me openmouthed. I’ve notice his feelings on people of different races, lgb people, he now feels white men are vilified and his views on issues like global warming have changed drastically. The ridiculousness of the stuff he says about child abusing satanic cults make me worry that he’s mentally ill but he 100% believes it.
Theres no point me repeating all the stuff he says… you’ll all know. Usually i just “mmm” and “oh” and do my best not to engage. One of the Q “proofs” he’ll always mention if I question anything he says is the results of the American midterm elections and the Republican results in the senate. I admit my knowledge of American politics isn’t great but I understood Q had predicted the Republicans would nail the midterms but that’s not what happens. Apparently Q posted the senate result of 47/53 prior to the event (what.. he’s psychic??) so this is absolute proof because the “mathematical probability of that happening is almost impossible”. I don’t know how to respond to this. I don’t get his logic and I’d think that wasn’t too hard a result to predict?
I’m worried for him. I’m worried that it seems to occupy so much of his head space and seems like the most important thing to him in his world. Any conversation can be turned round to a discussion about the evil American Democrat elites. It annoys him that I’m not interested in it. That I think it’s nonsense. Something another posted said really rang home – he’ll try and get me to agree with him on issues I know nothing about. It seems so weird and I can’t really speak with anyone about it but I’m honestly scared for him and for our family.
Thanks anyone who read this far.
This woman’s concerns are not trivial. We know that some Q believers have gone so far as to engage in violent behaviour in the name of their invisible, mysterious leader:
- In June 2018, Mathew P. Wright of Henderson, Nevada was arrested for allegedly blocking the bridge over the Hoover Dam with his home-made armoured vehicle and guns; he held out a sign that was linked to QAnon.
- In July 2018, Pennsylvanian Gardner Boyd was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill Trump and was reported to have made several references to QAnon.
- In August 2018, Forrest Clark was arrested for allegedly igniting a forest fire in Orange County, California; Clark had previously posted about QAnon and other conspiracy theories.
But even if her husband never espouses physical violence, the damage to their relationship is very real. How does one live with a person whose very personality seems to be undergoing a radical shift, as they become more and more deeply enmeshed in a belief system that encourages racism, sexism, LGBTQ-phobia, and belief in “child-abusing Satanic cults”?
Most responders seemed to agree that it would be futile to try and talk him out of these beliefs, and some suggested she try negotiating with the husband, suggesting that they learn to respect one another’s differences. Others flatly stated that she needed to issue an ultimatum: QAnon or their marriage.
Unfortunately, although we don’t know for certain how the husband might respond to being told to make this choice, we can guess. Having observed the fanaticism and implacability of conspiracy believers for the past four years, we’ve learned that they cannot be easily persuaded that their beliefs are based in fantasy.
Facts, logical argument, even demonstrations that the fallacies they believe in cannot possibly be true…all fall on deaf ears. The circular logic of the conspiracy believer files this sort of intervention under “part of the conspiracy is that they will tell you there is no conspiracy”.
And on it goes.
One commenter suggested trying to help her husband engage in more real-world activities, correctly pointing out that for many conspiracy believers, their online community of fellow cultists begins to take the place of normal human relationships:
I think you should try to get him active in some kind of local community, volunteering or a sports league or a hobby group. He needs more time around normal people and less time within the Q echo chamber. If he spends enough time around people who realize Q is a ludicrous troll/conspiracy instead of constantly reading posts by people who worship Q and drink in his every ‘drop’, eventually he may come to turn a more critical eye to the cult himself. Hopefully him having a job will be that first step in the direction of coming into contact with more people who share criticism of Q beliefs.
Another commenter noted that the OP’s concerns were very similar to their own, and offered some words of wisdom:
Everything else you said though sounds so strikingly similar to my experience, including the changes in his views on different people (gays, non-whites, etc.), getting elated over the Q “proofs”, and even the way you respond to him. I could have written your post almost word for word, except that I’m in the United States. I guess I am a little surprised that this would happen to someone in the U.K. though because my husband claims people are “waking up” all across the world and I sort of didn’t believe him because I thought people didn’t give a crap about U.S. politics. Apparently this isn’t just politics though. It’s totally something else.
I’m also a bit concerned about how this will affect our family. My husband can’t seem to help himself and has to slip in something about his newfound beliefs in non-related conversations so I’m worried that people are going to alienate us.
I’m holding onto any shred of hope I’ve got that maybe some day he will pull out of it all and not feel ashamed over being wrong. Every day that passes though, it seems so unlikely because I’ll just get hit with some other new “truth” he’s discovered while surfing the internet late at night. I’m sure you’ve heard most of the same stuff I have.
I just wanted to tell you to hang in there. I know it’s tough but you’re not alone in your experience. People offered me some really great advice if you want to look at my recent post history. Most importantly, take care of yourself and grieve if you have to.
It’s never easy to help a loved one leave a cult—whether online or physical. It’s important to stay emotionally engaged with the person, to help reduce the feeling that only their online “friends” really understand or care about them; and while it might be difficult, do refrain from judging what seem like ridiculous beliefs. Keep in mind that the person is a victim of emotional manipulation, and that if they are to be reached at all, it will only be through kindness and concern.
A commenter summed up the need for mutual respect:
Here’s what I ultimately told [my father]:
“You believe what you believe. I love you & respect you. No matter what either of us believe, we’re not likely to change things in the world by convincing the other. So we gotta drop it. Do NOT discuss Trump or politics around me. Keep it to yourself. I will stop talking politics around you. Don’t try to change my mind, I won’t try to change your mind. Our relationship means more to me than politics does. I love you, I respect you, so we gotta stop taking about this. “
Another said it had helped to point out that watching Fox News was doing nothing for their mother’s mental health. They suggested:
Whenever the subject comes up, point out his emotional state, and how the conspiracies are shaped to elicit his response. Whenever my mom would put on Fox News and scoff at something I’d ask her: “Why do you keep watching this when it does nothing but make you angry at the world?” and then point out the ways the show was deliberately trying to elicit that reaction with its language/fact choices. After years of me bitching about her Fox addiction with no results, it took only a couple weeks of repeating that question for her to find her news elsewhere.
Given the prevalence of conspiracy theories on the internet, it seems inevitable that this problem will only continue to grow. While belief in QAnon (or the Hampstead SRA hoax) does not in itself constitute a mental illness, online conspiracy cults do encourage “mentally ill thinking”—irrational belief in impossible things.
Perhaps, if a way is to be found out of this morass of illogical thought and twisted belief, it will come down to teaching people to engage their abilities for critical thinking, and helping them learn to better evaluate what they read online. We sincerely hope it’s not too late for the OP and her husband.