Aug 14, 2020

Reddit community QAnon Casualties share stories of conspiracy cult

A person holds a banner referring to the Qanon conspiracy theory during an alt-right rally in Portland in 2019. Picture: Stephanie Keith / Getty Images / AFP
Jack Gramenz,
Herald Sun
August 11, 2020

Distraught, disillusioned and plain fed up people who have lost loved ones to the QAnon conspiracy cult are sharing their experiences online in the hope of helping others avoid the same fate.

Reddit community r/QAnoncasualties has close to 14,000 members who share stories about the people they’ve watched turn into tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists, and advice on how to try and drag them out of the wormhole.

A midwest US construction worker who described himself as a “former libertarian leaning Republican” said he feels himself being ostracised from the workplace where it feels like “everyone has lost their mind”.

“Even though I know my beliefs are the mainstream, I’m stuck in this awful demographic of humans who all get to point and laugh because I don’t think masks are an attempt to rig the election,” he wrote.

“I’m supposed to pretend that we can have a rational discussion at work about whether or not Obama was a secret Muslim terrorist, and I have to pretend that this is a totally reasonable thing to discuss.

“They think the only reason you wouldn’t believe these things is ‘left wing bias’.”

“I’m not here for sympathy or empathy,” another post begins.

“Just want to vent that I simply cannot talk to my father anymore. He is fully engulfed in the Qult and won’t listen to anybody’s point of view without going tin foil hat.”


An FBI memo last year identified QAnon as an “anti-government extremist” group, referring to people who “attempt to explain events or circumstances as the result of a group of actors working in secret to benefit themselves at the expense of others”, and whose beliefs are “usually at odds with official or prevailing explanations of events”.

It’s been surging in popularity in recent years, spurred by the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016.

The general gist of the theory is that the “elites” have formed a “deep state” cabal made up of Satan-worshipping paedophiles, and that they are working against Mr Trump, who is going to bring them down.

From there it shoots off in different directions like an exploding fireworks factory.

The theory appears to have first gained momentum on 4chan in 2017, where an anonymous account that signed off their posts with the letter Q (after their so-called “Q clearance”, a top secret level of security clearance used by the US Department of Energy) began sharing supposedly “cryptic” messages.

The nature of 4chan’s allowance for anonymous posting also means that anyone could have pretended to be “Q”.

The ideas on 4chan soon started to spread to the mainstream through social media.


Social media and message boards are a large part of the spread of QAnon for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the algorithms on these sites are largely geared towards feeding you the content you engage with, so the more you watch the more you see.

Secondly the sites allow for pretty much anyone to say pretty much anything, and unless it’s reported by users or the content explicitly triggers the machines that social media sites depend on to moderate the content their users post, it can stay up, unchallenged, for prolonged periods of time.

Facebook has made a number of attempts to control the spread of the theories on its platform.

Most recently, NBC News reported an internal Facebook audit suggested millions of people had consumed QAnon content through thousands of different groups on the site.

Last week the world’s biggest social media platform also removed the Official Q/Qanon group, which had close to 200,000 members.

There are plenty of other groups on the site but this one was “repeatedly posting content that violated our policies” according to a Facebook spokesperson.

Twitter has also taken action.

Griffith University PhD candidate Audrey Courty studies how right-wing and Islamist political movements use social media to spread their messages.

She argued in a piece for The Conversation that followers were already finding ways around the ban with cryptic codewords, which would require human moderation to recognise and enforce.

“It’s hard to say how much human resource Twitter is willing or able to devote to moderating this content,” she said.

Reddit itself has also taken steps to reduce the spread of QAnon conspiracies in the past by minimising their spread and deleting a 70,000 strong subreddit pushing the conspiracy.


In r/QAnoncasualties, people are despairing about what to do.

One woman explained how her boyfriend of five years disappeared into the wormhole.

“He was a veteran and had a PhD from an Ivy League school. He was smart, liberal, and we shared many of the same beliefs.”

“One day he got into 4chan, and the next thing I knew he had fallen off the deep end.”

She said she studied and searched for ways to get through to him but it was no use.

“He had lost all sense of reality, and I was in complete denial.

“I didn’t tell anyone in my life about his obsession with Q, and neither did he. I was the only one that knew how he spent his free time: staying up late reading insane nonsense online.”

Another poster celebrated the fact their father appeared to be on the mend, but had really gone another layer deep into the conspiracy.

“The good news is that my father officially no longer believes in QAnon,” the poster wrote.

“The bad news is that he still believes that the world is run by a deep state that eats babies and basically everything else that QAnon teaches.

“He says that almost everything Q says is correct, but that Q was created by the deep state as controlled opposition in order to make conspiracy theorists look stupid.”

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