Former QAnon follower compares movement to drug and alcohol addiction

‘QAnon basically grooms you to believe that anyone who tells you this is wrong, is one of the bad guys’

Louise Hall
Saturday 13 March 2021 13:52 GMT
Former QAnon believers explain how they were radicalised
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A former QAnon follower who went viral online for trashing a display of masks in Target last year has compared her experience of getting sucked into the conspiracy theory to drug and alcohol addiction.

Melissa Rein Lively, a 35-year-old publicist, found “comfort” in the QAnon movement when the pandemic hit the country last March.

Four months later, she hit the headlines after she filmed herself destroying a mask display in an expletive-filled rant in Target and posted it on Instagram.

Clips of the video gained millions of views and pulled the masks off the display in a store in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Ms Lively suffered a backlash online.

She told newspapers following the incident that she had been suffering from “a mental breakdown incident” said she “just snapped” under the pressure of the pandemic.

In a new interview with Yahoo News, she explained how she fell into an “echo chamber” of denial about the pandemic describing the QAnon conspiracy theory as “digital brainwashing.”

“I went into denial about the pandemic, as a coping mechanism. And there was QAnon to comfort me and tell me, ‘Oh, it’s not real. It’s not happening.’ It was a digital brainwashing,” she said.

QAnon is a vast conspiracy that largely rests on the belief that the president is secretly working to save the world from a satanic cult of paedophiles and cannibals.

The publicist told Yahoo News that at the onset of the pandemic, she “was the first person in the grocery store with a mask and gloves on" but that she later had “a very private sort of mental collapse” and found “comfort” in QAnon.

“By May, I had been pretty effectively radicalised,” she explained. “That’s when they opened up Arizona again. I ended up getting a lot of my business back.

The publicist explained that her attitude had completely changed to an anti-mask stance and said that she began pushing away those closest to her.

“QAnon basically grooms you to believe that anyone who tells you this is wrong, is one of the bad guys,” she said.

Ms Lively told the outlet that following the Target episode, she was taken to a “psychiatric facility” for three days where she continued “making these continuously delusional claims about Q.”

She described being immersed in the theory as being like “hitting rock bottom for alcohol or drugs.”

“My husband had filed for divorce. I had lost 100 per cent of my business. I was basically the most hated person on the Internet,” she said.

“I’m still in therapy. I’m still working through it every day, and still trying to apologise to people and repair relationships that I damaged, people’s feelings that I hurt.”

Ahead of the election in November, polling from HOPE Not Hate found that roughly one in 10 Americans are engaged with QAnon beliefs, with 4.6 per cent of respondents explicitly identifying as “strong supporters”.

The theory is run by a mysterious 4chan user named Q who posts cryptic messages for followers to figure out that make reference to the vast conspiracy theory.

The name appears to be a reference to the fact that the person claims to have “Q” clearance, a designation in the US Department of Energy.

The conspiracy has quickly taken root both online and off – becoming a feature of Donald Trump rallies and being shared by prominent media figures and even politicians.

A number of former supporters of the theory have often described how they became completely immersed in the movement, describing how the theory gradually overwhelmed their lives and even branding it a “cult”.

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