Top 1 Magazine

Top One Magazine

I Left QAnon in 2019. But I’m Still Not Free.

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 reveal surprising political implications of a movement that is still thriving outside mainstream scrutiny. This is the second article in the series; you can read the first here. (This interview was done virtually over a series of video calls.)

I left QAnon back in 2019, but I don’t seem to be able to walk away. I talk about my experience a lot — to the Washington Post, CNN and Rolling Stone magazine among many others. I even apologized to Anderson Cooper on his show for having once thought that he ate babies.

I’m one of the few former followers willing to go on the record with their story, which means I’m a source for journalists and researchers and sometimes also a guide for former believers who want to talk to someone who understands what they went through. I’m also one of the senior moderators of the QAnonCasualties forum on Reddit, a message board for family members of QAnon believers. I might have left, but I still have a close look into how the conspiracy theory is spreading and affecting people.

These days, QAnon isn’t getting the headlines it was after Jan. 6. I guess most of the world doesn’t pay attention to QAnon anymore unless its followers do something especially bizarre, like the recent gathering in Dallas where hundreds met in hopes of seeing John F. Kennedy Jr. alive. But from where I stand I don’t see QAnon fading away — I see it getting stronger.

I was sucked into QAnon in the winter of 2017. At the time, I casually followed various conspiracies online and the internet led me to Q. I was living in Australia, where I still live, but I had been interested in American politics since spending six months in the U.S. a few years before. I had rooted for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primary and felt let down when he lost.

When I found QAnon, I didn’t just flirt with it — I fell deep. I internalized the idea that the world was run by the Cabal, a Satan-worshiping child-molesting group of liberal politicians, Hollywood moguls, billionaires and other influential elites. I believed that Donald Trump was leading the fight against the Cabal and that there was a plan in place to defeat them. I couldn’t wait for the coming of the Storm, QAnon’s version of judgment day that would herald the announcement of martial law and a wave of public executions. I was looking forward to the execution of Hillary Clinton, whom Q portrayed as a pedophile and a murderer. I would have cheered. QAnon showed me that I can be enthusiastic about violence, and it’s hard to forgive myself for that.

I understood QAnon was a lie on June 13, 2019. Just minutes after I wrote a post online laden with QAnon conspiracies, I watched a YouTube video that reviewed the times that Trump used the phrase “tippy top” throughout the years. Q said that when Trump said this phrase, he was signaling to Anons, “the patriots,” that everything was going according to the plan in the fight with the Deep State. But the video showed that Trump had always used this phrase a lot, long before he ever ran for the presidency and Q came to be. That’s when it clicked for me: This was all a lie.

I walked out onto the porch of my house in Sydney, Australia, smoked a cigarette and took in the idea that I had lost two years of my life to a vile conspiracy crafted by a psychopath. I had even introduced my dad to it. He is still a follower; I can’t get through to him.

Then I went inside, sat down and wrote a different post, this time on a Reddit forum devoted to debunking the conspiracy. I titled the post: You guys were right.

The pain and shame that came with the disillusionment were overwhelming. I couldn’t look people in the eyes. I felt like I had committed a violent crime and was running for my life. I was terrified that someone would find out my secret and my life would be ruined forever. I lived with this fear for a year. During that time, I didn’t speak about QAnon or read anything about American politics because it reminded of my time in Q’s thrall.

There was only one way I reexposed myself to QAnon during that time: I reread comments on the Reddit post I had written the hour I quit. The kind words of strangers saying that it wasn’t my fault and that I was brave for getting out made me feel better. It was through that post that a journalist found me in June 2020 and I got my first interview request. The only thing the journalist asked was for me to tell my story.

The only thing?” I thought. There was no such thing as just telling my story. I asked everyone in my life who knew about my time with QAnon if I should talk to the reporter. Every single one of them tried to talk me out of it.

And yet, the general public was just becoming aware of QAnon and was underestimating the real-world danger the online conspiracy could cause. I thought people should know more. I also wanted to be able to reach those who were on the edge of falling for QAnon or leaving it. I thought that going public about my experience might provide them with the nudge that would help them escape the lie. I also didn’t see the point of doing it halfway — if I wanted Anons to take me seriously, I needed to put my name on the record.

I also felt physically safer speaking up in Australia than I would have if I lived in the U.S. I knew Anons could be violent (someone later posted my address and a photo of my house online) and I found comfort in knowing that most QAnon followers seem to live in the U.S. and that it would take an expensive plane ticket and a very long flight for anyone to get to me. Australia also has stricter gun laws, so I didn’t need to worry that someone could show up armed.

“Whatever. I’ll do it. Life is too short. Who cares?” I thought. And after ignoring the interview request for a month, I responded and said I’d do it.

I was very nervous during my first interview, but it felt great to get my experience out. Even before that story published, more interview requests came in, and I accepted them all. One after another, these interviews drained me of my shame. Now I tell all former Anons to share their stories — it’s cathartic. For so long, my biggest fear had been that someone would find out I had followed Q. By telling the whole world about it, I removed all the power that shame had over me. I still feel guilty for my beliefs, but I’m not scared or ashamed anymore.

Over the past year, I’ve spoken with many journalists, researchers and family members of those who fell for QAnon. No one has told me that my story has helped them escape QAnon, but I do speak with current Anons surprisingly often. Usually, they reach out to mock or confront me, but I almost always manage to turn it into a real conversation. I know how to speak to them because I used to be one of them — I don’t demean them but neither do I let them get away with rambling and bogus reasoning. These conversations are very draining — they can last 12 hours and require writing long essays, addressing their arguments point by point. The trick is to not let them walk over you and to push back on their beliefs without insulting their intelligence. And if it’s someone you care for, you can try to ask them why being right is more important to them than having a functioning relationship with you.

A few months ago, I livestreamed a QAnon conference in Dallas. Attendees didn’t refer to their movement as QAnon, but all the elements were there — the ideas, the slogans and the current “celebrities” of the conspiracy movement. I wanted to be there to talk to them. Why? Going from a Bernie Sanders supporter to a Trump supporter to being politically homeless left me with a lot of unfinished emotional and intellectual business with both the right and the left. I’ve sorted through all my unfinished business with the left by talking with the media. I think most media leans left, but I also saw how journalism works and how carefully I was vetted before my story was considered credible. But I still feel angry and betrayed by the right. The intellectual right has a lot of great ideas but they abandoned them all to stand by Trump and his claims about election fraud. What went wrong? I would have talked to the Dallas attendees about that.

Even though I wasn’t there, one thing that surprised me about that Dallas conference was how polished and well put together it was on a professional level. It tells me that the movement’s infrastructure is improving and it is growing. I disagree with people who say that QAnon is fading away — I think its believers are growing as fast as the fandom of “Game of Thrones” when it came out. Their content might be banned from popular social media but I think they are still there, flourishing away from the eyes of polite society.

This worries me. I believe QAnon has a lot in common with doomsday cults and in the past, doomsday cults turned violent. I was not surprised when the FBI said that “digital soldiers” could turn to violence, nor was I surprised by the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. I think it’s inevitable that more real-world violence will occur in future. Eventually, Anons will get tired of waiting for the Storm. Then, they will take the bringing of the martial law into their own hands.

I don’t see a natural end point to this conspiracy now. It has survived Q’s disappearance and Trump’s 2020 loss, which, according to the theory, was never supposed to happen. The movement is changing, though. QAnon has always been a blanket conspiracy that allowed people to bring what conspiratorial beliefs they wanted into it. Now, without Trump in the White House and Q trying to directs its flow, this inclusiveness has become more pronounced. What is left is a more decentralized movement, with an ever growing range of beliefs, united by a shared culture of distrust toward institutions and a do-it-yourself approach to conspiracy theories.

My biggest dream now is seeing other former QAnon followers go on the record with their experience so I can fade away into obscurity and bum around. I had a life before this and I want to go back to it. But no one is willing to take these responsibilities from me. Once a reporter told me that maybe no one speaks up because I’m already doing it. Maybe so. But I don’t want to be doing this forever.

Go To Source