Dear Mom & Dad: We Need to Talk about QAnon

Andrew Lichtenstein

“A group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media.” That is the core tenet of the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory—and nearly one-fifth of Americans think it’s true. A recent poll shows that just 47 percent of the country believe the notion is false. The rest don’t know what to think.

Also baffled: the children of QAnon followers. Jesselyn Cook of HuffPost spoke to nine such people about the confusion and pain that comes with losing a parent to a right-wing cult. “Some are desperately trying to deradicalize their moms and dads—an agonizing process that can feel maddening, heartbreaking, and futile,” Cook writes. “Others believe their parents are already too far gone and have given up trying to help them. A few have made the painful decision to cut off contact entirely, for the sake of their own mental health.”

One of the children, Daniel (a pseudonym), described how his mom, a two-time Obama voter, lost her grasp on reality. He tried to fact check her, but it didn’t work. He tried listening to her calmly, only to find she wouldn’t do the same when the tables were turned. He was stymied:

Daniel used to work in Democratic politics and, years ago, worked directly for one of the members of Congress who had to take shelter in the Capitol as rioters forced their way inside on Jan. 6. It was a difficult day for him on a personal level: He feared for his former boss’s safety and was so distressed by the insurrection as it unfolded live on television and social media that he took the afternoon off work.

When he spoke to his mom about it a couple of days later, she seemed unbothered by what had happened. Daniel couldn’t believe it. So he tried a new way to break through to her: telling her, candidly, exactly how her behavior was making him feel.

“I love you,” Daniel told his mother, “but with your inundation of fake news, you have created a reality for yourself that doesn’t exist, and by doing so, you are actively distancing yourself from your family. It is making it harder for us to connect with you because, unfortunately, we feel that you are just not living in the world that we live in, and it’s frightening for us.” 

His mom’s response laid bare the degree to which QAnon had warped her worldview: “Oh, honey,” she said. “That’s how I feel about you.”

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