'It is heartbreaking': Families, marriages, splinter as Canadians embrace bizarre QAnon 'cult'

Lily talks almost matter-of-factly now about some of her mother’s beliefs, sounding more fatigued by it all than flabbergasted.

“ ‘Nicole Kidman is a Satanist, Hillary Clinton has children hanging in her basement and Reese Witherspoon is eating children,’ ” the Queen’s University student recounts.

And there is no way to persuade the woman she’s wrong, says Lily. “It’s cognitive dissonance. It’s the most heavy case of cognitive dissonance you could ever imagine.”

Yet the 21-year-old is just one among a surprising new cohort: Canadians whose lives have been turned upside down after a family member or close friend became immersed in QAnon and its outlandish conspiracy theories.

With tie-ins to U.S. politics and adherence to bizarre, unfounded accusations against liberal, Jewish and Hollywood elites, the movement would seem like a quintessentially American phenomenon.

But on a growing

Reddit forum

for relatives and friends of devotees, called QAnonCasualties, numerous Canadians share tales of how the “cult” has fractured their families or marriages.

Unlike in the U.S., QAnon seems to have limited impact on Canadian politics, but relatives say it is exacting a deeply personal toll, throwing once-loving relationships across the country into disarray.

Relatives spend hours watching videos, reading social media posts or talking to other adherents, while angrily rejecting attempts to refute their strange ideas, loved ones say. And though not directly part of the QAnon mythology, believers tend to aggressively reject wearing masks and other precautions against COVID-19, even when it might put family members at risk.

Some say their Canadian family members want to vote in the U.S. presidential election, legally or not, so they can back Donald Trump.

Folk devils and fear: QAnon feeds into a culture of moral panic
U.S. House condemns QAnon conspiracy theory; 17 Republicans vote no

Two Canadians affected by the phenomenon agreed to interviews this week, though they asked that their full names not be published, fearing further family strife, ill effects on a business or abuse from Q followers.

Sarah, 35, a southern Alberta entrepreneur, said her parents are unshakeable in their beliefs, showing more faith in YouTube videos by “some guy sitting in his mom’s basement,” than verifiable facts.

“They look at us like we’re the idiots who believe the message from above without questioning it,” she said. “You can come at them with academic articles and news sources from a variety of different places, and all they’ll say is, ‘That’s the elite’s agenda,’ and they don’t believe it because it’s fake news.”

On the Reddit page, another Canadian woman painfully describes how she tried to get her husband to abandon his obsession with QAnon and work on repairing their relationship, to no avail. A few days days ago, she posted that she was going away for a month and undergoing therapy.

“He’s always ranting on the phone, scrolling on Twitter, YouTube on speaker,” she wrote. “He says he loves me and his family but he can’t give up QAnon. It is the hill he will die on … 7 year relationship destroyed with 2 kids under 3, all for this bullsh–.”

Lily says QAnon appears to have spread in Canada. In addition to her own mother, she cites a former boss and his wife, high school friends and fellow university students who have been drawn into the network.

“You’d be surprised how many people are silently watching this sh– in their basement,” she said. “I know people in my personal life who are university educated, in Queen’s Commerce, who are in this. It’s not all hillbillies and hicks and conservative weirdos … That’s the most astounding thing about it to be honest.”

Criticism of the left by the right, and vice versa, is a natural and healthy part of democracy. QAnon is something else. The loosely connected web of conspiracists is convinced that a “cabal” of Democratic Party politicians and other liberal elites are kidnapping, sexually abusing and even cannibalizing children. They see Donald Trump as a sort of saviour working to defeat the evil. The theories have been traced back to an anonymous poster — Q — on the 4Chan website who claimed to be a senior U.S. government official with top-secret clearance.

About two dozen Republican

congressional candidates

in the Nov. 3 election have voiced support for QAnon, while Trump himself has refused to disavow the movement.

Yet the FBI has called it a potential domestic terrorism threat, and a

bi-partisan bill

in the U.S. House of Representatives condemned the fantastical ideology.

QAnon has had some peripheral impact on Canadian public life. Before a man was charged with ramming a truck full of guns into the grounds of Rideau Hall, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is living, the company he owned

had posted QAnon material

on Instagram. In Quebec, conspiracy theorist Alexis Cossette-Trudel espoused QAnon beliefs on popular YouTube videos, which were removed by the site’s owner recently for spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

A September anti-mask

protest in Montreal

featured a plethora of QAnon signs and T-shirts.

Lily describes a gradual evolution in her mother’s mindset, from being a liberal, feminist single parent as recently as 2015, to believing vaccines are dangerous, developing a hatred for government and, this spring, diving deep into QAnon.

She’d spend eight to 10 hours a day on her smartphone, alienating most of her extended family and friends, the daughter says.

In March, she insisted Lily come home early from university, warning that the military was planning to force people into quarantine.

“I sobbed,” she recalls. “I have to worry about getting sick and dying, I have to worry about my exams. I have to worry about all these real world things, and then I have to worry about my mother who has joined a cult.”

Sarah said her own parents have always been “alternative” and skeptical of government but also liberal, supporters of alternative energy. But as the pandemic lockdown began this spring, they too embraced QAnon, believing that all Democrats — politicians in another country — were evil and that elites were draining the

bio-chemical adrenochrome

from babies, another peculiar aspect of the theory.

And they insist COVID-19 is nothing to fear, refusing to wear masks or social distance, even though their daughter is now pregnant and therefore immune-compromised. Sarah says she, her husband and toddler may boycott family Christmas as a result.

The situation is “heartbreaking,” but she said she had one hope for a better future with her parents — Trump’s defeat next Tuesday.

“If he does not … continue to be president I hope it will be a quick fizzle,” she says about the movement. “Because QAnon will have less fuel to add to its fire.”

• Email: [email protected] | Twitter: tomblackwellNP

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