Qollateral: The Impact of QAnon on Loved Ones and the Potential for P/CVE Programs to Help
Keywords:QAnon, Conspiracy Theories, Family Relationships, Terrorism, Countering Violent Extremism
Since 2017, the conspiracy theory known as QAnon has boomed in popularity and spread across national borders. While QAnon is linked to various violent criminal acts, including the January 6th riots on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., there is abundant anecdotal data to suggest QAnon also has destructive relational effects on the loved ones of its adherents. While these Q-believers and their loved ones would benefit from psychosocial support, they either do not seek help or are unable to find the type of support they need. By conducting an original survey of 473 family members and friends of Q-believers, this study adds to a nascent but growing body of research documenting the negative collateral effects of conspiracies on loved ones and their need for professional and psychosocial support. Our findings indicate that younger, immediate family members who live with the Q-person experience the greatest negative impacts from their loved one’s belief in QAnon. While this group expressed the highest level of need and desire to access psychosocial support services, they also reported the most barriers to accessing these services. Among these barriers, many respondents identified a lack of QAnon-informed or -specialized support services. These findings suggest that programs aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) are uniquely positioned to help Q-believers and their loved-ones, as well as to build capacity among health and social service providers to increase the support available to this population.
Aasgaard, A. (2017). Scandinavia’s daughters in the Syrian civil war: What can we learn from their family members’ lived experiences? Journal for Deradicalization, 13, 243-275.
Amarasingam, A. (2019). The impact of conspiracy theories and how to counter them: Reviewing the literature on conspiracy theories and radicalization to violence. In A. Richards, D. Margolin, & N. Scremin (Eds.), Jihadist Terrori: New Threats, New Responses (pp. 27-40). New York: Bloomsbury.
American Psychological Association. (2022, November). Psychologists struggle to meet demand amid mental health crisis. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/practitioner/2022-covid-psychologist-workload.pdf
Andrews, T. M. (2020, October 12). QAnon is tearing families apart. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/09/14/qanon-families-support-group/
Anti-Defamation League. (2022, August 23). Conspiracy theories and how to help family and friends who believe them. Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved from https://www.adl.org/conspiracy-theories
Argentino, M. A. (2020, October 15). Facebook, YouTube moves against QAnon are only a first step in the battle against dangerous conspiracy theories. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/facebook-youtube-moves-against-qanon-are-only-a-first-step-in-the-battle-against-dangerous-conspiracy-theories-147883
Argentino, M.A. (2023). QAnon: A survey of the evolution of the movement from conspiracy theory to new religious movement [Doctoral dissertation, Concordia University]. In press.
Argentino, M. A., & Amarasingam, A. (2020). The QAnon conspiracy theory: A security threat in the making? CTC Sentinel, 13(7), 37-44. https://ctc.usma.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/CTC-SENTINEL-072020.pdf
_______________________________ (2021). They got it all under control: QAnon, conspiracy theories, and the new threats to Canadian national security. In L. West, T. Juneau, & A. Amarasingam (Eds.), Stress tested: the COVID-19 pandemic and Canadian national security (pp. 15-32). Calgary, Alberta: LCR Publishing Services.
Balevic, K. (2021, October 24). Former French politician charged with terrorism in right-wing plot to attack vaccine centers: Report. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/former-french-politician-charged-terrorism-plot-attack-vaccine-centers-2021-10
Barkun, M. (2013). A culture of conspiracy: Apocalyptic visions of contemporary America. University of California Press.
Berg, K., & Mackay, H. (2022, September 11). Daughter: Walled Lake man fell into conspiracy rabbit hole before shooting family. The Detroit News. Retrieved from https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/oakland-county/2022/09/11/walled-lake-man-killed-police-after-killing-wife-shooting-daughter/8058356001/
Boss, P. (2007). Ambiguous loss theory: Challenges for scholars and practitioners. Family Relations, 56(2), 105-110.
Butter, M., & Knight, P. (2020). Routledge handbook of conspiracy theories (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis.
Canadian Security Intelligence Service. (2023). CSIS Public Report 2022. Government of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/security-intelligence-service/corporate/publications/csis-public-report-2022.html
Carrier, A. (2021, August 13). QAnon almost destroyed my relationship. Then my relationship saved me from QAnon. Politico. Retrieved from https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/08/13/qanon-radicalization-bernie-sanders-supporter-503295
Castaño, Á, Bélanger, J. J., & Moyano, M. (2021). Cult conversion from the perspective of families: Implications for prevention and psychological interventions. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 14(1), 148–160. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000410
Dodgson, L. (2022, July 3). They lost their families to conspiracy theories. Now they’re finding others just like them on TikTok. Insider. Retrieved from https://www.insider.com/qanon-tiktok-family-conspiracy-theories-community-2022-6
Eisenman, D.P., Weine, S., Shah, N.D., Jones, N.V., Smith, C.P., Thomas, P., & Grossman, M. (2022). Bystander reporting to prevent violent extremism and targeted violence: Learning from practitioners. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, https://doi.org/10.1080/19434472.2022.2130960.
Ellefsen, R., & Sandberg, S. (2022). Everyday prevention of radicalization: The impacts of family, peer, and police intervention. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. https://doi.org/10.1080/1057610X.2022.2037185
El-Amraoui, A. F., & Ducol, B. (2019). Family-oriented P/CVE programs: Overview, challenges and future directions. Journal for Deradicalization, 20, 190-231.
Farinelli, F. (2021). Conspiracy theories and right-wing extremism – Insights and recommendations for P/CVE. Radicalisation Awareness Network. Retrieved from https://home-affairs.ec.europa.eu/system/files/2021-04/ran_conspiracy_theories_and_right-wing_2021_en.pdf
Fraser, D. (2022, August 18). QAnon-inspired protest in Peterborough, Ont., prompts investigation. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/protest-peterborough-arrest-special-investigation-1.6552575
Gabbat, A. (2022, June 27). QAnon’s ‘Q’ re-emerges on far-right message board after two years of silence. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jun/27/qanon-head-posts-message-board-8kun
Georgiou, N., Delfabbro, P., & Balzan, R. (2023). The effectiveness of a scientific reasoning intervention for conspiracy theory beliefs. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 37, 369-382. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.4039
Gielen, A. (2015). Supporting families of foreign fighters. A realistic approach for measuring the effectiveness. Journal for Deradicalization, 2, 21-48.
Gilbert, D. (2021, March 31). How QAnon is tearing families apart. Vice News. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en/article/dy8ayx/how-qanon-is-tearing-families-apart
Goldenberg, A., Riggleman, D., Baumgartner, J., Marchl, L., Reid-Ross, A., Finkelstein, J., Highes, B., Cain, C., Criezis, M., White, K., & Miller-Idriss, C. (2020, December 15). The QAnon conspiracy: Destroying families, dividing communities, undermining democracy. Network Contagion Research Institute. Retrieved from https://networkcontagion.us/wp-content/uploads/NCRI-%E2%80%93-The-QAnon-Conspiracy-FINAL.pdf
Gu, F., Wu, Y., Hu, X., Guo, J., Yang, X., & Zhao, X. (2021). The role of conspiracy theories in the spread of COVID-19 across the United States. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(7), 3843. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18073843
Individuals referred to and supported through the Prevent Programme, England and Wales, April 2020 to March 2021. (2021, November 18). United Kingdom Home Office. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/individuals-referred-to-and-supported-through-the-prevent-programme-april-2020-to-march-2021/individuals-referred-to-and-supported-through-the-prevent-programme-england-and-wales-april-2020-to-march-2021#demographics
Jensen, M., & Kane, S. 2021a. QAnon offenders in the United States. College Park, MD: START. Retrieved from https://www.start.umd.edu/publication/qanon-offenders-united-states
__________________ 2021b. QAnon-inspired violence in the United States: An empirical assessment of a misunderstood threat. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 1-19. https://doi.org/10.1080/19434472.2021.2013292
Koehler, D. (2015). Using family counseling to prevent and intervene against foreign fighters: Operational perspectives, methodology and best practices for implementing codes of conduct. Middle East Institute. Retrieved from https://www.mei.edu/sites/default/files/Koehler.pdf
Koehler, D., & Ehrt, T. (2018). Parents’ associations, support group interventions and countering violent extremism: An important step forward in combating violent radicalization. International Annals of Criminology, 56(6-7), 457-465. doi:10.1017/cri.2018.8
Kupper, J., & Dittrich, M. (2023, January 18). The Reichsbürger coup: How the German COVID-19 denier scene and anti-lockdown movement became a breeding ground for terrorism. Global Network on Extremism & Technology. Retrieved from https://gnet-research.org/2023/01/18/the-reichsburger-coup-how-the-german-covid-19-denier-scene-and-anti-lockdown-movement-became-a-breeding-ground-for-terrorism/
Lewandowsky, S., & Cook, J. (2020). The conspiracy theory handbook. Retrieved from http://sks.to/conspiracy
Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Ecker, U. K. H., Albarracín, D., Amazeen, M. A., Kendeou, P., Lombardi, D., Newman, E. J., Pennycook, G., Porter, E. Rand, D. G., Rapp, D. N., Reifler, J., Roozenbeek, J., Schmid, P., Seifert, C. M., Sinatra, G. M., Swire-Thompson, B., van der Linden, S., Vraga, E. K., Wood, T. J., & Zaragoza, M. S. (2020). The Debunking Handbook 2020. Retrieved from https://skepticalscience.com/debunking-handbook-2020-downloads-translations.html
Lytvynenko, J. (2020, September 18). Friends and family members of QAnon believers are going through a “surreal goddamn nightmare”. BuzzFeed News. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/janelytvynenko/qanon-families-friends
Madani, D., Blankstein, A., & Collins, B. (2021, August 11). California dad killed his kids over QAnon and ‘serpent DNA’ conspiracy theories, feds claim. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/california-dad-killed-his-kids-over-qanon-serpent-dna-conspiracy-n1276611
Moskalenko, M., & Bloom, S. (2021). Pastels and pedophiles: Inside the mind of QAnon. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Moskalenko, S. & McCauley, C. (2021). QAnon: Radical opinion versus radical action. Perspectives on Terrorism, 15(2), 142-146.
Niela-Vilén, H., Axelin, A., Salanterä, S., & Melender, H. L. (2014). Internet-based peer support for parents: A systematic integrative review. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 51(11), 1524-1537.
No Author. (2022, September 12). IntelBrief: 21 years after 9/11, what does the terror threat facing the U.S. look like? The Soufan Center. Retrieved from https://thesoufancenter.org/intelbrief-2022-september-12/
Organization for the Prevention of Violence (September 2021). “Evolve Program: The first two years”. Edmonton: Organization for the Prevention of Violence. Retrieved from https://preventviolence.ca/publication/evolve-program-the-first-two-years/
Prescott, J., Hanley, T., & Ujhelyi, K. (2017). Peer communication in online mental health forums for young people: Directional and nondirectional support. Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health, 4(3), e29.
Rabinowitz, H., & Polantz, K. (2021, November 17). ‘QAnon Shaman’ Jacob Chansley sentenced to 41 months in prison for role in US Capitol riot. CNN News. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/17/politics/jacob-chansley-qanon-shaman-january-6-sentencing/index.html
Reilly, R. J. (2022, May 28). New evidence reveals coordination between Oath Keepers, Three Percenters on Jan. 6. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/justice-department/new-evidence-reveals-coordination-oath-keepers-three-percenters-jan-6-rcna30355
Rothschild, M. (2021). The storm is upon us: How QAnon became a movement, cult, and conspiracy theory of everything. Melville House.
Rubin, O., Bruggeman, L., and Steakin, W. (2021, January 19). QAnon emerges as recurring theme of criminal cases tied to US Capitol siege. ABC News. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/US/qanon-emerges-recurring-theme-criminal-cases-tied-us/story?id=75347445
r/QanonCasualties. (2023, May 12). Reddit. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/QAnonCasualties/
Salas, C. (2018, December 20). Marina man arrested for having bomb materials, wanting to use bomb “out of state”. KSBW News. Retrieved from https://www.ksbw.com/article/marina-man-arrested-for-having-bomb-materials-wanting-to-use-bomb-out-of-state/25649504
Sommer, W. (2023). Trust the plan: The rise of QAnon and the conspiracy that unhinged America. Harper Collins.
Strand, M., Eng, L.S., & Gammon, D. (2020). Combining online and offline peer support groups in community mental health care settings: A qualitative study of service users’ experiences. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 14(39). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13033-020-00370-x
United States Department of Homeland Security. (2019). Strategic framework for countering terrorism and targeted violence. (September 2019). Government of the United States. Retrieved from https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/19_0920_plcy_strategic-framework-countering-terrorism-targeted-violence.pdf
United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (2021, March 1). (U) Domestic violent extremism poses heightened threat in 2021. Government of the United States. Retrieved from https://www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/UnclassSummaryofDVEAssessment-17MAR21.pdf
Watt, C. S. (2020, September 23). The QAnon orphans: People who have lost loved ones to conspiracy theories. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/23/qanon-conspiracy-theories-loved-ones
West, M. (2018). Escaping the rabbit hole: How to debunk conspiracy theories using facts, logic, and respect. Skyhorse Publishing.
Wildon, J. & Argentino, M.A. (2021, July 28). QAnon is not dead: New research into Telegram shows the movement is alive and well. GNET. Retrieved from https://gnet-research.org/2021/07/28/qanon-is-not-dead-new-research-into-telegram-shows-the-movement-is-alive-and-well/
Williams, M. J., Horgan, J. G., & Evans, W. P. (2016). The critical role of friends in networks for countering violent extremism: toward a theory of vicarious help-seeking. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 8(1), 45-65. doi:10.1080/19434472.2015.1101147
Williams, M. J., Horgan, J. G., Evans, W. P., & Bélanger, J. J. (2020). Expansion and replication of the theory of vicarious help-seeking. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 12(2), 89-117. doi:10.1080/19434472.2018.1546217
Winter, J. (2019, August 1). Exclusive: FBI document warns conspiracy theories are a new domestic terrorism threat. Yahoo!news. Retrieved from https://news.yahoo.com/fbi-documents-conspiracy-theories-terrorism-160000507.html
Zuckerman, E. (2019). QAnon and the emergence of the unreal. Journal of Design and Science, 6. https://doi.org/10.21428/7808da6b.6b8a82b9
Copyright (c) 2023 Michèle St-Amant, Michael King, Laura Stolte, Marc-André Argentino
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
The JD Journal for Deradicalization uses a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND) Licence. You are free to share - copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format under the following conditions:
Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, andindicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
NoDerivatives — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.