As mainstream media digs into the deeply concerning QAnon conspiracy theory—including coverage of the reality that we now have a QAnon congresswoman—we’re also seeing more people who formerly identified with the movement come forward. In an interview with CNN, Melissa Rein Lively described how she fell into the conspiracy tunnel, and why she wants to help people experiencing the same thing now. “I really became all consumed in the QAnon conspiracy theories because of a mix of fear, anxiety, depression,” she told host Alisyn Camerota on Monday. “You know, uncertainty. Inconsistency about information coming out about the pandemic.” She talked about feeling terrified seeing people around her lose their businesses. So what did she do? She went online. And that’s when, according to Lively, the algorithm took hold and brought her into an “echo chamber.”
Lively says she began looking at a number of wellness, spirituality, and New Age pages, and within a “matter of weeks,” the algorithm hooked her into a “terrifying echo chamber” that “completely changed the way that I think and that I process information.” Lively notes that the Save the Children messaging, in particular, spoke to her. Lively went on to describe how her husband gave her an ultimatum between her family and the QAnon movement, including even calling the police out of concern for her well-being.
Lively says she ultimately broke the QAnon spell by seeking mental health treatment with a specific focus on PTSD and trauma. “I really believe that it’s a cult,” she said. “It operates like a cult in every single way. And people don’t realize that they’re being consumed by QAnon until it’s too late.”
If Lively sounds familiar to you, it might be because she went viral back in the fall yelling and throwing face masks on the ground in a Target. “I’ve been looking forward to this,” her voice says in one video. “Target … I’m not playing any more of their games.”
In a video later filmed at her garage, she is seen describing herself to police (summoned by her husband) as a “QAnon spokesperson” and claiming that she was on the phone with Donald Trump “all the time.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Lively described falling into QAnon as happening “gradually, and you don’t realize you’re getting more and more deep in it.”
And if this language sounds familiar, it’s likely because you heard about another former QAnon believer, Ashley Vanderbilt. As Daily Kos covered, Vanderbilt recently gave an interview to CNN talking about her fall into the QAnon rabbit hole. Vanderbilt, the mother to a four-year-old daughter, lifelong Republican, and employee of a construction company, told the network she fell deep down the conspiracy well when she became very “isolated.” She also describes trusting Trump-supporting friends who sent her deeper down the conspiracy rabbit hole via conspiracy YouTube videos.
A big similarity to Lively’s journey? Algorithms. Vanderbilt described using social media (TikTok, specifically) and “liking” pro-Trump and anti-Biden posts, and then, lo and behold, the algorithm did the rest.
You can watch the full CNN interview with Lively below, courtesy of YouTube.
And you can watch Vanderbilt’s video interview below, as well.