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FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2018, file photo, David Reinert holding a Q sign waits in line with others to enter a campaign rally with President Donald Trump in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. A far-right conspiracy theory forged in a dark corner of the internet is creeping into the mainstream political arena. It's called QAnon, and it centers on the baseless belief that President Donald Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state.” (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

QAnon: What it is, who believes it, and why it’s hurting people

Over the last few months, we’ve been hearing a lot about right-wing conspiracy groups. One – called “QAnon” – is pushing the idea that former President Donald Trump will return to power.

The conspiracy group was started by one anonymous user online named “Q.”

Their core belief? That a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring control politics and run the country.

They believed that on Jan. 20, Trump would destroy powerful child abusers and be sworn in for a second term. That, of course, didn’t happen.

Now they believe that Thursday, March 4, Trump would take back control of the executive branch from President Joe Biden.

Why March 4? Because it was the date of our nation’s Inauguration Day from 1793 to 1933.

Who gets sucked into this kind of conspiracy theory? Federal agents say some believers took part in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 and even wore QAnon gear.

Then there’s Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia, who has promoted QAnon conspiracies online.

QAnon is telling followers that the media promoted March 4 and the real date for Trump’s return is March 20.

The stories are unthinkable for some, like that Trump killed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sen. John McCain, although both died of cancer.

Family members of some QAnon followers say that’s what their loved ones believe, and it’s driving a wedge in their relationships. They feel they’ve “lost” their family member, not physically, but psychologically.

When given the option to continue following QAnon or be in the family, they chose Q.

Two family members of QAnon believers shared their stories with WINK News to show that QAnon does more than promote dangerous theories; it’s also taking an emotional toll on hundreds of thousands of Americans.

“I do feel afraid now,” said Lisa Kroese, who is Joseph Manzi’s only daughter.

“I always remembered him being really nice and caring and, you know, happy.”

She’s the mother to his only grandchildren.

“He loves the kids and they love him.”

Manzi is retired now and spends a lot of time online. Too much time, if you ask Kroese, following QAnon’s conspiracies.

“This misinformation that’s just everywhere, that’s just bombarding these people that are following it.”

She says he sends texts saying, “They’ve got JFK Jr. alive,” and “Donald Trump killed John McCain because ‘Trump is sworn to protect his country from all enemies foreign or domestic…'” “‘He had no other choice.'”

“He’ll say something like, show me the evidence if you try to dispute something, but then any evidence that you send, is immediately rejected because it’s from the Washington Post, or it’s from Harvard, or it’s not from these, you know, bit shoot videos or these other sources,” Kroese explained.

After the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, where people wore QAnon apparel with pride and a man known as the “QAnon Shaman” was arrested, Kroese said enough.

“At one point, he believed that it was staged. He said, you know, the woman that was shot, he thinks that that was all fake and staged.”

She gave him the ultimatum: family or QAnon.

WINK News: He said, bye-bye, family?

“He said, I don’t care. Yeah, he did,” Kroese answered.

WINK News tried calling Manzi, but he didn’t answer and he didn’t return the call.

Kroese joined the Reddit group “QAnon Casualties,” which has 140,000 people just like her.

“It made me grateful for my situation because it was far from the worst,” she said.

It’s a group where WINK News met “Jane,” a name we’ll call her for the purposes of this story.

WINK News: Why is it that you don’t want to show your identity?

“I don’t want to hurt my sister. I love her.”

Her sister lives in Fort Myers and is active in the church community.

“Although the Q drops don’t mention Jesus, it does evoke imagery around God, and it has caught on heavily in churches,” Jane said.

Kroese and Jane don’t know each other, but they’re hearing the same conspiracies from their loved ones.

“She was trying to prepare me that Trump might be reelected. And I sternly told her that was just impossible. And she just pushed back that no, no, I should be prepared,” Jane said.

When one conspiracy after another doesn’t come true, QAnon followers stay firm in their beliefs.

WINK News: Do you think if your sister was given the ultimatum today to pick QAnon or pick her family that she would side with QAnon?”

“Ultimately, she already has. She’s chosen her conspiracy beliefs as more important than her relationships because she believes they’re real,” Jane said.

Florida Gulf Coast University philosophy professor Landon Frim, Ph.D., analyzes human motivation.

“To try and disprove a conspiracy theory is quite literally an impossible task. Right? People will simply do mental jujitsu and try and figure out other reasons to believe it, always trying to modify it so that it fits the newest set of facts that you confront them with,” Frim said.

He says people who follow conspiracies or join cults tend to be isolated.

WINK News: How do you pull them out to reality?

“Be nice to them.”

And when that doesn’t work?

“It takes two people. So if you’re not going to both come to the middle, then someone’s going to have to eventually decide that they need to walk away.”

Reid Kirchhoff, the clinical supervisor at the David Lawrence Center in Naples, says it’s OK to say goodbye.

“We all have our limits. We all have your thresholds, and you have to know what you’re able to tolerate, what you’re able to withstand,” he said.

“I hope that people who have families, or they are the person that is a QAnon follower, can see how much this hurts the people that you love. We just feel like, we just feel like you’re lost to us. We feel like we don’t even recognize you or know you,” Kroese said.

“For me, that’s one of the greatest costs of this movement that doesn’t get enough attention,” Jane said.

Reporter:Morgan Rynor
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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