Day 6

QAnon has found a home among wellness influencers — and new audiences, says reporter

The QAnon conspiracy has made its way into online communities led by wellness and alternative medicine influencers, according to Mother Jones reporter Ali Breland. Now, social media users who wouldn’t seek out such fringe content are discovering it through Instagram and Twitter feeds dedicated to health.

Ali Breland has been following the spread of the conspiracy in new followers

A man in the crowd holds a QAnon sign with the group's abbreviation of their rallying cry 'Where we go one, we go all' at a Donald Trump rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Nevada on Feb. 21. (Patrick Fallon/Reuters)

The QAnon conspiracy has made its way into online communities led by wellness and alternative medicine influencers, according to one reporter.

Now, social media users who wouldn't seek out such fringe content are discovering it through Instagram and Twitter feeds dedicated to health.

QAnon is a right-wing conspiracy group that believes that so-called deep-state traitors are plotting against U.S. President Donald Trump. Some of its self-professed members also believe a cabal of pedophiles are running a child sex trafficking ring.

These conspiracies have circulated around parts of the internet since Trumps' election. Last month, a reporter asked the president about the theory.

"I don't know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate," Trump said.

Ali Breland, a reporter for Mother Jones, has been following the spread of QAnon. He spoke with Day 6 host about how the theory has evolved, particularly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is part of their conversation.

If I'm a non-conspiratorial type person involved in alternative medicine online, or other wellness communities, how likely is it that QAnon is now showing up in my feed?

It's really hard to fully know definitively, because of the way that Instagram is structured. It's really hard to parse out data. But, anecdotally, from my own observations, from other reporters' observations, and from talking to people who are deeply entrenched in these communities, it's really, really, really common. 

Every time I read about these things, I get more messages from people who are like, "What the heck is this crap? This is all over my feed." And then it reifies itself and it's just becoming an unmissable part of this community, even if you're not inclined to believe these things.

An online influencer doesn't necessarily have any particular expertise. But are there people in the health community with academic credentials who are pushing the QAnon line?

A lot of them.... They'll have backgrounds in being a chiropractor, things like that. But there's one actually really interesting one. Her name, I believe, is Christiane Northrup, and she has a degree from Dartmouth [Medical School]. She did her residency at Tufts. But [she] is doing this video series called The Great Awakening, which is a very clear nod to QAnon.

"Great Awakening" is a term they've co-opted and clearly made their own. She's posted links to QAnon-related videos.

She's a really difficult example because if you're a lay person who's just trying to go about their business and parse the world, it does become very difficult when you see this kind of information coming from a Dartmouth M.D. We're taught that these things are very valuable.

Whether or not they actually are, it makes your life a lot harder if you're not in these spaces all the time to assess the legitimacy of this person and what she's saying.

Trump addressed the QAnon conspiracy last month, saying 'I understand they like me very much,' in response to a reporter's question. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

These two worlds — QAnon, a conspiracy theory and wellness, which is connected to science — they don't seem like they would have a lot of obvious connections. What is the overlap here? How did this develop?

They definitely don't seem like they have obvious connections, but if you zoom out for a bit, there is a sort of clear connection. 

What a lot of wellness influencers have in common is that they're anti-vaxxers. This isn't universal by any stretch of the imagination; I don't want to paint a community in broad strokes, but there is a lot of crossover. And if you think about it, the anti-vaccination conspiracy is beat for beat almost the same conspiracy as QAnon.

In what way?

[It's the idea that] these big powerful interests — these external interests that are beyond us, like Big Pharma — that we can't conceptualize are trying to hurt our children ... and we need to protect them because no one else will.

That's the prevailing belief of QAnon: that there is a liberal elite kidnapping children and putting them into pedophile rings and stealing and drinking their blood. It's much more fantastical than anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, but it is the same thing: our children are under threat, our children are being attacked, and we need to protect them because powerful interests don't want us to protect them. They're out to get us.

This week on Twitter, the phrase "only six per cent" trended because of a tweet from a QAnon supporter who falsely claimed that 94 per cent of deaths attributed to COVID were bogus.

Trump retweeted it. Several right-wing politicians jumped on it and Twitter took down the tweet, but it was already trending. What's the lesson there?

So there's two lessons. If you just look at Twitter's actions within itself, it's good that they're doing something about this. But at the same time, you wonder how interested they are in actually structurally reforming these kinds of things and taking action ahead of time. Reddit decided to take down all of its QAnon pages back in 2018, right? Twitter had two years to do something and it didn't. So it's nice that they're doing this after the fact, but it's almost too late.

[There] is another serious point of concern with QAnon: people point to how some of its supporters have gotten violent. But also, it can spread real political misinformation and affect actual policy.

It's almost imminent by next year that there will be QAnon-supporting Congressmen. Marjorie Taylor Green in Georgia just won her primary race, in a race that she's expected to beat her Democratic opponent in November pretty handily. There's other potential cases where QAnon-supporting candidates could win their races as well.

QAnon mobs have been attacking a state senator in California who's proposing LGBTQ equality legislation. They're accusing him of being a pedophile. They're lobbing homophobic and anti-Semitic smears of him to oppose the legislation. The concern is that these people will start affecting politics in harmful and unhealthy ways that aren't rooted in reality at all.

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Pedro Sanchez. Q&A edited for length and clarity.