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Losing A Loved One To QAnon

Conspiracy theorist QAnon demonstrators protest child trafficking on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, Aug. 22, 2020. (Kyle Grillot/AFP via Getty Images)
Conspiracy theorist QAnon demonstrators protest child trafficking on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, Aug. 22, 2020. (Kyle Grillot/AFP via Getty Images)

For Albert Samaha, writing about his relationship with his mom, a staunch QAnon believer, was cathartic.

Samaha’s article, “My Mom Believes In QAnon. I’ve Been Trying To Get Her Out,” forced the BuzzFeed News reporter to reflect on how years of struggling to convince his mother that the far-right conspiracy theory is a lie impacted their relationship.

His mom’s political evolution coincides with her experience immigrating to the U.S. from the Philippines. Under President Ferdinand Marcos, her life in the Philippines was “flipped upside down” during his rule as a dictator under martial law. The corruption and revolution that followed “left her a bit disillusioned with the role of government,” he says.

Years of government instability and brutality in the Philippines — “where the dictatorship was bolstered by actual conspiracies” — contributed to her conspiratorial mindset, he says.

The U.S. has had its fair share of conspiracy theories proven true over time, he says, from the Tuskegee experiments on Black men to the CIA supplying crack cocaine in low-income neighborhoods. For Samaha’s mom, these once seemingly baseless conspiracies validated the possibility of more far-fetched theories, he says.

She started to care more about politics as former President Donald Trump came onto the scene, and the QAnon conspiracy theory matched her political perspective — the loosely organized network is based on exposing the “deep state.”

Believers, self-proclaimed “patriots,” push unfounded claims that government leaders and Hollywood stars are secret Satan worshipers and part of a massive child sex trafficking plot. Followers detest the “mainstream media” and think key political figures like President Biden and others will be rounded up and executed.

In the eyes of QAnon supporters, Trump stood up against these conspiracies. Samaha’s mom idolized Trump “not merely as a politician but a savior,” he writes.

There are some outlandish claims — such as that Tom Hanks is a clone — that Samaha’s mom will openly question. But for her, celebrities are “lower stakes” targets in the QAnon ecosystem, he says.

“She won’t back down from whether Joe Biden’s a clone because that’s much more central to her belief system, the ideology of her political beliefs, whereas she doesn’t really care about whether a celebrity is a clone,” Samaha says.

Issues she cares about, such as Biden being a body double and the deep state’s attempt to oust Trump, are often confirmed by “her fake news sources,” he says.

In writing the article, Samaha says his mom reacted positively and hopes others can find it useful. It’s clear throughout the piece how proud she is of him, even if she doesn’t always agree with what he covers as an investigative reporter.

He writes that for a while, the only stories his mom found credible in what she calls the mainstream media were his articles.

“She generally trusts what I have to say when I publish stories,” he says, “except when those stories undermine the ideas she holds dear.”

The two have been dealing with misinformation coming between them for years, he says.

“When I hear from folks that tell me about how stunning it was for them to go through this QAnon divergence with their loved ones, I kind of realized that one benefit my mom and I had is that we’ve navigated these waters for decades now,” he says.

The duo has discussed the potential to avoid touchy subjects altogether, but both feel discussing issues like democracy and authoritarianism are “too important not to talk about,” he says. They have made progress in hearing each other out, putting up objections in a respectful way and ultimately accepting they have contrasting world views, he says.

“But that disagreement doesn’t have to define our relationship,” he says. “It doesn’t have to entirely consume us.”

Many people are in the same scenario with family members and loved ones. Samaha says he doesn’t view his relationship with his mom as a guide for others because every relationship is different.

He just takes it day by day with her, he says.

While he’d never imagine cutting off a loved one, he recognizes that’s not the case for everyone. There’s a lot of emotional labor and frustration that comes from trying to convince a loved one that a conspiracy theory isn’t real, he says, “and I totally understand and empathize with folks that aren’t willing to put up with that.”

Samantha Raphelson produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RaySerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.