The QAnon conspiracy web—which hinges on the belief that former President Donald Trump was sent to expose a covert cabal of satanic cannibal pedophiles secretly controlling the U.S. government—grew out of the dark corners of the internet before infecting the reasoning of countless Americans.
The mass delusion encourages subscribers to see non-existent codes and patterns, to trust no one but Trump and an anonymous internet poster, and to take up arms against any perceived threat, no matter how imagined.
Despite the absurdity of its beliefs, the QAnon conspiracy web has thrived—with the help of right-wing disinformation peddlers—engulfing people into delusions, often at the expense of ties with their loved ones.
An entire subreddit, dubbed QAnon Casualties, features thousands of posts lamenting the frustration of companions, parents, friends, siblings, and others gripped by QAnon. It has over 170 thousand members.
That's where VICE reporter David Gilbert found "Bill," a recent high school graduate and survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, which killed 17 people.
A running theme in QAnon circles is the belief that constant mass shootings in the United States coordinated by the "Deep State" to weaken public support for the Second Amendment and disarm citizens. This belief was even promoted by now-Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) before her election.
Though Bill saw the catastrophic shooting with his own eyes, his own father doesn't believe it happened.
Bill wrote of his father in QAnon Casualties:
"He's done 'extensive research' on body language and claims he can tell the shooter is a radical commie actor who was paid to sacrifice his life in order to remove our guns. He's questioning why they released the interrogation footage if not to further deceive the 'sheep believing everything they see'. He also says the trial will be rigged and the reason they're talking about the death penalty is to prevent him from ever talking just in case."
"He'll say stuff like this straight to my face whenever he's drinking: 'You're a real piece of work to be able to sit here and act like nothing ever happened if it wasn't a hoax. Shame on you for being part of it and putting your family through it too[.]"
VICE confirmed the poster was an actual survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, and he elaborated to the outlet on his dad's precipitous fall into the rabbit hole. After subscribing to QAnon's pandemic conspiracy theories, but came to believe Parkland was a false flag after watching a video of Rep. Greene harassing Parkland survivor David Hogg.
While Bill says he may soon exercise options for vacating the toxic environment, people were horrified at his position and the collective heartache and frustration QAnon imposes on families across America.
Some wonder if the damage can ever be undone.