- Australia-based Jitarth Jadeja hopes more QAnon believers can follow his path out. “It has to start with empathy and understanding.”
It was in 2017 that Jitarth Jadeja of Sydney, Australia, discovered QAnon, the same year the conspiracy-theory group began. After two years in the virtual cult, the 32-year-old Australian of Indian origin, quit.
In an interview with CNN, Jadeja said despite living in Australia, he was always been interested in American politics. He spent time studying in the U.S., and lived in Queens, New York. If you’d look in Australian politics, it’s boring by comparison,” Jadeja said. “American politics, it’s like, it’s like a car crash you can’t look away from.”
During the 2016 election, Jadeja told CNN, that he “was drawn to then-candidate Bernie Sanders.” But after Trump won, he “kind of switched off from all mainstream media.” That’s when he began listening to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars, which exposed him to QAnon theories for the first time. By December 2017, he identified as a Q follower.
As per his LinkedIn profile, Jadeja is the founder of ‘nudge your usual,’ which “provides consulting services using a combination of nudge theory and data analytics.” Prior to that he worked as a loan and mortgage adviser.
Jadeja’s assimilation into QAnon was quick. He told CNN that he would spend time on websites that aggregated posts supposedly from Q. “There’d be a lot of Youtube and Reddit mini-celebrities within the community that would be like the anointed decrypter for that point in time,” Jadeja noted.
Jadeja’s attraction to the group is evidence that it is popular beyond the U.S. Although the actual number of QAnon followers worldwide is not known, CNN says “their ranks are growing.” As per an investigation it conducted earlier this month, CNN found that at least 12.8 million interactions between QAnon-related Facebook pages and groups based only outside the U.S were held from the beginning of the year and the last week of September.
What is QAnon
The New York Times says QAnon, which was once “a fringe phenomenon, has gone mainstream in recent months, and has increasingly become a political issue. “For months, QAnon supporters have been flooding social media with false information about Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter protests and the 2020 election,” the Times says. “QAnon supporters have also been trying to attach themselves to other activist causes, such as the anti-vaccine and anti-child-trafficking movements, in an effort to expand their ranks.”
A core tenet of the conspiracy theory is that President Donald Trump is secretly fighting a cabal of child-sex predators that includes prominent Democrats, Hollywood elites and “deep state” allies. And it features an anonymous government insider called “Q” who purportedly shares secret information about that fight via cryptic online posts.
Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher who co-hosts the podcast “QAnon Anonymous,” told CNN that even though followers ”always fantasize that they are saving children and are bringing criminals to justice, QAnon only hurts people. It has helped nobody.”
Mental Stress and Isolation
Jadeja told CNN that his mental health played a role in his attraction to QAnon. He was in the midst of a 15 year struggle to finish his degree. He was becoming socially isolated as well. “I was probably in a deep depression I think when I found Q,” he told CNN.
A 2017 report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, based on a study conducted on a wide range of people in the UK, revealed that social isolation, stress and mental health plays a crucial role in leading people to fringe beliefs. “The more lonely people felt, the more they believed in both the conspiracies and in the idea of the supernatural,” the study noted.
The study was conducted in 2016 by Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. He asked 400 participants between 20 and 78 several questions like whether the landing on the moon was fake. Swami notes in his study that often stressful situations increase the tendency to think less analytically. “An individual experiencing a stressful life event may begin to engage in a particular way of thinking, such as seeing patterns that don’t exist,” he told UK’s Prospect magazine. “In the aftermath of distressing events,” he continued, “it is possible that some individuals may seek out conspiracist explanations that reinstall a sense of order or control.”
Going by what Jadeja told CNN, it seems like the 2016 U.S. presidential election was a stressful time for him.
The more deeper Jadeja got into QAnon, he began losing friends and was being socially ostracized. “No one believes you,” he told CNN. “No one wants to talk to you about it. You get all angsty and crabby and whatnot. [S]uch shouting, irrational, you sound like the homeless guy on the street yelling about Judgment Day.”
It was only with his father that Jadeja could talk about QAnon. “We used to talk about it a lot,” he told CNN. “I think superficially it did seem like [QAnon] gave me comfort,” Jadeja said. “I didn’t realize the nefarious kind of impact it was having on me because it was very insidious how it slowly disconnected me from reality.”
Looking back, Jadeja said, he doesn’t think there is a single relationship in his life that wasn’t affected by his time believing in QAnon. “It’s destroyed some of them to this day. It’s strained a lot of them to this day.”
Threat to Social Media
Even as Facebook and Twitter are looking to clamp down on content tied to the pro-Trump conspiracy theory group, a new Morning Consult survey data indicates it won’t be an easy task. Morning Consult is a global data intelligence company delivering insights and custom market research on what people think in real time. “One-quarter of social media users who have heard of QAnon say they believe the group’s conspiracy theories are at least somewhat accurate, while 12 percent said they have either engaged with or posted about QAnon content in a positive way,” the survey has revealed. It was conducted from Oct. 6 and 8, among 2,199 U.S. adults, including 2,073 social media users.
Last week, news reports said Facebook said it is banning all QAnon-related pages and groups, as well as Instagram accounts. In July, the company had announced that it will remove only those that promoted violence. Earlier in July, Twitter banned 7,000 QAnon accounts and stopped recommending accounts and content related to the conspiracy.
QAnon has also entered the mainstream via the ballot box. Morning Star Media Matters, a left-leaning nonprofit and media watchdog that has been tracking QAnon’s movement for the past three years, estimates that 26 congressional candidates, mostly Republicans, have either endorsed or shown support for QAnon and have secured spots on the November ballots.
In May 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly flagged QAnon’s ideas as a potential domestic terror threat due to the violent actions its members have taken because of their beliefs, yet many social media companies have only recently moved to stop the proliferation of QAnon content on their sites.
Pulling the Plug
Jadeja told CNN that it was after two years with QAnon that cracks began to form in his conviction. He told CNN that he “believed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had been instrumental in ‘exposing’ Hillary Clinton and had helped win Trump the election.”
He told CNN that he wondered that “if Trump was trying to bring down the cabal, how could he let Assange face extradition to the U.S. for charges related to publishing secret military and diplomatic documents?”
He began researching these theories. But the turning point in Jadeja’s life came when he got proof that Trump was associated with the group, he told CNN. “It was the worst feeling I had in my life.”
That’s when he pulled the plug.
Jadeja hopes more QAnon believers can follow his path out. “It has to start with empathy and understanding,” he told CNN.
There are a few sites that can help people move on from QAnon. Jadeja took the help of QultHeadquarters community on Reddit. The website says the group is T”ddedicated to documenting, critiquing, and debunking the chan poster known as ‘Q’ and his devotees.” Similarly, another Reddit community, QAnonCasualties, functions as a support group for friends and family members of QAnon believers.
(Top photo: Jitarth Jadeja. Courtesy: CNN)