In late 2017 three conspiracy theorists — one YouTuber and two moderators from anonymous message board 4chan — began collaborating and producing posts under the name “Q.” The posts were the foundation of QAnon, which is often described as a far-right political theory and movement. QAnon is still going strong in 2023 and, as CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Donie O’Sullivan uncover in an upcoming documentary, its impact is harshly felt in the families of those who begin to to believe what QAnon espouses.
On Sunday’s “The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper,” O’Sullivan shares the plight of dozens of families who feel they have lost loved ones to QAnon’s theories. The investigation, “Waiting for JFK: Reports from the Fringe,” is the result of a yearlong look into the path that so many who have joined QAnon have walked.
In November 2021, hundreds of people met in Dallas, Texas at Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. These members of QAnon had gathered because they believed that Kennedy’s son, John F. Kennedy Jr., was also in attendance and would be introducing his parents at the day’s event. There are obvious holes in the plot, most importantly that JFK, JFK Jr. and Jackie Kennedy Onassis have all passed away.
Of course, none of the Kennedys showed up by way of the Mirror of Erised or otherwise. But the fact that the family, which is a symbol of democracy and Democratic Party values for so many, is now touted as an extension of Donald Trump’s MAGA world is a head-scratcher that has confounded political analysts and QAnon family members alike.
Anyone could fall prey to online misinformation. As Colleen Protzman, mother of QAnon member Michael Protzman, told CNN, her son “wasn’t a computer person,” but he began spending more time on conspiracy theory websites following the 2008 financial collapse. Michael, who voted for President Barack Obama twice, soon begged his mother to cash in her 401(k) and invest in silver instead to get ahead of a looming financial disaster.
Protzman explained, “He just was so adamant about the fact that he was afraid that we, his family, his sisters and me and his wife and his daughter was going to be left without if we didn’t all understand that this was going to happen and that we didn’t invest.”
Soon, Michael believed the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary was a hoax and bought into theories about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. As he became more obsessed, his family pulled further away, increasing his isolation.
The Protzmans aren’t the only family who wrestle with the impact of QAnon, much of which happens behind closed doors. As journalist Jesselyn Cook told CNN, “It’s not playing out in the public eye. It’s happening at the dinner table. It’s happening over the phone with your grandmother.”
“Waiting for JFK: Report from the Fringe” airs Sunday on CNN at 8 p.m. ET.