After the U.S. Capitol insurrection, tens of thousands of Reddit users joined a support group for people who've lost loved ones to the QAnon conspiracy theory.
The group that was created in 2019 ballooned from just under 60,000 members on Jan. 6 to more than 133,000 this month, and psychologists have catalogued some of the personality traits that draw individuals into conspiracy theories like this increasingly popular variant, reported Politico.
"Times of crisis such as the current pandemic tend to increase belief in conspiracy theories as a way of coping with fear, uncertainty, and lack of control and as an expression of mistrust in authoritative sources of information," said Joseph Pierre, a UCLA psychiatry professor who's written extensively about QAnon.
The conspiracy theory's basic outline holds that Donald Trump was heading up an effort to overthrow satanic pedophiles -- mostly Democratic elected leaders, along with Hollywood and media elites -- who will be publicly executed in a military action called "the storm," but its malleability and online participatory nature allows adherents to attach their own interests or obsessions onto the overarching theme.
"It's been inclusive in a way that I've really never seen any other conspiracy," said Ethan Zuckerman, a communications professor at the University of Massachusetts who has researched the movement. "You can listen to whoever's voice is closer to your own. So if you're not here for satanism, listen to someone who is not playing up the satanic part of it."
Conspiracy-minded individuals tend to have a high level of mistrust toward authoritative sources of information, according to Pierre, and they also wish for uniqueness and certainty, closure and control.
They often fit the psychological profile of an "injustice collector," according to experts.
Those individuals tend to be overly confident, impulsive and enjoy exposing others as naïve -- like "Mark," the brother of a man interviewed by Politico.
Mark, 73, has always been insecure about his intelligence and education in comparison to his older brother Richard, 77, who was always considered the smarter one.
Richard loved books and got good grades, but Mark struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia and has always gravitated toward secret information to prove he knew more than his older brother -- and QAnon has offered in abundance.
"You have treated me as a stupid little brother all your life, and I looked up to you as a mentor," Mark wrote to his brother in an email. "You have joined the sheep."
QAnon adherents bond over their shared love for secret information, but psychologists say they're also bound by anger and confusion that the conspiracy theory allows them to focus on common enemies -- often at the expense of their real-life relationships.
"[QAnon] manages to capture that authenticity, that comes from people genuinely, sincerely, trying to figure out how to make sense of a world that isn't making any sense to them," Zuckerman said.