February 4, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
No, Ashley Vanderbilt did not escape Q
The terrible conclusion CNN did not report.
I don’t believe Ashley Vanderbilt escaped QAnon. Yes, I know that’s what she told CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, and that’s what Donie O’Sullivan told the rest of us on Wednesday. But trust me when I say there’s no way someone indoctrinated into believing up is down, left is right, and wrong is right snaps out of it in a matter of weeks. People like Vanderbilt are primed to believe anything, and will keep being primed to believe anything. O’Sullivan’s reporting suggests the danger is fading. The danger is not, and O’Sullivan’s reporting goes a way toward obscuring that reality.
Who is Ashley Vanderbilt? She’s a married white 27-year-old mother of a young child living in South Carolina. She lost her job last April as a result of the covid pandemic. Though neither she nor O’Sullivan say what kind of Christian she is, the fact she does not say suggests she’s with a nondenominational evangelical congregation, I’d guess a megachurch, which would put her squarely among Donald Trump’s loyalest of loyal supporters, the people most likely to believe the former president was sent by God. As such, she’s probably gotten very adept at envisioning her life not as one she has control over, but one she must suffer through as the price for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.
When she said, “I’ve always been someone that you just tell me what to do and I do it,” I knew she and I come from similar religious backgrounds in which morality is obedience.
O’Sullivan said that after Joe Biden won the election, Vanderbilt “spent days on TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube becoming indoctrinated into the world of QAnon.” (That’s the conspiracy theory holding that the Democrats are in league with a global—read: Jewish—cabal of satanists who fornicate with children before eating them.) “By inauguration day,” O’Sullivan said, Vanderbilt “was convinced that if then President-elect Joe Biden took office the United States would literally turn into a communist country. She was terrified that she would have to go into hiding with her daughter.”
Vanderbilt said she was spending a lot of time by herself after losing her job. She was depressed. She was cranky. She too often snapped at her daughter. As a result, she said, she probably lost touch with reality. “I wasn’t one hundred percent there like I should have been,” she said. Folks, I’m here to tell you someone who believed that the “deep state” was having sex with children before eating them, that the former president would declare martial law, and that the military would round up his enemies before publicly executing them in cold blood is not someone who needs to lose her job, go into a depression or snap at her child to be not quite “one hundred percent there.”
She was already there. How do I know? From experience. I’ve mentioned before I grew up on the margins of a closed protestant sect called the Christians Gathered Unto the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (They are better known as the Plymouth Brethren.) Strict obedience to authority, which is to say, strict obedience to the father of the family, which is to say strict obedience to God, was morality. When Vanderbilt said, “I’ve always been someone that you just tell me what to do and I do it,” I knew she and I come from similar backgrounds. We were taught Hell is really real, and God really will send you there if you do not do what He tells you to. We were taught a God who threatens eternal pain and suffering is a loving God. We were taught to believe up is down, left is right, wrong is right, but especially don’t think just do as you’re told.
So I know she was already there. She didn’t need TikTok to fall down “the QAnon rabbit hole.” If it wasn’t TikTok, Facebook or whatever, it would have been something else, most likely ordinary word of mouth. QAnon does not demand of believers any more than Vanderbilt’s white evangelical church does. She seems to have sensed the connection between them. O’Sullivan said, “while she was deep in the conspiracy theory, she said Trump was becoming an almost messianic figure for her who could do no wrong. She recalls once asking herself, ‘Am I putting even Trump above God?’” She doesn’t read, she said, and she doesn’t pay attention to the legitimate press. All she needs to do is what she’s told to do, which is follow the leader don’t ask questions.
Which is why her explanation of how she “escaped” doesn’t hold up. “Some QAnon adherents concocted a new conspiracy theory in the hours after inauguration,” O’Sullivan said. “Biden’s inauguration itself was a key part of the plan, the new theory held, and Trump would return as President in the coming few weeks. Then, certainly, all the deep-state arrests would happen. That was a step too far for Vanderbilt.” Wut!
She was convinced Joe Biden’s inauguration would transform the country into a Communist state. She believed she’d have to go into hiding with her daughter. She believed the Democrats and the Jews and “the Globalists” are cannibals. And she was disappointed when the military did not publicly execute Der Führer’s enemies in cold blood. But wait whoa—a conspiracy theory adapting to reality? That’s a step too far!?
Look, I don’t understand why Vanderbilt thinks she escaped QAnon. I do know, using my intuition, that she does not understand why either. In not understanding why, she’s vulnerable to the influence of a CNN journalist reporting a national story about a QAnon believer who escaped. Vanderbilt, in being someone who always did what was asked of her, continued being someone who did what was asked of her, in this case, giving O’Sullivan a story he was asking for, however tacitly. And in the process of telling that story, he obscured a terrible conclusion about Vanderbilt. That she felt fooled into believing there would be blood does not change the fact she wanted blood.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.