The Arizona woman who demolished a Target store’s pandemic mask display in a viral video last July says the conspiracy cult known as QAnon fueled her “spectacular” public breakdown.
Melissa Rein Lively, 35, says she descended into the dark world of QAnon’s discredited claims about child trafficking and the coronavirus and was pushed over the edge into the “manic-type episode” that’s received millions of views online.
“I went down a spiral that resulted in my very public implosion,” she told the Daily News in a phone interview Thursday.
“The whole reason I was staying at a hotel the night before the Target outburst was because my husband and I were fighting over QAnon. He was observing me getting sucked in," she said.
“You need to snap out of it. This is ridiculous. It’s taking over your life. You’re detaching from everyone and everything you love. We’re losing you," he husband pleaded with her, she recalled.
“There are children involved in this! You have to understand!” she told him before bolting, she said.
The next day she was in the Scottsdale Target and started livestreaming herself as she dismantled the mask display. She says doctors later diagnosed her with “complex post-traumatic stress disorder."
“It’s hard to describe what happened. It’s like 100,000 thoughts are racing through your mind all at the same time, and none of it makes sense and you can’t slow yourself down and it really just all goes dark,” she said.
“I see the videos now and hear the tone in my voice, and it’s hard to listen. It’s heartbreaking. There’s a level of pain and fear that I hear that’s just astounding. It’s not me,” she said.
She was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold after the incident and returned home to incredible online backlash.
She also feared it would be the end of her successful public relations business.
But slowly, she’s piecing her life back together with the help of her husband and loyal clients.
“We’ve resolved everything and are still married,” she said of her husband of nearly a decade. “He is absolutely the most important person in life, my rock. He supported me through my whole recovery program. He takes care of me and loves me.”
She’s now writing a book about the experience and want’s people to know there is a path back to stability.
The memoir, reported Wednesday by the Washington Post, is titled, “You Can’t Cancel Me — The Story of My Life." It’s due for publication in the Spring.
She said QAnon is so insidious because it has so many different hooks and makes use of online algorithms to target vulnerable people with relentless messaging.
“One of biggest ways I was getting echo-chambered was through Facebook groups,” she said.
“I was drawn in through the wellness and spiritual community, and slowly these very large groups got infiltrated. Before I knew it, my entire feed on Instagram and Facebook was filled with what I now recognize to be QAnon information, a lot of it skewed toward anti-vaccine material,” she said.
“Now QAnon is turning on me,” she said of reaction she’s received since going public with her story.
“People are saying I’m working with (billionaire investor) George Soros and the Deep State,” she said, referring to two favorite QAnon villains allegedly fighting a shadow war with President Trump.
“They’re tagging me and trolling me on Instagram. I look at it and I just laugh,” she said. “I really want people to know you can come back from this. You can come back from the other side.”
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