How QAnon rode the pandemic to new heights — and fueled the anti-mask phenomenon

While QAnon bubbled on the fringes of the internet for years, researchers and experts say it has emerged in recent months as a sort of centralized hub for conspiracy and alternative health communities. According to an internal document reported by NBC News this week, Facebook now has more than 1,000 of these QAnon groups, totaling millions of members.

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Users like Rein Lively who started off in wellness communities, religious groups and new-age groups on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram during the pandemic were then introduced to extremist groups like QAnon, aided by shared beliefs about energy, healing or God — and often by recommendation algorithms.

And while anti-mask sentiment has surfaced in a variety of ways for a number of reasons, viral videos of anti-mask confrontations have become causes for celebration in conspiracy circles, embraced as examples of people taking the fight against their shadowy enemy into the real world.

Rein Lively followed a similar path as a growing community of conspiracy theorists, radicalization experts told NBC News.

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