The theories seem crazy to Ms. Perron now, but looking back, she understands how they drew her in. They were comforting, a way to get her bearings in a chaotic world that felt increasingly unequal and rigged against middle-class people like her. These stories offered agency: Evil cabals could be defeated. A diffuse sense that things were out of her control could not.
The theories were fiction, but they hooked into an emotional vulnerability that sprang from something real. For Ms. Perron, it was a feeling that the Democratic Party had betrayed her after a lifetime of trusting it deeply.
Her immigrant family, from the former Yugoslavia, were union Democrats in working-class Detroit who had seen their middle-class lifestyle decline after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. As an inspector for the insurance industry, she spent decades in factories seeing union jobs wither. Still, she stayed with the party because she believed it was fighting for her. When Bernie Sanders became a presidential candidate she found him electrifying.
“He put into words what I couldn’t figure out but I was seeing around me,” said Ms. Perron, who is now 55. “The middle class was shrinking. The 1 percent and corporations having more control and taking more of the money.”
She felt sure the Democratic establishment would back him, and she began volunteering for his campaign, meeting many new friends in the movement. But she felt that the news media was barely covering him. Then he lost the 2016 primary. When she began reading through leaked emails that fall, it looked to her like the party establishment had conspired to block him.
She spent weeks combing through the emails, hacked from Mr. Podesta, the Democratic National Committee and Mrs. Clinton. Her stunned discovery enraged her and put her on the path to conspiracy theories and, eventually, QAnon.
“There was no hint of conversation about the working class,” she said about the emails. Instead, she said, it was “expensive dinner parties, exclusive get-togethers.”