Every lie has some sort of truth built into it.
REV. BOB AND JUDY PARDON are some of the few Christian specialists nationally who do interventions and rehabilitation for people coming out of isolated, authoritarian groups that twist the Bible to their particular purposes. When law enforcement officers or family members need help with interventions for those in certain destructive groups, they call the Pardons.
Last year when I visited them at their recovery home, they told me that these splinter groups were proliferating across the country, but the groups were so small that no one had really noticed it. Many of these groups withdraw from the wider community, medical care, or the financial system—but as they told me at the time, nobody notices “until someone dies or there’s child abuse or a kidnapping.” Quoting cult expert Jan Karel Van Baalen, Pardon has called such groups “the unpaid bills of the church.”
Right now the Pardons have a man staying at their Massachusetts recovery facility, MeadowHaven, who was raised in a controlling Christian cult. The man is also deeply into QAnon and believes Q followers are working to root out the “deep state.”
“This is not some kind of toothless individual from the backwoods who has no experience with the world,” said Pardon, who added the man is “highly educated.” However, he also believes in the theory about a government-funded research program (HAARP) controlling the weather and in the possibility of time travel.
When Pardon asked him about Q’s prophecies that haven’t come true—such as that Hillary Clinton’s arrest was imminent after Trump’s election—the man says Q gives misinformation to throw off “blackhats,” the agents of the deep state. “All very convenient,” said Pardon.
In QAnon, Pardon sees trademark “cult thinking,” where everything is black and white, good versus evil, but he wouldn’t call QAnon a cult because it doesn’t have the authoritarian structure he usually sees in his work. He thinks of it more as a movement that is “a sign of the times,” that people feel there is no solid place to stand.
“Whenever you have these kind of social upheavals, this stuff tends to rise to the surface,” said Pardon. He recalled that the 1970s saw an explosion of cults. “I myself do think there are powers of evil that are beyond what we see with our five senses … but on this plane of reality that we live in, it’s not always [black and white]. There are gray areas we can’t discern. We’re sinners.”
The Pardons have faced the deep darkness of cults: the Satanists, the child abusers, the murderers—all the types of destructive behavior that QAnon followers see themselves as fighting. What they’ve also seen over and over is the healing process, where people can begin to distinguish “what’s reality and what’s not,” Pardon said, as they slowly disengage from the cult community and reengage with their immediate relationships and the wider world.
For regular churches, he suggests bringing this up in adult education classes or Bible studies, where other current-event subjects might come up that don’t get to the pulpit. And he thinks pastors should address parishioners personally who are sharing slander.
Cult expert Steve Hassan, who sometimes works with the Pardons on interventions, recently did a session with a husband whose wife had gone deep into QAnon. He told them to start marriage counseling, and then asked the wife not to go on her Facebook groups for the time that they were working through it. She agreed.
For the man recovering at MeadowHaven, Pardon said, “If he gets more in touch with a healthier experience of his Christian beliefs, some of this will drop away. Not intentionally, but unintentionally, because his trust will be more in God being in control of all things. If you’re looking at this Biblically, we are to be on the alert [about apocalyptic things], but not to be so obsessed and focused that you’re forgetting everything else.”