Last June, Alexis, a 23-year-old mother of two from Tennessee, created an Instagram account aimed at sharing the bogus narratives tied to QAnon, which she had recently discovered. She called herself “Little Miss Patriot” (@little.miss.patriot), and in less than a month she amassed nearly 100,000 followers.
Alexis had no clout or influence before creating her page, which she originally named “Wake Up With Lexie.” She didn’t need it. All Alexis had to do was create bright, cheerful Instagram-friendly graphics with bright and cheerful pastels that easily broke down the false narratives connected to QAnon, a mass delusion that purports former president Donald Trump is secretly attempting to help overthrow a satanic cabal of child sex abusers who run the world. She also threw in some claims that her young son had been harmed by vaccines, while shilling for a multilevel marketing scheme that sells a mouth spray that can supposedly “remove toxins like mercury and lead from your body at a cellular level to reveal your body’s full potential.”
To thousands of women on Instagram, her posts were a revelation. In less than two months, Alexis gained nearly 300,000 followers. She said she was going to try to sell merch before her page was shut down. And even though Instagram has tried to control her spread of misinformation, Alexis has pressed on, migrating to new platforms like Parler and Telegram. (On her Parler account, she claimed Instagram has deleted 10 of her accounts — which had names like @little.miss.patriot.2, @the.real.little.miss.patriot, @its.lexx.lively, and @real.lex.lively — seemingly for violating its policies since July.)
Her timing has been perfect. Misinformation has always been able to spread on Instagram, but far-right conspiracy theories began to spread out of control in spring 2020. In April, BuzzFeed News first reported on how doctrines of QAnon had begun popping up on Instagram. Many of the influencers who began posting disinformation, like Rose Henges of @roseuncharted, already had dabbled in anti-vax rhetoric in the past, so it’s not surprising that they soon began to pivot to QAnon. (Rose didn’t return BuzzFeed News’ request for comment on that story, and she blocked this reporter afterward.)
Many of the early Instagram posts about QAnon from Henges and others were related to the coronavirus, such as her claim that the field hospital set up in Central Park was actually a cover-up for a rescue operation of kids being held hostage. This is likely not coincidental. The early days of the pandemic in the US were frightening and confusing, with government mandates changing every day, a lack of information on how the disease was transmitted, and many Americans confined to their homes. People began to search for an alternate explanation as to why the world seemed to be falling apart. They found Q.
By the time Alexis created her Instagram account in July 2020, thousands of women were already primed to believe even the most far-fetched QAnon rhetoric, and they were looking for an expert to follow further into the darkness. Alexis soon made a name for herself by amplifying the baseless Wayfair conspiracy theory that started on Reddit in mid-July, which claimed that the furniture company was selling children secretly through overpriced cabinets. (Wayfair told BuzzFeed News at the time that “there is, of course, no truth to these claims.”) This soon morphed into #SaveTheChildren, a social media movement that called on women to rise up to fight the nebulous scourge of “human trafficking.” This turned the confusing and often absurd lies from the QAnon mass delusion into an accessible, and tenable, messaging around helping victims of child sexual abuse. This helped it spread among young white mothers. (It also gave influencers who didn’t want to speak out about racial justice a perfect pivot.)
Another factor in Alexis’s rapid growth was her vibe. Little Miss Patriot spoon-fed her followers these damaging lies in pretty packages that easily fit in with social justice messages popular on Instagram’s grid. Her aesthetic, as the Atlantic reported in April, is familiar to anyone who has spent time on the social network, as she used “a pastel-and-mustard color palette drawn from the past five years of Millennial-oriented direct-to-consumer beauty-brand marketing.” The result, one expert told BuzzFeed News, was like “hiding a razor blade in cotton candy.”
On Instagram, where “LMP” has become one of the most well-known QAnon figures, many people speculate about her real-life identity. Some postulate that LMP is run by Russian bots or, at the very least, that there is no way that the owner of the account was actually the young mother she claimed to be. (BuzzFeed News has attempted to contact both Alexis, as well as her friends and family members. She has not responded to BuzzFeed News’ requests for comment, but she did post in her Telegram chat room about what she perceived to be our alleged “obsession” with her for following established journalistic procedure in reporting this story. None of her family members or friends responded to multiple requests for comment either.)
While the accounts from Alexis and others may seem innocuous, they are an integral part of how thousands of Americans are radicalized into thinking their only recourse is violence.The QAnon devotees and Trump supporters who follow Alexis may not have closely resembled those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, but they hold just as much responsibility for the proliferation of these lies.
Little Miss Patriot’s rise to prominence feels random. Alexis quite literally appeared out of nowhere, and it’s unsettling how quickly she grew her audience from nothing. Anyone who has ever tried to launch an Instagram account for a business or a hobby knows how hard it is to gain a significant following without any clout, even if you have IRL fans. Many far-right content creators honed their craft of spreading disinformation and weaponizing their followers for years. For example, take Tim Gionet, known online as Baked Alaska, who livestreamed himself breaking into the Capitol. According to Ben Smith, former editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, Gionet learned how to harness the power of internet virality from his time working at the company.
Alexis’s extremely fast growth — on Instagram, she once claimed that she’d amassed almost 100,000 followers in 15 days — is seemingly attributed to her content. It also proves the existence of a pool of people who are eager to consume and believe in that content. And LMP came in hot out of the gate. Rather than introducing her followers to QAnon ideas slowly, she shared baseless conspiracy theories, like that Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” music video contained secret messages about child abuse in Hollywood.
Alexis also activated many people’s doubts about COVID-19, encouraging her followers to proudly march into stores sans masks. She has dabbled in other conspiracy theories, at one point re-posting a slide from Rose declaring that she did not believe sunscreen was necessary (because “the sun does not cause skin cancer”) and claiming that she believed her young son would have “ended up autistic” had she not stopped vaccinating him.
Many in the influencer community watched disinformation grow on Instagram with unease, and some tried to fight back. Amanda Schwechel, the photographer and content creator behind @arborandwood, told BuzzFeed News that the spread of QAnon on the platform has become “a cancer” within the influencer community. Schwechel, who is Afro-Latina, pivoted from being a parent blogger to a social justice advocate last year after being inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the run-up to the 2020 election.
Part of this activism, Schwechel said, is calling out when she sees other influencers sharing disinformation on the platform. Schwechel said she has been familiar with the QAnon mass delusion for years, so she recognized it immediately when it began to trickle onto Instagram through hashtags like #SaveTheChildren. She attributes the explosion of growth of accounts like LMP’s to what she called the “Black Lives Matter backlash.”
“#SaveTheChildren was an easy bandwagon to jump on, particularly since most of these women are mothers.”
“The influencer space is dominated by white women in general and tends to lean conservative and Christian,” Schwechel said. “#SaveTheChildren was an easy bandwagon to jump on, particularly since most of these women are mothers. These were the women driving this new conspiracy-based conversation, and it basically filtered down through their followers.”
Alexis not only introduced thousands of people to these baseless conspiracies through her page, but she also admitted that she herself had been exposed to QAnon on Instagram. On Sept. 4 (on one of her new Instagram accounts after her original page was deleted), she explained she had first started delving into conspiracy theories after seeing Rose Henges of @roseuncharted posting that the “biggest child sex trafficking event takes place during the Super Bowl.”
“My spirit was telling me that there was more to everything that I knew, & that rose was a good source for information so I began looking through her highlights,” Alexis wrote.
There appears to be nothing overt in Alexis’s background that indicates she would become a one of the most vocal supporters of QAnon. Of course, millions of white women voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020, but not as many people associate white Gen Z Instagrammers with the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol.
Kurt Braddock, an expert on extremist group recruitment and an assistant professor at American University’s School of Communication, told BuzzFeed News that Alexis’s seeming ordinariness actually makes sense. That’s because she and other QAnon-supporting accounts on Instagram have, Braddock said, “hijacked the traditional IG influencer aesthetic to make the QAnon material more palatable to audiences.”
“When we traditionally think of as conspiratorial right-wing propaganda, we think of loud, in-your-face arguments that stand out as weird (like the so-called QAnon Shaman on Capitol Hill last Wednesday),” Braddock said. “But many QAnon female adherents are more subtle with how they present the material — often disguised as traditional, non-threatening IG fluff with QAnon-related hashtags in the captions or using subtle text in the image itself.”
After becoming familiar with QAnon herself, Alexis, it seems, went on to personally expose more women to the stories she was reading. In a recent thread in Alexis’s Telegram chat with more than 900 comments, women discussed when and how they started following Alexis’s page. Many said they had after seeing her posts shared on Instagram by either a friend or a relative (“you ‘red pilled’ ‘woke up’ my sisters and I at the end of June!” wrote one woman, who said she was an “OG fan.” Another person attributed their initial attraction to Alexis’s account to her “beautiful graphics”). Many also wrote they found Alexis through Rose Henges or another influencer; plenty of people cited the Wayfair conspiracy as the event that first led them to seek out more information.
After her Instagram accounts were deleted multiple times, Alexis created a Parler account. However, she told her followers there that she didn’t like Parler that much. (To be fair, it has a horrible design and makes it impossible to employ her pastel QAnon aesthetic.) So she had been seeking out an alternative. Her latest forum, the messaging app Telegram, provides even more insight into who exactly is falling under her spell.
Telegram works as a big chat room or a long comment section with multiple different threads. Reading through LMP’s Telegram, which now has more than 15,000 members, is creepily similar to reading sycophantic comment sections on any influencer’s blog or Instagram post. Many are hardcore fans of LMP’s; they shower her with hearts and smiley emojis and “yaaass queen”s. In the chat, many women expressed how excited they were to have a place to talk with other “like minded patriots” about current events. Wow, some exclaim, this is awesome! I feel like I’m in a group chat with my friends. Others share how thankful they are to have found such a community, writing that their belief in Q has made them feel alone at times.
“Definitely felt a little alone after all the events from yesterday so this is amazing,” wrote another. After one woman wrote that she hoped there were other GenZers in the chat, women chimed in with their ages (“I’m 16!” “I’m 25! “I’m 22!”)
Most women use their real names on the chat, so it’s easy to find them on other social media platforms, where they use descriptors on their profiles like “#twinmom,” “#boymom,” “wife,” or “Christian.” Many even attach a family photo to their profiles, clutching their babies and/or husbands with huge grins. There are a few women of color and some men, but most of them appear to be white women and teen girls. (Telegram told TechCrunch last week that it was working on banning chats with violence and extremism, saying it had “blocked dozens of public channels that published calls to violence for thousands of subscribers.”)
As many online groups do, the Telegram chat for LMP has spawned subgroups. There’s one for fans of hers who are pregnant (“Pregnant Patriots Chat”), where participants discuss their due dates and their plans to give birth at home so they can avoid mask mandates. Another group for moms simultaneously discussed the ages and sexes of their kids and where on Etsy to buy hair bows alongside what they were buying in preparation for an electric power outage they erroneously believed was imminent. (One wrote that she got normal things for preparing for a disaster like groceries and toilet paper, but also, ammo. Many of them also expressed the pain of losing relationships with friends and family members over their political beliefs. They write about how their family has stopped speaking to them, think they are crazy, and have called them racist.
In a recent post, Alexis wrote that she was thrilled the members of her Telegram chat were talking so much, writing that her goal was to make her page “about community, not just news.”
“love that y’all are utilizing this, especially in times like this it’s nice to have people to talk to that get it!” she wrote.
When scrolling through the Telegram chats, you can almost forget that this community was forged around dangerous extremism. It feels like many other online spaces, where women seeking like-minded friends gather together to chat about their daily lives. These online safe spaces can be lifelines for women who feel alone, need community, or just want to chat about their thoughts and feelings with anonymity, without the pressure of an IRL convo. That’s why these communities and Instagram personalities can be so insidious, Braddock said, adding that he believes they “draw people in specifically because they seem so benign.”
“Because the aesthetics of material, along with the seemingly well-intentioned messages in it (‘save the children’), can communicate to users that not only is a post fashionable, it’s helpful,” he said.
That’s the rub. It’s easy to picture a QAnon believer or a pro-Trump extremist as a sad and lonely man raging against the elites from his parent’s basement. But that view of a QAnon follower is reductive, and it underestimates who exactly is falling for the mass delusion. This group of 15,000 attractive white wives and moms — who joyfully discuss their kids’ milestones alongside deranged nonsense — is proof.
As for Alexis, she continues to lean into her status as a QAnon influencer. She seems desperate to retain her relevance on Instagram and further build her brand, posting constantly on other social media accounts about getting “banned” and making page after page on the platform from which she is inevitably going to be booted. She discusses her home life on her Telegram and livestreams to better connect with her fans. Recently, she asked her followers if she should start a podcast. Her younger sister Averie has also gotten in on the fun, appearing with Alexis on her page and making TikToks about being a Republican. A recent one, where Averie decries abortion, feminism, and socialism synched to a song from The Greatest Showman, has been viewed nearly a million times. (In October, TikTok announced it was cracking down on QAnon accounts, telling NPR, “Content and accounts that promote QAnon violate our disinformation policy and we remove them from our platform.”)
When scrolling through the Telegram chats, you can almost forget that this community was forged around dangerous extremism.
But it may be harder for Alexis to maintain her brand now that Joe Biden has been sworn in as president. As Inauguration Day moved forward on Wednesday without a hitch, Alexis told her followers to keep the faith, seemingly expressing none of the doubts that began to plague other prominent QAnon supporters after Biden took the oath of office. She sniped at those who complained that QAnon prophecies failed to materialize, writing on Telegram, “Some of y’all are so negative. I can’t. I’m gonna be removing people. Keep your thoughts to yourself or leave.”
When someone asked if they weren’t allowed to express any doubts to the “plan,” she said she was simply trying to keep out “negativity” about the state of the country, such as sentiments that “America is doomed.”
“Go somewhere else. I don’t want it here. It’s my channel,” she responded.
The day after Inauguration, Alexis affirmed she wasn’t going anywhere, proudly stating on Telegram she was “one of the few that will continue to hold the line,” QAnon parlance for keeping the faith.
“i’m in the process of getting a new instagram & will let y’all know when it’s ready. i’m going to continue spreading truth & revealing the satanic deception that is everywhere. God isn’t finished yet!!!” ●