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The New York Times

The death of a follower of QAnon on the Capitol leaves a trail of pain

For months, Rosanne Boyland had worried her family with bizarre notions she picked up from the internet: Actor Tom Hanks could be dead, she said. A national furniture chain trafficked children. Many prominent Democrats were pedophiles. Then, in early January, she texted her older sister telling her she was traveling to Washington, DC with a friend to support President Donald Trump and protest what was happening in the country. “I’m going to DC,” she wrote. “I don’t know all the deets yet.” Boyland, 34, was one of five people who never returned home after the January 6 protest, which erupted in violence when hundreds broke into the Capitol. His death has left his family struggling to figure out how Boyland, who they said had never voted until 2020, ended up waving a ‘Don’t step on me’ flag amid a crowd of fanatic supporters of the former president before going up the steps of the Capitol when he died. Sign up for The Morning New York Times newsletter Their frustration escalated further last week when Senate Republicans blocked an effort to create an independent commission to examine the origins and handling of the attack from the Capitol. “Why would someone NOT want to know what happened, even just to prevent it from happening again, is beyond me,” Boyland’s older sister Lonna Cave said in a text message after the vote. For months before the rally, Boyland had bombarded her friends and family with messages and links to lengthy videos about the fantastic theories she had come to accept as fact. Many of the bogus claims of QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory movement that gained popularity during his presidency and promoted the idea that many Democrats and celebrities are part of a global pedophile ring – a theory that 15% of Americans believe, according to a poll last week. Many of his supporters falsely believed President Joe Biden stole the election, and some attended Trump’s rally on January 6. Boyland’s sudden fixation alarmed his family and friends so much that some of them asked him to stop talking to them about politics – or just stop talking altogether. Some of his closest friends believe Boyland was a vulnerable target for conspiracy theorists. After going to rehab, she returned to her parents and largely avoided drugs for several years, her family said. But the isolation caused by the pandemic made it more difficult. QAnon filled a void in her life, they said, helping distract her from her thoughts of returning to drugs, even though it was acting like another type of hallucinogen. “I was concerned that she would trade one addiction for another,” said Blaire Boyland, her younger sister. “It just seemed like, yeah, she doesn’t do drugs, but she’s very obsessive online, watching all those YouTube videos and going down the rabbit hole.” The family are also still struggling to understand how she died. From video of the chaotic siege, it emerged that she was dead after being caught in a riot crush. But the autopsy by the Washington medical examiner’s office found no evidence of trampling and concluded that she had overdosed on amphetamines. Family members said it was likely the only amphetamine in her body was the Adderall that she took on a prescription daily basis, although it appears she may have taken at least twice her prescribed dose. . “We just want to know what happened, so we can rest,” Cave said. “This was so messed up. We just want to grieve the normal way. A Descent into Conspiracy Theories For years Boyland had been barred from voting because she had been convicted of drug possession, but she had also shown little interest in politics until 2020. At the fall, however, without probation, she made it clear early on that she was planning to vote for Trump. She registered to vote on October 3, a month before the election, according to records. “She was so happy that she got to vote,” recalls Stephen Marsh, 36, a friend of Boyland who said she was so thrilled she called her mother. “She was so excited about it because her past prevented her from participating.” But his growing absorption into the QAnon community was pushing back some of his closest friends by this time. “I care about you, but I think it would be best if we didn’t talk for a while,” Sydney Vinson, a childhood friend, texted him on October 3 after Boyland texted him a long time. and screenshots of alleged government manipulation of news media. “Please don’t send me political stuff anymore. Boyland was the middle of three sisters, growing up in Kennesaw, Georgia, a city of 34,000 people about 40 kilometers northwest of Atlanta. She and her sisters were close when they were children, and her younger sister said she was inspired by Boyland’s self-confidence and confidence. Even then, she had a penchant for conspiracy theories, her sisters said, but harmless, like the existence of aliens or Bigfoot. But when she was around 16, her life took a turn when she started dating an abusive boyfriend, her sisters said. She blamed the black eyes on playing football and came home with an unexplained shoulder injury. Around this time, she also became addicted to opioids. She eventually dropped out of high school and her relationship with her family grew strained. In 2009, when she was 23, she was charged with felony drug possession. Several more cases would follow, the most recent in April 2013, after which she was sentenced to five years of probation. It wasn’t until July 2014, when she learned of the pregnancy from her older sister, Cave, that she committed to being a better role model for her niece, her sisters said – and from then on. At the moment, with a few brief relapses, she was largely sober. “She was always talking about how she couldn’t wait to be the aunt who was the cool aunt,” said Cave, who gave birth to her first daughter in March 2015. She now has two daughters, ages 5 and 6 years. Boyland grew up close to them, often picking them up from school and documenting milestones in their lives. She spent much of her time attending group meetings and counseling others who were dealing with drugs. At one point, she hoped to become a counselor herself. However, when the pandemic hit, she had to spend much of her time alone with her parents, and her in-person group meetings were canceled. She told her sisters that she frequently felt the need to start using drugs again. “She was really struggling,” Blaire Boyland said. “She tried doing the Zoom meetings, but she wasn’t getting anything out of it. She felt out of control. Her friends began to notice that she was posting about conspiracy theories and about Trump. Shortly after, she texted them about PizzaGate, a conspiracy theory that included bogus allegations of Democrats trafficking children in the basement of a Washington pizzeria. “I mostly watched everything on youtube,” Boyland said in a text message to Vinson, his childhood friend. What caught his attention the most, Vinson said, was the “Save the Children” slogan that QAnon members used to spread false claims about Democrats trafficking children. “She cared about the kids a lot,” Vinson said. “She thought she was fighting for the kids, in her own way, and was just trying to spread the word about underground pedophile rings and all that stuff. I think QAnon had this way of making these things really believable. At around 8:30 p.m. on January 5, Boyland began the roughly 10-hour drive to Washington with a friend, Justin Winchell. They parked in Virginia and took a bus into town to see Trump at the rally, where he pissed off the crowd with unsubstantiated claims that his election defeat was rigged. “If you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country,” Trump told the crowd. Boyland marched with many other protesters down the street to the Capitol. The Chaotic Siege Boyland could barely be made out at first in footage of the crowd climbing the Capitol steps – a cropped figure, wearing a black hoodie and American flag sunglasses. She disappeared into the crowd inside the tunnel that presidents use when they come out for their inaugurations. It was the scene of some of the day’s most brutal hand-to-hand combat, and videos showed rioters crushing police between the gates and warning that the crowd could become dangerously tight. A few minutes later, after a police push that sent the crowd out of the tunnel, she could be seen lying on her side, after which two men dragged her away from the door and started trying to resuscitate her. This was apparently a case of trampling. But then the medical examiner concluded that she had died of “acute amphetamine poisoning,” a move that left her family – convinced they had not relapsed into drug addiction – bewildered. She was taking Adderall on a regular basis as prescribed by a doctor and had not seen any side effects, they said. Several forensic scientists and toxicologists who reviewed the autopsy report said in interviews that the level of amphetamine in his blood – likely Adderall – was sufficient to be potentially fatal. Iain McIntyre, a former chief toxicologist at the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, said the level could be consistent with her taking her two daily doses of 30 milligrams at the same time, which Cave said that her sister sometimes did. McIntyre said the high dose of amphetamine, along with the loud scene, his heart disease and obesity, could have been enough to make his heart stop. The day after Boyland’s death, Cave’s husband Justin told reporters that Trump “incited a riot last night that killed four of his biggest fans.” Then came a series of cruel messages to family on all sides – people who said they were happy Boyland was dead, and others who had been enraged by Justin Cave’s comments. The Cellars wondered what they had missed and how they could have helped Boyland before she fell too deep into conspiracy theories. “That’s part of the reason I feel guilty, because none of us thought about it too much when we started to think about it,” said Lonna Cave. “I understand she was somewhere she shouldn’t have been. But she wouldn’t have been here if it hadn’t been for all the misinformation. This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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