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The New York Times

The death of a QAnon supporter in the Capitol leaves a trail of pain

For months, Rosanne Boyland had troubled her family with bizarre ideas she had picked up on the Internet: Actor Tom Hanks could be dead, she said. A national furniture chain traded in children. Many prominent Democrats were pedophiles. Then, in early January, she wrote to her older sister that she was going to Washington, DC, with a friend to support President Donald Trump and to protest what was going on in the country. “I’m going to DC,” she wrote. “I don’t know all of the Deets yet.” Boyland, 34, was one of five people who never made it home following the January 6 protest that broke out violently when hundreds of people stormed the Capitol. Her death left her family in trouble to understand how Boyland, who they say had never voted before 2020, waved a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag amid a crowd of fanatical supporters for the former president before walking up the steps of the Capitol until her death. Sign up for the New York Times morning newsletter. Their frustration deepened last week when the Senate Republicans blocked efforts to establish an independent commission to investigate the origins and handling of the Capitol attack. “Why someone does NOT want to find out what happened, even to prevent it from happening again, is a mystery to me,” Boyland’s older sister Lonna Cave said in a text message after the vote. Months before the rally, Boyland had bombarded her friends and relatives with messages and links to long videos about the fantastic theories she had accepted as fact. Many of the false claims came from QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory movement that grew in popularity during his presidency and promoted the idea that many Democrats and celebrities are part of a global pedophile ring – a theory 15% of that believe Americans, according to a poll last week. Many of their supporters mistakenly believed that President Joe Biden stole the election, and some attended Trump’s January 6 rally. Boyland’s sudden fixation frightened her family members and friends so much that some of them asked them to stop talking to them about politics – or just to stop altogether. Some of her closest friends believe that Boyland was a vulnerable target for the conspiracy theorists. After a station in drug rehabilitation, she returned to her parents’ home and largely avoided drugs for several years, her family said. But isolation from the pandemic made it more difficult. QAnon filled a void in her life, they said, and helped distract her from thoughts of returning to drugs, even though it was a different type of hallucinogen. “I was concerned that she would trade one addiction for another,” said Blaire Boyland, her younger sister. “It just seemed, yes, she doesn’t do drugs, but she’s very obsessed online, watching all these YouTube videos and going down the rabbit hole.” The family also still struggles to understand how she died. The video of the chaotic siege revealed that she had died after getting caught up in a crowd of rioters. But the Washington coroner’s autopsy found no evidence of trampling and concluded that she had overdosed on amphetamines. Family members said it was likely that the only amphetamine in their body was the Adderall, which she took on prescription every day, although it appeared she might have taken at least double her prescribed dose. “We just want to find out what happened so we can rest,” said Cave. “It’s so confused. We just want to mourn as normal. ”Descent into conspiracy theories For years Boyland had been excluded from the polls because of a drug possession conviction, but until 2020 she had shown little interest in politics. In the fall, however, without parole, she made it clear that she planned to vote for Trump early on. She signed up for the election on October 3, a month before the election, records show. “She was so happy to have a vote,” recalled Stephen Marsh, 36, a friend of Boyland’s, who said she was so excited she called his mother. “She was so excited because her past made it difficult for her to participate.” But her increasing inclusion in the QAnon community supplanted some of her closest friends at the time. “I take care of you, but I think it would be best if we didn’t talk for a while,” a childhood friend Sydney Vinson wrote on October 3rd after Boyland sent her a long text and screenshots had alleged government manipulation of the news media. “Please don’t send me any more political matters.” Boyland was the middle of three sisters and grew up in Kennesaw, Georgia, a city of 34,000 people about 25 miles northwest of Atlanta. She and her sisters were close as children, and her younger sister said she was inspired by Boyland’s assertiveness and confidence. Even then, she had a penchant for conspiracy theories, said her sisters, but harmless ones, such as 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 her black eyes on soccer practice and once came home with an inexplicable shoulder injury. At this time, she also became addicted to opioids. She eventually dropped out of high school and her relationship with her family became strained. In 2009, when she was 23 years old, she was charged with drug possession. Several more cases would follow, the most recent in April 2013, after which she was given five years probation. It wasn’t until July 2014, when she found out about her older sister Cave’s pregnancy, that she promised to be a better role model to her niece, her sisters said – and from that moment on, with a few brief relapses, she was largely sober. “She always talked 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 aged 5 and 6. Boyland grew up near both, often picked up from school and documented milestones in her life. She spent a lot of time going to group meetings and counseling other people struggling with drugs. At some point she hoped to become a consultant herself. When the pandemic hit, she had to spend much of her time alone at her parents’ home, and her face-to-face group meetings were canceled. She told her sisters that she often felt the urge to start using drugs again. “She really struggled,” said Blaire Boyland. “She tried to hold the Zoom meetings, but she didn’t get any of it. She felt out of control. ”Her friends began to notice her posting about conspiracy theories and about Trump. She was soon texting them about PizzaGate, a conspiracy theory that contained false claims about the Democratic child trafficking in the basement of a pizzeria in Washington. “I watched most of it on Youtube,” Boyland said in a text message to Vinson, her childhood friend. What caught their attention the most, Vinson said, was the “Save the Children” slogan used by QAnon members to make false claims about the Democrats’ child trafficking. “She was very caring for children,” said Vinson. “She thought she was going to fight for children in her own way, just trying to get the word out about underground pedophile rings and all those things. I think QAnon had this way of making these things seem really believable. ”At around 8:30 pm on January 5th, Boyland started the 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 upset the crowd with baseless claims that his election defeat had been rigged. “If you don’t fight like hell, you will have no more land,” Trump told the crowd. Boyland went down the street to the Capitol with many other protesters. The Chaotic Siege Boyland was initially barely recognizable in the footage of the crowd pouring up the steps of the Capitol – a small figure wearing a black hoodie and American flag sunglasses. She disappeared in the mob in the tunnel that presidents use when they show up for their inaugurations. It was the site of some of the most brutal hand-to-hand fighting of the day, and videos showed rioters crushing police officers between doors, warning the crowd could get dangerously tight. Only a few minutes later, after the police pushed the crowd out of the tunnel, they could be seen lying on their side, whereupon two men dragged them away from the door and tried to resuscitate them. It appeared to be a case of trampling. But then the coroner concluded that she had died of “acute amphetamine intoxication,” a verdict that convinced her family that she had not relapsed into substance abuse. She took Adderall regularly on a prescription and no side effects were noted, it said. Several forensic pathologists and toxicologists who reviewed the autopsy report said in interviews that the levels of amphetamines in their blood – most likely from the Adderall – were sufficient to be potentially fatal. Iain McIntyre, a former senior toxicologist in the San Diego County’s coroner’s office, said the figure might coincide with taking both of her 30 milligram daily doses at the same time, which Cave said her sister sometimes did. McIntyre said the high dosage of amphetamine, along with the noisy scene, her heart disease and obesity, could have been enough to get her heart to stop. The day after Boyland’s death, Cave’s husband Justin told reporters that Trump “instigated a riot last night that killed four of his biggest fans.” Then a barrage of gruesome messages came to the family from all sides – people who said they were glad Boyland had died and others who had been enraged by Justin Cave’s comments. The caves wondered what they’d missed and how they could have helped Boyland before she got too deep into conspiracy theories. “That’s one of the reasons I feel guilty because neither of us thought too much about it when she first started looking into it,” Lonna told Cave. “I understand she was in a place she shouldn’t have been. But she wouldn’t have been here without all the misinformation. “This article originally appeared in the New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company


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