Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is a former cult member.
Her history as an anti-cult activist raises questions about her alignment with conspiracy theories like QAnon.
Cult experts told Insider why Thomas might be taken in by far-right conspiracy theories.
Ginni Thomas, the wife of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, spent the weeks after the 2020 election pushing conspiracy theories about voter fraud.
Thomas, who was briefly a member of Lifespring — a controversial group that was part of the "human potential movement" — before becoming an anti-cult activist, has surprised many who once knew her by aligning herself with far-right conspiracy theory groups such as QAnon that some say have cult-like qualities.
Nonetheless, Steven Hassan, a former-cult-member-turned-cult-expert who worked with Thomas during her anti-cult activism days, told Insider he is not surprised by her involvement with the far-right conspiracy theory movement.
"Ginni Thomas was in a cult, and anyone who has ever been in a cult is vulnerable to another cult if they haven't properly counseled and done their homework," Hassan said.
Thomas' transition from cult member to anti-cult activist
Founded in 1974 by John Hanley Sr., Lifespring held training seminars to teach its members "self-confidence, self-esteem, lowered job stress, a heightened sense of control in life, and a more positive and pleasurable range of events and experiences in their lives," according to the now-dissolved group's website.
Thomas became involved in the 1980s. But shortly after, the group garnered controversy when reports emerged of unsavory practices and several trainees dying, according to a 1987 article in The Washington Post in which Thomas discussed how the group pushed her away from her loved ones.
She eventually left the group after being "deprogrammed" and became a passionate anti-cult activist in the 1980s and '90s.
"She was at the time an attorney in Washington DC, and she had worked for, I believe, a Republican congressman, and she was very well connected," Rick Alan Ross, a cult expert who was familiar with Thomas' work during her anti-cult activism days, told Insider.
"She was helpful to people that were part of the Cult Awareness Network in hooking them up with people that were in the Washington political world," Ross added.
In March, a video circulated on Twitter showed Thomas speaking at a 1986 Cult Awareness Network event in Kansas City, Missouri, about her experience of leaving Lifespring.
"When you come away from a cult, you've got to find a balance in your life as far as getting involved with fighting the cult or exposing it," Thomas said. "And kind of the other angle is getting a sense of yourself and what was it that made you get into that group. And what open questions are there that still need to be answered."
QAnon becomes conspiracy theory du jour
Thomas' embrace of QAnon-esque conspiracy theories has perplexed many who knew her as an anti-cult activist. She blamed the "deep state" when her allies weren't hired onto Trump's administration and made several written attempts to overturn the 2020 election. In text messages to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, she'd even claimed that Trump watermarked mail-in ballots to track voter fraud and that politicians were being arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay.
Ross told Insider that he also believes QAnon is a cult – a key distinction being that it lacks a single all-powerful leader.
"QAnon, in my opinion, is a cult. But there's an exception, which is typically the most identifiable element of a destructive cult is an all-powerful, omnipresent, charismatic leader that becomes an object of worship. And Q remains anonymous," Ross said.
However, Ross believes that Thomas's anti-cult activism should be viewed separately from her affiliation with the current conspiracy theories, as he says her current beliefs align with her long-held political views.
"In my opinion, Ginni Thomas's involvement with Lifespring in the 1980s has nothing whatsoever to do with her current politics. Thomas was always a very conservative Republican before, during, and after her time with Lifespring," Ross said.
"The text messages that she sent, some of the conspiracy theories that she believes, I'm sorry to say that a majority of Republicans may agree with."
Since 2017, QAnon has moved to the forefront of conservative discourse, forming a community of people who believe in unfounded secret wars and baseless plots.
According to a December 2020 poll by NPR and Ipsos, 17% of the US population believes in the primary QAnon theory that "a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring is trying to control our politics and media."
Thomas' conservatism vs her cult past
Thomas grew up in a staunchly Republican family in Omaha, Nebraska. Throughout her adult life, she has been linked to deeply conservative groups, such as the Tea Party movement and later the more fringe Groundswell, a group she founded in 2013 after consulting with Steve Bannon – who went on to become Trump's chief strategist.
Now, she has more deeply embedded herself in the political sphere, spewing far-right rhetoric and conspiracy theories typically supporting Trump.
"Ginni Thomas has very, very deeply held beliefs. They are not the product of brainwashing. They are the beliefs that she sincerely held before she entered Lifespring, which was many years ago, and the same beliefs that she held when she married Clarence Thomas, who shares those beliefs," Ross said. "I mean, she is who she is."
Ross also says that Thomas' current foray into conspiracy theories should not detract from all the useful work she did as an anti-cult activist and all of the people that she helped.
Hassan argued that "Congress should have congressional hearings on brainwashing, cults, [and] QAnon." He added that it's important to educate people on "how someone who's very intelligent and educated can come to believe" conspiracy theories.
"I haven't called [Ginni Thomas] stupid or crazy, which the media does, because I know that she's been unduly influenced into these beliefs. She's a very intelligent, educated person, but her brain has been hacked," he claimed.