This week, I had an opportunity to sit down with Melissa Rein Lively. Better known by America as, “Target Mask Karen,” and reported self-avowed QAnon spokesperson. The conversation I expected was nothing like the conversation that took place. Over this four part exclusive, Lively will reveal never-before understood depths to her life, and what led her to those viral videos. We discuss trauma, cancel culture, and life as an influential businesswoman during the most uncertain economic times in modern memory. First, we revisit Lively’s very public mental break, and the events that led up to it.
The World Slumbers as an Ominous Threat Emerges from a Small Chinese Province
In early 2020, no one could have anticipated what would come. In the United States, politicians were gearing up for the 2020 election cycle, and Americans were already readying their eye-rolls for intensive months of campaign ads and political sniping. As the weather turned from frigid to cool, America rested on her laurels, unconcerned and unaware of what waited just across a turbulent ocean.
In China, whispers of a virus came out of Wuhan. People were dying, authorities were stumped. Still, across the ocean, America dozed. As citizens in China began falling ill in droves, the world started waking up, slowly, to the danger they would all soon face.
Soon, images of PPE-clad health responders and overrun hospital wards began filtering out of Wuhan and the whispers turned to alarm bells.
In Arizona, One Woman’s Journey to Mental Unwellness Began with a Phone Call
In Scottsdale, Arizona, one woman watched with trepidation.
Lively recounted to me the phone call that changed everything. Driving home from a career-defining opening of restaurant Nobu in Scottsdale on January 27th, Lively was on top of the world. Lively’s brother, visiting in-laws in Beijing, was calling. Lively, expecting to hear about his Chinese New Year celebration, picked up the phone.
Lively recounts, “He was like, ‘Listen, there’s a situation down here in China, and it’s a virus, and it’s very bad. And we are trying to figure out how to get back to the US ASAP.’ He told me, ‘what I need you to do is get on Amazon right now, and buy all of the masks you can find, and rubber gloves. Here’s all the supplements you need to buy, do all of this now, because it is coming to the United States. And it is going to be bad. I’m telling you right now.'”
On Top of the World, Lively Didn’t Understand at First
Lively, fresh off one of the greatest nights of her life, at first struggled to understand her brother’s urgency. “Back in January, nobody could have ever anticipated everything that has happened. So I kind of had it in the back of my mind. And I just kind of went on with with work normally for the next few weeks. I bought all the stuff that he said just because I have the tendency to kind of freak out or panic. In the back of my mind, this whole prospect of ‘this is a pandemic, it’s coming to the United States, it’s going to be really bad,’ was just really sending me into a tailspin. And it didn’t really make serious headway, where it like started to affect things in the United States, until like the first week of March. But over the next few weeks, we started to see very frightening images coming out of China. There were people in hazmat suits, and people saying that they were dropping dead on the sidewalk, and there were pictures of that circulating around the internet.”
As a Public Relations Expert, Lively Began Hearing the Heartache of Clients
Over the next few months, Lively fielded calls from concerned clients in her PR business. They all wanted something constructive to do. Some way to help. some path forward. Business agonized over the impact to business and employee welfare, as well as the PR implications as to whether they should remain open or stay closed. They turned to Lively for answers as to whether it would be better to lay off or reduce pay for employees. As an outside consultant, Lively’s guidance was sought on these topics and pitted her against her own personal beliefs, her desire to protect the health and safety of the community, and desire to minimize the impact to people and businesses as much as possible. To the PR expert, it felt like an impossible place to be in. No matter what decisions she made, they had implications for which she felt responsible. Lively felt as though it was an ethical mess of epic proportions. And Lively, always a problem solver, found herself spinning her wheels at home in no-win scenarios, bored between crises, and driving herself to distraction by doom-scrolling online.
Conspiracy Creeps into the Cracks Left Behind by Fear
As the pressure continued to mount over the next few months, Lively fell down the rabbit hole of conspiracy and darkness. “This is what starts the whole mental tailspin for me, where I’m sitting at home. I’m used to being an incredibly busy person; I mean, I’m up at five o’clock every day, on the phone with east coast and overseas. And now, all of a sudden, I’m stuck on my couch in a fetal position, just doom-scrolling all day. I think everybody went through it. And like, every time you would refresh your feed, it would be something more terrifying and scary happening. And that just really triggered me in a way that I had never really experienced before. I started a free-fall, a full state of what I recognize now to be essentially a panic attack. I was physically uncomfortable, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe; my husband would have to physically take my phone away from me and be like, ‘you need to step out of it and go outside.’ I would do that, and I was trying to go rollerblading, I was trying to spend my time doing other things, but I just couldn’t. Something just affected me on such a mental and physical level that I was just not ever the same after I started seeing those headlines and those images.”
A Problem Solver with an Unsolvable Problem
Lively continued, “Then, as the weeks went by, I think everybody started to be like, ‘Hey, wait a minute, they said we were gonna shut down for 15 days, so now what’s going on?’ So now I’m down the line, six weeks or whatever, and I’m having to help my clients craft press releases to do mass layoffs, I’m having to go in and kind of be the buffer when they’re announcing these layoffs, because I work with a lot of larger corporations. It was traumatic to me. I’m a really deeply empathetic and deeply sensitive person. And there’s so many people who have been so strong during this whole thing, and I just look at them with just so much admiration, because I just couldn’t handle it. It just caused me to absolutely snap.”
The Breakdown Nears
As time continued to pass, Lively felt the claws of panic sinking in; “So we move in April, we move into May, and I don’t know exactly when it was, but at a certain point, I kind of had these pep talks with myself; ‘we need to get back out there, people look up to you, if you get out and start going back to work and living your life and doing everything that you’re supposed to do – wear your mask, do all this- maybe we can start to establish some normalcy and start getting things getting things back going for clients.’ Because it just disturbed me on such a tremendous level, thinking about all the people who are losing their jobs. This happened in the middle of tourism season in Arizona, which is our largest economy here. And now they’re saying over 150,000 jobs have been lost just in the hospitality and tourism sector. And the financial equivalent to what has happened this year equates to nine times the losses after 9/11 in travel loss. That’s a number that’s so large that I cannot even wrap my mind around how much money that is. And people are deeply, deeply suffering.”
Helpless and desperate for anything to do, Lively felt creeping dread. She continued, “So I just felt completely powerless and helpless. And I’ve never felt that way before, because I’m a problem solver, and in the nature of my business, and what I do, people call me when they need problems fixed. When they need to improve their business to generate more revenue to do something good or fun for the community to create momentum good vibes, good energy, and of course, revenue. I’ve always been that person that gets that call. And I had never in the last 15 years come to a point where I just felt completely powerless, like the whole world was just shattering around me, and there was not one thing I could do about it.”
RELATED: Arizona’s “QAnon Karen” – Why We Should Be Concerned About Melissa Rein Lively aka the Target Mask Trasher’s Mental Health
QAnon Takes It’s Toll
As Lively’s mental health continued to spiral out of control, she found herself diving deep into the world of QAnon. Lively revealed that, despite the dark subject matter and bleak projections from Q, it was comforting. Because in the depths of her despair and desperation for answers and direction, along came an organization that promised to have all the answers. We later discussed her relationship with Q and the role it played in her public breakdown, but that’s a story for a later day. As Q’s theories fed into her desperate cycle of mental instability, Lively approached the day of her public mental break.
A Public Breakdown in Target
Lively was candid about what she experienced in Target that day, the day she was dubbed, “Target Mask Karen.” She explained, “fast forward to the Fourth of July, when I went into the Target store; everybody thinks my issue was about the masks and stuff. And it really wasn’t that. I experienced a complete mental break. 20 years of just complete trauma, and I didn’t have anywhere to put the frustration.”
In a now-viral video, Lively is seen ripping masks off a display in Target, yelling, “We’re not doing this anymore. I’m done. We’re done.”
Police Arrive in the Midst of Lively’s Mental Break
In a second video, police arrive to arrest Lively. As her mental break exacerbates, Lively screams, “you’re doing it to me because I’m Jewish.” And, “I’m wired. This is being broadcast live.”
Lively explains to the police, “I’m the QAnon spokesperson. I can’t give you any classified information, you don’t have clearance.”
From a Place of Wellness, Lively Looks Back with Horror
Revisiting the incidents with me, Lively explained that the words coming out of her mouth were word salad. A projection of a sick mind. Lively thoughtfully examined her culpability for her behavior, and explained that she has since apologized to both the Target employees and the Scottsdale police department.
“I have reached out to the store with a sincere apology. Additionally, I have reached out to the Scottsdale Police Department PIO to express my deepest gratitude for the respect and professionalism they showed me that day. I requested an opportunity to publicly recognize and thank the officers that treated me with a profound level of kindness and decency, and set an example for police handling of mental health calls while I was experiencing a very challenging mental health episode”
In a letter to Target, Lively took responsibility for what happened. Per the letter, which Lively provided me, she said, “On July 4th, 2020, I had a mental health episode that culminated in an unfortunate public display of recklessness in your store. It was a day that changed my life forever.
I want to take the opportunity to deeply apologize for my actions that occurred as a part of a mental health breakdown that manifested as a manic-bipolar episode due to complex PTSD that I failed to properly acknowledge and treat this year.
I would like to extend my apologies to the members of your store team that calmly and respectfully handled the incident despite my outrageous and inappropriate behavior. I would also like to apologize to customers and staff who may have been frightened and offended by my use of foul language and videotaping without permission. I want to thank your team for the exemplary handling of the situation and kindness and respect they showed me despite the circumstances. I would also like to apologize for any damage I may have caused to your merchandise and inconvenience I caused your staff responsible for maintaining for your floor displays.”
There’s So Much More Behind Lively’s Breakdown Than What the World Knows
Although Lively’s self-reflection and sincere apologies won’t convince her worst critics, over the next 3 parts we discuss the decades of trauma that led Lively to that Target display. She opened up about loss, fear, and abuse from her childhood that left her bereft of coping skills. In the next part of our interview, Lively explains what the overdose death of her mother did to her as a child, and the institutionalized abuse she suffered at the hands of a boarding school. Remember to check back for parts two, three, and four, as we explore the story of a woman taken over the brink by trauma, and who has fought her way back to mental wellness.