QAnon conspiracy theory edges towards power

Comment by Andrew Brown

QAnon is something between a cult, a fandom, and a political movement. The core of the movement is the belief that there is someone high up in the Trump administration who is releasing “drops” of information about the President’s secret plan to rid the world of evil and to destroy the “Deep State” conspiracy which presently hold the world in thrall.

It is difficult to measure, like most internet phenomena, but polling suggests that around 6 per cent of American adults support or believe in it, with a margin of error that means this could mean as few as three million or as many as 27 million.

These “drops”, cryptic sentences which conceal their lack of any determinate meaning, appear on the internet and are then interpreted by fervent believers and fitted into their hopes and expectations about the future.

The material is widespread on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, where it it spread to the curious by their recommendation algorithm. The identity of the authors is unknown, but the distinctive feature of “Q” believers is that they believe he exists, and that they have a spy and an ally in the heart of the enemy system.

The enemy is conceived as a vast paedophile conspiracy that controls the US government and the world economy. Among its leading members are Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, George Soros and, in some tellings, the Pope.

Joe Uscisnki., an associate professor of political science at Miami University, told a Religion Media Centre online briefing: “The idea underlying it is that Trump and Q are in a battle against the evil satanic Deep State who control everything and have humanity under their evil spell. They also run a sex trafficking ring. This ‘cabal’ as they call it, includes the Obamas, the Clintons, and many members of the Bush family and celebrities.

“Because the Q drops can be interpreted in any way you want, you really do wind up in a place of fan fiction where anyone can make up any version of Q they want which involves any material: so if you have an evangelical background you will make up something where Jesus will save us.

“If you don’t have that background, you’ll make up something that involves robots and time travel … not only is JFK Jr still alive, but JFK is still alive, and he attends Trump rallies; and Trump’s son is a time traveller from the future.

“It is almost a religion in that it can’t be falsified and people inside it feel they are giving their lives to a community”, Joe Uscinski says. “It’s often framed as a far right political theory but polling I have done shows it’s evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. It’s taking aim at the whole political establishment.

“Several people have committed violence as a result of this. There was a terrorist incident on the Hoover Dam last year. One person committed the murder of a Mafia crime boss supposedly on the orders of Q. There have been family kidnappings.”

More than 50 people running or attempting to run for congress as Republicans have signalled allegiance to Q. Two of them, says Joe Uscinski, might just get elected. One, in Oregon, is promising that she will bring to congress much that she has learned from Q. Another, in Georgia has forced a runoff in her primary election. But Joe Uscinski points out that the Republican establishment is opposed to both candidates. A Q believer would understand this is because the establishment is under the control of the “cabal”.

Dr David Robertson, a lecturer in religious studies at the Open University, said: “Q has this idea of a coming awakening where there’s going to be some revelation, usually in the form of mass arrests, where they’re going to arrest all of Hillary Clinton’s pals and clear the swamp once and for all.

“Q was in some ways a continuation of Pizzagate, which was itself a continuation of the conspiracy theories circling around Hillary Clinton, and those connect right back to the Satanic Ritual Abuse fantasies in the Nineties, to the point where you can identify some of the same people being involved in all these stages.” (“Pizzagate” is a debunked conspiracy theory that hacked emails showed coded messages linking Democratic Party officials with human trafficking and a child sex ring.)

“Evangelicals were invested in this Manichean worldview of good and evil where there were these satanic groups – entirely imaginary – who were organising this massive trade in children.”

Although explicit support for Q is not very high – one poll found he was less popular in Florida than even Fidel Castro – Dr Robertson points out that it’s not an organisation and you cannot join. It is more an attitude and set of common reference points. More than 40 per cent of Americans, for instance, believe in the existence of the “Deep State”.

And this attitude, or set of stories, is spreading internationally. Reddit has clamped down on Q supporting groups, but it has a number of subreddits where those who feel that Q is a cult which has robbed them of family members can gather for commiseration and advice.

When I asked on one of the subreddits if anyone would share their experiences, no one would do so on Zoom, but three people described knowing Q believers in Europe or in England.

Although it builds on specifically American folk beliefs, many of those have now been globalised, and the Q myths could spread like any other piece of pop culture.

Shayan Sardarizadeh of the BBC pointed out that in the last month alone Facebook public groups – not counting the private, closed ones where much of the action goes on – had had more than half a million posts using QAnon jargon, and these had generated more than 31 million interactions. Some unknown proportion are jokes or just games.

As Joe Uscinski asks, does anyone really believe that President Kennedy is still alive and attending Trump rallies? But some fraction is entirely serious and so should we be.