I first learned about QAnon a few months ago when Amazon suggested I buy a “Q” t-shirt.
QAnon is the conspiracy theory-of-everything that incorporates all of the classics (the Illuminati, the Elders of Zion, the Rothschilds, J.P. Morgan and the sinking of the Titanic, etc.) as well as the more recent (Birtherism, Pizzagate, etc.).
“Q” alleges him-or-her-but-probably-him-self to be a high-level government agent who has been moved to reveal details of a “deep state” conspiracy – though only in small, cryptic posts that followers must decode.
According to QAnon, Trump was recruited by the U.S. military to dismantle a decades-long occupation of the U.S. government by an elite cabal of globalists who kidnap children by the thousands as part of their international (indeed, interplanetary) pedophile ring (it should be noted here that the only one who has been kidnapping children by the thousands is Homeland Security, taking them from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border). This countercoup (“the Storm”) is led by none other Robert Mueller himself, whose Russia investigation is actually a front for his sting operation against the “deep state.”
Trump speaks to followers in code in order to prophesy the imminent purge of these politicians (e.g. the Clintons, John McCain) and the exposure of complicit celebrities (e.g. Tom Hanks, John Legend).[efn_note](The pedophilia claim against the Clintons, John Podesta, Tom Hanks, the entire planet of Mars, etc. is similar to Russian smear campaigns used against U.S. officials like former ambassador Mike McFaul, who Trump recently considered handing over to the Russians for interrogation relating to their own Clinton conspiracy theory – it's all just scary.)[/efn_note] “Q” then drops “breadcrumbs” to help “bakers” interpret this complex code. It’s like Pokémon Go for the alt-right, but rather than collecting Pokémon, they’re scouring the deserts of the southwest for pedophiles as part of the coming purge. After this “storm” is over, there will be a new Christian golden age.
Of course, like every eschatological prediction so far, Q’s dates have been wrong (November 2017 was expected to bring hundreds of arrests, staged riots, marshal law, and Emergency Broadcast System messages with instructions for followers) and, also like every eschatological prediction so far, Q’s believers have nevertheless grown more entrenched in their faith.
So, why concern ourselves with some dark, musty corner of crazy-town-banana-pants idolatry? Because of this:
People lining up for the Trump rally in Tampa today. A lot of the chan anons might treat Q-Anon like a LARP, but by all appearances there are plenty of people who take it seriously irl. pic.twitter.com/uys7kmnAs1
But wait, there’s more! pic.twitter.com/UxeHdyoYpk
QAnon is not a community that lives solely online, but is becoming increasingly active IRL. As Will Sommer noted last month:
In April, hundreds of QAnon believers staged a march in downtown Washington, D.C. with a vague demand for “transparency” from the Justice Department. “Q” shirts have become frequent sites at Trump rallies, with one QAnon believer scoring VIP access. In June, an armed man in an homemade armored truck shut down a highway near the Hoover Dam and held up signs referencing QAnon. And celebrities like comedian Roseanne Barr and former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling have signed on.
And the Southern Poverty Law Center has taken note, tracking use of the #qanon on their Hate Tracker, writing that “the surprising rapidity at which ‘The Storm’ has spread is testament to the extent to which such claims gain real life and become widely believed.”
The visibility of the Q crowd at last night’s rally in Tampa was accompanied by an increasingly vicious hostility toward journalists covering the event. CNN’s Jim Acosta, a favorite target of Trump crowds, posted the following warning along with a video of what reporters experienced last night. The video is disturbing and Costa’s fear is justified:
Just a sample of the sad scene we faced at the Trump rally in Tampa. I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy. pic.twitter.com/IhSRw5Ui3R
WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin reacted this morning to Acosta’s video with this:
… this is the behavior Trump incites and amplifies with his attacks on the free press. When he says the media is the “enemy of the people” or the worst people or the most dishonest people, his followers take it as license to treat members of the media as something less than human. Trump has defined the press as part of “the other,” and his cult responds with the kind of venom used to keep a foreign body at bay …
Rubin recommends that we stop “infantilizing” the “Trump cultists” and “treating them as hapless victims of forces beyond their control.” Indeed, treating them as such is just another form of other-ing – making them alien to us and removing their agency. The Quixote Center will soon be launching a new program aimed at countering these kinds of “othering” tactics – especially in relation to immigration, but the principle extends in both directions.
Last week, Trump said to a crowd of veterans, “just remember: what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Such is the Orwellian fever-dream in which we now live. When our social media is infiltrated by foreign actors to spread disinformation and fan the flames on already divisive issues and is an outlet for the President’s frequent rants about “witch hunts” and “fake news,” the conditions are ripe for the proliferation and escalation of hate speech and dangerous conspiracy theories, whether they target politicians, the media, minorities, or immigrants.
We’ve been here before. We know that this is how fascism/totalitarianism/despotism (and the accompanying atrocities) begins. We have to be vigilant about what we believe, check our sources, do our research, and take responsibility for the ideas and information that we ourselves choose to share.
We don't have to let history repeat itself.