QAnon is not the mother of all conspiracy theories, but rather their exuberant overgrown offspring. It is a “big tent” or umbrella conspiracy that seems to welcome and harbor most other current and historical conspiracy theories- and most importantly their adherents- into its fold. From the JFK assassination to 9/11, to alien ‘lizard people’ among us, to 5G towers spreading Covid19, to space stations on Mars, to eugenic vaccination schemes. It’s all part of it and it’s all welcome here!
By blending its DNA with that of other preexisting conspiracy theory constructs of secret underworld machinations, treachery and cover-ups, QAnon promoters can enlist a broader range of individuals to get the word out via social media posting and sharing. They can very effectively lure denizens of the online Anti-Vax communities, alien enthusiasts, climate change deniers, holocaust deniers, Covid19 doubters, etc., into sharing and promoting Qanon and Trump campaign material among themselves and out into the broader world often without realizing the full nature of what they are disseminating. Whatever is trending currently in the conspiracy world (as of this writing: Covid-19 denial, 5G, and Bill Gates’ mandatory nanotechnology vaccine schemes) is most likely to be harnessed, combined and enlivened with a morsel or two of QAnon elements that hint at something bigger and direct those who might be intrigued to pursue the QAnon narrative deeper into what is by now a seemingly endless trail of “evidence” and wild, yet passionately delivered, assertions. QAnon’s assertions at first introduction might seem comically absurd and without basis, but when repeated enough and heard told from multiple angles and sources a person naturally can begin to experience a suspension of doubt. Studies have suggested that the primary factor helpful in predicting if an individual is likely to believe a new conspiracy theory is if they already believe in and follow an existing one.
“Grotesquely weird conspiracy theories like QAnon are probably off-putting to most people who stumble upon them. But the newly popular “Plandemic”-style videos are minting a new set of conspiracy-curious Americans amid the despair of coronavirus isolation, easing them into contact with the worst of the web.”
— Kelly Weill, reporter for the Daily Beast
The sincere health conscious open-minded liberal who is worried about vaccines and chem trails or the universally upsetting issues of sex trafficking of minors can, via the online rabbit holes of QAnon, soon enough become an apologist for Trump and a castigator of all those who oppose him- a helpful pawn in the 2020 re-election campaign. They can quickly become another vehement internet warrior urgently helping to disseminate the QAnon message and trying earnestly to ensnare other family and friends in the doctrine of what has essentially become an online cult- one that has proven very difficult to be extricated from once swallowed, and one that often leaves that internet warrior more and more isolated. As conflicts arise with family and friends who couldn’t be convinced, the new QAnon follower ends up finding a replacement family in the virtual message boards and real-life gatherings of the QAnon realm. In this realm of mutual support and affirmation,the indoctrinated can all wait and watch together for signs of the “Great Awakening” when all will be vindicated and the bells of freedom will ring.
The purpose of this article, apart from a general examination of the nature and dangers of QAnon, is not to contest the merits of the various conspiracy theories that have a new venue within the QAnon sphere, but rather to point out the agenda, methodology and circumstance whereby QAnon is coalescing these theories and using them to it’s ends. Those ends being the glorification of Donald J. Trump, the defamation of his detractors and political foes, and his reelection in November, 2020.
It might sound from all this, considering the mass appeal and rapid spread, that QAnon is an elaborately conceived, fiendishly clever propaganda operation. Much like what QAnon and other conspiratorial doctrines like to ascribe to the workings of the “Deep State,” “New World Order,” and “Illuminati” fraternities of tyranny. It is most certainly not that. There is not really even a consistent or cohesive narrative to the QAnon world view, barring a few basic ideas, that all followers will agree on. The saga and story-line of it is largely made up as it goes along by the followers themselves. The success of QAnon is more of a lucky accident for a small coterie of alt-right social media hacks. QAnon has bumbled along into the absurd monster that it has become quite in spite of itself.
QAnon has its roots firmly in Pizzagate, the wildly fanciful misreading of John Podesta’s stolen emails to somehow paint a pizza parlour in Washington DC as the operation headquarters of a pedophile ring run by Hilary Clinton. But what we now call QAnon “officially” began on October 28th, 2017 with a single post on a right-wing message board. The post declared with an air of confident authority and using the language style of a military operation, that Hilary’s passport had been “flagged” such that she couldn’t leave the country to avoid arrest and Federal prosecution, which was foretold to be imminent. An eventuality which would have brought great satisfaction to the “Lock Her Up” contingent of Trump’s fanatical base. But like so many such predictions that were to come from this particular anonymous poster who signed off as Q, it wasn’t true and it didn’t happen. All these missed prognostications should have taken some of the wind out of Q’s sails, but that didn’t happen either. Q claimed to be a Washington insider who had direct contact with the President and intimate knowledge of his plans and methodologies. Q claimed to have what was called “Q-Clearance” or total access to all top-secret workings of the Federal Government. (Only the US Department of Energy actually uses the designation Q for security clearance, but no matter.)
The early posts from Q appeared on an image board called 4chan with much of the early analysis taking place on Reddit. Soon the posts, now known as “Q-drops,” and much of the alt-right community that frequented 4chan, migrated to another image board called 8chan after talk went around that 4chan had been “infiltrated.” 8chan was a “wild west” image board that existed most reliably on the so-called Dark Web and proudly boasted of it’s uncensored nature.
8chan was known mostly and notoriously as an online “cesspool” of white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, gun rights advocates, and child pornography enthusiasts. 8chan was taken down from the web by it’s server in the Summer of 2019 after a few mass shooter manifestos were published there prior to the shootings. It was relaunched a couple of months later, using a Russian server, as 8kun. Q-drops ceased during the period that 8chan was offline but returned with 8kun, which is to this day the landing place of Q-drops and the illustrious headquarters of the most militant factions of QAnon.
Q claims to be abiding with US Federal law by not directly revealing classified information to the public, even though many of the Q-drops, such as the first one, would certainly violate that law. So in order to forewarn a segment of society and perhaps enlist the assistance of that segment in the dramatic Federal operations that are purportedly about to go down, Q Drops are often written as obscure questions that followers must try to decipher and do the “research” on their own. They then can share with one another what they have discovered. Q mostly asks leading questions designed to get you where Q wants you to get to. The object is to make you think you earned it by doing a google search rather than just being told. Q is not really asking you to figure out anything particularly complex, but rather wants you to answer trivia questions and feel accomplished.
Q-drops are likened to a trail of breadcrumbs. QAnon “researchers” are often called “Bakers” because they take these crumbs and assemble them into the “Bread” or substance of the unfolding plot. With so many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, the plot line of the conspiracy naturally takes off in multiple diverging directions. The “Bakers’’ can tend to create wildly imaginative loaves of intricate connections, generalities and unverifiable nonsense that takes the QAnon collective narrative into a territory of such intriguing complexity that no individual could have presaged it on their own. Nor can any one individual have a complete grasp of all the permutations and all the branches that have grown from it. So, if one is researching “facts” presented by Q fans or videos like The Fall of the Cabal, one will definitely find sources that will repeat the claims and insinuations, but the corroboration will lie only within the Q-o-sphere of dubious documents, twisted logic, out of context photographs, and coded but “significant” findings of other fans. It’s a closed information system that reinforces itself and builds pressure to a frenzy. QAnon can become something like an addictive video game to these avid “researchers” and can be much more exciting and appealing than their day to day lives offline.
The very basic premise of QAnon uses older tropes about hidden groups working secretively to achieve sinister goals while building on the Pizzagate story-line. It depicts a world very much under the thumb of a global cabal of “elites” who have ruled over us from behind the curtains for decades, influencing every aspect of our lives and controlling our minds by dictating the messaging of the “mainstream” media, referred to pejoratively in many conspiracy circles as the “MSM.” Perhaps this is not such a terribly far-fetched notion at this juncture. It seems that many of us, whether politically on the Left or Right, are suspicious of the wealthy and the powerful, even though the notion of the MSM as a unified force is contrary to reason. But QAnon gets more specific about the make-up of the evil cadre they call the “Cabal.” Very conveniently for those on the political Right, the Cabal includes all those who are political adversaries of Donald Trump as well as public figures who have shared their ideological and personal distaste for the man. Aspersions of sickening irredeemable wickedness are cast upon Democratic and liberal politicians, especially the Clintons and Barack Obama (and now, of course, with emphasis on Joe Biden), “Mainstream” media journalists, pundits and moguls (exceptions seem to be given to Fox News pundits and moguls), most Hollywood personalities, many sports heroes, CIA and FBI agents and directors, and, for good measure (because many are thought to be Jewish and rich), the banking families of the world, especially the Rothschilds. George Soros is, of course, included, (as he is in most conspiratorial tropes), because he is a Jewish billionaire holocaust survivor who tends to donate to humanitarian and left-wing causes. Antisemitism is rife in the QAnon story-line.
The simplest assertion of QAnon is that this international Cabal operates a gigantic satanic child sex-trafficking ring involving hundreds of thousands of children who are kept as slaves in underground tunnels and used for pornography and pedophilic gratification by these very Cabal members. A standard hypothesis of QAnon followers also suggests that the adrenal glands of these children, many of whom are born below ground and never see the light of day, are siphoned for the components of “adrenochrome”, a drug that these cabalists use to fuel themselves for further evil-doing.
“…look very closely at the people who are screaming the loudest, complaining about President Trump” because “every single one of those people, you’ll find — because I’ve researched all these scumbags — you will find that all of these people have ties to sex trafficking rings, ties to pedophilia, ties to pedophiles.”
– Liz Crokin, the Pizzagate/QAnon ‘expert’ who is interviewed in the documentary Out of Shadows.
It hasn’t yet been convincingly revealed just who has been posting under the name Q. Since there appears to be some inconsistency in the style, tone and pattern of posts over the years, and since anyone can use the same handles when posting on 8kun (8chan and 4chan) where anonymity is the main appeal, it is likely that there has been a succession of Qs over the years and perhaps multiple Qs posting concurrently. There are many theories in the QAnon community as to the identity of Q, including that Trump himself is the secret poster or one of his close advisors is. A surprisingly large number of followers push the idea that John F. Kennedy Jr. is the real Q, and having faked his death in the plane crash he is now working behind the scenes with Trump to bring about the fall of the Cabal. NBC made an interesting claim that the original Q might have been a coordination of two or three early promoters who now make their living entirely off of QAnon promotion. There is also speculation that the current Q is a family member of the owner of 8kun, and that the job of posting has been commandeered from whomever was posting previously. Q-drops of late have begun to resemble the social media feeds of your average QAnon follower, with re-postings of some low quality nonsense memes and videos found elsewhere on the web. Q even recently posted a link directly to an adult porn site before deleting it.
There is little doubt that the Trump presidential campaign benefits greatly from the spreading of the QAnon gospel. QAnon has been remarkably successful at bringing traditionally liberal-minded folks into the Trump fold, or at least willing to give the man a reassessment. And it has been very successful at instilling an even deeper fanaticism in his traditionally right-wing, white-nationalist, and evangelical base. Shockingly it is likely the most successful avenue of the current Trump presidential campaign’s social media front for winning new converts, whether or not it is directly tied to that front. Trump campaign manager, Bruce Parscale, was hired before the 2016 election largely on the merits of his social media skills. He has been much lauded for being quick to recognize that social media has now become the mainstream media (the MSM!) and it is thought that his and Russia’s extensive use of social media turned the tide in Trump’s favour in 2016. While the degree of coordination between the presidential campaign and Q is disputed, Trump himself has certainly been aware of QAnon from the early days of its existence. He has subtly and not so subtly promoted the conspiracy- much to the delight of QAnon followers, who find significant validation anytime they perceive he has given them a nod. Recently, however, the Trump campaign has been actively distancing itself from QAnon after the FBI labeled the conspiracy theory a domestic terrorism threat owing to various attempted acts of violence and threats of violence by QAnon-inspired zealots. QAnon t-shirts, signs, jewelry and the multitude of schwag paraphernalia, once a prominent feature at Trump rallies, are now actively discouraged.
It is all too easy to ridicule, pan and debunk QAnon and its myriad tentacle theories. It can even be entertaining to witness and ride along with the creative pretzel-ing logic that goes into “proving” that Trump has always been right and Obama has always been evil. There is a small industry of QAnon critics and debunkers who dissect the material and share its facets largely for the humor and entertainment value that can be found down in the rabbit holes. Reading a QAnon believer’s blog and learning about a new wildly abstract connection of dots that some enthusiast has constructed can leave one doubled over in hysterics, as can watching QAnon documentaries like The Fall of the Cabal and Out of Shadows. There is a vast world of truly astonishing idiocy to be found here. However, this author’s overall take away from an afternoon in Q Land is one of profound sadness. There are some truly disturbed people lost in this morass and it can be heartbreaking to watch them translate their anxiety, hopelessness and fear into histrionics of hatred and vengeance.
The imagery that is shared in QAnon material and the stories told in the process of vilifying the accused are very dark indeed. It truly is Satanic horror movie material, and there seems to be a continuum whereby the accusations get darker and darker, as though bloggers and video makers are trying to outdo one another with ever more sickening imagery, ever more pervasive sinister allusions. They are akin to vignettes of grisly nightmares from the murkiest basement of a wounded unconscious. In these, the traumatized inner child tortured continually and mercilessly in the dank underworld tunnels of the psyche is projected outwards into the waking world, and authority figures, those powerful unapproachable elites, are to blame and must be destroyed in order to free this child. Perhaps it is easier to have these stories play out in the external sphere or at least the online realms, where one can feel like part of a team of avengers rather than the very lonely, very frightening prospect of turning inwards to address the broken child and fragmented shadows. Furthermore, in the QAnon narrative there is always light on the horizon, the great unfailing saintly redeemer has come…and any day now he’s going to do something! Release from the hopelessness, anxiety, and fear is nigh! No such obvious reward seems to be waiting in the personal therapeutic process. No such simplicity and clarity where evil is always evil and good is always good.
There are also a great many fully functioning, not so wacky, not so hate-fueled people who swear by the basic tenets and “truths” of QAnon. It has a very cult-like appeal, and cult-like capacity to ensnare the New Age idealist or spiritualist as well as the Neo-Nazi and evangelical Christian. There are studies that show a particular susceptibility to belief in conspiracy theories within the New Age spiritualism community. “Conspirituality” is a new word in the lexicon of researchers studying cults and conspiracy theories.
Many new recruits come into the QAnon fold via the Jeffrey Epstein saga. With Epstein we have a genuinely gob-smacking story about a well heeled, well connected Jewish Democrat who actually was arrested for sex-trafficking of minors and died in questionable circumstances. QAnon promoters relish this story and encourage other fans who want to “red-pill” their friends to start with Epstein as a more gentle, plausible way in. Trump’s close affiliation with Epstein is, of course, explained away or ignored entirely.
The desperate plight of the children, the epic battle between the forces of good and evil, this saga of world-historical importance, can hold broad appeal once the narrative has managed to slip past the skeptical part of the mind. Travis View, a researcher who studies QAnon and host of the podcast QAnon Anonymous, says of it, “You can sit at your computer and search for information and then post about what you find, and Q basically promises that through this process, you are going to radically change the country, institute this incredible, almost-bloodless revolution, and then be part of this historical movement that will be written about for generations.”
There is a Reddit group that serves as a safe support network for those who have a loved one currently mired in QAnon. In this group they often refer to it as the “Qult.” It can be rather heart-breaking to read through the stories of alienated families and couples. There are many urgent requests for help from individuals who are beside themselves with anguish at what has taken over their loved one. First hand accounts of individuals successfully convincing a “Qultist” to walk away from the belief are few and far between.
In an online cult scenario the newly “red-pilled” or radicalized individual may experience growing isolation as their exuberant social media posting of cult gospel is seen by their old friends as weird ugly nonsense to be scrolled past with an eye roll and decision to politely not comment. Perhaps after a steady stream of this material, their friend will decide to block all further posts. The only comments now below the posts are those from like-minded new friends and fellow believers. Often the person who has been radicalized doesn’t see this as it’s happening — the reason why they no longer have friends outside of the echo chamber of their cult community. Unlike in a standard cult where one has direct contact with other believers or even directly with the leader, the online disciple has only the company of online connections. The online community may number in the tens of thousands, but ultimately loneliness becomes a factor. The QAnon movement is something that only really works online. Attempts to translate it into real life through public rallies and actions only come across as pathetic and depressing, possibly even for the participants.
If you have friends or family members entangled in the dogma of QAnon or many of the other conspiracy theories and cults, you may have noticed that they are particularly inured against information correction, fact-checking, or basic logic. Attempts to draw a disciple out of the belief system using rational challenges to the ideology often seems to drive them deeper into their resolve and strengthen the wedge between you. You can go through one of their favorite QAnon recruitment documentaries with them, stopping every minute to debunk every point to an extent that might seem much more than enough to dispel the entire illusion, and yet moments later they are pointing to another minute tangential inconsistency that proves you wrong and re-affirms the entire myth. Every point you make counts for little, and every one they make is decisive.
“A year ago I tweeted out that I was thinking of writing an article about QAnon and asked its adherents for their very best links/screenshots proving its legitimacy….. No one came remotely close to providing anything like the evidence I’d asked for, with most responses falling along the lines of “You kind of have to just immerse yourself in it over an extended period of time and marinate in it until you believe.”
— Caitlin Johnstone
The enthusiasm and fervor with which many QAnon believers cling to the exceptionally horror-filled world that QAnon describes, lends one to think that they would be profoundly, perhaps unacceptably disappointed to realize that the long-suffering, tortured “mole children” they are so passionately battling to rescue never actually existed. Even though it ought to be greatly relieving to find out that children are not suffering in great multitudes in this particular horrific way, it may be too much of a blow to acknowledge they were wrong after investing so much time and energy. And without QAnon the world and their place in it might seem so much less exciting. Rachel Bernstein, a therapist who specializes in recovery from cults, says “What a movement such as QAnon has going for it, and why it will catch on like wildfire, is that it makes people feel connected to something important that other people don’t yet know about. … All cults will provide this feeling of being special.” About conspiracy theory followers in general, she says, “They want to have exclusive access to secret information other people don’t have, information they believe the powers that be are keeping from the masses, because it makes them feel protected and empowered. They’re a step ahead of those in society who remain willfully blind. This creates a feeling similar to a drug — it’s its own high.”
There is a profound irony with QAnon that much of the allure for people participating in the movement is that they can feel they are fueling a movement for mass liberation, freedom, and safety for children, when the movement is actually aimed at trying to perpetuate and cement a nascent totalitarian regime in the USA that is actively stripping away rights and freedoms, destroying environmental protections and scarring thousands of immigrant children for life. QAnon adherents are agents of oppression when they think they are revolutionaries-inadvertent pawns in this administration’s autocratic endeavors.
Sexual exploitation and trafficking of children is a well known, well documented global reality. It’s also very true that thousands of children have been separated from their parents and held in cages on the southern border of the United States, even though the QAnon narrative denies this reality or explains it away somehow. There are plenty of rotten, terrible things going on in the world. There is a lot that we need to be actively condemning, writing about, and taking action to stop. There is great need for global citizens to rise up and fight against these travesties of justice and traumatic real-time horrors. But we can’t count on the QAnon faction for help in this fight. Perhaps this is the greatest tragedy: that otherwise conscious, motivated individuals with a passion for justice are so being so terribly and pointlessly distracted from the very real problems facing our society and planet. They are much too busy fighting an illusory crisis of their own fabrication. Too busy trying to patch up it’s glaring holes. Too busy trying to rescue imaginary children and much too busy trying to rescue the image of their God-like leader from the tarnishing of his own relentless buffoonery.
- Media Literacy Canada
- alt-right Playbook
- Reddit account support group for QAnon cult followers’ friends and family
- Scientific analysis of conspiracy theories and schizotypy
- Conspiracy Theory Disorder
- Alternative Facts
- Redpill: Reference to Matrix movie whereby one who takes the red pill (as opposed to the blue pill) will know the truth and can never go back to the old way of seeing the world.
- Podesta: John Podesta was Hilary Clinton’s campaign chairman in 2016 as well as serving in Bill Clinton’s administration. His emails were hacked in 2016 by Russian agents (Guccifer 2.0)and released on Wikileaks. They revealed little of use to anyone on either side of the presidential campaign. But Pizzagate was born out of some very creative analysis of things found in a few of the many thousands of emails.
- Adrenochrome: Actual mild drug that can be purchased from labs. In QAnon context it is derived from the adrenal glands of tortured children. The more they suffer the higher potency the drug. Cabal members gain their superhuman evil powers from consuming it.
- CP: Cheese Pizza is code for Child Pornography in the 8chan world. John Podesta never mentioned cheese pizza in his emails, but he does mention pizza. Good enough for some to then make the leap to Podesta being a pedophile and speaking in “code” about it. References to different pizza toppings indicate the type of pedophilia preferred. Some QAnons look for pizzas or pie shaped triangles in photographs of celebrities as clues to who is a pedophile.
- Mole Children: The hapless children reputedly enslaved in tunnels below NY Central Park, Los Angeles and other places. Some say many are born underground (to unspecified mothers?) and have never seen the light of day.
- Normies: The as-yet-unconverted. The ignorant masses are sometimes called “Sheeple.”
- Sealed Indictments: QAnon followers believe there is something on the order 160,000–240,000 Federal indictments waiting in the Department of Justice for the day when mass arrests of Cabal members take place.
- WWG1WGA: Shortening of “Where We Go One We Go All.” QAnon followers rallying cry. Similar to the “All For One And One For All” Three Musketeers cheer that fuels a sense of camaraderie among the faithful. Look for these letters as a hashtag below many QAnon related posts.
- Storm is Coming: “The Storm” is the codename for the operation to take down the Cabal. It’s always coming but never quite arriving. Donald Trump said, “The storm is coming” out of context at a group photo session in the Whitehouse while seemingly drawing a Q in the air with his finger. When asked, “What storm?” He answered, “You’ll find out.”
- White Rabbit: Alice in Wonderland reference speaking to the need to “Follow the White Rabbit” down the rabbit holes on the Web and “do the research yourself”.