The rise of Trump was followed by and partly enabled by a multitudes of conspiracies. Foremost of these is the QAnon conspiracy. Floris de Bruis examines its rise and fall.
Donald Trump is out of the White House and has left his successor Joe Biden with the extraordinary task of repairing a nation devastated by a widening political and cultural fracture.
Advocating to unite the states once again, President Biden must find a way to appeal to all Americans including some of Trump’s more extreme followers. This will undoubtedly prove a considerable feat when considering many of them are staunch supporters of far-right conspiracy theories collectively known as QAnon, who are violently irreconcilable to a Democrat president.
Starting out as a fringe movement, QAnon supporters now rack up in the millions with many likening it to a cult. Among their many conspiracy theories is one that posits the world is secretly run by society’s elitist members: government officials, star-studded celebrities, and wealthy businesspeople – but not as we know them to be.
Rather, they are Satan-worshipping, blood-sucking paedophiles involved in a wider conspiracy of running a global child sex trafficking ring. What is perhaps more bizarre is their claim that Trump is the messiah sent to save the world by bringing about a day of reckoning, “The Storm,” whereby he will purge the infidels through imprisonment or outright execution.
While most of us would prefer to ignore such conspiracy theorists, either to stifle them of attention or simply because they make us uncomfortable, they have made it increasingly difficult to do so.
Since 2020, half of all Americans have been exposed to these ill-founded allegations according to Pew Research Centre. They have managed to force themselves into modern discourses with their intent to incite extremist violence which culminated earlier this year in the storming of Capitol Hill. This has successively led to QAnon being formally declared a “domestic terror threat” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
QAnon’s history goes back much further, however.
Cryptic messages first began circulating on anonymous internet messaging boards 4chan and 8chan by a mysterious user called “Q” in October 2017. These messages, termed “Q drops,” were said to contain hints about wider conspiracies at play. Recipients believed these claims to be true because of the user’s suspected involvement with the US government on account of having something called ‘Q clearance.’
The coronavirus supercharged things. People are spending even more time online, so have more time to come across anti-vaccine and other conspiracy content.Jonathan Bright
Users such as QAnon – “Q” for security clearance and “Anon” for anonymous – are not new. “Anons” are online users who wish to keep their identity hidden under the pretence of disseminating sensitive information. They are commonly referred to either as “autists,” a reference to autism and the ability to dig up unusual information, or “bakers” who leave “breadcrumbs” of truths online.
QAnon therefore follows from an extensive line of other Anons, such as “FBIAnon” which spread false information that about the 2016 investigation into the Clinton Foundation positing that Hillary would be imprisoned when Trump became president. Many even consider QAnon the successor of the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy, which alleged that US Democratic Party members were running a global child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington DC pizza restaurant.
The reason we are only hearing about QAnon recently is due to two major events in 2020, the first being the arrest and death of sex-offender and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
He was found guilty of creating a vast network of underage girls to be sexually exploited by his many powerful friends, including Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton. His suicide was met with the popular phrase and meme “Epstein didn’t kill himself” on social media as many were convinced this was part of a cover up operation designed to protect his elite friends from prosecution.
Global lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic has also contributed to people believing in QAnon’s conspiracies. As people feel less secure with themselves and their place in this world, it opens them up to irrational thought processes. According to senior Oxford Institute researcher Jonathan Bright, “The coronavirus supercharged things. People are spending even more time online, so have more time to come across anti-vaccine and other conspiracy content.” This has exposed people to claims that lockdown is yet another elaborate cover up scheme by the government.
Social media traffic concerning QAnon continues to go on almost unabated despite the efforts of companies such as Facebook and YouTube to remove such content.
This is inextricably linked to government officials and celebrity involvement with QAnon, most prominently Donald Trump’s evasive relationship with its supporters. His erratic behaviour has meant he has gone from failing to acknowledge their existence to embracing them as “people who love our country,” retweeting some of their posts on Twitter. Such ignorance has opened the Republican Party up to crazy conspiracists such as congressperson Marjorie Taylor Greene who has recently been at the forefront of abuse for several of her deluded allegations. In a bid to reclaim a sense of dignity in the Party, she has been forced to retract some her earlier comments such as her belief that the terror attacks on 9/11 was a hoax.
There would be room for speculation that the lifespan of such an ill-founded theory cannot last long, certainly when it has been proved wrong on several accounts. For example, the Robert Mueller investigation into the 2016 US election was said to be a cover story for an investigation into paedophiles. When the report was released failing to indicate any such revelation, QAnon supporters turned their attention elsewhere.
Even Joe Biden’s inauguration was not enough to faze some supporters. The Telegraph reported that “one user speculated that video of Mr Biden speaking might be a “deepfake” generated by artificial intelligence to cover words by Mr. Trump.”
It has come to the stage where the lack of evidence becomes the evidence of a cover up. Their theories cannot be disproven, according to them.
How can you communicate with someone who does not want to listen to facts and reason? How can you communicate with someone so intent on destruction?
It will have to be seen whether QAnon will stand the test of time. All we can do is to be personally responsible for ourselves to stay sane and reasonable, using facts and goodwill in attempt to attain the truth.