Exploring the conspiracy-driven world of QAnon and the new book that explores the birth and development of the movement.
At the start of this week, hundreds – how many exactly remains unclear – of people gathered around Dealey Plaza in Dallas, with thousands more eagerly following online, all awaiting the return of John F. Kennedy Jr, whose death in 1999 had been faked and who would not return – alongside his equally dead parents – to lead Donald Trump back into the Presidency (the 19th President because everything that has happened since 1871 is illegal thanks to a little-known law from that time), with JFK Jr acting as Vice President until Trump abdicated and was declared King of Kings (God, essentially), at which point JFK Jr would be President and General Michael Flynn his VP. When JFK Jr failed to appear at the appointed spot, true believers moved on to the Rolling Stones concert taking place in the city that evening, believing that the miraculous resurrection would take place there. Again, they were disappointed, but the more hardcore believers would later start to claim that the Stones had actually been replaced by a surrogate band – Keith Richards was actually JFK Jr, Mick Jagger had been replaced by Michael Jackson and the keyboardist was actually Elvis.
Saner people watching this might well have asked ‘how did we get here?’, much as they did on January 6th when Trump’s extremist followers tried to carry out a coup against the American government. Some might have been aware that a strange cult called QAnon was somehow involved in both events. For a lot of people, the January insurgency was the first time that they’d heard of QAnon; for others, the events of that day and much of what has happened since felt oddly inevitable.
Just as we are told that we’re never more than six feet away from a rat at any time, so you are never far away from a Q follower. You’ll definitely know one. They might not all be balls-deep in the Quonspiracy but the brilliance of Q is that it is all things to all men and women. A movement that emerged in the wake of Trump’s election victory just four years ago, it took hold amongst the Far Right and the people inclined to believe that the Deep State (from the media to the political establishment) was lining up to frustrate Trump’s desire to ‘drain the swamp’ – which, to be fair, was not entirely untrue – and quickly spread amongst conspiracy theorists and extremists. Q began in the States but its message was nothing if not universal and adaptable, and it not only spread internationally but also across the political divide, taking in people on the Far Left (who are, admittedly, closer to the Far Right than they are to the political centre anyway) and the ‘Wellness’ community – the so-called ‘pastel-Q’ of mostly women with hippy-drippy ideas, a distrust of science and an absolute belief in Satanic Ritual Abuse.
Covid was the thing that took Q out of the fringes and into the mainstream. People who found themselves lost, scared and – most importantly – bored went looking for answers because the pandemic made no sense to them and they found those answers on Facebook and YouTube where people told them what they wanted to hear. Covid pushed people to extremes across the political divide because they were going stir crazy and needed someone to blame, something that would make sense of the scary new world of lockdown and social distancing. The brilliance of Q is that it is not just one conspiracy – it’s all of them. It’s like a Now! album of paranoia and extremism, where everything meshes together. It pulls in the Satanic Panic and Pizzagate; it attracts the anti-vaxxers, the anti-maskers, anti-lockdowners and the ‘Plandemic’ believers who think that Covid doesn’t exist at all. It’s awash with antisemitism, weird Biblical prophecy and numerology, homoeopathy and general insanity. Essentially, whatever alternative reality that you believe in – even if it is Flat Earthery – can be accommodated by Q because there is no central focus beyond the paranoia that the establishment is trying to control you and that everything you are told is a lie. And it’s everywhere. The anti-vax protests in Britain are awash with Q slogans like WWG1WGA (“Where We Go One, We Go All”). Several American politicians on a local and national level are Q adherents (some openly, some pretending otherwise) and the movement seems to be finding an increasing footing in mainstream Republican thinking.
Mike Rothchild’s book The Storm Is Upon Us (the title coming from the oft-predicted Q theory of ‘the storm’ that will see Trump finally overthrowing the Deep State and exposing their lies, with mass imprisonment and executions to follow) is a fascinating, often unnerving study of how Q emerged on the 4Chan ‘anon’ thread in 2017, when a poster calling himself ‘Q Clearance Patriot’ – the ‘Q’ is a reference to a high-placed government security clearance level – told a story of a vast conspiracy and claimed that Hillary Clinton was going to be arrested on October 3oth after trying to flee the country and the national guard had been alerted to deal with civil unrest as Clinton and her fellow corrupt politicians were rounded up. It was dramatic and – notably – very specific. And of course, not remotely true – none of the claims made came to pass. Yet somehow, QAnon caught the imagination in a way that other people making similar claims of Clinton and others being rounded up and sent to Guantanamo Bay didn’t and Q – whoever the original poster was – quickly switched from making specific predictions to more obtuse posts – or ‘drops’, as the posts were called by followers – that posed questions and dripped clues that self-appointed Q interpreters would analyse and decode. Q himself also said that “disinformation is necessary” in drop #128, essentially giving himself a get-out-of-jail-free card whenever predictions failed to come to pass.
Rothchild’s impressively thorough book explores the bizarre world of Q belief, which seems to be a mixture of blind faith and wish fulfilment, a weird collision of a religious cult (albeit one without a leader, though Q – as a mystery, unseen, unknown presence handing down wisdom from above in ambiguous statements – is perhaps closer to a Biblical God than any regular religious cult leader) and a political movement, one that is increasingly angry, paranoid and violent. The book posits the idea that Q might have started out as a simple LARP – that’s Live Action Role Play for those of you not down with the kids – that was feeding on fantasies of what Trump’s supporters wanted to be true. In other words, it was a game that quickly spiralled into something else. Because Q told people what they wanted to believe, so Q became the voice of the truth, a government insider fighting back against the forces of the Deep State. And once people believe in something with religious fervour, there is no turning back. There are endless stories of families and friendships torn apart as people go ‘full Q’, especially when they went searching for a reason during the Pandemic. When life is out of control, it’s reassuring to believe that dark forces are manipulating you – otherwise, you have to accept that bad shit happens that no one has any control over and no one knows what they’re doing. It’s much more comforting to believe that Covid is a vast global conspiracy to control the population than it is to accept the alternative. Like many religious cults – and, indeed, our divided political culture – once people have bought into QAnon, they have a new family of fellow believers. Where We Go One, We Go All – you are with us or against us. Q supporters believe themselves to be privy to secret knowledge that the rest of us – the sheep – cannot or will not see. When you feel helpless and afraid, and see the world changing around you, that must be very comforting.
Q himself – be he Ron Watkins or perhaps, most likely, different people at different times – has been silent for a long time. The need for new Q Drops is over – the movement is now a self-sustaining belief system, one that can adapt and change to take in whatever its followers want to believe – even the return of dead politicians and celebrities to take over the United States. To be fair, many in the Q movement have disavowed the whole JFK Jr claim and attacked it for making the wider movement look bad – though their own beliefs, based on anonymous posts making predictions that didn’t happen, hardly seem much different – it’s essentially like various Christian groups arguing about whether or not the book of Genesis is literally true or just allegory. The Storm may not have occurred yet – but that doesn’t mean that we should expect this movement to fizzle out any time soon.
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