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Why Thousands Are Obsessed With A Nest Of Conspiracy Theories Called QAnon


You may have seen a lot of coverage of a conspiracy theory called “QAnon” or “The Storm” recently. People are sporting “Q” t-shirts proudly at Trump rallies and marching on Washington, and the theory has gained credibility with Q-influenced tweets from Roseanne Barr and Sean Hannity. Its popularity has grown to the point where mainstream media can no longer ignore it.

QAnon is a conspiracy theory so far reaching and comprehensive, there is virtually no other conspiracy theory it leaves untouched, from the government hiding the UFOs to JFK Jr. surviving his plane crash. The fact that it envelops so many other theories helps explain why QAnon is the most popular shadow-rule fantasy of our time.

For an idea of how extensive it is, take a look at this chart made by a QAnon believer:

A Very Simple Map to QAnon

The conspiracy theory (though as I shall explain later, the word doesn’t do it justice) is spearheaded by an anonymous 4Chan poster with the username “Q,” who started posting in October of last year (Post-publication addition: Q has since moved to 8Chan). Practically every day he makes “drops:” short cryptic posts that are supposed to help guide “researchers,” Q’s dedicated followers, to the true explanations behind current events.

The centerpiece of QAnon has been described as a “supercharged Pizzagate.” Pizzagate, which has been thoroughly debunked (the pizza parlor doesn’t even have a basement out of which to run any sort of “pedo ring”), is just the start of the uncovering of “Pedogate,” which is the fantasy that top Democrats are actually human traffickers and pedophiles, along with some Hollywood stars. Many are also supposedly Satanists and blood-drinkers and drug traffickers, too.

Q believers are well aware of how crazy this sounds to everyone else. As a Q “analyst” said in a recent breakdown of Q posts, “I don’t like to talk about that stuff [Satanism] because it gives those anti-Q people way too much fuel for the fire.”

This cabal of evildoers is supposedly headed by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who are secretly planning a coup on the president. A sampling of other beliefs are: that the Rothschilds are supposedly leaders of a Satanic cult, that Debbie Wasserman Schultz sent MS-13 to kill DNC staffer Seth Rich, that the Rothschilds and/or JP Morgan sunk the Titanic (even though his own company owned it), and that Kim Jong Un was actually installed as a puppet dictator by the CIA.

The most salient belief Q followers drill down on in their analysis is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is not actually investigating President Trump and his team for Russia collusion — that’s just a cover for his secret investigation of Hillary Clinton. Every day, Trump is putting on a circus for the media, making himself look like a fool; but behind the scenes, he is playing a highly complex game of 4D chess to defeat the deep state and drain the swamp, and even the most studious Q believers can only hope to get an inkling about his strategies.

As Q wrote on Aug. 14, as if in defense of the 4D chess theory of POTUS’s behavior, “Has POTUS made a statement AS PRESIDENT that hasn’t ended up being TRUE AND CORRECT?”

Q followers are faithful to the Trump-as-mastermind narrative, as well as and Q’s forecasts, despite Q’s failed Nov. 1 prediction that Trump would have to declare martial law temporarily while he cleans out the swamp:

My fellow Americans, over the course of the next several days you will undoubtedly realize that we are taking back our great country (the land of the free) from the evil tyrants that wish to do us harm and destroy the last remaining refuge of shining light. On POTUS’ order, we have initiated certain fail-safes that shall safeguard the public from the primary fallout which is slated to occur 11.3 upon the arrest announcement of Mr. Podesta (actionable 11.4). Confirmation (to the public) of what is occurring will then be revealed and will not be openly accepted. Public riots are being organized in serious numbers in an effort to prevent the arrest and capture of more senior public officials. On POTUS’ order, a state of temporary military control will be actioned and special ops carried out.

… We will be initiating the Emergency Broadcast System (EMS) during this time in an effort to provide a direct message (avoiding the fake news) to all citizens.

Many of you who are just getting wind of this group of dedicated MAGA researchers claiming to uncover the nefarious activities of the evil deep state might be wondering what’s drawing people to QAnon by the hundreds of thousands and spawning a 24/7 Q analysis livestream and several YouTube channels. You might be wondering how this basket of tangled conspiracy theories could prompt people to do stupid things like use an armored vehicle to block traffic on top of the Hoover Dam in a demand to release a second (nonexistent) inspector general report, or occupy a tower for nine days to demand investigation of a site for child trafficking (there was none).

QAnon Gets a Few Things Right

QAnon’s appeal is multi-faceted. Like all good conspiracies, it gets a few things right. For example, there is a deep state and there is evidence its members are working against Trump. It’s also true that the Clintons are corrupt (you don’t use a private email server to do anything above board), and as far as sexual abuse of minors is concerned, Bill Clinton did take frequent plane rides with ultra-rich former investment banker and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. It’s also true that high ranking government officials often come from the Skull & Bones Society at Yale (though a disproportionate number of the so-called ruling class come from Yale, anyway), and that elite world players meet at Bohemian Grove every year, where the ritualistic performances are influenced by occult practices.

All these are kernels of truth that Q believers have exploded into elaborate fantasies about what’s going on “behind the scenes.” Without the kernels (and a seemingly extensive knowledge of open-source government data), Q would be just another anonymous account with a handful of followers, his messages written off as paranoid delusions by even the most elite-hating and credulous right-wingers.

The Appeal of Games

As has often been pointed out, Q’s posts are so vague and disjointed they are mostly nonsensical. From the “bakers’” view (Q researchers call themselves that because they are picking up Q’s “crumbs”), they are decoding a message that will clue them in on the great battle between Trump and the deep state, between Trump and the cabal of Satanic child abusers. Frequent prompts like “keep your eye on the ball” and “find the connections” encourage researchers on their quest for the truth. Skeptics would call it finding meaning where there is none and conjecturing wildly off a few disparate phrases and links to obscure government data on missile and aircraft specs; but the point is that this is essentially a game, one which the bakers believe is grounded in real world events.

Q has dropped nearly 2000 posts since late October 2017. The Q account pushes out so much content that the aforementioned analyst of Q posts, whose channel is called “Pursuit of Truth,” admits he’s “drowning in Q.” His shows are a half hour to an hour long and air almost daily. The scope the Q conspiracies and the constant drip of new content make “The Storm” immersive and engaging, much like a video game.

The greatest similarity between “The Storm” community and the gaming community is the crowdsourcing of solutions. In the gaming community, threads with thousands of members allow gamers to collaborate, solve puzzles, and unlock prizes within the game. From what I’ve been told by my gamer husband, many of these challenges can’t be solved by any one gamer in isolation, but require many gamers working on the same problem to solve it.

QAnon operates in much the same way. Save for the very early posts, which were more explicit and detailed, Q’s posts are cryptic and vague, allowing the community of “bakers” to work together in deciphering the message. Unlike game creators, though, whoever is behind Q doesn’t have to put much thought into the puzzles. He just hammers out non sequiturs and paranoia-tinged one-liners and let’s the readers spin up the crowd-sourced engine of mythopoesis. 

An Innate Sense of Good and Evil

Q mythology is extremely hyperbolic, easily surpassing what in more humorous contexts would be considered satire (which is why some have suggested Q is not a right-winger at all, but a leftist trolling the right). If you think of the worst insult you could possibly hurl at someone, pedophile, Satanist, and child trafficker are probably near the top of your list. Conveniently, all the high level Dems and select Hollywood elites are, according to Q, one or more of those things, or are aiding people who are those things. In Q mythology, the majority of U.S. presidents have belonged to the dark side.

By contrast, Trump is a Christ-like figure in QAnon’s great story of good and evil. Q is revered like a prophet, telling all who will listen that Trump will vanquish the evil and save the country — it’s only a matter of time. It is this dualism, this sense that events are playing out like a great saga, that helps attract converts. It is a narrative of hope, which sets it apart from many other narrowly focused conspiracy theories that are ambivalent to the future (like finding Bigfoot) or are based in paranoia and despair (9/11 was an inside job).

A Romanticized American Mythology

The beauty of “The Storm’s” mythmaking is its deep ties to history, as you can see in the association map above. Q believers see themselves as patriots in a long and noble tradition of fighting evil. Any association they can draw between themselves and great American heroes (or martyrs) intensifies their sense of patriotism and of belonging, granting them significance in the grand scheme of world events.

For example, Q claims Trump prays to JFK in the oval office everyday:

‘Rest in peace Mr. President (JFK), through your wisdom and strength, since your tragic death, Patriots have planned, installed, and by the grace of God, activated, the beam of LIGHT. We will forever remember your sacrifice. May you look down from above and continue to guide us as we ring the bell of FREEDOM and destroy those who wish to sacrifice our children, our way of life, and our world. We, the PEOPLE.’

Prayer said every single day in the OO.

The person, or more likely people, behind Q probably split their sides laughing everyday at how ridiculous they can get without seeming to lose any credibility. But this brash bit of fiction fits into the broader mythology of glorified heroes from days of old. A Q believer would badly want to believe JFK Jr. is alive, for instance, because he would carry on the estimable Kennedy legacy by aiding Trump in his war against the deep state (and may even be Q himself!). They’d want to believe Clinton tried to assassinate JFK Jr., because it plays into the narrative of globalist super-villain versus prestigious American patriot.

From these ways in which QAnon beckons readers “down the rabbit hole” (as they are fond of saying), orienting them in a detailed and extensive narrative of patriotism and good vs. evil and enveloping them in a game-like environment, you can view “The Storm” as much more than a conspiracy theory. It is a comprehensive worldview, a faith system complete with a messiah, a prophet, emissaries of the devil, commandments for its followers, and frequent assurances that light will triumph over darkness in the end.

For the faithful, there is virtually no aspect of current events that isn’t colored by Q orthodoxy. Even apparently random acts, like Trump taking a drink from a bottle of Fiji water (a cue to begin rounding up the pedophiles), or saying “17” multiple times in a speech (acknowledgement of “The Storm”), or someone stealing a plane at SeaTac airport (cover for missile attacks on pedophile islands), have deep significance.

QAnon has sucked a lot of normal, albeit isolated, people down the rabbit hole. Q believers find the idea of an epic battle between good and evil happening under their noses to be alluring, and if they are faithful and diligent enough, they can get in on the secret. The barrage of coded messages is titillating, in the same way that hearing preachers who claim to “decode” the book of Revelation in hyper-literalistic terms is titillating.

While the hyper-literalists searching Bible prophecy for clues think they’re doing the Lord’s work and ostensibly have faith, even they become myopically focused on present-day, literal applications of bible prophecy by losing sight of the greater Biblical, spiritual context. Q believers who try to decode clues and spread the theory think they are doing a patriot’s work, and in so doing make QAnon into their faith, because they, too, are missing the greater spiritual context.

“The Storm” is a poor substitute for the gospel, but a captivating one, if you crawl far enough down the rabbit hole and make certain logical leaps.

The dual attraction of communal collaboration and moral-oriented explanation, together with the secrecy that shrouds so many aspects of our government and the countless times we’ve been lied to, is why conspiracy theories will always gain more followers than those we can count as clinically insane. Many conspiracy believers are misguided and gullible, but sincere, truth-seekers. And some theories over the years have turned out to be true.

As engrossing and comprehensive a faith as it is, Q is not a prophet and “The Storm” cannot save anyone’s soul. Only Christ can do that. In any case no one, religious or irreligious, should suspend such sound logical principles as Occam’s razor (the simplest answer is usually the right one) and Hanlon’s razor (never attribute to malice what can be adequately attributed to incompetence) so that our understanding of history and current events can be bent to the vague projections of an anonymous 4Chan user.

You do not need Q to tell you an epic spiritual battle rages behind the scenes. If you want to defeat evil, go forth with the gospel. That light will expose and provoke all sorts of evils you hardly even want to know about. It will ultimately triumph over them, and that should be a comfort to all who are concerned about the perceived trajectory of world events.