How Liberals Empowered the QAnon Cult, What They Believe and How Dangerous They Really Are
Many have watched in horror at the scenes coming from anti-mask rallies in the United States, Europe and Britain, protestors insisting that fascism is at hand as they’ve been politely asked to cover their mouths. Last week we discussed how this movement has its origins in modern American libertarianism. Yet there is another, perhaps even more concerning, ideology at play – that being the rise of the QAnon cult.
Such is the scale of the QAnon cult that 24 candidates who will appear on the ballot for the 2020 American congressional elections have “endorsed or given credence to the conspiracy theory or promoted QAnon content”. Trump and his staff have encouraged followers, retweeting supporting material and Q merchandise and posters regularly appear at his rallies.
“Well, I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much — which I appreciate”Donald Trump
But what is QAnon, who is responsible and what real threat does it pose?
What is QAnon?
QAnon is an online conspiracy theory that is gaining a frightening amount of traction both in the United States and lately Europe. Adherents to the idea believe that Donald Trump is leading a secret war against Satan worshippers, paedophiles, cannibals and a deep-state machine seeking to implement fascism either in the US or on a worldwide scale.
While on the face of it, this belief seems at the far end of the extreme, and followers would initially seem to either be the far-right, mentally unwell or too gullible, the methodology used by those pushing the theory is often subtle. They contain enough truth to open the doors to more extreme views. Meanwhile, those following these theories are frequently vulnerable or those already open to radicalisation. These methods are inherently similar to those used by terrorist groups, the far-right and religious cults.
The theory originated on 4chan following the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, with an anonymous original poster claiming to have inside information on the “true” internal workings of the Trump administration. “Q Clearance Patriot” claimed to have Q clearance, a top-level of access at the United States Department of Energy (DOE). These claims were then spread by others to new platforms, including a significant outlet on Reddit, which caused QAnon to go viral.
The theories posted by “Q” suggested that prominent liberals were involved in the same sort of paedophilia networks that typified Pizzagate. Liberal donors and personalities such as Tom Hanks being involved in Satanic ritual abuse. These claims would expand into regularly explaining the actions of Donald Trump through this wholly invented prism of “The Great Awakening”, claiming Trump faked working with Russia to expose a deep-state coup organised by Barak Obama, Hilary Clinton and George Soros.
These claims fed into the same initial channels that had been opened by Pizzagate, the murder of Seth Rich and innumerable other conspiracy theories that arose surrounding the 2016 American Presidential election, as won by Donald Trump. Trump’s racism and willingness to be explicitly offensive against minorities led to a wave of support from far-right and supremacist organisations, many who had been peddling right-wing conspiracies for years. Many of these conspiracies play into the make-up of QAnon. These include satanic ritual abuse, “crisis actors”, the new world order/one-world government and conspiracies surrounding white genocide, blood libel and secret cabals controlling the government. These “theories” have long found an audience amongst fans of the likes of Alex Jones in the US and David Icke in the UK.
Such is the political polarisation of the US that the situation has descended to the point of violence. The American obsession with individual freedom at the expense of collective responsibility has its origins in the libertarianism of the American Revolution, making it easy for disingenuous actors to convince Americans that their rights are under threat from their political opponents. The reality of “they’re coming to take your rights” was, however, before Trump, something of an illusion. The implementation of neoliberal centrism saw both parties move ever closer, and while the Obama administration talked big on guns, they still sit in millions of homes. While George Bush’s Christian faith was frequently a topic of conversation, abortion remained just as available as during the Clinton administration.
This centrist consensus, with the occasional bone thrown to partisan issues, disenfranchised millions of voters, just as the centrism of the Conservative Party and Labour did in the UK. This disenfranchisement opens the door to extremism, in particular the far-right. The Trump and Brexit backlash both come from that same place of dissatisfaction from the masses at the agreed status quo, a lack of political voice and a lack of a socialist alternative to represent the views of the masses. For thirty years, this disillusioned mass had few other outlets than the far-right, creating a generation of radicalised voters.
Modern methods of recruitment and radicalisation we see with the likes of the far-right have spurred the growth of the movement. From 4chan “shitposters” to memes and the endless repetition of critical points, the echoes are plainly there. While the message may seem absurd on the face, to the vulnerable and easily influenced, the claims begin to ring true when pushed by those seen as carrying authority, and the claims have enough truth that the final astounding leap of logic doesn’t seem so great. The far-right will frequently highlight singular crimes of immigrants as evidence of “cultural genocide“, public revulsion at the one incident eclipsing the logical knowledge of millions of law-abiding minorities. So too QAnon will highlight the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Jefferey Epstein and others, removing much of the context of capitalist subservience and using it as evidence to back their own theories.
So too, like with the far-right, QAnon’s messaging is designed to go viral. Focusing on emotive issues such as child sex abuse, a particularly favoured topic of the far-right in terms of race, Q guarantees that in many cases emotion will supersede logic. The additional allegation of Satanism feeds into the vocal Christian fundamentalist communities. More recently, the postings have become more cryptic, which encourages followers to discuss and decode the meaning. This, in turn, creates offshoots of differing theories and spreads the message through even more extensive discussion. Equally, it makes a self-fulfilling guarantee that these theories will back any individual’s preconceived ideas.
Liberals themselves must take some of the responsibility for the rise of QAnon. They were undoubtedly willing to look the other way to the vile criminality of Weinstein, Epstein, Mountbatten, Prince Andrew and others. Power and wealth placed these men above the law and, with the critique of capitalism and exploitation removed, the cases become ripe fuel to fire conspiracy theories, not least given Weinstein’s and Epstein’s Jewish origins.
It is here that the intersection of QAnon and antisemitic canards are plain to see. As with the likes of Britain First in the UK, which push narratives that Muslim “grooming gangs” are an existential threat to white children, so too QAnon push narratives that the likes of Epstein, Weinstein and the Rothschild banking family are involved in Satanic ritual abuse. While there is a truth in the cases they highlight, the fact that this abuse is not singular or localised within a paedophile ring is ignored. Instead, it is a broader problem with “them”. The “Jewish threat to children” and QAnon claims of cannibalism have a crossover with traditional blood libel and canards of Jewish ritual sacrifice. These flow freely into the still lingering moral panic of “Satanic ritual abuse” which became a major debunked scandal in the 1980s, a terror that found favour amongst America’s Christian fundamentalists.
The history of “secret cabals” plotting “one-world government” may have often had “by the Jews” removed in recent years, yet the origin point remains The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the centuries of antisemitism that served as the basis for that document. Frequently mentioned in concert with “bankers” and “metropolitan elites” the euphemisms, such as “George Soros” and “Rothschilds”, are many. Their meaning, however, is obvious. It is easy, perhaps, for anti-capitalists to fall into these traps and thoughtlessly share a meme on Soros or Rothschild. Commentary on such capitalist exploitation is not only right but essential. However, the origin and intent of these memes must always be questioned and the content first scrutinised. It is never George Soro’s or the Rothschilds faith or race that causes him to be objectionable, merely their belief in capitalist exploitation, traits they share with millions of non-Jews.
Those who advocate for the cause of Palestine have long known that it is essential that the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism is made clear. Activists know that advocating for the human rights of Palestine comes not from a place of Jew-hatred, but from a legitimate cause for concern as to the human rights of Palestinians. The state of Israel, however, has learned that they can shut down this criticism of their actions by falsely claiming that such activism is antisemitic, as they frequently try and do with the BDS movement. Both mainstream parties in the US and UK refuse to hold Israel to account, often falling into line to agree with this false propaganda of the apartheid state. How easy then for the far-right to portray Jews as “untouchable” or “above question”.
Equally, the lack of an American socialist left has meant that the liberal left, who bow before American exceptionalism as much as the Republicans, have refused to confront the power of the CIA and other deep-state actors. When the likes of Edward Snowdon remains in self-imposed exile, and Julian Assange rots in a London prison cell, it allows the extremist claims of QAnon to seem not too far from reality.
Willing to call even the most mainstream statements and actions of conservatism “fascist”, Liberals helped create the illusion that the West was on the brink of fascism long before it actually was. This cheapening of the words “fascist”, “racist” and “authoritarian” meant that it became easy to see the spectre of fascism and authoritarianism when governments suggested using masks or using the military to support the COVID-19 response. It became easy to see the image of the old antisemitic “New World Order” canard when the EU suggested closer integration and single armies. While few rightly agree with platforming white supremacy, it became easy to see fascism when liberalism turned away from their traditional eagerness for debate and moved toward “cancel culture” over absurdly innocuous issues.
While liberals will undoubtedly disavow any responsibility for fostering the atmosphere that has led to QAnon, introspection would show that they share as much guilt as mainstream conservatives. Both have opened the door to the world we find ourselves in.
Yet some remain more guilty than others.
Who is Q
Those most connected with being behind QAnon are James Watkins, the man behind the anonymous message board 8Chan, and his son Ronald Watkins, a former 8Chan administrator and the current admin at 8kun. Watkins former business partner and the initial creator of 8Chan Fredrick Brennan says that Watkins can find out the identity of Q “at any time” if he is not behind it.
“He’s pretty much the only person in the world that can have private contact with ‘Q.’ He’s the only person that — through the board that ‘Q’ started on 8chan – can send ‘Q’ a direct message and get into private contact with basically the leader of this political cult that everybody wants to hear from right now.”Fredrick Brennan
Brennan, who is now in a long-running dispute with Watkins, has sought to track down his websites and businesses to deny him a platform. Last month he shared evidence that the Watkins’ 8Kun shared an IP address with QMap which disseminates the so-called “Q-drop” postings of Q.
QMap was hosted on the exact same content delivery network (CDN) service as 8kun. That service only hosts two other domains: Watkins’ domains and the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer.
The fact-checking website Logically claimed to have identified QMap’s developer, or operator, as IT expert analyst Jason Gelinas who lives in New Jersey.
Watkins and his son have repeatedly denied being Q, while Gelinas has denied being behind QMap.
“Regardless of whether he is doing any direct posting, or encouraging what the content is, the Watkins family and the 8kun crew have a remarkable amount of control over what’s turning into an international movement”Brian Friedberg, a senior researcher at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Affairs.
There is a distinct crossover between QAnon and existing fundamentalist Christian cults. While QAnon is not expressly a Christian cult and has gained adherents from many faiths and none, the number of followers who ascribe to American evangelical Protestantism is distinct. The message is subtly Christian. From the apocalyptic imagery of the “great awakening” and coming “storm” to the positioning of Trump as a messiah-like figure. Trump is placed in the role of “defender of the faith” fighting a war against the dark forces of sex abuse and Satanism so that a new dawn may arise.
Like many other cults, “rewards” are offered in the form of information. This reward only comes as the follower delves deeper into the ideology and messaging of the group. This system encourages the reader to allow the emotive content further into their psyche, all to achieve a form of perceived enlightenment. QAnon shares this trait with Scientology, amongst other such groups. Equally, the deeper the individual descends into the group, the more isolated they become from social groups and family who likely do not ascribe to the QAnon message. QAnon allows the follower to feel enlightened, that they are one of “the few” and are involved in fighting a war that has the religious significance of good vs evil. These people know the truth of the world while everyone else is in darkness. To those suffering from issues of self-esteem or mental illness, it can be an intoxicating feeling.
This is the insidiousness of radicalisation. Far-right or terrorist groups will indoctrinate those susceptible to such messaging, convincing individuals of the need to defend their race or faith against a perceived threat. So too do QAnon.
It is easy to laugh at followers of QAnon as gullible fools, redneck racists or perceived cranks. While this is sometimes true and a QAnon follower is a white supremacist, it is not universally the case. There is even a growing Q movement amongst socialists, primarily accessed through messaging on the machinations of the deep-state and establishment criminality. Like all cults, many of the followers are conditioned into believing things that they wouldn’t typically have done as malicious actors prey on vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities are then exploited either for political or financial advantage.
“If Trump loses [the election], I think that how a lot of people are going to view it is: the deep state has won. Trump has lost. Our god, essentially, has been crucified,” he said. Because, “Trump is — for many of them — a god, and they are going to punish Democrats on the other side with political violence. That’s what I see happening.”Fredrick Brennan
The danger comes when this radicalisation turns to violence against the perceived enemies of the group, or a failed prophecy turns the cult on themselves, with suicide events such as Heavens Gate and Jim Jones’ People’s Temple in the past.
Already there have been concerning incidents involving the ideology of the group.
In 2018, Matthew Phillip Wright of Nevada was arrested at the Hoover Dam in possession of an AR-15, he demanded a report into Hilary Clinton’s emails inspired by Q messaging. That same year, a man was arrested in Illinois with bomb-making equipment with which he intended to “blow up a satanic temple monument” to “make Americans aware of Pizzagate and the World Order who were dismantling society.” Last year, Anthony Comello murdered the Gambino Family mafia boss Frank Cali, believing him to be involved in deep-state activity. Comello was obsessed with QAnon.
The FBI has designated QAnon as a domestic terror threat, and sadly it seems likely that it’s is only a matter of time before there is a mass-casualty incident involving the group.
The QAnon cult’s growing influence amongst the public is concerning. The fact that the ideology could potentially enter the American Congress is outright frightening. With the FBI already stating the possibility of a future domestic terror incident and almost certain widespread violence following the coming American election, there can be little doubt that the group poses a threat. The possibility that the cult will descend into the annals of history following Trump leaving office, either now or in four years, is unlikely. QAnon members are already funnelling money into political campaigns, and merchandising has begun. Vested interests, financially and politically, are involved in America’s most dangerous cash cow and potential vote winner. This widespread complicity, despite the warning signs, may prove disastrous.