Rethinking America

QAnon: Conspiracy as a Quasi-Religion

QAnon is much more than a marginal phenomenon, as much as most rational people would wish otherwise.

Takeaways


  • QAnon’s conspiracy theories seek nothing else than to establish a new world order.
  • Is QAnon an individual or a group of people? Malicious use of artificial intelligence? Operated by a foreign power?
  • QAnon is much more than a marginal phenomenon -- as much as most rational people would wish otherwise.
  • QAnon-style conspiracy theories reflect a lack of trust in the establishment -- from which Trump has contrived to distance himself.
  • QAnon has called for a popular armed uprising should Trump lose control of the presidency.
  • The FBI has indicated how seriously it views QAnon when it described it as “a potential national terrorist threat.”
  • Whoever is behind QAnon, that person or entity has engendered a conspiracy movement in the US.

No one knows who the “Q” in QAnon is (the “Anon” stands for “anonymous”).

Whoever is behind QAnon, that person or entity has certainly engendered a conspiracy movement in the United States. Amidst the conspiracy theories surrounding COVID 19, it has taken root in Europe as well.

Who is QAnon?

Is it an individual or a group of people? The product of the malicious use of artificial intelligence, trained with conspiratorial posts? Is there a foreign power in the background? There are various theories, none conclusive.

The FBI has indicated how seriously it views QAnon when it described it, in an internal memo from 2019, as “a potential national terrorist threat.”

Whatever its origins, a Trump tool

QAnon is partly the offspring of social media, from which it has proved difficult to eradicate. While Reddit has deleted it from its service, Twitter has suspended thousands of related accounts and Facebook has taken steps in the same direction.

In just a few years, and much more intensively in the months of pandemic, this Internet and social media agitator has amassed a remarkable following that can be counted in the hundreds of thousands, although it is difficult to give an exact figure.

In particular, its sympathizers are often conflated with those who follow QAnon’s “drops” (as its posts, now numbering 5,000, are known).

“Deep state” propagator

Employing coded language open to many interpretations, it aims to highlight conspiracies supposedly against Donald Trump, who is the movement’s hero.

Trump is to be defended against the “deep state,” an elite of bureaucrats, intelligence agencies and high-ranking military who, according to Q, conspire against Trump.

With his own name, Q hints that he is a senior mandarin with a high level of clearance to access official secrets. Maintaining his anonymity is essential for his credibility among his followers.

What long seemed like a marginal phenomenon may have consequences for what happens on November 3rd and in its aftermath. In some recent “drops,” Q has called for a popular armed uprising should Trump — after a fraud perpetrated by the conspirators, as QAnon sees it — lose control of the presidency.

Pizzagate origins

Bizarre as this entire story seems, it starts with what is known as “Pizzagate,” which went viral on the social media after Trump was elected in November 2016.

According to this conspiracy theory, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were to be arrested for operating a global network devoted to trafficking children for pedophiles from the basement of the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in a Northwest Washington, D.C., neighborhood.

Deeply troubled minds

It culminated with Edgar Welch entering the restaurant on December 4th, 2016 armed with an assault rifle. When he realized that it was not what he suspected (the restaurant does not even have a basement), he handed himself in to the police.

Incredible as it all seems, wild rumors concerning the continuing abuse and slaughter of children by a Democrat clique persist.

Q’s conspiracy theories, by which he seeks nothing else than to establish a new world order, are complex.

Republicans highly susceptible

As might be expected, his foreknowledge is fallible and riddled with contradictions, but this apparently matters little to his supporters. Up to 56% of Republican voters, according to a recent poll, believe that Q’s conspiracy theory is mostly or partly true.

He has invoked the idea of a “calm before the storm,” referred to on occasion by Trump himself. The U.S. President has also retweeted some of the messages and comments made by QAnon followers.

Some of self-professed QAnon sympathizers have entered politics, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican candidate in Georgia.

Weird American religions…

While many on the right find QAnon excessively extremist, Adrienne LaFrance, in a lengthy analysis in The Atlantic, believes it is not simply a conspiracy theory but rather the “birth of a new religion.”

In that vein, QAnon has borrowed certain expressions from evangelical and eschatological movements, such as the idea of the “advent” of a golden future — for the believers, that is.

It is a well-known fact that apocalyptic thinking emerges in regions and periods of profound social and economic upheaval as well as of highly conspicuous inequalities in wealth. Which is what we are now experiencing.

Conclusion

Conspiracy theories, which among developed countries seem to have particular currency in the United States, sometimes have a basis in truth. Crucially, they do not need to be so much plausible as contrarian.

They are obviously thriving in the breeding ground created by Trump himself with his fake news and flirting with the QAnon movement.

Perhaps most importantly, QAnon-style conspiracy theories reflect a lack of trust in the establishment, from which Trump has contrived to distance himself, despite being the commander-in-chief and, in his own view, one of the country’s top businessmen.

All of which means that QAnon is much more than a marginal phenomenon, as much as most rational people would wish otherwise.

Editor’s note: This article is based on an analysis published at Elcano Royal Institute: QAnon: the religion of conspiracy.

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About Andrés Ortega

Andrés Ortega is senior research fellow at the Elcano Royal Institute, a major Spanish foreign affairs think tank.

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