Q- Anon - Have we lost our f***ing minds??
The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything Mike Rothschild 2011
When I first heard about the Q-Anon conspiracy, it seemed too bizarre to be true. Q emerged on an obscure message board in 2017 and by 2020 it became the home of right-wing conspiracy theories more powerful and influential than any that had come before.
The Storm Is Upon Us is a fascinating look at the Q-Anon phenomenon, from its humble beginnings to its central position in the 2020 Trump campaign. For those of us who don't actively look for conspiracies, it's important to understand why others do feel that need. What do people gain from believing in fanciful and unverifiable theories from anonymous online personalities? Why are smart, educated people willing to throw away all common sense and see themselves as victims of a global conspiracy, expecting huge storms that never come?
Mike Rothschild is a journalist who has been investigating conspiracy theories in general and Q-Anon in particular. He has investigate the nearly 5,000 "drops" that Q has put on the internet since 2017, most of which are cryptic, vague, and hard to decipher.
Who is the mysterious Q that is posting all of this top secret information? Supposedly Q is a small group of military intelligence officers who are in on the biggest secrets. Recent documentaries on Q have pointed to Jim and Ron Watkins as the brainchildren behind Q, and neither of them have any background in the military. Their sworn enemy is the "deep state", a vague reference to anonymous powerful groups who are looking to establish global government and threaten the American way of life. Hillary Clinton was the main villain for a while, but now people like Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Patton Oswalt, and Joe Biden have been painted as in on the conspiracy.
According to Q, a global cabal of Jews, Hollywood elites, liberals, mass media, and certain rich people like George Soros are tied up in a secret conspiracy that includes such things as:
- Worshipping Satan
- Kidnapping children and dealing in human trafficking
- Drinking children's blood and extracting a superdrug from it.
- Sexually abusing children.
- Inventing the Covid-19 virus to undermine Donald Trump.
- Staging mass shootings as false flag operations to make gun owners look bad.
Rothschild takes a look at the main question I had about Q- what need does this conspiracy fill that "normal" society doesn't? The frustrating answer is that "normal" life is getting more and more confusing and depressing, and Q offers an escape from all of that, much the same way that drugs do. Many people turn to conspiracies after things go bad for them. It's just too painful to admit to yourself that life is unfair, random, and chaotic, or that your problems are in a lot of cases of your own making. It's much more attractive to find a villain to blame for everything.
In addition to providing a host of villains on which to blame mankind's miseries, Q also offers a built-in affinity group of like-minded people who become friends to the friendless. It becomes much like a cult in that Q gives its members a sense of purpose in life again- making them agents in a classic fight of good against evil. It also give them the thrill of a mystery- decoding the vague and ominous drops from Q and its online interpreters. For some, Q is a game, and for others it is a life or death battle with Satan himself!
A lot of the victims of conspiracies tend to be over age 65, as they are now heavy users of the internet and looking for new meaning in their lives that are being disrupted with the world as they once knew it evolving and changing at a rapid rate. People that were apolitical all of their lives can get drawn down the rabbit hole of Q, where the high stakes make them distrust people and things that were once close to them.
Beyond the obscure message boards of the actual Q posts are a wide net of internet followers- some scam artists who are in it only for the money and attention, and some who are true believers. There is even a group known as "pastel Q-anon" targeted at moms that goes light on the crazier stuff and heavy on the child kidnapping. Right wing TV personalities like Alex Jones have given credibility to Q claims, and even people like Roseanne Barr and James Woods have joined in on the conspiracy theories. It is now estimated that up to 10% or 30 million American believe that Q-Anon is reliable, and at least 1/3 of us believe in a "deep state" that controls everything behind the scenes. In 2020, ninety Q believers ran for congress, and two of them won and are now sitting in the House of Representatives.
Conspiratorial thinking can be remarkably resilient to disconfirming information. Predictions of mass arrests and a storm of change have never come true. Donald Trump was supposed to be re-elected, and that didn't happen. There is scant evidence in fact for anything that the Q group claims, but that doesn't matter. When things don't happen, they just move the goalposts, and believers continue to believe. Because for many of them Q is their best hope that things in their lives will improve, and to give up on Q is to give up on hope itself.
Let's face it- the world is a mess. Politicians are corrupt, businesses collude to screw us over, and money talks. Life is unfair, and some people prosper while many others suffer.
The Covid-19 epidemic has only made this pain and misery worse. Conspiracies like Q- Anon offer an island of certainty and victimhood to those for whom nothing else- politics, religion, the workplace- has worked.
But while most conspiracy theories only hurt the people who waste their time on them, Q is different. It's reliance on war and violent imagery has inspired its followers to commit violent acts, some of which are detailed in this book. The violent attack on the capital had a large cohort of Q followers. By making the stakes so high- fighting evil itself- Q seems to justify desperate acts that can turn unfortunately very violent.
Rothschild ends the book with a helpful chapter on how to deal with loved ones who have been sucked into the Q-Anon cult. Once inside of such a belief system, it's very hard to get out again, but it can be done and the book details stories of people who have done just that.
Q-Anon is a symptom of a deeper problem- our lack of a believable narrative of hope and meaning. There is a great hunger for something to make sense of climate change, pandemics, racial resentments, declining living standards, and many more problems that nag at us every day. Until "mainstream" society comes up with a better alternative, people will continue to look to groups like Q for their bizarre explanations for the unexplainable.