A story today in the Washington Post does a great jump of summarizing the QAnon insanity and its growing influence. I’ve been wanting to write about QAnon for a while, but it is difficult to get one’s hands around:
Believers in “QAnon,” as the conspiracy theory is known, were front and center at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall, where Trump came to stump for Republican candidates. As the president spoke, a sign rose from the audience. “We are Q,” it read. Another poster displayed text arranged in a “Q” pattern: “Where we go one we go all.”
The symbol appeared on clothing, too. A man and a woman wore matching white T-shirts with the YouTube logo encircled in a blue “Q.” The video-sharing website came under criticism this week for unwittingly becoming a platform for baseless claims, first promoted on Twitter and Reddit by QAnon believers, that certain Hollywood celebrities are pedophiles. A search for the name of one of those celebrities on Monday returned videos purporting to show his victims sharing their stories.
The prominence of the “Q” symbol turned parts of the audience into a tableau of delusion and paranoia — and offered evidence that QAnon, an outgrowth of the #Pizzagate conspiracy theory that led a gunman to open fire in a D.C. restaurant last year, has leaped from Internet message boards to the president’s “Make America Great Again” tour through America.
“Pray Trump mentions Q!” one user wrote on 8chan. He didn’t need to. As hazy corners of the Internet buzzed about the president’s speech, his appearance became a real-life show of force for the community that has mostly operated behind the veil of anonymity on subreddits.
Trump himself has at times been a purveyor of conspiracy theories, most notably in refusing for years to back down from his false claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. He also asserted without evidence that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, peddled the debunked idea that millions of illegal votes cost him the popular vote and associated the father of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas with the assassin who shot John F. Kennedy.
But viewing their message boards, it’s clear that QAnon crosses a new frontier. In the black hole of conspiracy in which “Q” has plunged its followers, Trump only feigned collusion to create a pretense for the hiring of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is actually working as a “white hat,” or hero, to expose the Democrats. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros are planning a coup — and traffic children in their spare time. J.P. Morgan, the American financier, sank the Titanic.
In the world in which QAnon believers live, Trump’s detractors, such as Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, wear ankle monitors that track their whereabouts. Press reports are dismissed as “Operation Mockingbird,” the name given to the alleged midcentury infiltration of the American media by the CIA. The Illuminati looms large in QAnon, as do the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish family vilified by the conspiracy theorists as the leaders of a satanic cult. Among the world leaders wise to satanic influences, the theory holds, is Russian President Vladimir Putin.
QAnon flirts with eschatology, fascist philosophy and the filmmaking of Francis Ford Coppola. Adherents believe a “Great Awakening” will precede the final storm foretold by Trump. Once they make sense of the information drip-fed to them by “Q,” they will usher in a Christian revival presaging total victory.
The implication is that resolving the clues left by “Q” would not just explain Trump’s planned countercoup. It would also explain the whole universe.
When “Q” is absent for long stretches of time, followers take note.
“Please tell me where to go,” one wrote last month. “I feel lost without Q.”
Some big names have bought into the fantasy. Roseanne Barr, the disgraced star of the canceled ABC revival that bore her name, has posted messages on Twitter that appear to endorse the QAnon worldview, fixating on child sex abuse. She has sought to make contact with “Q” on social media and has retweeted messages summarizing the philosophy built around the online persona. Among QAnon’s promoters are also Curt Schilling, the former Boston Red Sox pitcher, and Cheryl Sullenger, the antiabortion activist.
There is a component of QAnon that can be interpreted as a direct call to action, which has already had real-life consequences.
The Newport Beach Police Department said recently it was looking into the presence of a man outside Michael Avenatti’s law office after a link to the lawyer’s website and images of his office building appeared in QAnon threads. This spring, armed members of Veterans on Patrol stumbled on a homeless camp and demanded that authorities investigate it as a site of child sex-trafficking, NBC reported. They later thanked QAnon followers for taking up their cause.
People lining up for the Trump rally in Tampa today. A lot of the chan anons might treat Q-Anon like a LARP, but by all appearances there are plenty of people who take it seriously irl. pic.twitter.com/uys7kmnAs1
— Travis View (@travis_view) July 31, 2018
Qanon is a fascist fantasy. It takes a nationalist leader who, in reality, is deeply imperiled by the law and imagines him beyond the law’s reach and in full command. It posits Trump’s problems as a stalking horse for the destruction of the opposition party through mass arrests.
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) August 1, 2018
Beyond the QAnon people, the rabid crowd last night was whipped into a frenzy, attacking anyone that criticizes Donald Trump. It was bizarre.
WATCH: Supporters of President Trump Chant ‘CNN Sucks’ During Jim Acosta’s Live Spot at Florida Rally pic.twitter.com/2fwQQRVsQf
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) July 31, 2018
Cillizza: Let’s start simple: Where the heck did QAnon come from? And do we have any sense how many “members” it has or whether it is growing?Sommer: QAnon started last October, when an anonymous person or group of people called Q started posting cryptic clues on 4Chan. Trump supporters eventually found these clues, which they call “breadcrumbs,” and spun them into a whole counter-narrative that’s contrary to just about everything that’s actually happening in the world.
LIKE WHAT YOU’RE READING?So, for example, Robert Mueller isn’t investigating the Trump campaign — QAnon believers think he’s actually working with Trump to get Hillary Clinton.It’s hard to gauge the extent of QAnon believers, but I’d say that it’s pretty wide-reaching among really hardcore Trump supporters. In April, QAnon believers marched in DC and they numbered something like 200 people, and it’s only grown since then.
The other thing is that a lot of tenets of QAnon, especially the part about a “deep state” plot, aren’t that different from what’s on Fox [News Channel] or talk radio every day. So when a person already prone to support Trump hears about QAnon, they’ve been primed to believe this stuff by the rest of conservative media.Cillizza: Is this just another garden-variety conspiracy along the lines of, say, Obama wasn’t born in the US? Why has this become such a, well, thing?Sommer: Unlike something like birtherism or Pizzagate, QAnon is a kind of mega-conspiracy theory that sucks in just about every conspiracy theory you can think of. Pizzagate is part of it, birtherism is part of it — but so is the JFK assassination conspiracy theory, the idea that all these mass shootings have been deep-state false flags, and much more. The vague nature of the Q clues also means that you can sort of imprint whatever your personal issue is onto it.The other strange thing about QAnon is that it’s fundamentally a story being told by the side that’s already in power. Normally, conspiracy theories, like the idea that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election or that Barack Obama was an illegitimate president because he was born in Kenya, are coming from a group that’s trying to explain why they’re out of power.Instead, QAnon believers got the guy they wanted elected in the White House, but they didn’t get everything they wanted or were promised. For example: they chanted “lock her up,” but Hillary Clinton was never locked up. So they retreat to a fantasy world where Hillary Clinton will soon be sent to Guantanamo Bay.Cillizza: “Q” him or herself seems to be a major source of interest. Is there ANY sense of who this person is? Whether it’s a person or persons? Whether they have any ties to Trump?Sommer: There are a lot of theories about who Q is. QAnon people believe in fanciful ideas like, maybe it’s Trump or Dan Scavino or Michael Flynn. They’re always on the hunt for clues or acknowledgments from the administration. For example, Trump said “17” a lot in his speech Tuesday night, which they took to be an acknowledgment of Q — the 17th letter of the alphabet!That’s also why they’ve been bugging White House reporters to ask Sarah Sanders about Q. [Editor’s note: White House press secretary Sanders was asked about QAnon in Wednesday’s briefing: “The President condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against any individual,” she said.]QAnon critics, on the other hand, tend to focus on various hucksters promoting QAnon. Lots of conspiracy theorists on the right have become alienated from QAnon after Q accused them of trying to profit from the movement, so it’s become kind of a circling firing squad of people accusing each other of being Q.I think Q is just some random person or group of people who started a troll that has gotten way out of hand. Or maybe, as with so many things these days, it’s a Russian psy-op!Cillizza: Why, suddenly, were there so many Q signs/supporters at the Trump rally last night? Coordinated effort? Coordinated how?Sommer: There’s actually been increasing Q believer activity all over this year — billboards popping up, more attention from conservative celebrities[Editor’s note: Like Roseanne and Curt Schilling], people appearing at Trump rallies. I think the stuff last night was big for a couple reasons: 1) pictures of the ralliers in Q gear started circulating before the event and 2) because people with QAnon gear and signs were in advantageous positions to get in front of the cameras during the rally. So suddenly all these political and media people are watching Trump give his speech, and this QAnon sign withSeth Rich references gets in front of the camera.Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “QAnon’s impact on politics — and Trumpworld — is _________________.” Now, explain.Sommer: “QAnon’s impact on politics — and Trumpworld — is dangerous.”I think what we’ve learned from the Pizzagate gunman is that people actually believe this stuff, and some percentage of these people are going to be willing to take action. The idea of global pedophile conspiracies, for example, is a huge part of QAnon, and that’s exactly the kind of thing that appears to motivate people to commit these bizarre violent incidents.We’ve already seen at least one QAnon incident, when a QAnon believer in an improvised armored truck and some guns shut down a road near the Hoover Dam in June. Fortunately, no one was hurt in that case.In the broader perspective, I think it’s just really bad for American politics to have a segment of the population becoming increasingly unmoored from reality. For example, a big tenet of QAnon is that the deep state tried to shoot down Air Force One with a missile. That’s nuts! But if you’re a QAnon believer, you think that actually happened.I’d also say QAnon probably benefits Trump, because it helps the base ignore actual bad news about his administration. It also dramatizes the campaign to elect Republicans — it’s one thing if you’re voting for the GOP or Trump because you want boring legislative stuff like lower capital gains taxes. But if you believe in QAnon, you think Trump and the Republicans are literally fighting a worldwide battle against a nefarious cabal. That makes politics more engaging.