On December 4, 2016, the then 29-year-old North Carolinian Edgar Maddison Welch drove from Salisbury, NC to Washington DC and opened fire with a military-style assault rifle inside the Comet Ping Pong restaurant. His rationale was that he had heard online that the restaurant was a known front for a child-trafficking and sex abuse ring lead by Hillary Clinton and that children were being held in the restaurant’s basement. The restaurant does not have a basement and it should go without saying that Hillary Clinton does not operate a child sex-trafficking ring.
Welch — on being shown his mistake — immediately surrendered. And the reason I bring this up is because as insane as his actions were and as crazy as the notion of a widely known child sex-trafficking ring being lead by a prominent political figure and operated openly out of a basement of a popular restaurant is, Welch is not crazy. And this will become important later.
I’m not an expert on the entirety of the QAnon conspiracy theory so I couldn’t give you an exact timeline for when it started. It clearly existed before Trump took office and many of its elements date back to medieval anti-Semitic tropes some of which we’ll touch on, but so called “Pizzagate,” was the mainstream introduction to it. QAnon quite literally came onto the world stage guns blazing.
So What the [redacted] is QAnon?
This is going to get confusing real fast and that’s kind of the point of any conspiracy theory. I’ll try to explain aspects of it but unfortunately because this is all based on magical thinking you have to actually buy into the conspiracy theory for it to make sense and if you’re reading this you probably won’t do that. Also, frankly, you shouldn’t. Magical thinking can be harmless and fun but it also leads to obsessive and disordered behaviour so … maybe don’t.
QAnon is both the conspiracy theory at large and a supposed individual (or individuals) within one of the intelligence agencies of the US who is leaking highly classified coded information to the public at large through a series of posts in mostly 8kun. These posts supposedly outline the “plan” that will bring about the “storm” and “great awakening.” What all of that is depends on the conspiracist you talk to, but the consensus is that Trump will eventually arrest and possibly publicly execute all liberal politicians, dismantle the “deep state,” and institute himself as a fascist dictator for the United States for all eternity.
Oh yeah, and people like me will suddenly agree that that’s all perfectly fine.
Keep in mind my dudes, my grandparents and my two-year-old father biked across a minefield to escape an autocratic regime, one of my favourite babysitters growing up was this nice retired cardiologist who also just happened to be a Holocaust survivor, and I’m super pro-democracy and science. I shan’t be agreeing with the QAnon conspiracy.
Or maybe I’m one of the people they plan to kill. Dunno. Genuinely more concerned about the Russian secret police than I am about QAnon.
But anyway it does get considerably more weird. The gateway conspiracy is related to pizzagate and this is where things are going to get real anti-Semitic real fast. Aside from this supposed figure, Q inhabiting the very “deep state,” that he — and pretty certain it is an imaginary “he” — is attempting to dismantle, there’s this idea that the reason any liberals or Democrats are in any position of power at all is not because of democracy but because they’re getting high on a chemical harvested from the blood of traumatized children which they use in devil worship and also to extend their life spans. For those of you who are familiar this is basically updated “blood libel.” And it’s no coincidence that many of the prime targets of the QAnon conspiracists are people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chuck Schumer, and George Soros. While liberal Christians are still often targeted, politically and judicially effective liberal Jews are, within the QAnon conspiratorial platform, especial targets for defamation and slander.
Same anti-Semitic tune, slightly altered lyrics.
Again though, these are incredibly outlandish ideas that no reasonable person should believe and that is the point. I’ve written before on how terrorist and fringe groups like white supremacy require “in-group,” signalling and how people are willing to engage in this signalling despite how irrational it is for the promise of community and belonging. It is insane to believe that there are children being exploited by a shadowy cabal in bloodletting ceremonies that magically increase power, and yet formerly rational people will buy guns and shoot up pizza joints to show that they believe it.
Performance goes hand-in-hand with magical thinking in many conspiratorial and fringe terror groups because as the creator of Folding Ideas put it in his video on the subject (which I HIGHLY recommend), “it’s not about facts; it’s about power.” This is where I get a little squirrely because my name’s actually Ariadne and Nietzsche evidently has a huge thing for not me, but the concept of me, but we’re sort of not really talking about “will to power” here.
I genuinely hate when Presidential scholars try to say that all Presidents must have a “will to power,” because it suggests they’re all psychopaths which seems about right but is fundamentally untrue. But despite my personal issues with it they’re not … wrong. You can’t accident your way into a Presidency. Even if you’re an elevated Vice President, you wanted to be in power. I think the closest we’ve ever come to an entirely un-power-hungry President is Barack Obama and I’m sure there’s white men fingers poised over their keyboards to tell me why I — a mere woman — am dumb and also not hot.
The reason this becomes relevant and why it pairs so well with fascism and autocracy is that conspiracists in general but QAnon conspiracists in particular believe that they should be in power because they want to be in power. And yes, that is a meaningless tautology. But it’s also why they’ve glommed onto Trump in particular and believe — despite mountains of evidence to the contrary — that he is a “very stable genius.”
QAnon is convoluted and weird in part because it’s sort of a centralized smorgasbord of all conspiracy theories heavily endowed with a dose of white supremacy and evangelical Christianity, but also because performative buy-in is what justifies your access to power or community.
Anti-Science and Why Covid is Good, Actually
What really has confused me about this election was how a guy whose ineptitude and blind hate for his predecessor has caused the deaths of 234,000 (and counting) Americans could receive the votes of 68,806,397 (and counting) Americans. The crazy thing here is the margin by which Biden has taken some of the states he’s won is less than the number of people Trump has killed. So … that’s weird.
But the problem with all this is I’m looking at this rationally. Like a scientist. Because I am one.
The point is not to believe your own lying eyes that the people getting sick from an infectious disease are actually getting sick from an infectious disease, the point is that it’s actually the masks making people sick and or 5G for reasons that are likely never going to be adequately explained to me, or anyone else for that matter.
The hate and distrust for science isn’t because QAnon conspiracists can’t understand it … really; it’s more about them not being scientists or doctors themselves. I tend to be a really naïve person but I genuinely believed that upon the receipt of my doctorate people would stop trying to ignore my evidence based arguments because I’m female. I appreciate now how silly that was, but there is a greater idea throughout society that people — like me — who can put a bunch of letters behind their name automatically have a bigger platform. There is then an accompanying idea that those letters are not earned.
QAnon conspiracists aren’t unilaterally stupid or crazy, but they are a bit jealous. And they’re jealous of perceived advantages which do not exist. Again we go straight back to populism. People who fall down the QAnon rabbit-hole do so because they are struggling and a charismatic leader has said — or they have understood him to have said — that if they blindly support him they and they alone will be given wealth and power and the reason they do not have it currently and it cannot be delivered immediately is because it is in the hands of an “other.”
For QAnon said “other” is … well it’s a lot of people. It’s liberals, Jews, BLM, select Canadians apparently, and, crucial for my argument, scientists.
Again the origin of this is a big vague and certainly there are a lot of anti-vax and alternative medicine elements to QAnon simply because it’s a conglomerate conspiracy and almost by design has no central rational. But an overarching theme is that either COVID-19 doesn’t actually exist or that it does but is a bioweapon created by China. There are many variations on the theme and journalistic integrity aside I just don’t have it in me to watch “Plandemic,” but basically the idea is that COVID-19 either in idea or the actual disease is part of a conspiracy to both remove Trump from power and promote vaccination.
Alternatively, part of the buy-in for QAnon was the — and this is real — bleach conspiracy. So probably Trump suggesting people drink bleach was not him actively engaging in the conspiracy because really guys, he’s not that smart, but QAnon really ran with it. The problem is bleach is blech. Ingesting bleach can easily kill or seriously maim you and it all starts well before it even hits your stomach.
Ironically, before QAnon, MMS or the bleach conspiracy was largely aimed at children particularly autistic children. I will not speculate on whether or not this was intentional in that children cannot always self-advocate and autistic children are especially vulnerable, because it is all awful, but the Church associated with MMS advocated that autism could be cured by giving children with autism a diluted bleach enema. The idea is that this would kill the “worms,” delivered into the children by vaccines and that would “fix” them. Bleach injected into the anus though strips tissue often in long threads that look like worms so when these children ended up with bits of their colon and intestine protruding out their anus their parents torturing them with bleach enemas thinking it was treatment also thought the treatment was working.
PSA: Do not ingest bleach. Do not inject bleach. Do not deliver bleach as an enema. Do not allow bleach to remain on your skin. Do not do any of these things with any form of bleach including very diluted bleach. Do not do this to your children. Do not do this to your elders. Do not do this to individuals with any form of disability. Do not do this to animals. Do not do.
One of the worst aspects of QAnon is despite having appropriated “Save the Children,” hashtags QAnon conspiracists tend to endanger children often while truly believing they’re doing the right thing. QAnon has featured heavily in custody battles and promoted fake “cures” for various vaccines. In some cases this is relatively benign but in other examples such as that of Alpalus Slyman children have been put at serious risk and mortal danger.
But this intense need to buy-in even when the conspiracy is so clearly a conspiracy has created a situation where many people actually believe despite clear evidence to the contrary that Donald J. Trump, the man who is the reason so many people are dying is actually the only person standing between them and the grave.
How they get Radicalized and How we can Deradicalize them
The motivation behind any conspiracy theory or any form of radicalization is a promise of power and community and a means to exert control and self-determination where there was previously a lack of power. The people who are radicalized by QAnon like white supremacists and like other conspiracists, lacked or felt they lacked power and rewarding social connections.
I need to reiterate, a central theme to specifically QAnon radicalization is divorce. The same perpetuation of failure that I spoke about in regards to white supremacy does exist within QAnon but it’s sort of the same thing that drives people further into religion. If the science disproves your core belief or if you experience a setback or if you cannot sufficiently argue or if your political Party is losing the problem isn’t your platform or your beliefs or your skills, it’s that you don’t believe hard enough. That pretty obviously snowballs. If Trump’s failures are due to a conspiracy against him then clearly the answer is not to hold him accountable for those failures but to believe in the conspiracy even more.
Just like a doomsday cult, the continual and mounting lack of proof in QAnon does not dissuade its proponents. It in fact further radicalizes them. In some cases QAnon becomes a gateway to violent terrorist groups as conspiracists try to “force the end.” The idea is the end — though apocalyptic — will in some way prove them right. It is unlikely they envision themselves dying, but if they do they likely preference being “right” to being alive. QAnon stresses the “coming storm,” and “great awakening,” as endgame motifs. Some conspiracists believe that the reason it hasn’t happened is because they need to make it happen.
The world is complicated and people like me dedicate our lives to untangling one little aspect of that complication, but to someone who is overwhelmed and frightened finding a thread however irrational is a comfort. A conspiracy theory particularly one that is clearly self-defeating can weirdly become a sense of comfort because it offers an explanation, however deranged for what appears to be chaos.
In a few hours or a few days or a month or so QAnon conspiracists are going to face a crisis. At present we are hours away from seeing Biden win enough Electoral College Votes to secure the Presidency. This means that Trump’s time as President is effectively over and he will leave the White House and cease to be President by noon on January 20, 2021. Logically and rationally this means that the entirety of the conglomerate conspiracy that was QAnon is false.
But I just spent nearly 2,500 words telling you how normally rational and reasonable humans could be sucked into a Dali-esque rabbit-hole. Some conspiracists will have violent reactions, some will self-harm, some will try to harm others. Some may even become further radicalized.
So as annoying as this has all been and how close to the brink they brought us it’s important to give these people a way to detrain. As with any radical group or terrorist organization the issue at hand is the idea of human connection. If you have a relative that you can still reach who believes in this stuff don’t cut them off emotionally. You don’t have to agree with them at all, but instead of shutting them down or calling them crazy show them why they’re wrong. When you need, you can leave but just give them materials so they can research why the conspiracy theory is a conspiracy theory, and try not to pass judgement on them.
Particularly those who have done harm or have engaged in hate speech and discrimination need to make up for that and do whatever penance is appropriate to repair the rifts they created, but these are people who got desperate and then got swept up. Not all of them can be rehabilitated but a lot can.
Never is it necessary for you to let someone walk all over you and this doesn’t mean if you divorced someone for being QAnon you should take them back. But give them a way to come back home. Not your home. But a home.