This sprawling conspiracy theory rolls through America like a monstrous sticky ball, growing exponentially by pulling in the detritus of other conspiracy theories.
The “Storm” never happened. No round-ups of Satanic pedophile Democrats. No ripping off the masks of alien lizard people. The QAnon conspiracy theory fell flat but for a few days in January, the danger was real.
“Thinking about heading over to Pelosi,” Cleveland Meredith Jr. told police, “And putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.” During Biden’s inauguration, he drove to Washington D.C. as rage burned in his brain. A Matrix level stash of weapons was in his truck. He had an assault rifle with telescope tech, an American flag painted Glock, 2,500 rounds of ammo and at least 320 armor piercing bullets.
Three years earlier, in August 2018, Meredith Jr. paid for a QAnon sign to be put up a mile away from his Car Nutz Car Wash in Acworth, Georgia. The local newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked him about it. He replied that he was, “a patriot among the millions who love this country.”
Meredith Jr. is one face in a growing rank of incendiaries inspired by the conspiracy theory QAnon to commit acts of violence. The FBI cited it as a source of domestic terrorism. From its start on 4Chan, the conspiracy theory mobilized the right wing, especially after their defeat by neoliberal centrists in the presidential election. It recycles anti-Semitic tropes to drive an eliminationist ideology. The tragic irony is that QAnon puts its own believers more at risk than those they hate.
The New Puppet Masters
Do you want to know the truth? Here it is. Deep in the deepest parts of the state and elite celebrity circles, a secret society of satanic pedophiles rape, torture and eat children. The evil liberal cabal rules the media and government. They built the 5G wireless towers to spread cancer and Covid-19. UFOs are real. 9/11 was an inside job. John F. Kennedy Jr. is alive and adores Trump. By the way, former President Trump was recruited by top generals to expose the vile ring of satanic pedophiles in a mass crackdown called The Storm.
QAnon is like the classic horror film, The Blob, it feasts on anything. It rolls through America like a monstrous sticky ball, growing exponentially by pulling in the detritus of other conspiracy theories. 5G towers here. Election theft there. The adhesive quality of QAnon comes from the psychological hunger for a story that helps one cope with loss or stress, gives a cause to believe and community to belong to. No wonder a majority of Republicans say it’s either “mostly true” or “some parts” are true. The Right is driven by grievance. QAnon, like most conspiracy theories, satisfies the need to reclaim a lost glory by telling a simple story. A hidden evil elite causes global suffering, and your pain in particular, and if you expose or kill them, you will regain your place.
Even though QAnon began in 2017, it borrows heavily from centuries old anti-Semitism. The bloody line of hatred against Jews can be traced from the ancient world, through the medieval era to the modern epoch, but it’s the 19th Century tropes that resurface powerfully. In the forged anti-Semitic document from 1903, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion the core image is of a cabal that controls the media and finance, claims to support workers only to deceive them, spark a class war and build a Jewish “super-state” from the rubble. Alongside those tropes is the Blood Libel in which Jews are imagined to sacrifice Christian babies during Passover, and use their blood to make unleavened bread.
Take a look at QAnon closely and the recycling becomes clear. Secret society that controls government? Check. Does this evil cabal kill children? Check. Do they keep the masses in ignorance through media manipulation? Check. Will there be a war? Check.
The cruel calculation of conspiracy theories is the powerful use them while the faithful believers pay the price.
The danger is obvious. In a time of explosive political polarization, rising right-wing racism and authoritarianism during a global pandemic; QAnon’s implicit anti-Semitism will activate more violence. The mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s The Tree of Life synagogue in 2018 could be a prelude of a 21st Century pogrom if the implicit anti-Semitism in QAnon connects to the rest of the far right ideology. The reason is because at its core is an eliminationist nightmare. Destroy the hidden evil, and you will be freed. Never mind if none of it is true. Never mind if you kill people over a lie.
Behold the Pale White Lie
“There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene during her campaign for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District. She said Muslims in Congress were an “invasion”, Blacks and Latinx were held back by drugs and gangs. She finished with the classical rhetorical flourish of white males being the most “mistreated” group in America.
She is not alone. Alongside her is Rep. Lauren Boebert, who flirted with QAnon, and the nearly 60 former congressional candidates who either slyly promoted it or gave it a very public bear-hug. Behind the politicians are hundreds of thousands online devotees and die-hards who showed up at Trump rallies hoisting giant “Q” signs. By time the election came, the demonization of the Democratic party had been complete.
Politicians rode the wave of hatred into office. At least two made it in. The wave hit a climax at the Capitol Hill insurrection. The toxic ideological brew, Blob like, gooey and acidic rolled through halls of power, and left dead people in its wake. The Republican party gave a wink-wink tacit approval of QAnon, and with each step closer to respectability, its followers were emboldened to act out on the apocalyptic plot.
The cruel calculation of conspiracy theories is the powerful use them while the faithful believers pay the price. In December 2016, Edgar M. Welch charged into a Washington, D.C. pizzeria, armed with an AR-15 and a handgun, fired and demanded to know where the sex trafficked children were. He believed the QAnon theory. He is serving a four-year sentence. In 2018, Matthew Wright was peeved that Trump had not started The Storm, and blocked a bridge to the Hoover Dam with an armored truck, two military grade rifles plus 900 bullets. He was arrested and will be in jail at least 10 years. Other QAnon followers were found with bomb making material, one killed a Gabino crime family boss, another derailed a freight train. The list goes on and on.
The two victims of QAnon are those targeted by it and those who believe in it. The former run in a panic as armed conspiracy theorist show up looking for crimes that don’t exist. The latter grip the bars of a jail, maybe realizing they have been fooled into losing their freedom.
Freeze the Blob
Conspiracy theories are a permanent part of our politics. Before it was The Blue Book of the John Birch society with its boogeyman of the “Communist Conspiracy” or the 1964 A Choice Not an Echo by Phyllis Schlafy that called out shadowy kingmakers blocking Sen. Goldwater’s disaster of a presidential campaign, or that the 1969 NASA moon landings were “faked”, or FEMA is building concentration camps, or the Sandy Hook mass murder of kids was staged, or that alien lizards are secretly taking control of government.
The major difference is that QAnon came at the worst time. The U.S. is at a tipping point. The pandemic, the new crushing debt, the loss of cultural status for whites as America becomes more diverse, and the new Trump-led Republican party turn to fascism all add up to a highly explosive moment. QAnon is a lit match. It ignites what Richard Hofstader called in his 1964 essay The Paranoid Style of American Politics that “chronic mental disorder characterized by systemized delusions of persecution and one’s own greatness.”
How does one beat it? One tactic is to de-platform QAnon. Twitter canceled accounts linked to the conspiracy theory. Amazon cut QAnon products. It is an attempt to cut them off and cut them out. The problem is newer platforms, more conservative or at least libertarian leaning like Gab will scoop them up. What is the solution?
Link the personal to the political. Take the scenes of everyday life, and build upon them to make the case for progressive policy.
Let’s take a cue from Hollywood. In The Blob, the relentless acid goo monster is killed by the cold. The small-town hero lures it to eat a snow truck of liquid nitrogen, it blows up and freezes the Blob. It couldn’t eat any more.
Starve QAnon by taking away what it feeds on; the psychological hunger for a way to cope with loss, and a need for community. The Left can do that. Use media against media. Show us as we are not who are imagined to be. A promising example is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez use of Instagram while drinking beer and building Ikea furniture. She led a social media workshop and more progressive politicians are demystifying politics.
Link the personal to the political. Take the scenes of everyday life, and build upon them to make the case for progressive policy. Visit food pantries. Visit homeless shelters. Visit families losing a home to foreclosure. Visit people without healthcare. Show the seemingly endless horizon of faces watching that this is who we are.
Make fun of the conspiracy theory. It would be hilarious to see a Democratic Socialist tug on their face and say, “I was trying to show you my real alien lizard body but this human mask is too tight. Oh well, let’s go check out this tent city and ask what they need.”
Democracy needs an informed electorate. Right now that means more than facts and statistics about policy. It means the millions of Americans who don’t vote or look askance at politics, need to know we are regular everyday people, trying the best they can to put the pieces of our world back together.
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