QAnon: The other pandemic

Matthew Taylor's avatar
Matthew Taylor

In the darker recesses of the internet, the QAnon phenomenon thrives.

Rooted in an almost messianic dedication to Donald Trump, QAnon constitutes a second pandemic, according to journalist and author James Ball. While stating that QAnon is “stupid” and “really dumb”, said James at Web Summit, “no one should think that they’re too clever not to fall for a conspiracy theory … and QAnon trains you to radicalise yourself”.

QAnon’s strength lies in the fact that it is leaderless – suffering from “tall poppy syndrome” – in which any emergent leader or dominant figure is cut back down to size – while also being adaptable as “the conspiracy theory that ate all other conspiracy theories”. 

It is also decentralised, and represents more of a system of belief than a consistent theory.  “Any control that Q had over QAnon ended before most people had ever heard of it,” said James. “Instead, it became this mindset of there being a conspiracy of the elite against the masses, and then anything that fits into that could be absorbed by it.”

So while QAnon often excludes things like aliens or flat Earth theories, it can include anything that fits the shadowy and oppressive narrative. 

This includes satanic child abuse, the 15-minute-city conspiracy (based on the misunderstanding of an urban planning term), 5G, and a variety of belief systems about Covid-19.

It attracts disparate groups of disaffected people who supplement conspiracy theories with their own fringe beliefs, often leading to them being radicalised on subjects they previously had no interest in. Perhaps the most pressing question is, how do people get involved in QAnon?

“I think a crucial thing is, as odd as it sounds, it’s quite empowering to believe in QAnon,” said James. “Your life doesn’t suck, or you haven’t achieved what you wanted to, not because maybe you’re average – or the capitalist system is stacked against you – but because in complicated, abstract ways, there are people acting against you, and you know about it, and you’re on to it,” said the author. 

And so, now, what began as victimhood changes to “becoming a hero in your own narrative,” according to James. Whereas before you were alone and struggling, now you are part of a mass movement uncovering the truth.

This line of thinking, however, can lead to the breakdown of families and friendships in the real world, and – often – total ostracisation. This, in turn, often fuels greater devotion to QAnon. QAnon should not be underestimated as a fringe conspiracy theory, according to James, given that “it is very firmly embedded in the US Republican base”. Perhaps more notably, it has also deeply infiltrated the echelons of the UK’s governing Conservative party.

“You’ll see even a relatively mainstream government say things that are quite adjacent to QAnon,” said James, adding that the UK Conservative party is “doing a fairly shameless bit of flirting with a conspiracy that makes no sense at all”.

The author remarked that “at their annual party conference, they made a big thing of banning so-called ‘15-minute cities’ that would stop you leaving the area where you live, which no one has proposed. And also, they are the government – they would be the sinister power behind it.”

According to James, QAnon isn’t going away any time soon, and those who know nothing about the group may soon find out more than they would like to.

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