Crumbs. We really are living in a culture of conspiracy right now. After recently covering the rise of fake news and how it’s fuelled a ton of conspiracy theories, I’ve just been learning about a new one: QAnon. Well, not that new. It shot to fame at the end of 2017 but is still going strong. Just this month, Donald Trump hosted a bunch of QAnon believers at the White House for a social media summit. So it’s pretty clear where the leader of the free world (shudder) stands on the matter.
Let’s back up a bit and start at the beginning. If you’re from anywhere other than the US, like me, you might be asking, what the blazes is QAnon? QAnon is a far-right (so anyone who knows my politics knows where this is going) conspiracy theory about a mysterious “deep state” of elite criminals that Donald Trump is secretly trying to defeat. It’s actually a collection of conspiracy theories but at the heart of all of them is this: Donald Trump is an undercover agent working to eradicate a secret global ring of Satan-worshipping paedophiles—the so-called deep state. A cabal that includes Hollywood stars and high-ranking members of the US government, particularly the Democratic Party (go figure).
QAnon’s roots are in a slightly earlier and widely debunked conspiracy theory called Pizzagate. This theory said that Hillary Clinton and other Democratic Party officials were operating a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizza restaurant called Comet Ping Pong. (I mean, you have to credit these people for their imagination.) QAnon peddlers still believe that Clinton and her cronies are part of a paedophile ring that involves Satanic rituals. But they’ve also have added a bunch of other conspiracy theories to the mix, including:
- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and philanthropist George Soros are planning to overthrow Trump.
- Trump has been secretly working with Robert Mueller to bring down Clinton and her paedophile friends. Mueller was the Special Counsel investigating claims that Trump colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, but, of course, those investigations were just a smokescreen.
- Mass shootings in the US, such as the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, are actually false flag attacks organised by the deep state to promote their anti-gun agenda.
- Angela Merkel is the daughter (or granddaughter, depending which threads you read) of Adolf Hilter.
- Queen Elizabeth II is part of the cabal and had Princess Diana assassinated because of stuff she found out about it.
- Hollywood celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are paedophiles.
- Former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz had staffer Seth Rich murdered in retaliation for stealing documents.
- Banker J.P. Morgan sank the Titanic so he could form the Federal Reserve.
- The wealthy Rothschild family are the leaders of a Satanic cult.
- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a puppet ruler installed by the CIA.
None of these claims hold any water whatsoever and QAnon has been described as “baseless”, “unhinged”, “bullshit” and a “right-wing fantasy”. However, scores of QAnon adherents continue to push the above claims and others.
How did all this start?
It started after Trump uttered the following to reporters while gathered with military officials in October 2017:
TRUMP: “You guys know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”
REPORTER: “What storm, Mr President?”
TRUMP: “You’ll find out.”
On October 28th 2017, someone called “Q” posted a series of cryptic messages in a thread titled “Calm Before The Storm” on a website called 4chan. The thread was posted in an imageboard, /pol/, which is short for “politically incorrect”. It’s home to neo-Nazis, anti-feminists, anti-Semites, and the sorts of people who buy ad space to urge transgender people to commit suicide. So, you know, all of society’s loveliest people.
The name “Q” was meant to imply that the poster had “Q clearance”, a Department of Energy security clearance required to access top secret restricted data. Rather than directly presenting his or her claims, Q posted supposed hints, clues and riddles that became known as “breadcrumbs”. Over time these hints became vaguer and vaguer, allowing adherents to map their own beliefs onto them.
Q’s postings started spreading on social media and Trump himself shared a tweet from a major QAnon proponent less than a month after the postings started. Right-wing Fox News commentator and professional knobchops Sean Hannity has since shared QAnon-related material. And pro-Trump celebrity idiots like actress Roseanne Barr and baseball player Curt Schilling have also promoted QAnon theories, helping them go viral. (Roseanne has since been fired from her own TV show for posting unrelated racist tweets. Shame.)
Who is “Q”?
Ah, the million-dollar question. Some have theorised that it’s NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake. Others have said that it’s Donald Trump himself. Or Donald Trump Jr. Or an artificial intelligence. Or an alternate reality game. And then there’s the theory about Q being John F. Kennedy Jr, son of the assassinated president, who was killed in a plane crash in 1999.
This theory, touted by prominent QAnon follower Liz Crokin, says that JFK Jr faked his death and became Q. Other QAnon followers have adopted this theory, believing that a Pittsburgh man named Vincent Fusca is actually Kennedy in disguise. A bunch of QAnon followers attended the 2019 Independence Day celebrations expecting Kennedy to finally emerge from hiding and announce himself as Trump’s 2020 running mate.
I mean, where do they get this shit from?
I guess it’s pretty obvious from my tone where I stand on this particular conspiracy theory. But let’s not forget—I love a conspiracy theory. They’re fascinating and fun to write about, whether I believe they could be true or not. And I particularly love the totally absurd ones like Flat Earth and the Royal Family being lizards.
QAnon fits into the category of “totally absurd” because the claims stem from people linking together random words and phrases and forcing them to lead to the most far-fetched conclusions they can imagine. Nothing even vaguely resembling evidence exists to support QAnon.
But is all this lunacy harmless? The problem with QAnon and any conspiracy theory linked to or peddled by Donald Trump is that they’re normally underpinned by racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and all kinds of other prejudices. Then it’s just not funny anymore.
And conspiracy theories like QAnon are having dangerous consequences, too. After Pizzagate went viral, a number of pizza restaurants faced harassment and received death threats. Then a man from North Carolina went into Comet Ping Pong with a rifle and fired three shots because he believed the theory and wanted to “rescue the children”. Fortunately no one was hurt. But these events are clear evidence that conspiracy theories are becoming a destructive force in the age of the internet.