Comment: QAnon – how a conspiratorial community persists, despite its leader becoming MIA

TRUCKEE, Calif .: It’s been six months since Q posted a decline, but the once tiny move it sparked – QAnon – has arguably only gotten stronger.

Some of Q’s most hard-line supporters still cling to the idea that Donald Trump will make a stunning comeback to defeat his enemies and reclaim his stolen election.

A new report released this week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security warned that QAnon adherents could target Democrats and other political opponents for more violence as the movement’s false prophecies fail to come true .

It’s also barely a week since disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn – who received a presidential pardon while Trump was in power – suggested a military coup to prevent Joe Biden from taking over. his duties would have been appropriate. He has since returned to those comments made at an event in Dallas for QAnon supporters.

Such remarks should come as no surprise when big talk antics are an integral part of QAnon’s playbook.

Supporters of President Donald Trump wave their phones with messages referencing the QAnon conspiracy theory during a campaign rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center on February 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo: Mario Tama / AFP)

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Even when the results of the US presidential election unequivocally pointed to a Biden-Harris victory, attorney Sidney Powell – who was on Donald Trump’s legal team – had played with QAnon supporters by calling the case that she was riding a “kraken” which, when released, would erase the possibility of Joe Biden winning the presidency.

It turned out to be a pile of documents spewing out conspiracy theories, including the idea that the family of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez owned the tech company Dominion Voting Systems that allegedly rigged the election – which all turned out to be baseless allegations.

THE HUMBLE BEGINNINGS OF QANON

QAnon became a fringe group on the fringes of American society in late 2017 after Trump was elected president.

It started with a message from an individual called Q Clearance Patriot on an internet bulletin board hosted by 4chan, which then migrated to other bulletin boards, 8chan and then 8kun.

Q is often viewed by his supporters as a senior U.S. government official with access to highly classified and confidential information relating to Trump’s efforts to bring down a global liberal cabal.

Q’s true identity has never been established, although there is no shortage of speculation about who he is, including the possibility that Q is a bunch of people acting in concert.

At one point, people thought Steve Bannon was Q. A few also suspected Trump was Q. And after Q: Into the Storm premiered on HBO earlier this year, others thought Ron Watkins, the The administrator of the 8kun site was.

FILE PHOTO: A sticker referencing the QAnon slogan is seen on a truck that participated in a ca

A sticker referencing the slogan QAnon is seen on a truck that participated in a convoy of trailers in Adairsville, Georgia, U.S. September 5, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS / Elijah Nouvelage)

As if the identity of the group leader wasn’t mysterious enough, what was in the messages he left – the drops – was even stranger.

From 2017 to 2020, Q had posted more than 5,000 fairly cryptic messages. They were extremely appealing to followers because of their intriguing nature – allegedly tantalizing ties to the U.S. government and suggestions for sensitive and highly classified government information that is not normally available to ordinary Americans in the circulation of ambiguous messages that left plenty of room for the imagination. .

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QAnon supporters spent so much time trying to decipher and analyze what these drops meant, there were even YouTube channels of QAnon influencers dedicated to breaking them down.

Even so, QAnon’s membership is a diverse bunch. At the far end are those who believe in the internet’s most deranged conspiracy theories, including claims that former President Donald Trump was battling an elite group of pedophile-worshiping Satan in the Deep State.

For them, this group of global elites includes prominent liberal figures in the United States such as Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and a number of others on Wall Street and Hollywood.

Many QAnon supporters also believe that Trump was recruited to run for president by senior military leaders in order to break down this criminal network and send its members to jail. They still believe that these liberals will end up jailed in Guantánamo Bay and risk execution.

Inauguration of Biden QAnon

A QAnon supporter watching Joe Biden’s inauguration near the White House. (Photo: AP)

Then there are other supporters who only subscribe to QAnon’s broader tenets of being wary of establishment narratives and questioning information presented by traditionally authoritative sources.

HOW QANON JUMPED INTO MAINSTREAM

Since 2017, QAnon has gone from bulletin boards in the dark corners of the Internet to articles in the American media and Trump rallies, and established itself a large following.

His jump to Reddit on a community called Calm Before The Storm tapped into a larger base, where followers conducted discussions among subscribers to amplify Q drops and QAnon questions.

QAnon has also spilled over into the real world and raised a ruckus, ranging from disobeying COVID-19 rules to staging confrontations with Black Lives Matter protesters and culminating in the January storming of the US Capitol.

QAnon has found its legitimacy despite the mess and disinformation it has perpetrated – with Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green speaking openly in favor of the group and when then-President Trump retweeted accounts related to the group.

Indeed, the group may only be growing in popularity, as Trump is not in the White House gives them a reason to really come together.

Election 2020 Protests Against Phoenix

A Qanon believer addresses a crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump outside the Maricopa County Recorder’s office where general election votes are counted, in Phoenix on Thursday, November 5, 2020 (AP) Photo / Dario Lopez-MIlls)

Biden’s nomination should have decimated the movement when QAnon supporters preached that Biden and other Democratic criminals would be arrested and executed on Trump’s orders by January 20, an event they call “The Storm.” , but he continues to hold out among his most ardent supporters nonetheless.

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WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

The same place to understand where QAnon has grown is where to look for how to decrease it: the Internet.

While Q’s posts were originally posted on message boards, social media giants including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube amplified the message by providing a platform for followers and believers to use as megaphones.

This year, however, these major internet companies took action to ban QAnon content from their websites, partly because of the events of January 6 and partly because the group was no longer associated with the man occupying the White House.

Donald Trump supporters, including far-right extremists and QAnon conspiracy theorists, stormed

Supporters of Donald Trump, including far-right extremists and QAnon conspiracy theorists, stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 in a deadly AFP / Saul LOEB attack

In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.

While these crackdowns have pushed QAnon’s supporters and their deranged fantasies out of these platforms, however, it has only succeeded in driving them underground where they cannot be followed.

Many have found new ways to thrive on Telegram where encrypted chats with tens of thousands of subscribers mean parties wondering in their channels can find themselves in rabbit holes of even crazier, interconnected conspiracies where people can discuss their delusional beliefs 24/7 and feed off each other. . It’s a deranged flywheel accelerating every day.

Perhaps this is where the danger lies. When opponents take steps to limit QAnon’s influence, these only seem to fuel its growth and intensity.

Supporters of QAnon undoubtedly infect mainstream political attitudes. A recent NPR poll found that 17% of Americans believe that “a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and our media,” while nearly 37% did not know whether they were true or not.

QAnon has gone beyond a political movement to become a social community that engages, entertains, and provides structure and organization to make sense of their world in ways that other American social institutions don’t seem to reach.

So the question is not whether QAnon will always be part of American society, but rather how much influence it will have in American society.

(Listen to Professor Chan Heng Chee and BowerGroupAsia CEO James Carouso explain how America has become so deeply divided amid a fierce election on the episode of CNA’s Heart of the Matter podcast released in November 2020.)

William Cooper is a global commentator on American politics and an attorney based in Truckee, California. He is also the author of the upcoming Toxic: Donald Trump and the Rule of Law from Black Spring Press in London.


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