The Cult of Q

So if you’ll remember my presentation to the class on the new conservative voices on Twitter, you’ll recall that some were fairly extreme. You’ll recall that there’s been a proliferation of these voices thanks to the dropping of barriers involved in online publishing, the volume of falsified news stories, and the general propensity towards pile-on, doxing, and general bullying that occurs.

While all of those factors have led to more extreme voices on the platform, and across the web writ large, they have also led to the creation of a more insidious, more bizarre, and possibly dangerous cult. I am talking about the cult of Qanon, or just simply: Q.

First, let us define cult, lest I offend anyone who may think I’m just taking [another] opportunity to malign conservative voices.

Cult (noun):

  • a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing
  • a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object

With this definition in mind, let me try to explain what Q is. A large – seemingly growing – number of people believe that there is an individual, Q, who holds a high-level post in the government. This individual has top secret security clearance and is working in conjunction with President Trump to save America and the world. Q posts anonymously on 4chan, providing his followers breadcrumbs in order to follow and understand what Trump is up to and to spread the gospel to those online.

If you feel so compelled to, feel free to watch this video as a primer. Warning: its pretty creepy.

They believe that this war is a war against:

  • pedophilia
  • deep-state actors/general Illuminati forces seeking to oppress the common man
  • general evil perpetrated by these aforementioned forces to spread poverty using the Federal Reserve, sickness using vaccines, and moral depravity using the mainstream media and Hollywood

This group burst into the mainstream in the summer of last year as followers displayed support for their mysterious hero during one of the President’s rallies. Most viewers of the phenomenon were understandably perplexed, as few in the normal public had ever heard of this group. The Qanon group, in an ongoing theme you see with followers, believed that this was a coordinated effort to paint the group as fringe and deranged.

In an effort to keep this short, and to retain whatever sanity I have left, I’ll divide this post into a few parts:

  • What they believe
  • How they operate
  • Why they pose a danger

What They Believe

Followers of Q, or “anons,” have a set of beliefs, some constant and some that seem to change with current events and circumstances. The most consistent narrative is that there is a large, shadowy underworld which dictates your day-to-day experience. Something like an Illuminati runs the world. They use politicians like Barack Obama to gain political favor, media outlets like CNN to control the narrative, and financial vehicles like the Federal Reserve to keep us away from the gold standard (in order to keep us all in debt).

And that’s the tame stuff.

They [of course] believe that 9/11 was an inside job. They believe that Trump has recently re-opened the prisons at Guantanamo Bay in order to imprison the [almost entirely Democratic] political underworld – or, in Trump parlance – the “swamp.”

They also believe that JFK Jr. is still alive. Read that again. They believe that JFK Jr. faked his death in order to go into hiding only to return to restore America to the great promise of his father. They believe he had been conspiring to do all of this with Trump for years. To them, this photo is proof:

interesting…

They even think JFK Jr. might be Q:

oo thats it im sold

The sad thing is, like most cults, their beliefs are simply a reflection of their anxieties. Some examples:

  • The human brain hates randomness. It craves order and consistency. The belief that 9/11 was executed by the government, or that school shootings are false flags, can provide some explanation for why these terrible things are happening more and more in our hometowns and in our schools. It’s an easy-to-understand explanation, and something – or someone – we can fight against.
  • A historic number of Americans carry crippling debt. By believing that the Fed and other financial intermediaries have done this to you, you absolve yourself of blame. This isn’t your fault. You were playing a losing game to begin with. (The inequities and downright usury that exists in commercial lending does lend some validity to this belief, but that’s beside the point here.)
  • Our democratic process is increasingly becoming a plutocracy. Voters feel completely removed from the process that elects to power the people that fight for our interests. Believing that there is one – or a team – of individuals working against a nefarious force reflects this frustration.

Oof that got sad, huh?

How They Operate

As I mentioned, Q drops “breadcrumbs” for this followers as a way to keep them informed as to what is happening behind the scenes. His followers take this to new heights of weird. They DO NOT believe in coincidences. Everything happens for a reason. They use these clues to confirm what they already believe. Sometimes they are…a stretch.

They use Q posts to confirm what they already believe:

They use the posts to confirm Q’s direct link to the President:

They use the posts as proof of Q’s inside knowledge:

I could easily make another post entirely about how weird and depraved the work they do is to put the pieces together.

Why They Pose A Danger

As entertaining and weird as this all may be, the Q phenomenon represents some very real dangers. Their conspiracy theories trade in some veiled anti-Semitic tropes, promote violence, and create the very fake news they believe is thrust upon them by their enemies.

At the heart of the Q belief system is the theory that a few individuals run the world. Of those individuals are members of the enormously wealthy and Jewish banking family, the Rothschilds. This family has been the target of anti-Semitic lore for over 200 years. A recent addition to this tradition includes the enormously wealthy – and Jewish – George Soros. Whether or not they know it, the anons are trading in the very same conspiracies the Nazis used in propaganda films in the 1930s.

The group, indirectly and directly, promotes violence. Q posts and dialogues have led some to take up arms and matters into their own hands. Last year, an armed man posted up on the Hoover dam and demanded that the government release reports on Obama’s alleged sex trafficking. A group of anons called Veterans on Patrol recently took over a homeless clinic claiming it was a sex trafficking post. Last summer, anons posted the work address and photos of the office of Michael Avenatti, lawyer of Stormy Daniels. Anons are clearly primed for directives.

Lastly, and ironically, they trade in the very fake news that they believe is disseminated by major media outlets. One of the more upsetting examples is the recent conspiracy that Ruth Bader Ginsberg died following surgery earlier this year.

The theory began gaining in popularity among the anons:


Where did this conspiracy end up?

The implications of bat-sh*t crazy people rampantly sharing what they consider news should be clear to us now. How we stop it without incurring some actual violence? I have no idea.

10 comments

  1. The internet is a weird place. No one is denying that. Last semester I was at a professor’s office hours. We had a case about Buzzfeed, but then we got on a tangent about the internet and dangers of the whole thing. My professor made a really great point, something I had not considered prior. The internet makes the world feel small. There have always been bad people and crazy people, but they didn’t know someone else felt that same. Now these people can connect online from thousands of miles away. Suddenly they have someone to justify and feed into their perspective. Conspiracy theories are funny, until they are not. I had never heard of this group before this post. Something to look into!

  2. Really entertaining post! My eyes rolled back into my head reading this. It was quite timely, too, as the most recent episode of This American Life touches on conspiracy theorists and the Newtown Shooting and how one victim’s father has attempted to dismantle their conspiracies. He eventually had to go into hiding because the conspiracy theorists were threatening him. As he moved around practically every month, they kept tracking down and publicly releasing his address. As far as I know, he’s still in hiding. If you’re interested, the episode is called “Beware the Jabberwock”. It’s very well-done, IMO

    This stuff makes my stomach turn, to be honest. I recently got dinner with a childhood friend of mine, and he spent pretty much the entire meal talking about absurd conspiracies–it’s amazing how stuff like that can completely consume someone. Once you believe that the powers that be are out to get you, you tend to devote your entire existence to dismantling them, even though that energy is misguided.

  3. Wow! I had no idea this group was growing. Throughout your post, I was drawing connections to the powerful propaganda that was run leading up to World War II. When I attended the Anne Frank House tour, the curators described crippling debt, the need to overrun the current system, and the randomness or feeling of having no control. Unfortunately, those anxieties can be applied to many and can bring people together under sometimes irrational opinions. In the digital age, these messages can be spread to gain new followers, but also instill fear in others, faster than in person word of mouth could ever achieve. While the followers of Q is a specific example, their growth could be mimicked by others. Thank you for bringing attention to this phenomenon!

  4. Yikes Jim, what a sobering post ! An enlightening one, but sobering all the same !

    I think Jaclin makes a really great point about the internet making the world feel small. Pre internet these were just a few disillusioned folks with some ‘creative’ opinions on the forces that have made them feel that way. Without the internet through their thoughts and opinions remained somewhat internalised and when they did speak up they had to rationalise their argument against that of their more moderate neighbours – they were the lone soldiers so to speak. Enter the era of the internet echo-chambers where you can self select into the type of opinions you want to hear and you see people just building out this web of absolute insanity, making the once ‘creative’ opinion seem tame in comparison.

    What’s really scary though is the comparison of US sentiment to that of 1930’s Germany. It’s not a far stretch, and the presence of opinions like these normalise others that are only just slightly more moderate but that are equally just as dangerous.

    Thanks for shedding light on the darker corners of the internet!

  5. Nice post. Could have been improved by integrating a digital angle more. Of course, I’m also reminded of this 1993 gem that shows this stuff isn’t new, it’s just being powered by better technologies.

  6. While it is undeniable that these groups gain leverage based upon the numerous conspiracies that can be fabricated in a digital world, it is also promising to consider the positive campaigns that social media can elevate. For example, the Me Too movement gained international attention, and, while beginning as a social media hashtag, has raised millions of dollars to support women suffering the financial burden of sexual assault cases. While the content of the movement has little connection to the Q group, I find it helpful to recognize the positive movements and sanity that can be highlighted by social media: for one “bat sh*t crazy person” there are plenty more intentional and positive outlooks. If this campaign ever gained the traction to become a security concern, it would be my hope that the sane side of social media would come to play.

  7. Have you read “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” by Whitney Phillips? It’s a really excellent study of a lot of the themes you brought up here – anonymity and amplification, trolling, the mainstreaming of conspiracies and subcultures, and so on.

    I loved this post, although I half-expected the ever-famous lizard people conspiracy to make an appearance somewhere. In another one of my classes, we were discussing the philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach, who based much of his work on the premise that people project themselves into their experiences and creations. While this is generally a positive human tendency, there are certain projection types (religion for Feuerbach, capitalist labor for Marx, etc) in which humans ultimately lose sight of the idea that they are the projection’s creator and, as a result, view it as something external, independently powerful, and true. I don’t think it is much of a leap to apply this projection/self-deception framework to Qanon or any of the other wild subcultures that find their homes online. Yes, the internet can create echo chambers of one’s own beliefs, but I think the extremity that you describe even goes beyond the feedback loop idea. For some, the internet does not merely distort reality- it becomes reality and, in doing so, takes on the kind of immutability that a typical person assigns to physical truths in the real world.

  8. This post captures the weird hive mind that the internet helps facilitate in a pretty accurate and illuminating way. I actually had no idea about this Q movement, primarily because I’ve isolated my web experience away from such extreme conspiracy opinions that I never really encounter them, unless I end up down a reddit rabbit hole. But that also helps me see how easily it can be to do the polar opposite and only isolate your web experience and community with a narrative that perpetuates or build upon your beliefs. I’ve lived with someone who believed 9/11 was a hoax (which was frankly insulting to me having grown up in the bronx and remembering this day vividly) and in that scenario not very many people supported her beliefs but when you have a whole community willing to support you and feed you more and more “evidence” that supports this, I can see how traction can build way quicker than ever before.

  9. This is one of the things that scares me about the internet (and why I largely stay away from Reddit). Miriam and Jaclin raised really great points about the shrinking of the world, and the problem with creating echo chambers on the internet. I think this also raises the question of what responsibility, if any, the sites that host these individuals have to ensure that blatantly false or defamatory information is not spread on their platforms. Unfortunately, I don’t think, at least at the moment, that there is a good answer to this.

    To Allie’s point, referring to the similarities between this and 1930s Germany, it’s a comparison I’ve seen a lot, especially on Twitter. I’ve also seen a lot of comparisons between now and the social and political environment in Harry Potter – while it may not be the most intellectual comparison, it does reinforce the idea that there are ways to overcome this hive-mind behavior. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t take an epic battle with the Dark Lord to do so.

  10. Ah the fake news continues! The anonymity of it all definitely allows for a free range and no limits to posting and sharing whatever contents the Q movement thinks can promote their agenda. If they can spread their beliefs as far around the world as possible they would. I typically do not read much into conspiracies and would consider the video you posted the “weird side” of YouTube. I think the music adds to the creepiness of it all. If enough people believe a “fake news” to be true, then they can essentially speak it into existence by sharing and creating their own messages around it to get believers to possibly act in a certain way, or in the worst case scenario use violence. The power of social media and the internet is scary at times; let’s hope that this movement doesn’t issues in the future.

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