People aren’t the only victims of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. America’s capacity for reason, already weakened by widespread embrace of religious fantasies over centuries, has also been gravely infected.
One word (and it isn’t even a real one): QAnon.
You’ve probably heard this word but like most folks have only a vague sense of what it means. But what it actually means is utter and dangerous nonsense, no matter how unfathomably popular it has become in the U.S., especially on social media.
Even back in August, the Wall Street Journal reported a staggering increase this year alone in Americans who have glommed on to this bizarre, unbelievable conspiracy theory and its ostensible “leader” — “Q” — who is supposedly behind it all. The bogus theory’s raging emergence has coincided with the timeline of the pandemic.
And it should unnerve Americans that President Trump at his town hall non-debate on Thursday night, refused to condemn the group — repeatedly. Sadly, he’s far from alone in this irrational denial.
The Journal reported on August 13 that an analysis of Facebook and Instagram data by social-media research company Storyful found that average membership in 10 major public QAnon groups on Facebook “swelled by nearly 600% from March through July, to about 40,000 from about 6,000.” The average follower count of some of the largest public Instagram accounts promoting the group’s ideology more than quadrupled in the same period, the analysis found.
Membership in a single relevant Facebook group — QAnon News & Updates-Intel drops, breadcrumbs, & the war against the Cabal (now blocked by Facebook) — grew tenfold from from January to August this year, the Journal reported.
Indeed, Facebook found that afficionados just on its platforms number in the millions.
So what is this self-deluded social media crowd so enthralled with?
Good question. But the answer is: “nothing.”
“QAnon stems from a conspiracy theory started by a person who claimed to be a highly placed government official dubbed Q, who first emerged in the fall of 2017 on the fringe site 4chan,” the Journal reported. “According to Q, a powerful group of child traffickers control the world and is undermining President Trump with the help of other elites and mainstream news outlets. Believers regard Mr. Trump as a messianic figure fighting against these dark forces.
“In 2016, a man was arrested with a gun inside a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant that had been at the center of a conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate, which is considered a precursor to QAnon. Comet Ping Pong was the subject of fake-news stories falsely alleging that it was the site of a child-abuse ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief, John Podesta.”
According to QAnon (or so says QAnon), President Trump is secretly working to stop a Hollywood-run child sex cabal along with dastardly political elites who will all one day be revealed during an apocalyptic event known as The Storm.
Of course, this is total balderdash that’s got so many people in a near-religious trance. Actually, that’s understating somewhat the delusive and quasi-religious nature of this political invention.
Nonetheless, several GOP congressional candidates have openly supported the baseless QAnon imaginings, while a few more rational Republican lawmakers have dismissed the ephemeral “network” and its increasing popularity and presence in popular meme culture.
“Q-Anon is a fabrication,” Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger posted on Twitter this week, further asserting that such nonsense is anathema to Congress.
Still, in an august article in CNN Business online, reporter Brian Stelter noted that QAnon “has been supported, amplified, and winked at enough by far-right Republicans — the president and his sons, Michael Flynn, the freedom caucus — that dozens of candidates for office are using it to reach potential voters.”
An almost religious allure is attached to the QAnon meme as it expands through social media and ultra-conservative political and evangelical religious circles like a rabid stallion.
“QAnon began as a single conspiracy theory. But its followers now act more like a virtual cult, largely adoring and believing whatever disinformation the conspiracy community spins up,” CNN reporter Paul P. Murphy wrote in a piece earlier this summer.
Author Adrienne LaFrance, writing in The Atlantic on conspiracy theories and theorists, explained:
“QAnon is emblematic of modern America’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories, and its enthusiasm for them. But it is also already much more than a loose collection of conspiracy-minded chat-room inhabitants. It is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values. And we are likely closer to the beginning of its story than the end. The group harnesses paranoia to fervent hope and a deep sense of belonging. The way it breathes life into an ancient preoccupation with end-times is also radically new. To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion.”
Exactly like supernatural religion, where all acolytes, who to be able to fully accept unverifiable musings as truth, must first embrace the “mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values.”
As LaFrance told CNN anchor Anderson Cooper on his AC 360 program in August, “facts do not matter to these conspiracy theorists. It’s one of those sort of more mind-melting aspects of the QAnon universe. As you can present them with evidence, you can demonstrate how the predictions have gone wrong, and they don’t seem to care.”
Why do Q’s think and behave this way?
One reason, as Rich Lowry contended in Politico, is Q theory “shows that the Trump-era GOP has weakened antibodies against kookery.” Another is that it gives alienated, fringe-dwelling Americans looking for quick emotional answers a sense of community and belonging, and a belief they are uniquely “in the know.”
But that doesn’t make it not dangerous
In his article, Stelter warns that the QAnon narrative “is also intertwined with incredibly extreme interpretations of Christian beliefs — so much so that some Christian preachers have issued warnings about QAnon.”
Ed Stetzer, an evangelical pastor and dean at Wheaton College in Illinois sounded an alarm in a recent column warning Christians about QAnon:
“Right now QAnon is still on the fringes of evangelicalism. But we have a pretty big fringe. Pastors need to be more aware of the danger and they need tools to address it. People are being misled by social media.”
Just as secularists are duly bound to push back against supernatural religion in government, we must also push back against quasi-religious crapola like QAnon.
Disinformation researcher Molly McKew told CNN’s Stelter that while the powers that be don’t want to overinflate QAnon’s importance, it’s worrisome that some GOP aficionados of the cult may very possibly end up in the U.S. Congress and other political leadership posts nationwide.
“… when [QAnon] will have a caucus in Congress, potentially, the horse will be out of the barn there,” said McKew.
Keep in mind that QAnon’s already out of the barn and racing around crazily on social media.
The good news is that tech giants — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, etc. — have started blocking QAnon sites prior to the November 3 presidential election.